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Politics

Wilton Simpson in Strong Shape in State Senate Race

May 30, 2012 - 6:00pm

With a week to go until candidate filing closes, Dade City businessman Wilton Simpson appears to be in solid shape as he runs for a seat in the Florida Senate.

Not so long ago, it seemed Simpson was headed for a tough Republican primary fight with House Speaker Pro Tempore John Legg, R-Port Richey. But last week, Legg announced that he was targeting another Senate seat -- the one held by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa -- leaving Simpson as the only candidate in the race to represent all of Hernando and Sumter counties and parts of Pasco County. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has represented parts of Pasco and Hernando counties since being elected to the Senate in 2002, is facing term limits.

Simpson spoke to Sunshine State News on Thursday and said he is running to help reduce regulations on small business, which he thinks will help the economy bounce back. Pointing to his experience in setting up a charter school 12 years ago, Simpson also hopes to get Tallahassee offof the backs of local schools.

I think that we have gotten off track with our priorities in the state of Florida, Simpson said.

Promising to bring a small-business persons mentality to Tallahassee, Simpson thinks his decades in the private sector will serve him well if he is elected. Simpson added that his background as a small-business man makes him uniquely qualified to serve in the Senate, maintaining that it gives you some fundamental value of whose money it is.

With Legg out of the picture, the Republican establishment is rallying behind Simpson. Former Gov. Bob Martinez has endorsed him. So have two of the state Cabinet officials -- CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi. Also behind Simpson is Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., announced he is backing Simpson, joining U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., and former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite.

I am proud to support Wilton Simpsons bid for the state Senate, said Bilirakis. So many people are hurting and looking for jobs that just arent available. I know Wilton will work hard to bring about real economic growth and make sure Florida has the best job opportunities in the country.

I am very honored to have the support of Congressman Bilirakis, said Simpson. We share a vision of keeping government out of the way of small businesses. We should be encouraging and cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit in all Americans.

Simpson scored another big endorsement on Thursday when the Florida Chamber of Commerce announced they are behind him.

Simpson has the strong pro-business principles we need in our elected officials, said Marian Johnson from the Florida Chamber. We believe Wilton will support policies that foster job growth and create a more sustainable economy in Florida.

I am very thankful for the Florida Chambers support and help, said Simpson. I plan to work with them in Tallahassee to make sure all Floridians have the best opportunity to succeed.

While he may be unfamiliar in Tallahassee, Simpson is not exactly a newcomer to politics and government. A veteran member of the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee, Simpson backed Bondi during her run for attorney general and Adam Putnams bid to become agriculture commissioner. Then Gov. Jeb Bush named Simpson to the Pasco Economic Development Council which he eventually chaired. He also has been on the board of trustees of Pasco-Hernando Community College and led the Pasco County Farm Bureau.

Simpson could have an open shot at the Senate seat. Sources from the county Democratic parties in the district told Sunshine State News on Thursday that they did not expect a candidate to emerge to challenge Simpson before filing closes next Friday. Still, the Simpson team told Sunshine State News on Thursday that they were taking nothing for granted and would continue sending out campaign mailings and running television ads until they knew for sure that they had no opponents in the contest.

One factor that could be helping to keep other candidates out of the race is Simpsons war chest. As of March 31, the end of the last reporting period, Simpson raised more than $220,000 in donations, kicked in more than $15,000 in loans and another $15,000 through in-kind donations. At the end of that period, Simpson spent less than $34,000 -- giving the candidate a sizeable war chest in case any candidates decide to jump in the race in the next week.

Perhaps his experience in running a company that produces eggs is impacting Simpson since he is certainly not counting his chickens before they hatch. Simpson told Sunshine State News on Thursday that he wascontinuing his campaign as if an opponent will enter in the next week.

Im running a campaign as if were going to have a serious opponent, Simpson said. I assume someone else is going to get in.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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