Judithanne McLauchlan says working the grassroots will pay off in SD22 race

Judithanne McLauchlan is a political scientist, so it makes sense that she would seriously study the chances of a Democrat winning the Senate District 22 race before advising that candidate to run.

In this case, the candidate is herself. And yes, she definitely thinks she could defeat Republican Jeff Brandes in the unique swing district, which encompasses most of St. Petersburg, some of the beach areas of Pinellas County, and all of South Tampa.

"This seat is a competitive seat," she told a group of a couple of dozen people attending the Hillsborough County GLBTA monthly meeting at J.J.'s in Ybor City. "This is a seat that President Obama won twice. It's a seat that Alex Sink won for governor in 2010 ... this seat actually leans Democrat, so why do we have somebody like Jeff Brandes who is conservative and so far outside this moderate district?" she asked.

Her answer is that the Democrats didn't even field a candidate against the St. Petersburg-based Republican, who first ran for the Senate seat after serving just one term in the state House of Representatives.

The 45-year-old McLauchlan has been teaching political science and related classes for the past decade at USFSP, and has worked in Democratic politics (including years in the Clinton White House) for most of her career. Though she says she won't be able to match the fundraising of the financially secure Brandes, she says her path to victory will be a grassroots campaign that will rely on as many donors and volunteers as possible to keep her competitive in the race.

"Back in the days I used to run campaigns, so before I got into the race I crunched the numbers to feel confident that this was a winnable seat because obviously it’s a huge sacrifice for me and my family," she said, referring to the fact that she teaches full-time and has a young daughter to take care of.

As she has said in the past, it was Brandes' rejection of a hybrid plan to expand Medicaid in 2013 that "outraged" her and compelled her to think about running against him this year.

She alluded to the fact that Democrats historically drop off in big numbers when voting in off-year elections, citing what happened in the CD13 race between David Jolly and Alex Sink last month (she said that the fact that many of the beach communities had municipal elections compelled those voters to come out in large numbers).

A native of Pennsylvania who spent most of her pre-Washington D.C. career in the Northeast, McLauchlan said that after living for a decade in the Sunshine State she's become "distressed and disappointed with what is happening in Tallahassee," and thus made the decision to "walk the walk" and try to become part of the solution.

Senator Brandes serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee in the state Senate, and has kept himself in the headlines frequently this legislative session, whether regarding increasing the speed limit on Florida roads, killing red-light cameras, trying to boost Uber's opportunities in the state, or pushing for an NRA-backed measure to allow people without concealed weapons licenses to pocket their guns during emergencies. He has said when the time is right (such as when the session ends), he'll start up his re-election campaign.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.