Up until now the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Commission's District 7 countywide seat between Pat Kemp and Mark Nash has been a relatively genteel affair.
Over the weekend, residents in Hillsborough County received a direct mail piece put out by the Nash campaign that accuses Kemp of failed leadership when she was chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee during the 2010 election cycle — the period when Democrats were "shellacked," in Barack Obama's words.
"It's the harsh reality of what failed leadership looks like," Nash says.
The mailer lists a series of incidents that Nash says occurred during Kemp's reign as part chair, including closing down a local party office because of lackluster fundraising, and losing the respect of party officials. But it's the first bullet point on the flier that has her hopping mad — that she excluded blacks and Latinos from party leadership.
Kemp says the innuendo underlying that statement is that she's somehow racist. "I think that's very inflammatory, ugly to use, and dangerous stuff," she said on Tuesday. "For them to do that is really beyond the pale." She then read off a list to CL of prominent black and Latinos in the county who are backing her campaign.
A number of Hillsborough Democrats have weighed in on Facebook to denounce Nash's mailer, including Latino activist Edwin Enciso, who wrote that though he had been uncertain about whom to support in the primary, he now was behind Kemp. "Whoever gave Mark the advice to run this mailer should be run out of Democratic politics," he wrote.
Another Latina Hillsborough Democrat, Elena McCullough, calls the mailer "a lie," and takes particular umbrage considering that her name is listed on the mailer as one of the many Democrats who ran and lost in 2010 when Kemp served as party chair. "To insinuate that Pat was somehow at fault for the results in 2010 is ridiculous," she writes on Facebook.
In fact, very few Democratic party chairs outside of California had much to crow about after the Tea Party-led insurgence dominated the 2010 election results. "It's the kind of thing that you do when you have nothing to say about yourself," Kemp says, adding that the allegations in the mailer are "unfounded."
The mailer also takes aim about what was undoubtedly controversial when Kemp served as party chair: the fact that she ran for a special House District seat against Janet Cruz while still in charge of the party (she took a leave of absence for the month leading into the special election). "Democratic voters in Hillsborough County deserve to understand what took place while she was chair, and the flier simply explains that," Nash says. "She claimed it (in her own mailer), and we explained it."
Kemp says that her race against Cruz wasn't that controversial, but it certainly was within the political microcosm that is the Hillsborough County Democratic Party (as this story by CL at that time attests to). Some of those feelings have never abated (Later in the day Kemp asked CL to emphasize that the party chair gig is a voluntary position).
Both Democrats have said that they would stand by the other after the August 26 primary and focus their energies on defeating the likely Republican nominee in District 7, Al Higginbotham. When asked if he thought he could now expect Kemp's support in light of this mailer, Nash said, "However my opponent and her supporters choose how to react going forward after the 26th is their business, but I hope they'll be thinking about the best interests of Hillsborough County after the 26th."
Kemp said that her endorsement wasn't that important per se, but wasn't backing away from her proclaimed support for Nash if he were to win next week. But she said that it might be a whole different story for her many volunteers who have been turned off by the mailer.