Despite Democrats' hopes for a 'blue wave,' all U.S. House seats in Tampa Bay remained unchanged Tuesday night with Republicans taking a decisive win in the only hotly contested seat.
Voters chose Republican Ross Spano of Brandon to take over for retiring U.S. Representative Dennis Ross in Congressional District 15. Spano, a now former state representative, beat Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson 53 percent to 46 percent. He will now represent a district that covers suburban and rural areas of Hillsborough, Polk, and Lake Counties.
Spano had promised to support the agenda of President Donald Trump during his tight primary race, and he reiterated that promise after declaring victory on Tuesday.
"I'm not going to be a lackey or a do-boy, but I want to help him however I can," Spano said. "I think our platforms and beliefs are pretty consistent, so I think I'll have an ability to do that."
Spano's win continues nearly two decades of Republican control over District 15, but it is the first time in recent memory that the seat is being held by someone from Hillsborough County. In an attempt to alleviate the concerns of Polk County voters about losing congressional representation, Spano said he plans to keep his main office in Lakeland.
"We will be there, entrenched in Lakeland," he said. "That's the center of the district and that's where we will remain."
Spano said the congressional office in Lake County will also have extended hours.
Carlson, a lawyer from the agriculture industry, ran as a centrist Democrat focused on fixing the Affordable Care Act and giving a tax cut to middle-income families. Just days before the election, it was revealed that Spano did not file his personal financial disclosure forms on time in violation of federal and state elections rules. Once he did file the forms, personal loans from two supporters and loans Spano made to his own campaign raised leagal questions.
The national Democratic Party is calling for a full investigation by the Federal Elections Commission, a move supported by Carlson.
"People that are voting deserve to have all the protections that our system, our ethics have available to them," Calson said Tuesday, before the race was called. " I guess I'm just worried we are looking at possibly having a representative ... that has challenges in the ethics department."
Spano called the allegations "political gamesmanship," and said he was confident his campaign did everything right. It remains to be seen whether the questions over his financial disclosures will follow him into his new position as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In other Tampa Bay congressional contests, incumbents and favorites won their races:
- Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis beat back a challenge from Democrat Chris Hunter 58 percent to 40 percent. Bilirakis and his father, George, have represented residents in Northern Pinellas County since 1982.
- Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan fended off a strong challenge from David Shapiro, a Democrat who raked in millions of dollars in campaign donations. Buchanan beat Shapiro 54.6 percent to 45.6 percent. Shapiro had hammered his opponent during the campaign for helping to write President Trump's tax reform law that Buchanan benefited from. Buchanan will now represent residents in parts of Sarasota, Manatee and Southern Hillsborough County.
- Republican Greg Steube beat Democrat Allen Ellison 62.3 percent to 37.7 percent in a race for a new House seat that includes Southern Polk, Southern Sarasota, Hardee, DeSoto, and Highlands Counties. Steube is vacating his Sarasota state Senate seat.
- Democratic incumbent Darren Soto defeated Republican challenger Wayne Liebnitzsky 58 percent to 42 percent. Soto will continue to represent residents in Polk, Orange and Osceola counties.
- Democratic incumbent and former governor Charlie Crist beat Republican George Buck 58 percent to 42 percent. Crist was a clear favorite in the race to represent Southern Pinellas County.