Hillsborough Dems lament their candidate in House race

08/20/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Last week, Tampa bay area House Republican Trey Traviesa stunned the Florida political world when he announced that he would not seek re-election in November.

The Hillsborough County Republican Party scrambled to find a new candidate for the House District 56 seat, and ultimately selected Traviesa’s 26-year-old legislative aide Rachel Burgin. She does not even live in the district, which includes part of South Tampa and large parts of eastern Hillsborough County.

Democrats should have been ready to pounce. Instead, they’re seemingly stuck with a candidate named Lewis Larrichia, who has never run for office, and refuses to respond to media inquiries.

Democrats were speculating about replacing Larrichia last week after Traviesa quit the race. But they potentially have more ammunition, with a revelation in today’s Tampa Tribune that Larrichia was not a registered Democrat when he qualified to run in the race.

Michael Steinberg, executive director of the Hillsborough County Democratic Excecutive Committee, said in a similar scenario 15 years ago, a Division of Elections Attorney opined that a candidate has to be a registered member of the party at the time that you qualify. But Steinberg says that’s not a defined law.

In recent years, the Republican Party has been dominant. On the County Commisison for example, there are six Republicans to one lone Democrat, Kevin White.

But as the GOP’s brand has been tarnished by the unpopularity of President Bush, county Democrats have been feeling that they can reverse their fortunes.

In some races, they have not fielded candidates, or in the case of House District 56, only token opposition in the form of Lewis Larrichia.

Steinberg admits that the party did not consider the seat competitive before Traviesa’s departure. But he says Bergin is not ready for prime time. But that’s only if the Democrats can come up with a viable candidate to replace Larrichia.

Environmental activist Mariella Smith was one name mentioned by the Tampa Tribune, but Smith told WMNF today that she doesn’t live in the district, and if she was interested in running, she would not wait until this late hour.

Former Tampa City Councilman Bob Buckhorn does live in the District, and says he was solicited by Hillsborough Democrats to contend for the seat. But he says he has no desire to run for the House at this time. He says he understands local Democrats reluctance to invest too much into the election when Traviesa’s re-election was considered guaranted. But now he says, the Democrats cannot afford to be passive.

WMNF tried to contact Lewis Larrichia for this story but he did not return our phone calls.

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