Arriving a little past the 11:30 a.m. scheduled time at the Buddy Brew coffee house in downtown Tampa, Sharpe entered the packed room filled with media and local GOP members and spoke for over four minutes before he broke the suspense and confirmed that he will indeed challenge Democratic incumbent Kathy Castor, if he survives what could be a contested primary election.
Despite the negative feelings engendered by the recent debt ceiling discussions, Sharpe said "I absolutely believe we are at the beginning of something truly great for America, and I want to be a part of that. Which is why when I'm done answering questions, I'm going to file the paperwork to run for the U.S. Congress, District 11," which was proceeded by a huge cheer among the dozens of supporters awaiting to hear those very words.
The 51-year-old Sharpe, a Navy veteran and a current Hillsborough Commissioner since 2004, closely follows national and international news and is undoubtedly prepared to substantively discuss the issues that are ongoing in Washington D.C.
Of the recent debt ceiling deal, he said he would have preferred more spending cuts than what was part of the plan that passed Congress two weeks ago. He also said that, unlike many of his fellow Republicans, he wouldn't dare sign a no-new taxes pledge that has become a rigid part of GOP dogma in recent years. In fact, he went out of his way to show his disdain for that Grover Norquist request, saying that he would only sign a pledge "that says I'm not going to be signing pledges."
"Once you start signing these pledges, saying I’ll never do this, I’ll never do that, how do you sit down in a room with someone and have a serious conversation?," he stated, elaborating. "I’m a conservative, I believe in the virtues of Ronald Reagan who himself was a great compromiser. He worked with others to bring people together, so while standing on principal, I intend to do the same."
The reference to the word compromise came from a question that CL had offered a moment before as he addressed reporters.
To some in the modern GOP, "compromise" is a dirty word. But not to Sharpe, who emphasized repeatedly in both his speech and his comments with reporters that he is all about bringing people together to find solutions.
Depicting himself as that problem solver, Sharpe had little to say about Kathy Castor, except to comment that he looked forward to running an honorable, positive campaign against her next year.
When contacted by CL earlier today and asked what she thought of a Sharpe candidacy, Castor, who just returned from a trip to Israel, the Democrat opted not to directly comment, saying simply that, " I'm not going to focus on any Republicans in this race, because it's looking like another busy and full primary, " referring to an item posted by Janet Zink in the St. Pete Times last Friday that another Republican, Shawn Harrison, is also considering a run for the seat (though how sincere Harrison is about a possible run might be questionable, since he tells Zink that a consideration would be if his New Tampa home was part of the newly drawn district - but there is a chance that the definitive lines drawn up for a new district may not be known for another year, possibly just weeks before the primary election would take place).
How those district lines are drawn is indisputably the key on whether or not Sharpe, Harrison, or any other Republican has a fighter's chance against Castor, since right now it has been gerrymandered by Republicans to be a safe Democratic district (the only such one in the region, with the rest dominated by the GOP - though if and when C.W. Bill Young ever decides not to run across the Bay in Pinellas County's District 10, a competitive race could break out there).
But Sharpe absolutely has crossover appeal that can likely net him a fair amount of independents as well as some Democrats.
One such Democrat watching Sharpe make his announcement Monday morning was environmental activist Dee Layne, a Democrat who lost to Sharpe in his first election to the Board of County Commissioners in 2004.
"He's the real deal," she said admiringly as Sharpe broke away from a pack of reporters and begin addressing some on a one on one basis. "(Political) parties are what’s getting in the way of the country," Layne said, adding,"It’s the people whose voices need to be heard, stop the extreme rhetoric and you’ll end up getting people to sit down and talk to each other."
Sharpe says he'll continue his duties on the County Commission up through the primary next summer, and if he's successful there, up until the general election in November of 2012.
Indications throughout the summer were that he would indeed announce his candidacy to run again for Congress, something he did three times back in the 1990s. But in a conversation to CL last Wednesday he sounded less sure that would happen, emphasizing the work that needs to be done at the county level. A close adviser to Sharpe confirmed that he believed that the commissioner was having some doubts. And in conversation today on several occasions he remarked that a lot of thinking went in to the decision.
But now it's happening.
(Look out for CL's issue coming out a week from this Thursday, August 25, when we will have more on Sharpe and his race against Democrat Kathy Castor).