After surviving one of the most contested Florida House races in 2012, Joe Saunders can expect a much easier assignment in 2014.
The Orange County Democrat gained some political experience during his time with Equality Florida but he turned his eyes to running for elected office in 2012, setting his sights on the House seat Darren Soto was leaving as he ran for the Senate. After a contested primary with attorney Shayan Elahi, who spent more than $60,000, Saunders moved on to the general election to take on Republican Marco Pena, an executive at Florida Hospital.
Despite it being a strong Democratic district, Republicans thought the world of Pena. By the time the dust had settled, Pena spent more than $239,700 and relied on almost $143,000 of in-kind donations. Saunders spent almost $222,900 and went through almost $43,000 of in-kind donations.
Saunders went on to win in impressive fashion. When all was said and done, Saunders won with 56 percent while Pena mustered 44 percent. Still in his early 30s, Pena isnt done and he ended up on the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board last year. But Saunders, who turns 31 next month, shouldnt expect a rematch from his old foe. Instead, Saunders can look forward to what should be a quiet contest for his second term.
Edward Nelson Rodriguez got in the race back in August and, so far, he is the only Republican in the race. Rodriguez has some interesting credentials including working in the private sector and serving in the Army and in law enforcement. Conservatives should like Rodriguezs stances, including being a staunch defender of the Second Amendment. But Rodriguez has never had much luck when hes run for office, whether against Queens Democrat Gary Ackerman for Congress up in New York back in 1986 or in Orange County. Rodriguez has done almost next to nothing in terms of fundraising despite loaning his campaign $5,000 when he started his efforts.
Saunders, on the other hand, has been busy raising money. By the end of January, he raised more than $81,500 and barely spent less than $4,830 of that. While thats not much compared to the amounts he raised last time out or what Pena used against him, Saunders hasnt needed to go full throttle in the money race yet.
Between his money edge, the Democratic-leaning nature of his district and his opposition so far, Saunders is a heavy favorite to keep this seat. Republicans think they have some chances to pick up House seats in Central Florida but this isnt one of them.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.