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Candidates Vie To Replace Neil Combee In Special Election

Ricky Shirah/Facebook; Josie Tomkow/Facebook
Democrat Ricky Shirah (left) and Josie Tomkow will face off in the District 39 special election on May 1.

Voters in Northeastern Polk County will head to the polls on Tuesday for a special election to replace former state Representative Neil Combee.

Combee, a Republican from Polk City, resigned in November to run for Congress. He endorsed Republican candidate Josie Tomkow, 22, of Polk City, who is running against Democratic candidate Ricky Shirah, 64, of Lakeland.

Shirah acknowledged the difficulties of running as a Democrat for a seat traditionally held by a Republican. But he said he hopes his focus on increasing education funding and gun control, as well as an anti-Trump "blue wave," inspires Democratic voters to turn out.

"We're knocking on Democrats' doors," he said. "We're trying to get them out to vote, because not a lot of people know there is an election on May 1."

Tomkow defeated her primary opponent with 65 percent of the vote in February. She did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, but on her webpage, Tomkow said she is running to “enforce the rule of law, stand up for the 2nd Amendment and Life, and grow Florida’s economy."

As of April 27, Tomkow has raised nearly $150,000 to Shirah's roughly $10,000.

Shirah said that despite being outspent, he has received non-monetary support from the Florida Democratic Party and local organizers for last minute campaigning. He said his pitch to voters has centered on his close ties to Polk County.

"This is my home, I know what the concerns are and I know what the problems are," he said.

Shirah said that if Tomkow wins on May 1, he will file to challenge her again in November during the general election.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.
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