In Senate race, Storms watch has often come up blank

Where's Ronda? The well-known Hillsborough commissioner has skipped many forums during her state Senate campaign.

Published September 3, 2006

BRANDON - Where has Ronda Storms been?

That's a question some east Hillsborough politics watchers have been asking in the waning days of the state Senate District 10 Republican primary race.

The fiery county commissioner who has captured the public spotlight repeatedly for campaigns against nudity and county-sponsored gay pride events has been uncommonly quiet lately.

Storms, who has served eight years on the Hillsborough County Commission, declined an invitation to a televised debate with her two Republican opponents - Plant City businessman Ray Young and former state Rep. Sandy Murman - and Democratic candidate Stephen Gorham.

She was a no-show at an important League of Women Voters forum.

When a reporter asked to accompany Storms, whose platform is one of conservative family values, to campaign events for a profile, she politely declined. She didn't return calls for comment on this story.

Since Storms has unparalleled name recognition in the district, which includes eastern Hillsborough County and parts of Pasco and Polk counties, she need not be in the limelight to win, said Mark Proctor, a Republican consultant and Ray Young supporter.

"The perceived front-runner doesn't need to go to all the public appearances," he said.

If the apparent leading candidate attends debates and forums, it lends credence to the other campaigns.

"She could actually get in more trouble for going out," he said.

Murman, who is widely considered the biggest threat to Storms, is miffed at the missing candidate.

"I definitely think all candidates should be present for debates because how can the voters decide" if one is missing, she said. "They may know you, but they won't know what you can do for them."

Murman, who has highlighted her political experience during the campaign, is stepping up her effort to put her name before voters by Tuesday's election.

"I'm not really focused on trying to keep track of Storms' whereabouts. She has not been at the forums, and I don't know what her strategy is," Murman said. "But I'm choosing to be very visible."

Murman's campaign, which had outspent Storms' campaign, $219,875 to $128,063 through mid August, is operating phone banks, knocking on doors and rushing last-minute mailings to voters.

While she would not talk about her 11th-hour campaign strategy, Murman said she wants to be evenly recognized when voters go to the polls. Though she represented areas that include Senate District 10 during her two terms in the House of Representatives, she is unknown in a portion of the district, she said.

Young, meanwhile, is running a "stealth" grass roots campaign, touting his success as a businessman, which is helping him gain ground on the others, Proctor said.

"Ronda has name recognition and would clearly be the front-runner," Proctor said, "but you never know what will happen until election day."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.