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Mike Watkins opens cash lead in race for House District 7

HD 7 is a GOP stronghold that voted plus-38 for Donald Trump.

It’s early, but two candidates in line for a pending special election are shaping up for a fundraising showdown.

House District 7 Republican candidate Mike Watkins had $143,000 ready to deploy at the end of 2018, according to campaign finance reports recently posted to the Division of Elections website. Watkins filed nearly a year ago to run for the seat in 2020. He amassed more than $23,000 in contributions during the month of December. 

Jason Shoaf, another Republican hopeful, boasted just more than $50,000 through the same period, though unlike Watkins his campaign fund hit that target thanks to $30,000 in candidate loans. He wins December when it comes to total receipts, but it’s Watkins who wears the crown in true fundraising.

Shoaf has had less time to raise money for the reporting period, however, filing to run for the seat shortly before incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped incumbent state Rep. Halsey Beshears to lead the Department of Business and Professional Regulation — only weeks from the year’s end.

Beshears, a Monticello Republican, vacated his seat in the House on Friday.

DeSantis can now schedule a special election for the district, which stretches across 10 Big Bend and Panhandle counties.

Shoaf, a vice president for the St. Joe Natural Gas Company, received $1,000 from the utility. He also received $3,000 total from family members and a family trust.

Notably, former Lt. Gov. and three-day Gov. Wayne Mixson (he had filled in for former Gov. Bob Graham after Graham took office in the U.S. Senate) cut a $1,000 check for Shoaf’s bid. Mixson served in office as a Democrat but is now a Republican.

Watkins, CEO of child-welfare group Big Bend Community Based Care, received $1,000 checks from the political arm of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, a beverage distributor, and several real estate interests. He also chipped in $4,000 of his own money.

Casting aside the family and candidate contribs, Shoaf brought in $17,200 in outside money compared to $19,675 for Watkins. Watkins started the year with $143,000 in the bank while Shoaf had $50,170 in his war chest.

Republican Ralph Thomas, meanwhile, reported just shy of $10,000 in contributions and loaned his campaign $500 and finished the month without spending a dime. The Wakulla County Commissioner entered the race more than halfway through the reporting period.

Democrat Ryan Terrell, who filed in late December, did not list any contributions apart from personal and minimal in-kind expenses. Former area-lawmaker Nancy Argenziano backed Terrell’s candidacy earlier this week.

HD 7 is a GOP stronghold that voted plus-38 for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. Beshears, likewise, has had no trouble holding onto the seat.

Democrat Robert Hill, who ran in 2012, is the only Election-Day challenger Beshears faced in his four House campaigns. The Monticello Republican scored an easy 61-39 victory in that contest.

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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