With party primaries finished and the general election looming, new campaign-finance reports show where some of the state’s top legislative races will play out in November, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
Money flowed between Aug. 10 and Sept. 14 to districts where Republican and Democratic leaders see opportunities to pick up seats — or fear incumbents could be threatened.
As an example, state Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, collected $79,665 during the period as he tries to end the political comeback of former lawmaker Nancy Argenziano, who is running as an independent in House District 34. As a sign of the race’s importance to Republicans, the state GOP chipped in $49,000 of that amount and also has helped Smith with in-kind costs such as staffing and polling.
Argenziano’s updated campaign-finance totals had not been posted to a state elections website Friday afternoon, but she is almost certain to be vastly out-spent by Smith. She had raised a total of $5,395 as of Aug. 9, while Smith has wracked up a total of $180,387.
But Argenziano, a former Republican House member and senator, might have received a grass-roots boost Friday when the Tea Party of Florida announced that it was endorsing her, citing her “honesty, integrity and independence from the political machine.”
Another Republican House candidate who was a top fund-raiser during the period was Monticello businessman Halsey Beshears, who is trying to win what is effectively an open seat in north Florida’s District 7. Beshears collected $73,400 in contributions during the most-recent period, with the state Republican Party putting in $44,000 of that total.
Beshears substantially out-raised Bristol Democrat Robert Hill, who collected $11,150 during the period. The newly redrawn District 7, which includes a huge swath of rural north Florida, opened up when Greenville Democrat Leonard Bembry decided to run for Congress this year.
In Senate races, meanwhile, two of the period’s top fund-raisers, Democrat Frank Bruno and Republican Dorothy Hukill, are fiercely campaigning for the open District 8 seat.
Bruno, chairman of the Volusia County Council, raised $65,895 during the period, narrowly edging Hukill, a House member from Port Orange who collected $64,275. The redrawn district, which includes most of Volusia County, a large chunk of Marion County and a corner of Lake County, effectively came open because Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, is term limited.
Overall, Hukill has raised $395,836, while Bruno has raised $307,863. But both parties are expected to spend far more than that to buy advertising and help the candidates in what is one of the most closely watched races in the state.
In another huge Senate race, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, raised $94,841 during the period, bringing her overall total to $497,776. Her District 34 opponent, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, reported raising $63,866 during the period and an overall total of $274,426.
The incumbents are running against each other because the once-a-decade reapportionment process redrew district boundaries in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Candidates faced a Friday deadline for filing reports detailing contributions and expenditures between Aug. 10 and Sept. 14. While the reports highlight some of the state’s top races, they are only one piece of a far-bigger campaign finance picture that includes massive spending this year by the political parties and outside groups.
For instance, a committee headed by incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, collected $378,750 in contributions during the period, including $250,000 from a major Texas conservative donor. The reports indicate the committee has more than $1 million in unspent money heading into the heart of the fall campaign.
The new contribution reports also show that, in some cases, large amounts of money are flowing to incumbents who appear to face relatively little opposition in November.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, raised $53,250 during the period, giving her an overall total of $601,765. By contrast, her opponent in District 30, Fort Myers Democrat Debbie Jordan, has raised a total of $5,420.
Similarly, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, raised $37,500 during the period and had an overall total of $691,300. His opponent, Richard Harrison, who is running without party affiliation, has raised a total of $1,000.