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    Petition effort fails to win place on ballot

    By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 20, 2002

    TAMPA -- U.S. Rep. Jim Davis was surprised to learn Friday that he had automatically won re-election to Congress.

    So was his opponent.

    Phillip Isaacson, a cigar salesman, father of three and veteran of the Persian Gulf War, thought he would appear as a Republican challenger to Davis on the November ballot. He spent months collecting signatures, knocking on at least 5,000 doors.

    He would come home every day and enter into his computer the names of the streets he had walked. He visited so many homes that he lost 35 pounds.

    But this week, the state Division of Elections called.

    "Sir, you didn't make it," he was told.

    He said officials told him they didn't have time to count all his petitions, which meant he wouldn't qualify to run for office.

    His only recourse was to sue in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee by Monday.

    "That is not what I am about," said Isaacson, 33, who won't contest the decision.

    "I could have handled losing," he said. "At least I would have played the game. This way, they took me out of the game without letting me play."

    Isaacson, a disabled Navy veteran raised in Hudson, decided months ago to run for Congress to get the average Joe's voice heard in Washington.

    Isaacson lives in a two-story house with his wife and three kids in Twelve Oaks in Town 'N Country. He drives a used 1994 Plymouth Voyager and works in sales at Thompson Cigars in Tampa.

    "I am just a local, average, everyday, working guy," he said.

    He has met Congressman Davis, a former state legislator and Tampa lawyer who has raised $263,000 for his re-election campaign.

    "He's a nice guy," Isaacson said.

    But Davis is a Democrat, and Isaacson is a Republican. Isaacson also thought Davis seemed "very wishy-washy."

    So he said, "Why not?"

    For months, Isaacson worked to collect enough petitions to get on the ballot without paying a hefty fee.

    "I am not rich," he said.

    When he knocked on doors, people respected his low-budget approach to politics, he said. He carried door hangers with his campaign slogan: "Vote for Phillip Isaacson: It's the right thing to do."

    Isaacson said he submitted 2,483 petitions to qualify, more than the 2,135 petitions needed to get on the ballot. Most of those petitions were signed by Hillsborough residents, but about 200 petitions were signed by people from as far away as Miami-Dade.

    Isaacson got the out-of-town petitions by standing outside Raymond James Stadium at Buccaneers games.

    He said he submitted the petitions on time and opted to have election officials take a random sample of petitions to verify their authenticity.

    The Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office tested 1,644 petitions and threw out about 200, he said.

    The 12 percent rejection rate was too high to put Isaacson on the ballot without a recount. So Isaacson asked that the state Division of Elections review every petition, something he said the law allows him to request. That's when officials told him they didn't have enough time.

    Officials at the state elections office did not return a request Friday for comment.

    Isaacson called the state Republican Party about 2 p.m. Friday, but they said they couldn't help.

    "We understand he didn't have enough petitions to qualify," said Daryl Duwe, a GOP spokesman. "There was very little for us to do at that point."

    At noon Friday, when qualifying for Congress closed, Davis was surprised that his opponent didn't make it. He had heard that Isaacson's petitions had been approved by election officials. He didn't know what happened.

    "This is one of the few areas where you either do it right or you do not. If you don't dot your I's and cross your T's, it just doesn't work," said Davis, who paid a qualifying fee of $9,000. "The law is the law."

    -- Staff writer David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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