Carrie Pilon Archives - Florida Politics

Brandes up big in first SD 24 poll since Lindsay Cross tagged in

Knocking off St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes was always a long shot, and the first measure of the race since Lindsay Cross subbed in for Carrie Pilon shows those slim chances dwindling further.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Brandes has the support of nearly 39 percent of Senate District 24 voters, giving him a better than 2-to-1 lead over Cross, who was the pick for an even 19 percent of those polled. With 42 percent of voters undecided, there’s room for growth for both candidates.

Cross entered the race at the end of last month, a few weeks after the prior Democratic nominee, trial lawyer Carrie Pilon, withdrew from the contest due to the unexpected health problems of a close family member.

During her brief tenure in the race, Pilon worked up from a 9-point deficit in late May to within striking distance by early July. Cross will certainly see major gains in her poll numbers as Election Day approaches, though her poor showing in this inaugural measure is a bitter reminder that just because one candidate made headway by putting in some elbow grease, doesn’t mean another can swoop in and reap the benefits.

When it comes to name ID, she’s got a lot of work to do.

Brandes is a known quantity to 59 percent of SD 24 voters, and they find him favorable by a margin of 39-20. Cross, meanwhile, is known by just 27 percent of the district and those who offered their opinion gave her a somewhat lukewarm 21-16 favorability rating.

In addition to playing catchup on the name ID front, Cross needs to bring in some cold hard cash, pronto. Brandes, through Aug. 3, had nearly $863,000 in the bank between his campaign and political committee, Liberty Florida, and that’s after more than $807,000 in spending since the 2018 campaign cycle began.

As it stands, it’s unclear whether Cross is hunkering down to put in the work needed to put SD 24 in play.

According to her first campaign finance report, which to be fair only covered a partial week, she’s brought in just $3,000 in monetary contributions. One would expect Cross and her family, close friends, longtime co-workers and acquaintances to pitch in and jumpstart the campaign to build some buzz.

A typical candidate would have made the calls and had the checks ready for day 1 — Pilon did as much when she pulled together $100K for her inaugural reports.

The problem may be a bit deeper, however, as sources familiar with the Cross campaign say she is fresh off a European vacation and hasn’t quite returned to the day-to-day grind — If true, she better return from the clouds tout suite, or the conversation will quickly shift to the degree of electoral embarrassment she can expect come Election Day.

Of the cash she did bring in, two-thirds came from the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, stretched-thin pot of money overseen by Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson. The other $1,000 came from self-employed property manager Sidney Smith Wilson.

Gibson’s fund also threw in another $25,000 to kickstart research efforts, as well as buy a campaign computer and cell phone. While fronting that cash would be a no-brainer for the ever-flush Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, it is a much more significant investment for the FDLCC, which had $400,000 in the bank at last check in.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 11-12 and received responses from 757 likely general election voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Lindsay Cross takes over Democratic bid for SD 24 after Carrie Pilon’s departure

It has been more than three weeks since Carrie Pilon announced she was ending her bid to unseat St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes in state Senate District 24.

Now, Florida Democrats have settled on her replacement.

Lindsay Cross, an environmental scientist who works as executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, will pick up where Pilon left off. It gives her just over three months to cobble together a campaign to take on the incumbent Republican.

“I’m running for State Senate because all residents in Senate District 24 need an advocate who works for them, not for special interests,” Cross said in announcing her candidacy Monday afternoon. “As a member of the State Senate, I’ll invest in the people of our district by ensuring a quality education, affordable healthcare, protecting our drinking water and environment, and buffering our local and tourist based-businesses from the effects of pollution and climate change.”

Pilon announced her withdrawal from the SD 24 race on July 6, and Florida Democrats faced a Monday deadline to pick her replacement. As of midmorning, the party had not issued a formal news release announcing Cross as their nominee in the Pinellas County district.

According to her Florida Wildlife Corridor bio, Cross has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 2001 and spent 14 years with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program “working to protect and restore water quality and coastal and upland habitats.”

“Having led an environmental non-profit, I fully appreciate the importance of Florida’s natural resources on every aspect of our lives,” Cross said. “Moreover, I understand how to balance a budget and keep spending focused on priorities that will make a difference.”

During that time, she earned a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of South Florida and graduated from the University of Florida’s Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute and the St. Petersburg Chamber’s Leadership St. Pete program.

Polling consistently shows SD 24 as winnable for a Democratic candidate. A survey conducted by St. Pete Polls days ahead of Pilon’s exit showed her within five points of Brandes with 13 percent of voters undecided.

Despite the hopeful measures for Democrats, the truncated campaign cycle gives Cross little time to build name recognition or raise the kind of money needed to take on Brandes, who had $464,000 in hard money and another $369,000 in his political committee, Liberty Florida, as of July 20.

The past three weeks have also seen Brandes ramp up his ground operation in the district, giving him a massive head start in voter outreach.

The good news for Cross: She faces no opposition in the primary, nor are there any third-party candidates running to siphon away Democratic-leaning residents already inclined to vote blue rather than send Brandes back to Tallahassee.

She and Brandes will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.

The first inkling of Cross’ fundraising ability will come Aug. 10, in a campaign finance report covering the first few days of her candidacy. Her first full-week report is due Aug. 17.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Jeff Brandes holding ‘Super Saturday’ canvassing event

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is gearing up for his re-election bid with a “Super Saturday” canvassing event in St. Petersburg-based Senate District 24.

“Come show your support for Jeff Brandes! Join us on July 14 at 9:00 a.m. at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg for coffee and donuts. Help Senator Brandes spread his message by knocking on voters doors in nearby neighborhoods. Then at 12:30 p.m. we’ll meet at Green Bench Brewery for lunch and drinks,” the event listing says.

Crisp Park is located at the intersection of 37th Avenue NE and Poplar Street NE in St. Petersburg; Green Bench Brewery is located at 1133 Baum Ave. North. Those looking to attend can sign up to volunteer on the Facebook event listing.

Brandes, a lifelong resident of St. Pete, is running for his final term in the Florida Senate. He was first elected in 2012 and was a member of the Florida House for the two years prior.

Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon was slated to be his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election, though she recently withdrew from the race, citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member.

With Pilon’s exit, the Florida Democratic Party must now recruit another nominee to pick up the baton for the last four months of the 2018 cycle — a tough task only made tougher by Brandes’ prolific fundraising.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before being carried by Donald Trump in 2016.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Jeff Brandes

Jeff Brandes piles on cash as Florida Democrats scramble to replace Carrie Pilon

St. Petersburg Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes doesn’t know who he’ll be up against come Election Day, but that hasn’t stopped donors from pouring beaucoup bucks into his political committee.

A newly filed campaign finance report for Liberty Florida shows the Senate District 24 incumbent reeled in a six-figure haul from a crop of well-known donors in the last week of June.

Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a candidate for Senate President in 2022, chipped in $15,000 via her Working Together For Florida political committee and Miami-based air cargo company Florida Cargo Fresh matched her while U.S. Sugar and AIF-affiliated Floridians for a Stronger Democracy each showed up at the $10,000 level.

AT&T, Allstate and GEICO also made the donor sheet with smaller contributions.

In all, Liberty Florida cashed 17 checks worth a combined $103,500 during the week and now has more than $350,000 in the bank. Brandes’ campaign account is even more flush with cash — he had $467,250 in hard money three-quarters of the way through June.

The committee cash came a week before one-time challenger Carrie Pilon’s announcement that she would abdicate her spot on the ballot due to serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member.

SD 24 has a slight Republican lean. It voted for Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump two years ago, and 2018 polling has consistently shown it was possible for a Democratic candidate to flip it — a recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.

With Pilon’s exit, however, the Florida Democratic Party must now recruit another nominee to pick up the baton for the last four months of the 2018 cycle — a tough task only made tougher by Brandes’ prolific fundraising.

Carrie Pilon, Democratic challenger to Jeff Brandes, withdraws from state Senate race

Carrie Pilon, the Democrat trial attorney challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes in a battleground state Senate district, has withdrawn from the race.

Citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member, Pilon said, in a statement first provided to Florida Politics, that it is “impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves.”

The first sign that something was amiss with Pilon’s campaign came last week, when the most recent campaign finance reports showed that Pilon’s fundraising efforts had dramatically trailed off. That report showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising.

This led to speculation at last weekend’s annual gathering of Florida Democrats that Pilon was on the verge of exiting the race.

Democrat insiders attempted to persuade Pilon to stay in the race, although many were unaware of the personal issues affecting Pilon’s ability to engage in the campaign fully.

Polling has consistently shown SD 24 is winnable for a Democratic candidate. A recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.

Pilon’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start.

Shortly after she made her announcement launching her campaign, Brandes touted the endorsement of Pilon’s father-in-law, Ray Pilon, a former state Representative who is seeking to return to the Legislature.

Asked by Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune if he wanted to elaborate on his decision to back Brandes publicly over his daughter-in-law, Pilon noted in a text message that as a member of the Republican Party of Sarasota’s executive committee he is prohibited from endorsing a Democrat. But that did not mean he had to support Brandes. He could have stayed quiet about the race.

Still, Pilon would go on to earn her own endorsements, mostly from other Democrats. She also raised $150,000 for her bid, no easy feat against an incumbent lawmaker.

Democrats were hopeful that in this election cycle, with its record number of women candidates, that Pilon could put SD 24 in their column.

Because she has withdrawn after the candidate qualifying period, the Democratic Party will select a replacement for Pilon. According to her campaign, the party has already identified several potential candidates.

The Democrats may end up fielding a candidate, but it’s likely that Pilon was their best bet. She was just the kind of candidate — smart enough to hold her own against the wonky Brandes, but unknown enough not to have too many negatives for his campaign to exploit — who could have given the Republican a real run.

“As a daughter of an elderly dad, I am keenly aware of what Carrie’s family is going through,” said state Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Senate Democratic Leader-designate. “Her struggle is all too familiar to thousands of families across our state, and we must do a better job of helping them.

“The Democratic Caucus of the Florida Senate was attracted to Carrie as a candidate because she has been a leader in her local community and knows how to solve problems,” Gibson added. “I have no doubt she will continue to serve her community and make Florida better. Our thanks to Carrie for carrying the mantle thus far.”

Florida Democrats’ ambition of flipping the state Senate probably ends with Pilon’s withdrawal.

Senate Democrats are also faced with the conundrum of how to fund the slate of challengers they have recruited as part of a broader effort to win control of the Chamber. The Dems have quality candidates in four other races (versus Republicans Keith Perry, Kelli Stargel, Dana Young and Ed Hooper), but probably only have the money to fund two or three full-fledged state Senate campaigns.

While Pilon’s supporters and the Democrats may be disappointed in her decision to withdraw from the race, there is one community undoubtedly relieved by it: the staff and families of the students at Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School. Both Pilon and Brandes (along with this writer) send their children to the well-regarded private school. Having two parents running against each other had already become an awkward topic on social media.

Pilon’s departure from the race heads off the possibility of any heated political debates on the school’s playgrounds or in the student pickup line.

Here is Pilon’s full statement:

“I want to thank all of my supporters and volunteers, who made this campaign special. This campaign would not be where it is today without all of you, and I will always be grateful for your support.

“It is only after much thoughtful contemplation and family consultation that I must say, with a heavy heart, that I am withdrawing from this race for personal reasons. Out of respect for the privacy of our family, I do not wish to go into great detail about these circumstances.

“However, I can say that a close family member is experiencing some serious and unexpected health problems. These health issues, unfortunately, have made it impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves, while also being able to provide the support my family needs.

“We still have a full slate of strong Democrats up and down the ticket, and across the state, who will bring desperately needed change to Tallahassee.

“Until we change the makeup of the state Legislature, Tallahassee will continue to ignore the needs of working Floridians and continue working for special interests. I am encouraged that my short presence in this race has already brought attention to people, communities, and issues that are vital to change. I will continue to fight with our fellow candidates to ensure that change happens and will work with the Democratic Party to ensure that a strong Democratic candidate takes my place on the ballot.

“I extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who supported this campaign, and share our vision for SD-24, and Florida.”

Fresh polling: Jeff Brandes, Janet Cruz lead in battleground state Senate seats; Ed Hooper, Amanda Murphy deadlocked.

Poll numbers in two battleground state Senate seats have shifted significantly since last month, while a third race remains essentially deadlocked.

In SD 16, the seat previously held by Jack Latvala, Republican Ed Hooper and Democrat Amanda Murphy remain deadlocked, with Hooper at 45 percent and Murphy at 43 percent. The good news here for the GOP is that this race has shifted ever so slightly to Hooper.

At last check-in, Murphy led by less than a point. Murphy’s May lead and Hooper’s late June one fall well within St. Pete Polls’ margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Like the previous poll, one in eight voters in the northern Pinellas and southwest Pasco district remains undecided. The shift over the past month came from Republican and Democratic voters coalescing around their party’s candidate — Hooper received 72 percent support from Republicans and 15 percent support from Democrats; Murphy received 74 percent support from Democrats and 15 percent support from Republicans.

Unaffiliated and third-party voters, who make up 30 percent of the SD 16 electorate, went plus-7 for Murphy with 14 percent undecided. White voters also favored Hooper, 47-42 percent, while Murphy carried minority voters by a substantial margin, though non-white, non-Hispanic voters only make up about 15 percent of the SD 16 electorate according to the district’s demographic profile.

Hooper holds a 5-point lead among men, while he and Murphy are tied among women. Voters aged 18 to 29 prefer Murphy by 4 points; the 30 to 49 years old bracket went for Hooper by 8 points; those aged 50 to 69 swung back toward Murphy, 45-43 percent; and voters over 70 went plus-6 for Hooper.

In SD 18, incumbent Republican Dana Young now trails Democrat Janet Cruz by a point after entering the candidate qualifying period with a nine-point lead. Of significance, since we last polled, Cruz clarified how her name will appear on the ballot, dropping her second last name, “Rifkin.”

The bounce back was expected for Cruz, who pulled just 62 percent support from Democratic voters in the May poll. The new results show an 8-point bump from her base, while Young saw her support among likely GOP voters dip from 75 percent to 72 percent.

Voters who are not a member of one of the major parties supported Cruz by a hefty 15-point margin. A month ago, those same voters gave Young a slim advantage. The poll also shows Young with a 2-point advantage among men, while Cruz holds a 3-point lead among women.

White voters still preferred Young, though the 46-43 percent split is a massive improvement for Cruz, who trailed by 15 points in the May poll. Cruz holds a near 50-point advantage among black voters, though she trails by 10 points among Hispanic voters, who make up 30 percent of SD 18’s electorate.

Cruz leads among younger voters 49-41 percent; Gen Xers favor Young 46-42 percent; the 50- to 69-year-old bracket went plus-4 for Cruz, 46-42 percent; and those 70 and up slightly favor Young, 43-41 percent.

Over in SD 24, incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes is still ahead of trial lawyer Carrie Pilon46 percent to 41 percent, which is down from the nine-point lead he held at the end of May, but still outside the margin of error.

Much like the poll SD 18, much of the change came from Pilon’s increased support among Democratic voters. She pulls 69 percent support from Democrats in the new poll, compared to 65 percent a month ago. Brandes, like Young, also saw a slight dip in GOP support.

The St. Pete Republican leads by 6 points among white voters, down from 12 points last month. He also saw his leads slip in three age groups, most notably among voters under 30, who prefer him 46-42 compared to the 59-26 margin he enjoyed in the previous poll. Voters aged 50 to 69 flipped from plus-2 Brandes to plus-3 Pilon, while older voters went from plus-22 Brandes to plus-6 Brandes.

His lead among 30- to 49-year-old voters, however, expanded to 52-35.

All three robopolls were conducted over this past weekend and only include responses from those voters who said they intend to vote in the November elections.

The races for Senate Districts 16, 18, and 24 will likely decide the course, if not control, of the Florida Senate as the Democrats have identified the three seats as a package of five to six they are targeting in the 2018 election cycle, the others being Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in the Florida Senate, with SD 16 currently vacant.

Carrie Pilon craters in SD 24 money race

Florida Democrats say Senate District 24 is one of their top targets in the fall, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Democratic candidate Carrie Pilon narrowly outraised incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in April, but followed that up with an underwhelming performance in May. Her newest report, which covers the first three weeks of June, is more than underwhelming — it’s abysmal.

The St. Petersburg trial lawyer showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising and tacked on another $3,000 through her political committee, Moving Pinellas Forward. Her burn rate was similarly small, which would only be a good thing if the election was a year or more away. But it’s not.

As it stands, Pilon has raised about $141,000 between her campaign and committee and has about $131,000 banked.

Brandes, meanwhile, kept trucking along with another $68,000 in fundraising. That brings him near the $1.4 million mark for the 2018 cycle to date. He has $728,500 in the bank between his campaign and his political committee, Liberty Florida.

The Pilon campaign pointed to past election results when it made the case for her candidacy, and while it’s true Barack Obama carried the district in both of his presidential elections, it’s hard to see a path to victory for a candidate being outraised ten to one.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Both candidates are unopposed in their primaries. The general election is Nov. 6.

Florida Democrats say ‘no GOP seat is safe’ in 2018

A record number Democratic candidates qualified for state races this week, and the Florida Democratic Party said now it’s time to prepare for the “Blue Wave.”

“From the Gubernatorial race, to State House and Senate, to county commissioners and mayors, we have the most qualified, committed, and exciting group of candidates we have ever seen,” said FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo.

“We have a record number of people who have stepped up to run, and what this shows us is that no GOP seat is safe. After nearly 20-years of all-Republican rule, Floridians are fed-up with economic policies that don’t benefit working families, they are tired of their children’s education being shortchanged, and they are tired of leaders who have failed to take action on everything from gun violence prevention to climate change.”

Rizzo also touted a record-breaking 82 Democratic women making the ballot for state legislative races.

“Women will be the difference in 2018, I do truly believe that. They are instrumental to the success of the Democratic Party, and they feel more empowered than ever to take their future into their own hands by running for office,” she said.

It’s too early to tell whether Democrats can crack the GOP’s hold on state government by flipping the Governor’s Mansion, or possibly even the state Senate, but now that the title cards are set it’s clear heretofore underdogs’ strategy is more reminiscent of Rocky than Glass Joe.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in Florida Senate, with one vacancy. Democrats plan to take the chamber back has been clear for months — flip Tampa Bay and field fresh, credible challengers in Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36. Win five, win the Senate.

On the Tampa Bay front, Democrats have recruited House Minority Leader Janet Cruz to challenge Republican Sen. Dana Young in SD 18; former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy to take on former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper in SD 16, and trial attorney Carrie Pilon to challenge St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in SD 24. None of those races will be easy, but the 2018 crop of candidates is certainly more competitive than in 2016.

In SD 8, the party likes its odds with Kayser Enneking, and she’s done her part by pulling in a respectable amount of cash for her campaign. Incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry still leads her in fundraising, but not by near the margin found in the Tampa races.

The fundraising gap and Republican lean is more significant in SD 22, where former circuit court judge Bob Doyel is challenging Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel. He’s a much more formidable opponent however than the 2016 Democratic nominee, Debra Wright, who to her credit still came within 7 points despite being outspent 20-to-1.

Time will tell on David Perez’ bid against Republican Rep. Manny Diaz in SD 36. Diaz is a popular and very well-funded, and Perez has only been in the race for a couple of weeks.

While the Senate roadmap is known, Florida Democrats have been less direct about their overall strategy to chip away at the GOP’s sizable majority in the House.

Republicans currently have a stranglehold on the chamber, which is split 76-41 with three vacancies. Two of those empty seats are Republican locks, and the third was a gimme for Democrats — congrats to Boynton Beach Democrat Joseph Casello, who was elected to HD 90 without opposition Friday.

At 42 seats, the party is still a dozen from the number that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and in 2018 the strategy in the lower chamber reflects a familiar adage: “You must be present to win.”

To that end, Democrats are fielding a candidate in over 100 districts, a marked increase from the 63 Democrats who took a shot in 2016. And it’s not all quantity over quality — a cursory glance the 95 House races that weren’t decided Friday jogs the memory on some of the strong candidates running under the Democratic Party banner.

In Orlando’s HD 47, Anna Eskamani has strong odds to flip the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Mike Miller. In Broward-based HD 93, Emma Collum has a genuine chance to succeed term-limited Republican Rep. George Moraitis. And in perennial target HD 63, Fentrice Driskell is raising cash and landing endorsements as she aims to unseat Tampa Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison.

Even in some districts previously thought of as moonshots, some real-deal candidates have shown up and gotten to work. In Sarasota’s HD 74, for instance, Tony Mowry is confident he can hand James Buchanan his second defeat of the year in a traditionally Republican seat. Tracye Polson is matching her GOP opponents in fundraising in her bid to flip HD 15, the seat vacated by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant.

#8 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Jeff Brandes

The Republican state Senator from St. Petersburg fell a few slots this year. That’s not to say Jeff Brandes doesn’t have the juice he did in prior years.

And like in previous years, he had a busy 2018 Session. He sponsored some 65 bills and co-sponsored dozens more. He sat on seven committees, including as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

He did have a couple of legislative losses, including on measures aimed at overhauling transportation as well as criminal justice reform. Among his wins: a law that bars state and local government agencies from doing with business with companies that boycott Israel, a measure protecting consumers from having to pay security fees on credit reports and a bill reducing the minimum age of corrections officers from 19 to 18 to help meet staffing demands.

Over the years, Brandes has earned a reputation for being a maverick who’s ahead of his time on everything from criminal justice to transportation. He was an early backer for ride-share technology and is a major proponent of incorporating driverless electric vehicles into the state’s public transit infrastructure.

“Sen. Brandes is a visionary, and he’s carved a powerful pathway as Florida’s thought leader on advanced technology,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Seth McKeel.

Brandes’ Senate District 24, covers most of southern Pinellas County, save for a large swath of south St. Petersburg, which is part of Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson’s district. It was a seat newly redrawn in 2012; Brandes left the state House seat he won in 2010 to launch his successful bid for it. In 2014, he bested Democratic opponent Judithanne McLauchlan by four points, and he had no significant opposition in 2016.

This year is different, though. Brandes has a potentially strong opponent in St. Petersburg attorney Carrie Pilon, a Democrat whose husband is the son of former State Rep. Ray Pilon, a Republican.

Recent polling suggests an early lead for Brandes over his Pilon, but it’s still early, and there’s no accounting for what kind of impact the blue wave can have in a district like the HD 24.

A key advantage for Brandes is his access to seemingly boundless volumes of cash via his campaign coffers as well as his PAC, Liberty Florida.

Brandes came in fifth in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Jeff Brandes adds $187K for re-election, Carrie Pilon sputters

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes recorded another six-figure haul in his Senate District 24 re-election bid, while Democratic challenger Carrie Pilon saw a massive drop-off in fundraising in only her second month on the trail.

In a Monday press release, the Brandes campaign celebrated raising nearly $187,000 in May, the third month in a row recording a six-figure haul.

“I am truly grateful for the amount of support our campaign continues to receive each and every day,” Brandes said in a press release. “It’s a testament to the level of excitement for our message and what we want to accomplish for our community and our state. I look forward to continuing to take our message to the voters.”

The Pilon campaign stayed quiet about their comparatively meager haul, a stark change from a month ago when the first-time candidate and her team were loud and proud about their slim April fundraising win.

The trial lawyer indeed outraised Brandes by a few thousand dollars in her inaugurals, but her May reports measure in at a quarter the size of her April ones — $26,680 for her campaign and zilch for her committee, Moving Pinellas Forward.

That brings Pilon to about $131,000 raised and $124,000 on hand 60 days into her campaign.

Brandes’ campaign report wasn’t viewable via the Florida Division of Elections Monday afternoon, though his committee, Liberty Florida, reported receiving $143,000 in its new report.

Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Company topped the committee report with a $25,000 check. The Florida Chamber of Commerce showed up with a $15,000 check, followed by Duke Energy and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson’s Jobs for Florida political committee at $10,000 apiece.

Brandes’ release didn’t mention his overall on hand total. However, Liberty Florida entered June with $237,743 in the bank. By the end of April, the campaign account had $457,782 on hand.

On April 30, Brandes had $568,000 on hand compared to $102,000 for Pilon. Depending on how much his campaign spent, that $450,000-plus cash advantage could balloon well past $600,000.

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