In a final push before Tuesday’s primary elections, House and Senate candidates collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions during the past three weeks — and, in some cases, wrote big checks themselves, new reports show, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
In one of the state’s most closely watched races, former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, reported raising $99,190 between July 21 and Aug. 9, giving him an overall total of $333,825 as he tries to return to the Legislature in Hillsborough County’s newly drawn Senate District 24. His primary opponent, Rep. Rachel Burgin of Riverview, collected $13,700 during the period and had a total of $141,678.
In another major Senate primary, former Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, collected $89,746 during the reporting period and had a total of $448,573 as he tries to win in District 4 in Duval and Nassau counties. His opponent, Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, collected $32,370 and had a total of $244,906 — and also loaned his campaign $50,000 in late July.
Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, also had a strong fund-raising period as she tries to top two other Republicans in the primary in District 15, which includes parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties. Stargel collected $53,625, giving her an overall total of $276,451. Her closest Republican rival, Jack Myers, raised $9,095 during the period and had a total of $163,906.
Candidates faced a Friday deadline for reporting campaign-finance information from July 21 to Aug. 9, the last update before Tuesday’s primaries. Reports trickled onto the state Division of Elections website throughout the day, and many remained unavailable late Friday afternoon.
The reports give a picture of which candidates are receiving support from major contributors. But they do not reflect the millions of dollars that are flowing through outside political groups this year to try to influence legislative races.
Among House candidates, one of the biggest fund-raisers during the period was Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican who is expected to become House speaker in 2014. Dorworth collected $50,450 during the period and reported a total of $365,222, far outdistancing two primary opponents in District 29.
But other top House fund-raisers included non-incumbents running for open seats.
As an example, Key Largo Republican Holly Merrill Raschein, a former legislative aide who is trying to win the District 120 seat in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, collected $56,700 between July 21 and Aug. 9. She reported an overall total of $98,886, dwarfing the $17,625 overall total raised by her primary opponent, former Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson.
In largely rural District 55, meanwhile, Avon Park Republican Cary Pigman gathered $33,675 between July 21 and Aug. 9, giving him an overall total of $94,919. Pigman has a fund-raising edge over his primary opponent, former Rep. Randy Johnson, of Sebring, who raised $15,600 during the period and had $33,440 overall.
Among Democratic House candidates, Larry Lee, Jr., of Fort Pierce, collected $33,254 during the period and reported an overall total of $95,184 in the open race for District 84. Lee has out-raised his two primary opponents, including former Rep. Adam Fetterman, who collected $18,825 during the period and had a total of $63,960.
In some cases, candidates also funneled large amounts of their own money into trying to win open seats. For instance, former Rep. Carl Domino, a Jupiter Republican running in House District 82, loaned his campaign $106,513 in recent days — which came on top of $95,000 in loans he made earlier.
Similarly, former Rep. Jamey Westbrook, R-Port St. Joe, gave his campaign $30,000 during the reporting period, as he tries to return to Tallahassee in open District 7. Earlier, Westbrook had contributed $120,000 to the campaign.