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Congressional Race in Hillsborough, Polk Counties Is A "Toss Up"

Nov 2, 2018

The race to replace retiring U.S. Representative Dennis Ross seems to be a dead heat just days before the election.

Recent polling shows Brandon Republican Ross Spano and Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson virtually tied, and the non-partisan Cook Political Report is now calling the race a "toss up." Spano, who is a state representative, is thought to be the favorite in the Republican-leaning district that includes parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake Counties. The district went for President Donald Trump by 10 points in the 2016 election, according to The Washington Post.

At a recent rally for Governor Rick Scott, Spano said he doesn't trust the polling and he's not concerned about Carlson's recent fundraising boost either.

"You know why it doesn't concern me? Because all she's doing is TV," Spano said. "She has no ground game whatsoever. She doesn't even show up at events. There's more to elections and representing people than getting a bunch of money from outside of your district two months before an election."

Carlson has received the backing of national Democratic organizations such as Emily's List. Conor Hurley, Carlson's campaign manager, dismissed Spano's comments as attacks from a candidate losing on the substantial issues in the race.

"The substance of our campaign – protecting access to affordable health care and lowering taxes for middle class families – is clearly resonating with voters, given that the last three polls are tied," Hurley said in a statement on Thursday. "Kristen will continue engaging with families in this district from now through Tuesday and beyond to make clear that she will be a strong voice for them in Congress." 

There is legitimate reason not to give too much weight to the recent polling. One poll by The New York Times shows the two candidates tied at 43 percent, but less than 500 people in the district were surveyed. Another Bay News 9/Survey USA poll shows the candidates tied at 45 percent. 

William March, a veteran reporter and political analyst in Tampa Bay, said this race is probably Democrats' best chance to flip a congressional seat in Florida, but that doesn't mean they have a good shot at doing it.

"The polling in this race is not really sound or really reliable, so it's hard to tell," he said. "There's two good candidates, but it's very much a Republican-leaning district."

Dennis Ross announced his retirement back in April, causing candidates and political donations to pour into the district. Ross has held the seat for nearly two decades. Both Spano and Carlson had to fight tough primaries against opponents appealing to the extremes of their respective bases.