Jen McDonald, Karen Gonzalez Pittman battle for South Tampa House seat

Gun Rights

Local business owner Jen McDonald and former education administrator Karen Gonzalez Pittman are battling it out in one of the most competitive — and perhaps unpredictable — districts in Tampa Bay: House District 65.

The seat closely resembles current House District 60 represented by Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress. But redistricting has made it a much more competitive district, with only a slight Republican advantage.

McDonald, a Democrat, is hoping to flip it blue. Pittman, a Republican, is working to keep it red.

McDonald will likely need to appeal across party lines to take the seat, especially after Toledo not surprisingly endorsed Pittman as her successor. But she may have a slight advantage in name recognition after running an unsuccessful campaign for Hillsborough County Commission in 2020.

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Although the district has a Republican advantage of about 5,000 voters, residents in the district have shown they are willing to cross party lines. In 2020, 51% of the district went to President Joe Biden, while only 47% went to former President Donald Trump. The 2020 statistics also show nonpartisan voters in the district may lean Democratic. By the numbers, HD 65 is made up of 45,267 registered Republicans, 40,094 registered Democrats and 36,518 nonpartisan or third-party voters, according to the most recent L2 voter data.

As for funding, the two are also neck-and-neck.

Pittman narrowly bested McDonald in fundraising, amassing $318,272 since entering the race, as well as $10,000 in self-funding. McDonald, on the other hand, has collected $307,043 between her campaign and affiliated political committee, Bright Future Tampa Bay.

McDonald started the General Election cycle with a strong cash-on-hand advantage, a result of having no Primary challenger. Pittman, however, had to dip into her purse to win the contentious GOP Primary, entering the cycle with only $12,493 in cash-on-hand, but gradually regaining her strength throughout September and October.

Pittman became the GOP nominee after a narrow victory in a three-way Republican Primary, in which she defeated her closest competitor, Jake Hoffman, 44%-43%. The pair each became the subjects of attacks, with accusations of each being too liberal spewed across campaign ads.

The pair have each picked up notable endorsements. Pittman, who currently operates a vein care clinic with her physician husband, has earned backing from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. McDonald has earned endorsements from La Gaceta, the Tampa Bay Times, the Service Employees International Union and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

McDonald and Pittman will face off in the Nov. 8 General Election.

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