Jeff Atwater Builds Bank as Challenger Emerges
Around the State
Florida CFO Jeff Atwater posted impressive third-quarter fundraising numbers on Thursday, even as a new Democratic challenger lines up to run against him in 2014.
From July through September, Atwater ramped up his fundraising efforts, bringing in more than $343,000 during that period. Atwater kept most of what he raised in the bank, spending less than $7,900. As has been the case during his bid for re-election, Atwater’s campaign relied heavily through in-kind donations, including more than $75,600 of them in the third quarter.
In the 2010 elections, he routed former state Rep. Loranne Ausley, the Democratic candidate, beating her 57 percent to 39 percent.
Sunshine State News contacted Atwater’s team Thursday, but they had no comment on their candidate’s fundraising figures.
On Wednesday, businessman and Army veteran William Rankin filed to run against Atwater in 2014. During his time in the Army, Rankin was a special agent for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation (CID) Command, investigating fraud and white-collar crime. Rankin also served as the director of asset management for the Ohio state treasury, overseeing public funds and assets.
Rankin moved to South Florida in 2000 and was active with the federal census. He served as outreach director for the Congressional Census Monitoring Board during the 2000 Census and headed up the Florida State Census Committee. Since that time, he has worked in the private sector.
Speaking with Sunshine State News on Thursday, Rankin pointed to his background as one of the reasons he is running for CFO and said his position with the Ohio government gives him great insight in how to save money in the public sector. “I have a very diverse background,” he said. “I’m more qualified to be CFO than Jeff Atwater.”
Noting there is an “overwhelming Republican majority in Tallahassee,” Rankin said he is running to give Florida voters “an alternative, a choice.”
Rankin insisted he is “not a career politician,” but his experience will help him on the campaign trail and if elected. “I’m like the average Floridian,” he said. “I just have a unique set of skills and background.”
During the 2012 election cycle, Rankin filed to run for a Florida Senate seat but quickly pulled out after doing little campaigning. Speaking to Sunshine State News Thursday, he said his bid was scuttled by redistricting. Rankin said he was originally planning to run for the seat then held by term-limited Nan Rich but, after redistricting, he stepped aside for incumbent Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. Sachs went on to defeat Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff in a rare match-up pitting incumbents against each other.
“For the sake of the party, I gracefully dropped out,” he said.
Rankin told Sunshine State News he supports President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law and attacked a “small gang of Republicans” in Washington for opposing it. Turning his fire to the GOP leadership in Tallahassee, he said their opposition to the expansion of Medicaid was the wrong decision for Florida.
Rankin jabbed Atwater as a “not innovative” CFO and said he would do better in that regard. A staffer informed Sunshine State News that Rankin supports medical marijuana and high-speed rail projects in Florida.
“I have a lot of ideas, a lot of interesting programs,” Rankin said.
While he is the only Democratic candidate currently in the race, Rankin is not the first member of his party to have entered it. Earlier this summer, with the support of the state party, Allie Braswell jumped in, only to leave the race a few days later after it was revealed he had filed for personal bankruptcy. Critics criticized the Florida Democrats and Chairwoman Allison Tant for not properly vetting Braswell.
Rankin did not have the Florida Democrats trumpeting his entry in the race, though he told Sunshine State News they were aware of his candidacy. “The party knows I’m a candidate,” Rankin said. “I’ve given them an opportunity to vet me.”
Sunshine State News talked to both Republican and Democratic insiders on background on Thursday. None of them expect Rankin to be the Democratic nominee and said the party will choose another candidate. One strategist said the Braswell fiasco would make it hard for the Democrats to find a major candidate to take on Atwater.
For his part, Rankin is ready for a primary fight. “I believe in the democratic process,” he said. “I would be happy to have a primary.”
Rankin sounded purposeful as he starts his campaign. “I felt obligated to make a difference and ease the suffering of my fellow Floridians” he said. “The state needs alternative representation. That’s what democracy is.”
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @KevinDerbySSN.