What they’re thinking: Latvala vs. Brandes vs. Frishe

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Jack Latvala acknowledged Monday he could switch seats and instead run in a district covering south Pinellas and part of Tampa — potentially creating a tough match-up between the veteran senator and state Rep. Jeff Brandes. … There’s a hitch: Republican state Rep. Jim Frishe, of St. Petersburg, a strong Latvala ally, already is running for that south Pinellas seat.

‘Round here, we call this scenario as Latvala-geddon.  Others describe it as a civil war.  However it’s defined, the prospect of the old bull and the young bull going at each other has the rest of the cows worrying about who might end up on the wrong side of someone’s horns.

To say that I am personally conflicted by the prospect of Latvala vs. Brandes vs. Frishe is an understatement.  I work for all three of them.  I like each one of them.  Senator Latvala, one week removed from hip replacement surgery, made sure to come see me propose to Michelle. Representative Brandes was at our wedding.  And if you don’t like Jim Frishe, take a look at this picture and tell me he’s not one of the old school good guys left standing.

So, for me, the very thought of Latvala vs. Brandes vs. Frishe has been enough to keep me up at night.  It’s all anyone asks me about.  “Is Brandes really gonna run?” “Will Jack really switch seats?” Etc., etc.

I’ve avoided writing too much about Latvala vs. Brandes vs. Frishe, for obvious reasons, but mostly because I hoped it would just go away.  But it’s not and so, along with a couple of other politicos, I’ve been playing the game of shuttle diplomacy, trying to broker some sort of deal.  I don’t think we’re succeeding.

Why? Well, that’s what I will share today.  I’m still keeping some of my cards close to the vest, but I can share with you what Latvala, Brandes and Frishe are probably thinking.  I’m not judging who is right or wrong, only their point of view on the situation.

Let’s start with Jeff Brandes, because without him, the other two would likely be on their way to uncontested elections to th Florida Senate. Here’s where Brandes is coming from…

Now that Democrat Dwight Dudley has decided to challenge Brandes for his seat in the State House, Brandes must choose between spending a lot of money to keep his seat, which leans Democrat, in a year when the top of the ticket likely will drive turnout and performance for Dudley.  Brandes could spend $500,000 to $1 million dollars and may not much matter in a presidential year, so why not jump to the Florida Senate?  To Brandes, it’s a choice between a tough re-election campaign for the Florida House or a tough primary campaign for the Florida Senate.  So it is a matter of risk vs. reward.

To Brandes, the ideal scenario is Latvala representing north Pinellas and him representing South Pinellas, with Frishe returning to his House seat or some other soft landing. The idea of Frishe, a “beach” guy representing St. Petersburg proper is anathema to Brandes and his allies.

Now, there are some logical fallacies, I believe, to Brandes primary argument, which is that he faces a difficult re-elect to the Florida House.  Yes, Dwight Dudley is the Democrats’ ideal candidate (think Rick Kriseman, only nicer), but Brandes is the incumbent with, literally, more resources at his disposal than any other legislative candidate in the state.  He has an independent voting record and a top-notch constituent service and campaign staff.  He should have been able to be re-elected in a walk.  Instead, he may have invited a challenge while pondering a run for the Florida Senate.  Moreover, if it’s true that a generic Democrat has such a good shot of winning his House seat in a presidential year, why hasn’t a Democrat filed to run for other similarly drawn House seats in Tampa Bay?  Or the State Senate seat, which is a battleground district?

All of that is really beside the point.  The reality is Brandes’ ambition and drive is what you get when you elect such capable individuals to the Florida House.  Fifteen years ago, when the Republicans first took the House, the candidates elected were Faye Culp and Frank Farkas and Leslie Waters.  Good people all, but they were in the middle or end of their careers.  Now you’ve got Brandes and Jamie Grant and Dana Young and Will Weatherford.  All younger and incredibly capable.  And not eager to see their ambition throttled by the concept of waiting their turn.

Waiting his turn is Jim Frishe.  To Frishe, Brandes’ decision to run against reminds him of 2006, when Frishe was elected for the second time to the Florida House.  Then, Frishe faced-off against Rod Jones, son of popular State Senator Dennis Jones.  Jones was the preferred choice of most, but not all, of the political establishment and out-spent Frishe at least 3-to-1.  Yet Frishe, quietly but deliberately, campaigned in the beach neighborhoods he knows like the back of his hand and pulled off the “upset.”

Fast-forward six years and, to Frishe, Brandes, as a political opponent, is not much different than Rod Jones.  Yes, Brandes will have a financial advantage, but there’s only so much financial advantage to be had.  Frishe will tell you that he’s endorsed by pretty much every major elected official in south Pinellas, from St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster to outgoing State Senator Dennis Jones.  He’s also endorsed by the next Senate President, Andy Gardiner.  Oh, and in case you forgot, Jack’s got his back as well.

Jim’s secret weapon, however, is his roots in Tampa.  His brother is a popular figure in South Tampa and has been a visible ambassador for Frishe.  Brandes would have to air a lot of Adam Goodman’s TV spots south of Kennedy for Brandes to overcome the headstart Frishe has in the Tampa part of the district.

But, at this point, I doubt Brandes and Frishe square-off.  I believe this race is going to turn into Brandes vs. Latvala.  It almost has to. Because when the two biggest kids on the block keep bumping into each other, eventually they’re gonna fight.

And that’s really where Jack Latvala is coming from.  He said it as much on Wednesday before 300 of his closest friends at a lunchtime fundraiser.  If Brandes wants a piece of him, so goes the thinking, he can have all of him.

And isn’t that when Jack is at his best? When his blood is up?

As for who would win between Brandes and Latvala? I don’t even want to speculate.  I just know who will lose: the citizens of Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg.

That’s why, if I were Brandes, I’d cut this deal: Go to Latvala right now and say, ‘Jack, if you want to run for the south Pinellas seat, good, but you have to run for the South Pinellas seat!’

Because Jack can only serve six more years.  Meaning Jack will be termed-out just when Brandes is termed-out in the House.

Jeff Brandes for the State Senate in ’18, is what I propose.

That way Jim Frishe becomes a Senator, Jeff Brandes, one day, becomes a Senator and Jack Latvala becomes Senate President.

As for me, blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.