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Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Challengers Fight Over War Chests as GOP Tracks Race

April 23, 2012 - 6:00pm

Two GOP candidates vying to take on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fort Lauderdale, are taking potshots at each other's war chests while the national Republican Party has them both "on the radar."

Ozzie DeFaria reported last week that he had collected "nearly $400,000 in total receipts, an amount greater than any challenger to Debbie Wasserman Schultz has ever reported."

DeFaria's campaign declared more than $181,000 in first-quarter receipts and more than $200,000 cash-on-hand. Among his top donors was business magnate Wayne Huizenga, who pitched in $5,000.

Karen Harrington's supporters called DeFaria's numbers "a complete and total lie."

"DeFaria raised only $69,055 in the January-to-March fundraising quarter. He contributed $62,007 to himself and then went ahead and loaned himself another $50,000.

"Since he has announced his run, he has loaned himself $150,000. He has done this to inflate his numbers and lie to the press and media, giving the assumption that he has the advantage in fundraising, when in reality that simply is not the case," the Harrington source said.

DeFaria's camp countered that it's Harrington who is using sleight of hand, and Federal Election Commission reports show her campaign listing more than $229,000 in loans.

Between Jan. 19, 2010, and Oct. 19, 2011, Harrington took out eight personal loans totaling $190,000. Half of the loans came during the period when Harrington was running against Wasserman Schultz in 2010.

In addition, Harrington carries $39,782 in credit card debt.

"To defeat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, we need a credible candidate with the resources to wage a competitive campaign," said DeFaria spokesman Jason Alweiss.

"Ozzie has nearly twice as much cash-on-hand as Karen and has secured donations from over 1,700 donors in 48 states. To the contrary, after over two years of campaigning, Karen is running a debt-financed campaign plagued with $40,000 in credit card debt."

DeFaria, a businessman making his first run for public office, is unabashed about the need to self-fund a start-up campaign -- and he is unapologetic about laying out his own cash in the 23rd Congressional District.

Needling Harrington, a campaign source taunted: "She's been campaigning for Congress for almost four years against one of the most hated liberals in Congress, and she can only raise $100,000?

"She's carried an awful lot of debt from the previous campaign, and not paying it off."

Despite the reliance on self-financing by each camp, both DeFaria and Harrington have ascended to "On the Radar" status, as designated by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"On the Radar" ranking puts candidates in line for logistical and financial support in the general elections. The next rung up the RNCC ladder is "Contender."

The best-funded candidates are branded "Young Guns," and receive priority attention and support from the national party.

So far, the only other Florida Republican congressional candidate "On the Radar" is Adam Hasner, who is running in Rep. Allen West's old district.

Knocking off Wasserman Schultz, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee and, thus, has ready access to almost unlimited campaign cash, is rated a long shot. Yet the contest has attracted three additional GOP hopefuls: Joe Kaufman, Juan Eliel Garcia and Gineen Bresso. All have far less money and organization than either Harrington or DeFaria.

Tom Lauder, a writer for the Red Broward website, said DeFaria's financials appear healthier than Harrington's.

"Ozzie is the front-runner now because of the money. Only he, and maybe Harrington, are in a position to buy mass media," said Lauder, who is not supporting any candidate.

If Harrington and DeFaria agree on one thing, it's their shared belief that the four-term congresswoman is in for the fight of her political life this year.

"Barack Obama named her [to chair the DNC] figuring this seat was in the bag. It's not," DeFaria says.

To bolster her own prospects, Harrington last week formed a joint fundraising committee with Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando, who is dueling 10-term Rep. John Mica in the newly drawn 7th Congressional District.

"Women for Freedom" will conduct its first "finance event" May 11 in Fort Lauderdale, followed by one in the Orlando area.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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