Politics

Stakes Are High in Open Jacksonville House GOP Primary

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: December 17, 2013 3:55 AM
Jay Fant and Paul Renner

Jay Fant and Paul Renner

Businessman Jay Fant started strong out of the gate as he battles Paul Renner for the Republican nomination to replace Daniel Davis in the Florida House. Davis is leaving the House to focus on leading the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Fant has raised eyebrows with his strong fundraising. After doing nothing after jumping in the race in October, Fant went all out in November, raising more than $139,000, loaning his campaign $138,000 and keeping most of it in the bank. Fant is getting looks from the Republican leadership in Tallahassee and having pros like Brett Doster in his corner can only help.

But Renner is no lightweight, even though he is not keeping pace with Fant in the money race. Since getting in the race in early July, Renner has raised almost $77,000 and had around $69,000 on hand at the end of November. Renner also has pros on his side, including Data Targeting.

With two strong candidates running in the race so far, First Coast Republicans are starting to take sides. Having done legal work for the Republicans, Renner has major ties and he’s reeled in some major endorsements, including the backing of John Thrasher and John Rutherford. At first glance, Renner should have the edge on Fant in terms of GOP ties. But Fant’s family has been in banking for decades in the area and he has gotten some big endorsements of his own, including John Peyton.

This race could get ugly. Renner’s team has already launched a few attacks against Fant’s record at First Guaranty Bank which was taken over by the FDIC after failing. Both candidates are insisting they’re conservatives and will try to showcase that as they woo over GOP primary voters.

Despite a competitive primary on the Republican side, Democrats will have a hard time taking advantage of it. They didn’t run any candidate against Davis in 2012. They also didn’t tackle the Republican candidate in 2010 when Jennifer Carroll was set to run until Rick Scott named her as his running mate. Republicans put Davis up to run after Carroll moved on to gunning for higher office. No matter how ugly it gets in the Republican primary, the GOP should be able to keep this seat.

2015 will be a big year in Jacksonville as Alvin Brown looks for another term, but there doesn’t appear to be much happening there politically in 2014. Whoever wins the primary between Fant and Renner is set to be a major figure on the First Coast for some time to come. The stakes are high and this should be one of the most interesting Republican primaries in Florida next year.



Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.
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