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Sanchez’s run gets a bit edgy

It’s official. The race to become Tampa’s next mayor has gotten a little ugly. And it’s Frank Sanchez who’s on the offensive.

Trying to chip away at the large lead of former Hillsborough County elections supervisor Pam Iorio, Sanchez, a businessman and former Bill Clinton aide, has played a dependable political card: He has accused Iorio of wanting to increase taxes to implement her programs.

Sanchez’ s proof comes from a 1990 Hillsborough County Commission meeting. At that meeting, Iorio mentioned a possible $1 tax charge based on property values to help fund a stormwater drainage project. Iorio claims the matter was not discussed seriously, but Sanchez said taxes are Iorio’s answer to everything.

Also, Sanchez has introduced a new term to the race. He has said Iorio is talking in “Pam-speak,” meaning she evades questions by giving vague answers.

Sanchez’s tactics are new in a race that has, so far, been fair. But they are not surprising.

On the first election day, Iorio earned 46 percent of the vote, while Sanchez finished with slightly more than 20 percent. Even with three fewer candidates, Sanchez has a big gap to close before the March 25 runoff — big enough to require strong tactics.

It seems those tactics may be starting to pay off. Sanchez was strong in the early debates between the two and put Iorio on the defensive. Instead of talking about issues, Iorio has been decrying Sanchez’s “negative” tactics.

Iorio has a squeaky-clean image. But, she has not been tested in a difficulty, dirty campaign in some time. She has relied on gains she made as elections supervisor in the early stages of the race and her name recognition. Because of her commanding lead, she flew under the radar, as the other candidates fought for second place and a chance in the runoff.

Now, however, Sanchez is coming after her and has put the ball in her court. For the first time in her mayoral campaign, Iorio has to come up with an answer.

Sanchez has also spent the last 10 days touting his business experience. Iorio has more political experience, but Sanchez has said Tampa needs a strong business leader in the current economic climate.

His message seems to have made some gains. While he does not have the endorsements Iorio has, local business leaders have reportedly begun to back him, nervous about what an Iorio administration could mean.

In addition, the county commission has begun to weigh in on the race. Iorio has her backers, but powerful and well-known commissioner Pat Frank supports Sanchez. He has also gotten help from Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ronde Barber.

Sanchez’s ability to pull off the upset should not be underestimated. As he often points out, a year ago few people in Tampa even knew his name. Now he has fought his way into the runoff.

For swaying that all-important undecided vote, this week will be pivotal. There will be four separate debates. Anything can happen in those debates, and the entire race could change on one mistake.

Possibly the most important of these debates is one hosted tonight by the League of Women Voters. It will be televised live at 8 p.m. on local channel 15. A mistake in this debate would be critical. Channel 15 will replay the debate no fewer than six times in the week leading up to the runoff.

What do the candidates need to do in the final week before the election?

Sanchez simply needs to keep doing what he is doing. He doesn’t want to go too far and seem like he’s bullying, but he’s got to crack Iorio’s image.

Also, Sanchez needs to play the business card as much as possible. That is his strong suit, and, in tough economic times, voters may think it’s more important to have a businessman than a career politician in office.

Iorio, it seems, has a tougher task. It would be very easy, especially with a seemingly commanding lead, to rest on her laurels. Doing this, however, may invite an upset.

Iorio needs to eliminate the “Pam-speak.” She needs to start giving specifics on what she is going to do, and how she is going to make it happen. If she deflects Sanchez’s current tactics, she will probably cruise to victory.

It all starts tonight with the live television audience. Both candidates need to be on their toes, or their mayoral dreams could come to a sudden stop.