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Politics

If it looks easy for Storms, well, it is

The Republican hardly even campaigned in her primary and won. Voters in District 10 just love her.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published September 7, 2006


[Times staff photo]
Ronda Storms faces Democrat Stephen Gorham next.

BRANDON - She spent less than half as much as her opponent on the primary election. She didn't hire a consultant or tout a single endorsement on her Web site. She spent campaign funds on pony rentals, a moon bounce and a bluegrass band.

And when the votes were tallied Tuesday, Ronda Storms skipped to victory in the Senate District 10 Republican primary against Sandy Murman, a woman with eight years of experience in the state Legislature.

That means trouble for Democrat Stephen Gorham, a 27-year-old Navy veteran and political newcomer who faces Storms in November.

Though registered Democrats and Republicans are evenly split at about 83,000 each, voters in this historically conservative district - which includes eastern Hillsborough and parts of Polk and Pasco counties - like Republicans.

Gorham said his "blue dog" Democrat approach appeals to Republicans as well.

The man who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees while enlisted in the Navy pointed out that one in three names on his candidate petitions were Republicans.

And he sounds like a Republican. Gorham said at a recent debate that he supports a ban on gay adoption and that the government should stay out of his gun cabinet.

But the moderate Democrat still may be hamstrung by finances. Gorham has raised just $74,901 to Storms' $220,433.

"I think in this part of Hillsborough County, which is the core of the district, it's pretty difficult to beat a Republican," said Tom Lee, the Senate president and candidate for state chief financial officer whose seat the two are looking to fill. Besides, he said, "If you don't have the money to get your message out, it doesn't matter what you message is because nobody can hear it."

While Storms has earned name recognition from stances on controversial issues such as gay rights and public decency, she is popular here for more simple reasons. She's the lady in the next pew at the First Baptist Church and the person to call if a resident wants a stop sign fixed or a sidewalk patched.

But the morality campaigns don't hurt.

"She has strong convictions," said James A. Smith, executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly newspaper for the Florida Baptist State Convention. "There needs to be a voice for mainstream citizens who don't like obscenity, indecency on television and don't like government endorsing homosexual rights."

With the election two months away, what some are concerned about is whether Storms' personality will work in the Senate.

"These are grownup politicians," said state Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Lantana, who is known as an outsider in Tallahassee because of her self-described liberal politics. "These aren't some local folks that she can bully."

Storms said Tuesday that she realizes the move will require some adjustment in her style. She said Senate Republicans have called to welcome her and offer support.

"They're going to provide assistance, and I'm a quick study," she said.

Though Lee remained carefully neutral in the primary, he has offered support to Storms.

"I think that effective people learn to adapt their leadership style to the dynamics of the institution in which they serve," he said. "I don't have any doubt that Commissioner Storms will be able to adapt."

State Rep. Dennis Ross, D-Lakeland, said there's room in the Senate for someone like Storms.

"The Senate traditionally is a pretty independent group, and she's a pretty independent person," said Ross, who endorsed Murman in the primary. "It's much more collegial there, but there is room for a very determined female. ... I think she'll do very well."

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

[Last modified September 7, 2006, 05:23:16]


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