Political Capital: Watching the money race ahead of the political chase

Lee Herald Favicon 16With just over three months to go until Floridians hit the polls for primary elections, candidates in local, state, and federal races are revving up their fundraising efforts to drum up support.

The qualification window for federal offices has already come and gone – so the fields for those races are set. But with just over a month until the qualification period in state races, there’s still time for surprises before Floridians know “who’s in?” for August.

Until then though, there’s the race before the race: the paper chase. Fundraising.


Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam leads the money race among those vying to replace the term-limited Rick Scott in the governor’s race. Putnam pulled in another $556,000 to his campaign in April, along with another nearly $150,000 in in-kind contributions. He spent $216,000 in April, and has just over $3.5 million to play with, having spent $1.8 of the $5.4 million his campaign has raised.

Putnam got a boost last week when potential rival, outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran, said he wouldn’t seek the office and backed Putnam.

“Florida is an expensive state. It costs a lot of money to run,” Corcoran said at a Wednesday press conference announcing the endorsement. “I don’t think we had the resources to move forward.”

Ron DeSantis, Putnam’s main challenger in the Republican primary, and narrow leader in last week’s Florida Atlantic University poll, has a much smaller war chest. DeSantis raised $357,000 in April, spending $216,000, and has raised just under $1.5 million in total. But what DeSantis lacks in cash he has made up in exposure, making frequent appearances on Fox News, and picking up an endorsement from President Donald Trump.

Of the 12 Republican candidates declared for the race, the only other candidate with any demonstrable presence or fundraising is Bob White, who picked up an endorsement from libertarian-leaning former Congressman Ron Paul earlier this month. White has raised $43,000 this cycle.

On the Democratic side, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham raised $339,000, along with another $127,000 in-kind, spending $122,000 in April. She’s raised the most among Democratic hopefuls with $3.1 million in cash and another $1.26 million in-kind, spending $1.2 million so far.

“This campaign is fueled by Floridians and grassroots supporters who are passionate about sharing Gwen’s positive message and dreams for Florida. Democrats are tired of dirty campaigns and outside secret-money groups interfering in elections,” Campaign Manager Julia Woodward said in a statement.

But while Graham has raised the most, former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine has spent the most. Levine has pumped $5 million of his own money into the race so far, including $2.2 million in April. Levine spent $1.9 million last month.

Businessman Chris King raised just under $20,000 in April, part of $2.26 million total but has lend his campaign another $400,000 in April after putting up $425,000 in March.

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum received $80,000 in-kind and raised $111,000, spending $43,000. He’s gotten a total of $2 million between cash and in-kind contributions.


Congressional candidates file quarterly reports, with the next one due on July 15.

The Senate race is expected to be one of the most expensive in the country, between Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, but with Scott waiting until April to join, it means waiting a little long to see just how expensive this race is going to get. Nelson had just over $10 million in cash on hand at the end of March.

In FL-19, Southwest Florida’s seat in the House, incumbent Francis Rooney had $273,000 in cash on-hand at the end of March. Of the two Democrats vying to replace him, David Holden had raised $102,000, with just under $35,000 on hand while Todd Truax has $5,400 in cash on hand.


Only two races in the Florida House in Southwest Florida have primaries this time around, District 79, which covers northeastern Lee County including North Fort Myers, Lehigh, and Alva, and District 105, which lumps eastern Collier County including Golden Gate Estates in with portions of western Dade County.

In District 79, lawyer and retired U.S. Coast Guard member Spencer Roach raised $32,000 in April and has about $70,000 on hand. Entrepreneur and Marine Corps reservist Peter Cuderman raised $9,100 and lent his campaign another $7,000 in April, giving him $30,000 cash on hand, while Matt Miller raised nothing in April after lending his campaign $10,000 in March. All three Republicans, and Democrat Mark Lipton, are seeking to replace the term-limited Matt Caldwell, who is running for Commissioner of Agriculture.

In District 105, both Republicans looking to replace the outgoing Carlos Trujillo are based on the east coast, but David Rivera raised $10,000, giving him a total of $245,000 raised along with $150,000 in loans and reported no expenditures in April. Ana Maria Rodriguez raised $6,000 and spent $11,000 in April, but has about $90,000 in cash on hand.


Collier County Commissioner Andy Solis reported a $10,000 loan to his campaign in April, while his Republican challenger in District 2 had $8,800 on hand, $3,500 of it a loan as he joins the race.

In District 4, incumbent Penny Taylor has $9,000 on hand, while challenger Stephen Jaron opened his campaign with $2,500.

In the races in Collier School Board, no candidate spend or raised any significant funds in April, but Jen Mitchell leads District 3 in money raised and spent over opponents Kathy Ryan and Victor Dotres, while Roy Terry, the only incumbent running in 2018, holds a significant money edge over opponents Mary Ellen Cash and Darlene Alvarez. Jory Westberry is currently unopposed in District 1. District 1 incumbent Kelly Lichter and District 3 incumbent Erika Donalds are not seeking re-election.

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