Most of Florida’s members of Congress in hot seats for 2018 elections are off to hot starts in raising money for their re-election campaigns.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy and Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast already have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each just this year, with Crist, of St. Petersburg, leading all Florida congressional candidates with $720,000 raised, and $146,000 spent on his campaign during its opening months.
All four of them have districts that are within five percentage points of being dead-purple in Republican-Democratic voter registration split, with Curbelo actually in a Democratic-leaning district, according to the latest Palmer Report, which tracks congressional district voter mixes.
With what he had left over from his last campaign, Crist ended the first quarter sitting on $672,000.
Curbelo, of Kendall, nearly kept pace with Crist’s fundraising and tops Crist in net money this year, bringing in $613,000 in the first three months of 2017, and spending just $51,000 of that, according to the latest reports from the Federal Election Commission. He had $605,000 in the bank, including leftovers from his previous run.
Mast of Palm City raised $428,000 in the first three months, and spent $113,000. Murphy of Winter Park raised $286,000 and spent $41,000 through the end of the first quarter. Mast finished the first quarter $819,000 in cash; and Murphy, $256,000.
In other close districts, Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami also is in a Democratic-leaning district, but she announced last month that she is retiring, and her district is swarming with declared and potential candidates. Still, she raised a healthy sum in the first quarter, bringing in $341,000, while spending $92,000 of that. She closed out the first quarter with $315,000 in the bank.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando holds just a five-point Democratic advantage in his district, but his fundraising was weak in the first quarter. He collected just $41,000 in donations and spent about half of that. Soto had only $50,000 in the bank after the first quarter of 2017.
Likewise, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton has a six-point Democratic advantage, and raised just $51,000, while spending more than twice that much. Yet Deutch had $260,000 in cash, thanks to strong reserves from his previous campaigns.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami has a four-point Republican advantage, and raised $126,000 and spent $83,000. He had $534,000 in cash.
Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland holds just a six-point Republican voter advantage. He raised $146,000 and spent $56,000. He had $115,000 in the bank.
Among potential challengers, there is Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Windermere. The two-time congressman filed to run in a third district in 2018, that of Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster. Grayson reported raising $132,000, yet he spent $152,000, much of it to repay loans he had made to his campaign. At the end of the quarter, Grayson’s campaign had no money left.
It remains unclear if and where Grayson intends to ultimately run, because when he first filed he said he was leaving all options open, including not running. He first represented Florida’s 10th Congressional District, before losing it to Webster in 2010. He re-emerged to win Florida’s 9th Congressional district in 2012, but did not seek re-election last year because of an ill-fated attempt to run for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. CD 10 is now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who may be unbeatable, and CD 9 is held by Soto. In Webster’s 11th Congressional District, Webster has a 15-point advantage in voter registration.
Webster, of Clermont, raised $105,000 and spent $56,000, and finished the quarter with $75,000 cash in hand.
Among other incumbents who have voter-mix safety or relative safety in their districts, Republican U.S. Rep. Vernon Buchanan of Longboat Key raised $395,000, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston raised $287,000, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach raised $206,000, Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakus of Palm Harbor raised $148,000, Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach raised $121,000, and U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City raised $114,000.
No other incumbent topped $75,000.
Virtually none of the other challengers reported raising even $5,000 in the first quarter.
Then there is Cliff Stearns, the Republican 12-term former congressman who left after losing a primary to U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho in 2012, after redistricting. Stearns has not filed to run for anything since, but his old campaign remains in operation and reported raising $57,000 in investment earnings in the first three months of 2017. That was more income than 10 Florida incumbent members of Congress were able to raise in the quarter. On March 31, Stearns’ campaign committee had $1.5 million in the bank.