WMNF | Candidates Janet Cruz and Jay Collins face off in the Florida Senate race in Tampa

By Ryan Dailey ©2022 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A political newcomer with a storied military career is vying to unseat a Tampa Bay Democrat incumbent with deep ties to the region in one of the state’s most competitive Senate races.

A steady stream of attack ads have flooded the airwaves and mailboxes in the closely watched contest between state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and Rep. Jay Collins in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election.

Senator Janet Cruz background

Cruz was first elected to the Senate in 2018 after spending eight years in the House, where she served as minority leader. Cruz, who was born in Tampa, defeated incumbent Republican Dan Young in a contested 2018 contest that was also one of the Senate races.

Jay Collins background

Collins, who served in the US Army Special Forces, has a long military resume that includes multiple deployments to war-torn regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The Purple Heart veteran was wounded several times in combat, one wound later necessitating the amputation of one of his legs.

Race Analysis by William March

According to William March, a longtime political reporter who now freelances for media outlets including Tampa Bay Times.

“Her (Cruz’s) advantages are that she is very well established and known locally. Plus, she’s a holder,” March said in a recent interview with The News Service of Florida.

March also noted that the Senate district includes West Tampa, a “heavily Hispanic and generally Democratic voting area,” which he called an advantage for Cruz.

Collins, meanwhile, has “a very strong personal story that he uses heavily in his campaign,” said March, who lives in Tampa.

Collins is the chief program officer of Operation BBQ Relief, a non-profit organization that delivers food to emergency responders and communities affected by natural disasters.

Senate candidates are divided on issues such as education and their attitudes toward Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership style.

The candidates differ on education policy

“My biggest issue, which has been and will continue to be, is protecting (against) the privatization of private schools,” Cruz said in an interview with the News Service. “Ensure against this initiative the abolition of public schools as we know them and (opening) the door to corporate schools so that private entities can profit from it.”

Collins, meanwhile, said he has the “right attitude” to education.

“We all deserve the opportunity for the best education possible,” Collins told the News Service, adding that he has two children in public schools. “I’m committed to making sure all kids have a bridge forward, whatever it may be. Whether it’s business school after high school, college, (getting) a master’s. Everyone has to take the right approach for them.”

The candidates differ on Ron DeSantis’ leadership

The Senate candidate received a high-profile endorsement from DeSantis that accompanied Collins’ announcement in June that he would jump into the race for Senate District 14. Collins originally ran for Congress in the district and later switched to another congressional race. he finally decided to marry Cruz.

Collins praised DeSantis’ leadership during the coronavirus pandemic as an example of how the governor leads.

“When you look at what we’ve done (in Florida), the tough decisions we’ve made during COVID, opening up our state, keeping our economy open and moving business forward, I think we’ve done an amazing job. I think (DeSantis) is strong, he’s brave and he has the nerve to do what he thinks is fundamentally right for our state,” Collins said.

But Cruz has criticized the governor for pushing for the election of his preferred candidates to the legislature, suggesting he has too much control over a separate branch of government.

“When you have a governor who puts his apostles in the House and … in the Senate so that he can run both chambers with enough votes, then we lose our democracy as we know it,” Cruz said.

Cruz also mocked DeSantis’ alleged White House ambitions.

“When this is over and our governor is running for president, we’re going to have to pick up the pieces for all of this,” Cruz said.

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Redistribution

The Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting process hasn’t produced major changes in the political makeup of what Cruz — who defeated Young by 411 votes four years ago — called the “purple” seat.

According to veteran political analyst Susan MacManus, the district leans Democratic, but the Senate race is a hotbed as the clock ticks toward the general election.

“The district is considered by many handicappers to be one of the most competitive Senate districts right now, and there aren’t many in the state,” said MacManus, a retired political science professor at the University of South Florida. recent interview.

Participation

MacManus said Republicans are likely counting on traditionally higher GOP turnout in midterm elections to move up the Senate seat.

“For (Collins), even though he may be the underdog, I think part of the Republican thinking is that typical midterms are an assessment of the president’s favorability and his performance in office, that when (Joe) Biden is still heavily under water. Florida, that would give (Collins) a chance,” she said.

However, ManManus suggested that Cruz still has the edge.

“Great picture, she’d be expected to win because she’s the incumbent and it’s a heavily urban area. The upset picture is that (Collins is) a new face and a veteran, and the president’s low ratings drove him to victory,” MacManus said.

March, meanwhile, said Collins “definitely has a chance, there’s no doubt he has a chance.”

Cruz touted her record in the Legislature and advocacy for the Tampa area as the best fit for the district.

“One of their ads says I was ineffective and didn’t pass any bills, which is not true. I have passed several bills during my time in the Senate,” Cruz said.

Collins sees himself as a new face in politics and a family-oriented candidate who seeks to unite people.

“I think you’re seeing our support structure building because people are ready for leadership that is focused on the individual, to give back to them and not play politics. I am not a career politician. I am a retired Green Beret. I support people in a non-profit. I am a husband and a father. And that’s what people want in these places,” he said.

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