September 19th, 2010
07:23 AM ET
4 years ago

CNN 100: GOP hopes for no new surprises in Polk County

 The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.
The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.

Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:

Florida 12th-(Open Seat)-Rep. Adam Putnam (R) is running for Florida Agricultural Commissioner
Primary: August 24, 2010
Location: Central Florida-Lakeland, suburbs east of Tampa
Days Until Election Day: 44

(CNN) - It should've come as no surprise when five-term Rep. Adam Putman announced in early 2009 that he would vacate his seat to run for Florida Agricultural Commissioner, given his commitment to Florida's agricultural industry. Still, a surprise it was for the GOP, who could rely on Putnam's regular support and valued his quick rise through the ranks.

However, unless something changes before election day, this district should remain in Republican hands. First off, it has a red bent: Sen. John McCain won a slim majority there in 2008 (50-49%) . The district also voted 58 percent for President George W. Bush in 2004 and 56 percent for Republican Governor Charlie Crist in 2006. Secondly, by all accounts, this is a Republican year, so national trends should help underscore the local dynamic.

Republican nominee Dennis A. Ross served as a state Representative for eight years in the Florida House. A Lakeland native, he has been endorsed by the establishment, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and Rep. Putnam. Ross has gained some political ground by leveraging his opposition to an insurance reform bill in the Florida House that he likens to "Florida's version of the public option."

His opposition, Democratic nominee Lori Edwards, also spent time in the Florida House of Representatives and describes herself as a Blue Dog Democrat. For the past ten years she has served as the election supervisor for Polk County. Edwards left a career in radio broadcasting for the political life. She has been endorsed by the Lakeland Ledger and the Tampa Tribune.

The third candidate in this election did not appear on any primary ballot, but will be running in the general election in 45 days. Randy Wilkinson, current Polk County commissioner, is running as an independent and enjoys support from Tea Party groups.

This steadily quiet race grew a bit more raucous on September 9 when Ross called for Edwards' resignation from her post as Elections Supervisor. Citing Edwards' 2008 request to take a leave of absence to run for Congress, Ross' campaign manager, Fred Piccolo, wrote that "She clearly understood then that she would be unable to exercise her duties impartially" and called on her to "Step down, commit to removing her name, appearance, and voice from any voter education advertisements during the general election."

To the delight of Dems, Wilkinson chimed in, stating that Ross had no business questioning anyone's ethics. Asserting claims that Ross never lived in the Florida house district he was elected to represent in 2006, Wilkinson doubled the mudslinging.

With little over $2,000 in cash on hand, Randy Wilkinson has little to compare to his competitors' coffers. Dennis Ross raised $811,000 by August 2010, has spent $408,000, and has $403,000 in cash on hand. He's also lent $25,000 of his own funds to his campaign. Lori Edwards hasn't raised as much as Ross has spent, with cash on hand totaling $103,000 after raising $346,000 and spending $243,000.

She's also lent funds to her own campaign, in the amount of $6,000.

The strongest hope for Democrats is that the growing national Tea Party influence will lure GOP voters to Wilkinson's camp, pulling support away from Ross.


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