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House race hopefuls in meet, greet campaign

With no hot issues yet in the state House District 48 race and the election months away, all the candidates can do is visit voters and raise money.

By NICOLE JOHNSON
Published February 1, 2006


From going door-to-door to inviting prospective voters on cruise ships, the five candidates vying for state House District 48 are taking different routes when it comes to campaigning.

Their destination: success at the Sept. 5 primary and ultimately victory in November.

District 48 covers northern Pinellas County and a small part of Pasco County.

"At this point in the race, it's more like a popularity contest, because there's no distinctive live-or-die issue or issues," said Todd Pressman, a Republican political consultant and supporter of District 48 candidate Peter Nehr. "The person out there the most is typically shaping the race."

Nehr, a Tarpon Springs city commissioner, remains the financial front-runner, having raised $100,029 in campaign contributions.

Nehr credits some of the financial success to a fundraising cruise he held for constituents last year. For $60 a pop, supporters of Nehr cruised around the Anclote River on the Island Wind party boat. Another cruise is scheduled for February.

"Everything about me right now is going out and meeting people who can vote for me," said Nehr, 53. "I don't know that I'm running a glitzy campaign, but I am working hard."

While Nehr remains a front-runner financially, candidate Ken Peluso's local public service connections and fundraising efforts are helping him close the money gap.

Peluso, a Palm Harbor fire commissioner, raised more than $18,000 in the fourth and final reporting period of 2005, that's more than any other candidate in that period.

The 63-year-old has raised $65,394 total in campaign contributions.

Elected as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner in 2000 and in 2002, Peluso says he has met with several firefighter groups and other public service organizations to get his message out.

"I have emphasized community service for 20 years," said Peluso, a chiropractor. "So I'm just reaching out to the community and building on those relationships, trying to determine what their concerns are and what they need."

Candidate Robin Borland, 39, is meeting constituents at their front doors.

The former Safety Harbor city commissioner began going door-to-door in August with what she calls a "Buck for Borland" campaign.

For every door she knocks on, she listens to voters' concerns and asks them to donate a dollar to her campaign, she said. She's been to 2,000 homes so far, said Borland, who was a former volunteer for outgoing representative Gus Bilirakis.

Bilirakis is running for the 9th Congressional District seat, currently held by his father, Michael Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican.

"By walking and talking to taxpayers, I'm getting to see and hear what they want and what they'd like in a candidate," Borland said.

Borland has raised $22,632.34 in campaign contributions, according to campaign finance reports - 43 of which came from $1 donations. Many have made larger donations, she said.

Candidate Brian Flaherty, well known in Pinellas County GOP circles for his volunteer work, says he is working to reach voters who might not have heard of his work on behalf of the party. He recently spoke at the Spirit of 76 Republican Club in New Port Richey and the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce in Oldsmar.

Flaherty, 47, of Palm Harbor, a local businessman and member of the Pinellas County Housing Authority, has raised $41,996 total in campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, Carl Zimmerman, the only Democrat in the race, says he is working behind the scenes amassing as many volunteers as possible and has launched a new Web site: www.zimmermann2006.com

The 54-year-old Palm Harbor resident, who has raised about $6,000 in campaign contributions, says he will kick up his fundraising efforts in February but that he's not in a money contest with his opponents.

"There isn't any Democrat on the local level that will raise what a Republican will raise because they have big business on their side," said Zimmerman, a former Republican and teacher at Countryside High School. "I'll be handicapped to a degree, but if I can raise one-third of what they raise, I think I can win."

Nicole Johnson can be reached at njohnson@sptimes.com or 727445-4162.

[Last modified February 1, 2006, 01:26:37]


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