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SD 39: Ron Saunders Leads Crowded Dem Primary in Money Chase

July 18, 2012 - 6:00pm

With Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, heading to the sidelines due to term limits, a crowded field of Democrats -- including three representatives who served together in the Florida House -- are battling it out in the Aug. 14 primary.

Five Democrats are running for the SD 39 seat, which stretches across Collier, Hendry, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West leads the field in the money chase. Saunders is a veteran of the Legislature, serving four terms after being elected in 1986 and resurfacing in 2006 to run again. Saunders currently represents all of Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade. Since jumping in the race on April 2, Saunders has raised almost $61,500 and spent more than $31,000.

But Saunders faces a challenge from one of his caucus members -- Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, the son of the senator who they are battling to replace and former Rep. Ed Bullard who represented the area for eight years in the House. First elected to the Florida House in 2008, Dwight Bullard, a teacher by profession, has become one of his partys point men on education issues. So far this campaign cycle, Dwight Bullard has raised more than $22,000 and spent more than $11,000.

Former Rep. James Bush is also in the race. Bush is no stranger to Tallahassee, having first won election to the Florida House in 1992. After serving eight years and facing term limits, Bush re-emerged in 2008 to serve another term in the House representing parts of Miami-Dade. In 2010, Bush was part of a crowded Democratic congressional primary battle but lost out to Frederica Wilson. In 2011, Bush ran in a special election for a state Senate seat but came up short. Bush has not been able to keep pace with Saunders and Dwight Bullard in terms of fundraising. So far this election cycle, Bush has raised more than $8,100 and spent almost $7,000 since entering the race in early January -- leaving little on hand in the final weeks before the primary.

Sal Gutierrez, a defender of property rights, is also running for the Democratic nomination. He ran against Saunders in 2006 as a Republican but lost out to the veteran legislator. Since entering the race at the end of April, Gutierrez has not raised any contributions and has relied on $2,000 in loans, spending more than $1,800.

John "JJ" Johnson of Miami is also running for the Democratic nomination and, like Gutierrez, is relying on loans to his campaign. Since entering the race in early June, Johnson has not raised anything but he did loan the campaign $2,100, of which $2,098 has already been spent.

Whoever emerges with the Democratic nomination will be a heavy favorite to win the seat. Businessman Scott Hopes has the Republican nomination sewn up and will face whichever Democrat triumphs in the primary. Since entering the race in early June, Hopes has raised $2,200 and spent almost $1,800.

Saunders has won the endorsements of the leadership of the Florida business community. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) are backing Saunders as he looks to move to the House from the Senate. On Monday, the Florida Retail Federation also threw its support to him.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.


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