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Pat Kemp not too concerned about Brian Willis’ quick start in Hillsborough District 6 race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections updated the fundraising totals of candidates on the 2016 ballot earlier this week, the contrast between Democrats Pat Kemp and Brian Willis in the District 6 county commission race was rather stark.

Willis announced that he had raised $45,357 in April, which his camp informed reporters is the third largest opening month of fundraising for a country commission candidate in the past decade.

Impressive stuff. Especially when compared to Kemp’s totals — $1,350.

“I’m not on the same timetable as he is,” Kemp told Florida Politics on Tuesday afternoon, regarding the early pace of fundraising. Kemp says her intention was not to start out a formal campaign until next month, when she holds a kickoff fundraiser on June 4 at the law offices of attorney Dale Swope in Ybor City. “I’ve been doing a lot of grassroots campaigning, and I’m not worried about raising the money to do a campaign. I’ve already shown that I can do that.”

Certainly it is extremely early in the race for the Democratic nomination in District 6, with the voters in Hillsborough County having more than a full year until the primary takes place in late August of 2016. But starting out early can be important for a relatively unknown candidate, and Willis has never run for office before. In fact, Kemp herself says it’s a “good strategy” on her opponent’s part.

Kemp has ran twice for office in the past five years, and her confidence undoubtedly has swelled since she scored a near upset victory last year against the much better known and financed Al Higginbotham in the countywide District 7 race.

Kemp was a very late entrant into that race, not formally getting into it until April. She was challenged by fellow Democrat Mark Nash for the nomination, but easily defeated him last August, something she noted on Tuesday when asked about her current competition.

“I know he’s a viable candidate,” she said of Willis, a 32-year-old attorney who has been active in local politics over the past several years in Hillsborough County. But she adds that “Mark Nash outraised me (financially) and talked about that a lot, and I ended up beating him in most precincts.” (She beat Nash 65-35 percent).

Kemp says she knows she needs to raise money to be competitive, but says that’s not what’s going to decide the race.

“Al Higginbotham outspent me four to one, and had two years (of campaigning) on top of me. I’ll have the money when I need it,” adding that she never intended to start fundraising this early in the cycle.

She says she’ll also announce a list of people endorsing her next month. She says she’s just now setting up a campaign infrastructure.

Kemp is an attorney who has worked on a variety of public policy causes over the years. She’s also served as an aide to state legislator Sara Romeo and to Kathy Castor when she served on the County Commission.

“It’s still extremely early,” she cautions. “I have some people saying to me, ‘What are you starting up now for?'”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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