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Spending spree: Senators send back up to swelling GOP Senate fund

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young offloaded more than half of the cash available in her affiliated political committee last week with a single, $800,000 check to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Her committee, Friends of Dana Young, had $1.38 million in the bank on Sept. 7 but at the end of the reporting period ending Sept. 14 the committee had about $573,000 left to spend.

It’s likely that much of that cash will come back to her via “in-kind” support for her SD 18 re-election campaign from FRSCC, a cash rich party affiliated committee helmed by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano that’s charged with maintaining the Republican majority in the state Senate.

As of Aug. 31, FRSCC had provided nearly $400,000 in assistance to Young’s campaign.

Young’s contribution comes as she faces a tough battle against House Minority leader Janet Cruz to hold her seat, which covers much of Tampa. Polling has indicated it will be a close race. At one point, Cruz held a slim lead, but Young is now back on top by 3 points according to a St. Pete Polls survey conducted this week.

After the transfer, Young had about $1 million left to spend between her campaign and committee accounts. Cruz, meanwhile, has about $165,000 at the ready between her two accounts.

Young’s transfer came alongside another infusion from the political committee of Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson. His committee, Jobs for Florida, chipped in $550,000 last week, bringing the committee’s lifetime contributions to the fund past the $1.9 million mark.

Simpson, who represents SD 10, will also be on the ballot in the fall though he will only face nominal opposition from Spring Hill Democrat Michael Cottrell. Unlike Young’s SD 18, which has a purple electorate, SD 10 voted has voted overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate in nearly every statewide race over the past decade.

Jobs for Florida had $1.57 million on hand on Sept. 14.

Young’s and Simpson’s contributions give a window in the financial health of FRSCC, which has more infrequent reporting deadlines than political committees. FRSCC had nearly $2 million in the bank at the end of the April through August reporting period, with its next report due just a few days before the Nov. 6 general election.

Senate candidate works ‘Words With Friends’ into fundraising pitch

A creative fundraising appeal may help bolster Democrat Billee Bussard‘s campaign against well-funded incumbent Republican Aaron Bean in northeast Florida’s Senate District 4.

Bussard, a 73-year-old veteran journalist, had $5,000 on hand at the end of August.

But she offered an unusual story on her Facebook page, one that would only make sense in the world of random games of “Words With Friends,” the Scrabble-like game that took off as smartphones did almost a decade ago.

Bussard has a regular opponent that she has difficulty defeating: 22 wins in over 300 games.

Finally, over conversation during one of these games, she divulged that she was running for Senate … and he divulged that he was a Jacksonville resident, and “practically neighbors.”

All of this set up a fundraising pitch.

“Hey, all you #WordsWithFriends soul mates, how about kicking in a small donation (or a big one) to my campaign so I don’t have to work so hard raising money in this final stretch to turn the Florida Senate blue.”

Bean, who survived a primary, is well-fortified with cash: Over $200,000 on hand at the end of August.

It remains to be seen whether #WordsWithFriends is a fundraising draw. Just like on the board itself, there is an element of luck of the tiles.

Bobby Payne brings the money for re-election bid

State Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican representing House District 19, has amassed what looks to be a prohibitive cash advantage against Democratic challenger Paul Still.

Payne’s last two reporting periods have been strong — between Aug. 24 and Sept. 14, he raised a total of $30,325.

Of that sum, $21,025 was raised Aug. 24-31, from 62 individual contributions. Among the donors: Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach and various regional Chamber of Commerce groups.

The district covers Bradford, Putnam and Union counties, and part of Clay County.

The Sept. 1-14 period brought in $9,300, with corporate interests signaling approval. Among those donors: Duke Energy PAC, Comcast, U.S. Sugar, and PHRMA.

Payne has raised $144,871 in all and has over $131,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, Still — an elected Supervisor for the Bradford County Soil and Water Conservation Board — has not seemed to get traction.

He brought in $460 for Aug. 24-Sept. 14. He has just over $5,000 on hand, an amount covered by a personal loan at the campaign launch.

HD 19 has a GOP plurality. Of its 99,647 voters, 44,804 are registered Republican. An additional 36,250 voters are Democrats, with the rest lacking party affiliation or belonging to various third parties.

Keith Perry

Keith Perry has double-digit lead over Kayser Enneking in SD 8

Incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry has a big lead over Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking in the race for Gainesville-based Senate District 8.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Perry currently has 49 percent support compared to just 38 percent support for Enneking. Former Gainesville City Commissioner Charles Goston, who lost his re-election bid earlier this year in a landslide, was the pick for 5 percent of SD 8 voters with the remaining 8 percent undecided.

The 11-point gap between Perry and Enneking stems from the latter’s comparatively week support among registered Democrats, only 63 percent of whom said they planned to vote for the Democratic nominee in November. Perry, who moved up to the Senate two years ago, pulls nearly a fifth of Democratic votes while Goston claims 6 percent with 11 percent undecided.

Among Republicans, Perry dominates with more than 85 percent backing the longtime lawmaker while Enneking and Goston, who made a late-entry as an unaffiliated candidate, combine to 10 percent support among registered Republicans.

By race, Perry leads Enneking 58-32 among white voters, who make up more than 70 percent of the district’s voting age population. Enneking holds a 54-18 lead among black voters, with Goston, who is black, breaking into double digits. Black voters make up about 17 percent of the SD 8 electorate.

Perry also holds a lead among men and women, with the former preferring him 54-35 percent and the latter by a 9-point margin. The Gainesville roofer also leads among all age groups, with a 7-point lead among Millennials, a 5-point edge among Gen Xers and double digit leads among Baby Boomers and voters over 70.

SD 8 is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections. According to the most recent bookclosing report from the Florida Division of Elections, about 55 percent of the district’s population lives in Alachua County, while 30 percent live in northern Marion County and the remaining 15 percent live in Putnam County.

Despite nearly Democrats holding a nearly 24,000-person advantage in voter registrations, Perry defeated Rod Smith, a former Florida Democratic Party chair and state Senator, by about 5 points two years ago. Also in 2016, President Donald Trump carried the district by about two-tenths of a percentage point.

This cycle, Enneking has posted impressive fundraising numbers but she faced an expensive primary election against Olysha Magruder that saw her spend more than $116,000 in hard money in the closing weeks of the race. That spending was brought about after a “dark money” campaign connected to Republican operatives spent well into the six figures bashing Enneking and boosting Magruder through mailers, TV ads and text message outreach.

At the beginning of September, Enneking had raised more than $575,000 between her campaign and committee, Florida Knows Excellence, but she only had about $225,000 left in the bank. Perry, meanwhile, has raised about $738,000 between his campaign and committee, Building a Prosperous Florida, and has about $525,000 banked.

Perry has also received more than $427,000 in “in-kind” support, mostly from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, while Enneking has received about $145,000 in backup from Democratic Party accounts thus far. Goston, for his part, has raised little and does not appear to be actively campaigning for the job.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted by an automated phone call polling system on Sept. 17. It received 981 responses from registered voters who said they planned to vote in the general election. Democrats made up 45 sample, while Republicans made up 38 percent and independents made up 17 percent.

The topline results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Kelli Stargel leads Bob Doyel by a touchdown in SD 22

Despite Democratic challenger Bob Doyel touting internal poll numbers showing him leading Republican state Sen. Kelli Stargel, the first public poll of the SD 22 general election shows Stargel with an outside-the-margin lead in her re-election bid.

A new St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Sunday, found Stargel up by 7 percentage points among registered voters who said they planned to vote in the general election. The 48-41 percent lead for Stargel comes about a month after Doyel, a retired circuit court judge, circulated an internal poll showing him with a 45-40 lead as well as decent name ID within the district.

Stargel received more than 80 percent support from registered Republicans and held a 45-39 percent lead among unaffiliated and third-party voters. Doyel’s support among SD 22 Democrats was less robust, with 71 percent backing him, 17 percent supporting Stargel and 12 percent undecided.

Stargel’s lead reached 20 points among white voters, who make up about two-thirds of SD 22’s voting age population. Doyel was far ahead among black and Hispanic voters. The sample size for those demographics, however, was small.

By age, Stargel holds 9-point edge among 18- to 29-year-olds and leads by 8 percentage points among the 50- to 69-year-old bracket. The race was tighter among Gen Xers and the over 70 crowd, the former of which preferred Stargel by a 44-40 percent margin and the latter of which broke toward her 46-41 percent.

Doyel trailed by double digits among men, though the race is much tighter among women, who only are only leaning toward Stargel by 2 points, 45-43 percent.

SD 22 covers southern Lake County and northern Polk County and has trended toward GOP candidates in the past despite registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republicans by a couple points.

Florida Democrats are hoping the ‘blue wave’ can put it and other Republican-held Senate seats in play come November, though like in most other FDP-targeted districts, there’s a large fundraising disparity between the GOP and Democratic nominees.

Doyel was challenged by former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel in the Aug. 28 primary and spent a large amount of cash ahead of the 66-34 percent rout. Heading into September, he had about $92,500 in hard money $31,350 in his political committee, Bring Back Democracy.

Through the same date, Stargel had just shy of $240,000 in her campaign account with another $215,250 banked in her affiliated political committee, Limited Govt for a Stronger Florida.

In the 2016 cycle, Stargel scored a 7-point win over underfunded and overmatched Democrat Debra Wright. President Donald Trump also carried the district by nearly the same margin.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted by an automated phone call polling system on Sept. 16. It received responses from 569 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Ed Hooper takes slim lead in SD 16 comeback bid

Former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper has taken back the lead from former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the race to fill Pasco and Pinellas county-based Senate District 16.

According to a new poll conducted over the weekend, Hooper is the pick for 47 percent of SD 16 voters with Murphy coming in just behind him with 45 percent support. Only 8 percent of those polled said they were still unsure which of the two candidates they would pick to replace former Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala.

The St. Pete Polls survey comes six weeks after a poll from SEA Polling & Strategic Design showed Murphy on top, 41-39 percent. All public polls of the race released thus far have reflected a tight race between the two former lawmakers, with the early July measure from St. Pete Polls also showing Hooper with a 2-point lead, 45-43 percent.

SD 16 is one of the more Republican-friendly Senate districts being targeted by Florida Democrats in the fall, though Murphy has in the past shown an ability to woo GOP voters. She represented House District 36 from 2013 through 2016, when she lost to now-Rep. Amber Mariano.

That race came down to just a handful of votes despite President Donald Trump winning the Pasco-based House seat in a 20-point landslide.

Murphy is peeling off about a fifth of Republican voters in the new poll. But Hooper has seen a slight bump in support from Democratic voters compared to a few months ago. He was the favored candidate for about 17 percent of registered Democrats in the survey.

By race, Hooper holds a 4-point edge among white voters. The poll included only a few black and Hispanic voters, though it indicates a lead for Murphy among those demographics. Hooper also leads among men, 51-44 percent, while Murphy holds a 46-43 percent lead among women.

By age, Murphy leads 47-44 percent among Millennials and 53-40 percent among 50- to 69-year-olds. Hooper has a 10-point edge among Gen Xers and runs up the score among voters over 70, with 54 percent preferring him compared to a 34 percent share for Murphy.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Sept. 16 via an automated phone call polling system. It received responses from 1,040 who said they planned to vote in the general election. The top-line result has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Hooper has been in the race since early 2016 and has raked in $490,000 in hard money and another $250,000 through his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper. Heading into September, he had a combined war chest of $515,700.

Murphy, who entered the race in early May, has raised $73,655 in campaign dollars. Two political committee’s chaired by the former lawmaker — Working Towards Florida’s Future and Taxpayers for Responsible Government — have also collected a combined $130,000 since May. Recent finance reports show she has $101,750 banked between the three accounts.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas County and southwestern Pasco County, including Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate, while Democrats make up about a third. Two years ago, President Donald Trump carried the district by 12 points.

Money comes from near and far in Governor’s race

With money streaming in from across the country, Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum raised more than $2.7 million during the first week in September in their clash to become Florida Governor.

The contributions went to the candidates and their closely aligned political committees, with DeSantis having an edge. The Republican pulled in $1.4 million from Sept. 1 through Sept. 7, while Gillum raised nearly $1.32 million, according to newly filed reports with the state Division of Elections.

The fundraising period represented the first full week after DeSantis, a former Northeast Florida congressman, and Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, dispatched their opponents in the Aug. 28 primary elections. The totals are a hint of what is to come this fall as DeSantis and Gillum compete in one of the biggest Governor’s races in the country — and also don’t reflect the millions of dollars that the political parties and outside groups have already started pouring into the campaign.

DeSantis raised $380,951 for his campaign account and $1.023 million for the committee Friends of Ron DeSantis during the week, the reports show. DeSantis had a combined total of nearly $2.57 million in cash on hand as Sept. 7.

Gillum, meanwhile, raised $874,285 for his campaign account and $445,500 for the committee known as Forward Florida, according to the reports. Gillum had a combined total of about $5.17 million in cash on hand at the end of the period.

As a sign of the high-profile nature of the campaign, both candidates hauled in contributions from across the country — often from small donors.

Among the nearly 2,000 separate contributions that came into DeSantis’ campaign account during the first week of September, about 1,800 were for $250 or less. Contributions came from 49 states, only missing Alaska.

Gillum’s campaign account, meanwhile, received more than 14,000 separate contributions from all 50 states during the week. Of those, Gillum received 13,661 contributions of $250 or less.

Individual contributions to the candidates’ campaign accounts are limited to $3,000, but the closely aligned political committees do not face such limits. As a result, while the candidates’ campaigns received thousands of small contributions, the committees reeled in large checks.

The more than $1 million that the DeSantis committee raised in early September came from 43 donors, according to the Division of Elections website. As examples of the contributions were $250,000 from Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus and $50,000 from Conservative Principles for Florida, a political committee headed by incoming state House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican.

The $445,000 raised during the week by Gillum’s committee, meanwhile, came in seven contributions. Among them was a $200,000 contribution from West Palm Beach attorney Chris Searcy, according to the committee’s report.

Florida GOP says it raised $7.6M in two weeks

Republican Party of Florida Chair Blaise Ingoglia put out a statement Monday claiming the party has raised more than $7.6 million for the 17-day stretch ending Sept. 14.

“Since the Primary Election, the Republican Party of Florida has raised more than $7.6 million,” Ingoglia said.

“The financial strength of the party is a direct reflection of the enthusiasm for the strong bench of conservative candidates on the ballot. This significant total also symbolizes the growing momentum for Ron DeSantis as Florida’s next governor and his plan to keep our economy strong, invest in education and solve our water issues.”

The release, however, did not specify whether those funds came in through true fundraising or were pass-through contributions from other political committees.

It included a disclaimer stating that “specific amounts will be submitted in the next quarterly report due to the Florida Division of Elections on Nov. 2, 2018.” That reporting deadline comes just four days ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

A search of the Florida Division of Elections’ expenditure data for accounts with stricter reporting requirements shows $1.15 million in contributions to RPOF from a handful of political committees, with about half that sum coming from DeSantis’ soft money account, Friends of Ron DeSantis.

Florida Prosperity Fund, a political committee tied to business group Associated Industries of Florida, chipped in $250,000 on Aug. 29, while Palm Harbor Rep. Chris Sprowls’ committee, Floridians For Economic Freedom, cut a $150,000 check and the Florida Phosphate Political Committee gave $125,000.

The fundraising announcement comes just a few weeks after RPOF announced $7.46 million in fundraising for the reporting period covering April 1 through Aug. 23. Heading into the primary election, the party executive committee had a little over $16 million in the bank.

By comparison, the Florida Democratic Party raised $7.33 million during the same reporting period and had $9.64 million banked on Aug. 23.

The RPOF funds are in addition to the major haul reported by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano.

That committee posted $7.2 million in receipts in its April through August report while the Democratic equivalent, the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, brought in a little over $867,000.

Matt Caldwell pulls in $165K in early September

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, the Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, quickly started replenishing his coffers after a tough primary, pulling in about $165,000 during the first week of September for his campaign account and a political committee.

The one-week haul included contributions of $25,000 from Atlanta-based fuel and convenience-store company RaceTrac, $25,000 from the Florida Phosphate Political Committee and $10,000 from Tampa-based TECO Energy, according to a report posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Caldwell, who spent nearly all of the $2.6 million he raised before winning a four-way primary on Aug. 28, had a combined $198,981 on hand as of Sept. 7 in his campaign account and the committee Friends of Matt Caldwell.

Caldwell’s fundraising helped bring him more in line with Democratic candidate Nikki Fried, who ended the first week of September with about $227,000 on hand in her campaign account and the political committee Florida Consumers First.

Fried, an attorney and medical-marijuana lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, raised $13,394 for her campaign account during the first seven days of the month. Florida Consumers First reported no new contributions in the same period.

Outside groups spent $1.2 million to help Darren Soto defeat Alan Grayson

Eight outside political committees and groups provided almost $1.2 million support to U.S. Rep. Darren Soto‘s defeat of his predecessor former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Apparently highlighting the outside help for Soto was the George Sorosbacked Latino Victory Fund, which claimed on primary day that it had pumped more than $500,000 into media buys to support Soto on Spanish-language media.

FEC records of independent expenditures through Election Day do not show that much spending by Latino Victory Fund, but almost, and there may be spending yet to report.

The FEC records also show Latino Victory Fund also was not alone in spending to either support Soto or oppose Grayson, and perhaps not even the most generous toward Soto’s candidacy. FEC records show Latino Victory Fund spending $415,000 through the primary, while Progress Tomorrow Inc. spent $544,000.

There are no FEC records reporting any outside groups making any independent expenditures that supported Grayson or opposed Soto.

Grayson had set up what was to be his big political comeback this year after he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic primary nomination to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, and lost his congressional seat to Soto by default. But that comeback required him to take out Soto, and Grayson crashed badly, in an election landslide.

The total for outside spending to support Soto or oppose Grayson was $1.18 million, potentially more than Soto might have spent through his own primary campaign fund, though the final numbers are not yet in for his official campaign’s account. Through August 8 his campaign had spent about $886,000. In that Aug. 8 report, the most recent available, Soto had just $251,000 left in the bank.

Grayson had spent $540,000 through Aug. 8.

Soto now faces Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, who has far less money available, only about $29,000 on Aug. 8, heading toward the Nov. 6 election.

For the Aug. 28 Democratic congressional primary outside spending, the FEC reports show:

Latino Victory Fund, described by the Center for Responsive Politics’ website OpenSecrets.org as a hybrid of a political action committee and a super political action committee, largely but not entirely funded by Soros, spent $415,184 on various kinds of advertising, from pushed text messaging to television.

Progress Tomorrow spent $272,000 on digital and mail advertising supporting Soto and another $272,000 on digital and mail advertising attacking Grayson.

The super PAC has a curious combination of resources, according to records made available through OpenSecrets.org. All of Progress Tomorrow’s money has been donated by two other PACs. The first is Forward Not Back, whose principal benefactors are New York businessmen Peter May and Nelson Peltz, who each have been big supporters of Democratic candidates, and New York businessman Louis Bacon, who has supported both Democrats and Republicans, including Rudy Giuliani. The other PAC is United Together, principally funded by News Corp. Chairman and Republican rainmaker Rupert Murdoch, and by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a big backer of Democrats.

United for Progress, a super PAC entirely funded by Soros, spent $123,000 on radio advertising to support Soto.

Alianza for Progress, a dark-money 501(c) committee that does not have to disclose its donors, reported $41,555 worth of door-to-door canvassing to support Soto.

Organize Now, the progressive 501(c) grassroots group put together by former organizers for Barack Obama, reported $35,062 worth of printing and canvassing efforts to support Soto.

Boricua Vota Inc., an Orlando-based group, reported spending $22,590 on billboards, radio advertising, and event expenses to support Soto.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund provided $1,386 worth of support through a list rental and a text message platform for Soto,

The Center for Popular Democracy Action, a dark-money 501(c), offered $1,411 worth of canvassing labor and transportation to support Soto.

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