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Democrats Are Betting They Can Flip U.S. House Seat In Tampa Bay

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Andrew Learned, a Democratic candidate for congressional district 15, speaks with volunteers as they prepared to canvass in Temple Terrace on Saturday.

In their bid to replace retiring U.S. Representative Dennis Ross, two Democratic candidates are receiving the support of national progressive organizations.

Accompanied by the founder of the D.C.-based organization "Indivisible," Andrew Learned, a Democratic candidate for Florida's 15th Congresional District, spent Saturday afternoon knocking on doors in Temple Terrace. 

The Navy veteran from Valrico is confident he's the candidate that can flip the seat blue, even though it's been held by Republicans for more than two decades. And the level of support from outside Democratic groups seems to suggest they also think the seat is vulnerable.

Learned, who is running on issues like "Medicare for All" while also reigning in the national debt, says the election of President Donald Trump has energized progressive voters.

"There's a seat that's in play here and there's a level of activism we are seeing that a lot of folks in the I-4 corridor are just not used to," Learned said.

Indivisible officially endorsed Learned earlier this year, providing him with organizational support and a larger volunteer network. The support of local Indivisible chapters is what earned him the endorsement.

But before he can take on Republicans, Learned will have to beat out two Democratic challengers.

Kristen Carlson of Lakeland has also garnered the endorsement of Emily's List, an organization that connects national donors with pro-choice, female candidates. They urged Carlson to enter the race after Ross announced he wouldn't seek re-election.

Both Carlson and Learned have out-fundraised even Republican heavyweights in the race at various points throughout their campaigns. 

Ezra Levin, the co-founder of Indivisible, says recent electoral upsets by outsider candidates have national organizations thinking differently about Republican leaning districts like this one.

"We have seen six-, nine-, 12-point swings against Trump supporting Republicans in special elections and off-year elections," Levin said. "I think we are going to see a lot of these types of surprises come November and a seat like District 15 is imminently winnable."

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's primary faces a field of potential Republican opponents that includes former state Representative Neil Combee of Polk City and Representative Ross Spano of Brandon.

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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