ST. PETERSBURG - Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd is starting to raise money for her prospective U.S. Senate campaign.
The Republican, who has been talking to potential supporters and lining up financial supporters for months, filed papers this week to open a campaign account. She starts well behind a crowded field of Republicans vying to fill Democrat Bob Graham's Senate seat.
Todd said she is pleased with the support she has found but wants to better gauge her competitiveness in a primary that could include at least six Republicans.
"A dollar in the bank is worth more than a verbal commitment," Todd, first elected to the Pinellas Commission in 1980, said Friday.
Lacking a clear fundraising base for a race that will likely require millions of dollars, Todd appears to be an underdog against the Republican members of the Legislature, past and present congressmen, and a national conservative activist already raising money.
But Todd could stand out as the only prominent woman in the primary and the only contender with extensive local government experience. She also would be a moderate in a field dominated by conservative Republicans. She described herself as the "more mainstream" choice among the group of "strong candidates."
"She brings a different perspective," said Florida Republican Party Chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan. "And she comes from a huge county and has a good fundraising base from what I could see."
Todd is past president of the National Association of Counties and a former Leon County School Board member. She ran for lieutenant governor alongside unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Jim Smith in 1994. As a leader of the Florida League of Cities, she also has contacts throughout the state. Her late husband, Tom Todd, was a longtime Pinellas School Board member.
Graham is running for president, but his struggling campaign is fueling speculation that he could drop out, seek re-election to the Senate and make the race far tougher for Republicans.
Other Republicans interested in running include state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City; former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood; state Sen. Daniel Webster of Winter Garden; U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon of Palm Bay; Vero Beach businessman Jeffrey Saull; perennial candidate Andy Martin; and Sarasota resident Gwyndolyn McClellan.