Senate Hopefuls Battle, Gauge District Ideology



Editor’s Note: First of a two-part story. Read about candidates Doug Holder and Rick Levine in Friday’s edition of SRQ Daily.

Mailboxes and airwaves throughout the Gulf Coast were bombarded in recent weeks with advertisements promoting the pros—and often the cons—of state Senate candidates in a crowded Republican primary. Candidates Doug Holder, Rick Levine, Nora Patterson, Ray Pilon and Greg Steube have battled it out in a contest so tight no-one feels like they have an edge. 

Patterson, a former Sarasota mayor who more recently spent 16 years on the Sarasota County Commission, has been painted as a liberal by opponents, but she proudly wears a “Reagan Republican” mantle. A member of the party since just the early 1990s, she conceded being pro-choice “with restrictions.” Stuebe has attacked her past chairmanship of Planned Parenthood, though she notes the organizations did not provide abortions at that time, and notes hers was a board position. But she believed quality-of-life issues will drive voters this year. “Bringing higher paying jobs to Sarasota is absolutely imperative,” she says. That requires maintaining a “cracker jack” school system an improving transportation. And while critics have attacked her as not conservative, Patterson, who boasts the endorsement of outgoing state Sen. Nancy Detert, feels the district has historically elected officials like herself. “Historically, this district has supported just a little to the right of center,” she says. “That’s exactly where I am.”

Pilon, a former county commissioner and six-year state representative, feels momentum behind his candidacy has gained in the last days of this race. He feels voters ultimately care about having a senator who will communicate issues of government to them. “I am able to answer a lot of questions for people, and when we leave, many folks say, we voted for Ray before and we will vote for him again.” When labeled a moderate, he notes his record looks similar to those touting conservative credentials when it comes to issues like immigration. He supported e-verfiy requirements in Florida, for example. But he suspects voters aren’t as interested in polarized government as would lead one to believe. “Maybe the local Republican Party has moved to the right, but it’s still Sarasota, and the voters still want somebody who will buck the system once in awhile,” he says. “They don’t want ideological battles. They want people in Tallahassee to get along and to get things done.”

Steube, a state representative for the past six years, has been running as the conservative choice. “These are Republican primary voters,” he says. “I’m the only candidate who has filed pro-Second Amendment legislation and who is supported by the NRA.” During his time in office, Steube has championed campus-carry legislation and other gun rights bills. He also boasts an endorsement from Right to Life, a pro-life organization. Indeed, when it comes to state groups, Steube has led the field, and he has raised more than $298,000. Patterson recently put out a video ad hitting Steube for backing legislation that would benefit his law firm, but he bristled at that accusation, saying the years-old legislation simply set up measures to allow more private-public law firm, and didn’t single his firm out in any way. “I’ve certainly tried to keep my messaging positive, and to compare and contrast between me and the candidates on the issues,” he said.

The Republican primary for state Senate District 23 in Aug. 30. The victor will face the winner of the Democratic primary, either Frank Alcock or Frank Cirillo, in the November general election.

Pictured: Republican state Senate candidates debate at Tiger Bay luncheon.

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