Expect a host -- no, call it a super-host -- of familiar faces in the Florida Senate to return in 2014. Not a single member of the upper chamber faces term limits next year, but never mind that -- so far they've raised some serious cash while drawing virtually no opposition.
With opposition not forthcoming, incumbent senators have been free to raise money and build up war chests. Some Republican incumbents broke into the six figures in the first quarter of 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, raised more than $112,000 in the first quarter of 2013 and spent only $2,500 in the same period. Freshman Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was right behind her, bringing in more than $111,000 in the quarter and spending more than $15,500. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, widely expected to become Senate president after the 2016 elections, brought in more than $104,000 in the first quarter and spent more than $2,050.
Other new senators also raised eyebrows with their impressive fundraising. Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, who was first elected to the Senate in November, raised more than $77,000 in the first quarter of 2012 and spent around $1,250. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey, brought in $74,650 and spent more than $3,000.
In addition, freshman Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, raised almost $64,000 in the first quarter of 2013. He kept most of it on hand, spending around $3,700 in the same period. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, raised more than $58,000 but has been spending more than his colleagues -- almost $19,000 in the first quarter of 2013.
Bean is not the only senator from a strong Republican district in North Florida to post impressive fundraising numbers at the start of 2013. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, took in more than $50,800 and spent just under $5,200. Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, reeled in more than $45,000 in the first quarter and spent around $525.
Other Republican incumbents also had strong fundraising quarters. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, brought in more than $96,500 and spent around $2,600. In South Florida, Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, reeled in in excess of $89,000 and spent around $1,300. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, raised more than $81,500 and spent more than $5,800. On the Space Coast, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, took in $68,40 and spent around $9,750.
Three Republican incumbents lagged behind the rest of their colleagues up for re-election in 2014 in terms of fundraising:
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, raised $34,250 and spent less than $50 in his first quarter back in Tallahassee. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, took in $27,000 and spent $32 in the first quarter, while Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, raised $18,000, loaned his campaign $1,500 and spent around $4,570.
Four Democrats in the Florida Senate are up for re-election in 2014. Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, led the Democrats by raising almost $35,800 in the first months of 2013 while only spending around $175. Sen. Geri Thompson, D-Orlando, brought in $18,650, all of which she kept in the bank because she had no expenditures in the first quarter. Sen. Darren Soto, R-Kissimmee, raised an even $14,000 and spent $350. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, took in $13,250 and had zero expenditures.
So far only two of the 10 senators on the 2014 ballot have drawn opponents and neither incumbent should break a sweat over familiar challengers. Republican Fritz Jackson Seide, a frequent candidate, is aiming for a rematch with Thomson in 2014. In 2012, Thompson took 69 percent of the vote while Seide pulled 31 percent. Businessman Zahid Roy is looking to topple Latvala in the Republican primaries. When they battled for the GOP nod in 2012, Latvala pulled 85 percent while Roy garnered a mere 15 percent. Roy entered the race on Friday and therefore will not file with the state until the end of the second quarter. Seide filed a waiver.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.