Criticized by local Democrats for his party's inability to field candidates in every local race (a criticism which was also directed towards his predecessors), the party had a candidate in the Senate District 17 race this time around in Wes Johnson, a retired small business owner. He was running unopposed in the August 14 primary, where he would then square off against the Republican in November.
John Legg, Rob Wallace and John Korsack are the GOP candidates, with Legg the heavy establishment favorite. The seat is currently held by disgraced former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, who announced earlier this summer that he would not run for re-election.
To highlight the sad plight of the local Democratic party apparatus, just go back two years ago at this time.
Norman was already the subject of embarrassing news coverage two years ago after it was discovered that his wife Mearline had been the recipient of a $500,000 "gift" from the late Ralph Hughes, the GOP power broker who supported Norman throughout his tenure on the county commission.
That revelation didn't truly wound Norman in his primary race against Kevin Ambler, of whom the Tallahassee GOP establishment had little love for. But the Pasco/Hillsborough Dems (the district is split up into both counties) couldn't find a live human being to run against the ethically compromised candidate in the general election, and Norman won easily over a couple of write-in names.
In a press release issued Friday, Chris Mitchell said "We are very disappointed to learn of Dr. Johnson's decision to withdraw from the race. The voters in District 17 have already begun receiving their ballots and casting their votes, so the timing is especially unfortunate. We wish Wes all the best, and now we turn to the important matter of identifying another strong Democratic candidate to run for this seat."
Johnson's timing couldn't be worse. Well, it could be. He could have dropped out next Wednesday, a day before the deadline for the Democrats to find a new candidate, which is Thursday, August 9.
If the Democrats cannot find a candidate within the next week, the state Division of Elections would make the call on how to go forward.
Either way the odds are extremely low that if they can find a candidate, he or she would be able to muster much of a challenge.