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Tempers flare in House District 58 special election

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tempers are flaring in the increasingly hostile Hillsborough County House District 58 contest, as early voting begins in a race marked by accusations of false attacks and heated threats.

While the GOP primary has been contentious, the real nastiness began last week, when a series of mysterious flyers started appearing in East Hillsborough County mailboxes attacking Republican Yvonne Fry, a Plant City businesswoman. Fry faces fellow Republican Lawrence McClure in the race to succeed former state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who stepped down Aug. 15 for health reasons.

The mailers branded Fry as a “liberal” in the arch-conservative HD 58, accusing her of supporting the Go Hillsborough transit proposal, as well as opposing fracking and a proposed referendum to increase the state’s homestead tax exemption.

Two mailers originated from Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts, an organization whose only recorded staff member is Ash Mason of Tampa, a former legislative aide and the SE Regional Director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

One features a demonstrator in a black hoodie and face mask; it calls Fry “a liberal who supports liberal causes and groups like Go Frack Yourself and … banning oil drilling.”

Although Conservatism Counts officially formed Friday, Sept. 22, William March of the Tampa Bay Times notes that the committee apparently had enough resources to put together, print and send the mail pieces only three days later — the following Monday – timed to coincide with early voting, which began Saturday.

With such suspicious timing, Fry campaign consultant Brock Mikosky is nearly certain McClure’s camp is behind the attacks. But that might be difficult to prove since Mason’s committee does not have to file the first campaign treasurer’s report until Oct. 10  — the day of the primary.

As for McClure, he denies any knowledge of the mailers, calling them inappropriate.

“The Yvonne Fry campaign needs to stop lying about things,” McClure consultant Anthony Pedicini told the Times in a text message, while not explicitly denying involvement.

Nevertheless, the whole episode isn’t sitting well with Mikosky, who is now on the offensive, demanding answers.

An 8-second voicemail obtained Saturday by shows Mikosky venting his anger at Mason: “Fucking coward … Call me back. Stop hiding like a bitch.”

Mikosky’s colorful tirade might be understandable — despite attacking a member of the Christian Coalition — taking into account the other recent mailers against his candidate, most notably from the “Ax the Tax,” headed by Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando-based political consultant and anti-tax crusader.

Self-funding his anti-Fry mail piece, Guetzloe told March he vows to spend as much as $15,000 more on the campaign.

“I’m a good Republican,” he explained, with long family ties to Hillsborough County.

While Fry strongly asserts she does not oppose fracking, she had been linked to a “Go Frack Yourself” Facebook page. Her campaign is also considering their own mailers this weekend blasting McClure.

Early voting in the HD 58 primary continues through Oct. 7; primary Election Day is Oct. 10. The winner of the GOP primary faces Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and nonparty affiliated candidate Ahmad Saadaldin in the general election Dec. 19.

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