Politics

Campaign Cash Fuels Legislative Primaries

By: Jim Saunders News Service of Florida | Posted: August 26, 2014 3:55 AM
Jay Fant and Paul Renner

Jay Fant and Paul Renner

House and Senate candidates have spent months dialing for dollars and shaking hands at fundraising events.

And with Tuesday's primary elections looming, millions of dollars have washed through legislative races from rural Northwest Florida to densely populated Miami-Dade County. That's just a warm-up, of course. The main event will come in the Nov. 4 general election, which means more campaign cash will be needed to fuel television ads and mailers.

Candidates filed their final finance reports Friday before the primaries. Based on those reports, here are some examples of where big money has been at play heading into Tuesday:

-- HD 5: Former state Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, stepped aside in 2012 after being drawn into the same district as Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, during the reapportionment process. But with Coley term-limited this year, Drake is seeking to return to the House in the sprawling Northwest Florida district -- and has the backing of Republican leaders and major players in the Capitol.

Drake raised a total of $381,299 through Thursday and had spent $319,249. Drake's primary opponent, Jan Hooks, R-Santa Rosa Beach, reported $170,035 in contributions, with $120,000 of that amount coming from Hooks herself.

-- HD 15: With state Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, deciding against seeking another term, Republicans Jay Fant and Paul Renner have been locked in an arms race in the western Duval County district. In all, the two candidates had combined to spend in the neighborhood of $700,000 as of last week.

Fant has raised $225,693 and loaned his campaign $374,650, while spending $416,154 as of Thursday. Renner, meanwhile, collected more in contributions -- $313,415 -- than Fant and had spent $283,205.

-- HD 74: Like HD 15, the battle in Sarasota County's HD 74 is playing out in a relatively compact area. But with Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, facing term limits, the campaign has turned into a bitter, big-money contest between Republicans Richard DeNapoli and Julio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez raised $315,260 through Thursday and had spent $287,701. DeNapoli had raised $120,114 and loaned $240,000 to his campaign. In all, the two candidates had spent nearly $645,000 -- and that doesn't include heavy spending on advertising by outside groups involved in the race.

-- SD 30: At least from a financial standpoint, there is little contest between Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and her primary challenger, Bokeelia Republican Michael Dreikorn. But with Dreikorn running an outsider-type campaign Benacquisto appears to be taking no chances in the conservative district, which includes parts of Lee and Charlotte counties.

Benacquisto raised $710,559 through Thursday and had spent $632,149 -- the second highest contribution level of any legislative candidate this year. Dreikorn, by comparison, raised $15,638.

-- SD 32: As Senate appropriations chairman, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has been one of the most influential figures in Tallahassee during the past two years. And as he has run for re-election, the money has poured into his campaign in a district that includes parts of Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.

Negron, R-Stuart, raised $727,649 through Thursday while spending $593,128. That doesn't take into account a Negron-affiliated political committee, known as the "Treasure Coast Alliance," which had raised $1.6 million. Negron's primary opponent, Port St. Lucie Republican Brandon Cannon, raised $25,516 and loaned his campaign $72,011.

-- SD 36: Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, had raised relatively little money until this summer. But faced with a primary opponent in the district that includes parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Braynon poured it on during the past two months, including raising $71,300 from Aug. 9 through Thursday.

In all, Braynon raised $293,611 and had spent $229,783 as of Thursday. His primary opponent, North Miami Democrat Anis "Auguste" Blemur raised $49,116 in contributions and loaned $55,810 to the campaign.


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