TAMPA — In the year since County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman filed to switch to commission District 7, she raised more than $180,000 to fund a race for the countywide seat.
But in a surprise move Friday, Murman let a deadline pass without filing papers with the Supervisor of Elections office to resign from her current District 1 seat. Instead, she will stay in District 1 until she reaches the end of her term limit in 2020 and says she has no plans to run for another seat.
"There's no doubt I was going to win but my gut was telling me to finish out my term," said Murman, a Republican.
Her decision leaves the countywide seat without an obvious frontrunner and causes major upheaval for the three candidates who filed for the 2020 ballot anticipating the contest would switch to this year's ballot once Murman resigned.
That includes Republicans Aakash Patel, who has raised $450,000 in campaign contributions; Todd Marks, who has raised more than $80,000; and Democrat Jen McDonald, who has raised less than $5,000.
All three said late Friday they will take the weekend to consider their next move.
The most obvious step would be to switch to District 7, where Commissioner Al Higginbothsam is retiring. But running for a countywide seat is a tough task for first time candidates. Hillsborough County has about 1.4 million people compared to about 400,000 living in Murman's District 1, which covers west Hillsborough from Ruskin up to Keystone.
"Countywide is a big endeavor," Marks said. "I will talk to my family and gauge my support for a much bigger effort."
Candidates must live within a district to run for a single-member seat. The only other countywide seat on the ballot this year is District 5, which already has a crowded field that includes term-limited District 2 Commissioner Victor Crist. The deadline for filing to run is June 22.
Patel, whose campaign slogan is Patel 2018, said he still intends to be on the ballot this year.
"I will review every opportunity to run for election in 2018," he said. "We're ready and we're strong and our supporters are behind us."
A former state lawmaker, Murman was the first Republican woman to hold the position of speaker pro-tempore in the Florida House of Representatives. She was elected to the District 1 commission seat in 2010.
She said staying in her seat would allow her to continue to work on issues she has focused on since taking office. That includes her work on a Blue Ribbon Committee for Child Safety, which she created to address the shortcomings of the county's foster care system.
Her decision to withdraw from the District 7 race comes after an unsuccessful push to put a referendum on the ballot to abolish countywide seats in favor of nine single-member seats. That had led to speculation she would finish her term then run in a newly drawn district.
Her decision to withdraw was made after discussion with consultants Anthony Pedicini and Matthew Blair.
"I fully respect term limits and maybe that weighed on my mind a lot," she said. "When my term is done, I would have been here 10 years."
There was no guarantee that Murman would take District 7.
Even as Donald Trump swept to victory in 2016, Democrats won all four countywide races on the general election ballot. Democrat Pat Kemp beat Tim Schock for the District 6 seat.
There were also victories for incumbents Bob Henriquez in the property appraiser's race and Clerk of the Court Pat Frank and a surprise victory in the state attorney's race for newcomer Andrew Warren.
Countywide Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by almost 30,000 although there are more than 133,000 residents registered as independents.
Democrat Jen McDonald, who also filed to run in District 1 in 2020, said she would take the weekend to consider her options.
"I was very committed to running for District 1 and serving the people but this is a new dynamic," she said.