Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 4 of 55 - Florida Politics

Jeff Brandes qualifies for 2018 ballot by petition

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes’ Senate District 24 re-election campaign has collected enough signatures to make the ballot.

“I’m happy we were able to qualify for the ballot by petition,” Brandes said Friday. “We’re building a strong grassroots network and seeing broad support throughout the district, from St. Petersburg to Seminole, Largo and the Beaches. As we knock on doors and talk with voters, we’re excited to see our message of lower taxes and common-sense solutions resonate with concerned Pinellas County residents.”

Candidates must collect signatures from at least 1 percent of a districts voters to qualify by petition and avoid paying a fee. Brandes’ campaign said it has had 3,925 signatures verified by the Florida Division of Elections, beating the requirement by 625.

Brandes, a life-long resident of St. Petersburg, was elected to the Senate in 2012. If successful, his 2018 re-election will be his last before he hits term limits. Brandes is running against Democrat Carrie Pilon, who filed for SD 24 at the beginning of April.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, though it was carried by Barack Obama in both of his presidential elections before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Through the end of April, Brandes had more than $550,000 on hand between his campaign and committee accounts, including $300,000 of his own money, while Pilon had a little over $100,000 in the bank after her first month.

Neither candidate faces a primary challenger.

Jeff Brandes clears $550K on hand, Carrie Pilon has $100K

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democratic challenger Carrie Pilon both raised more than $100,000 last month in the race for Senate District 24.

“I’m humbled by the support our campaign continues to receive each and every day,” said Brandes. “Our message resonates with voters and is backed by results. We have the momentum and are putting together a strong campaign to win in November.”

Brandes brought in $66,395 to his campaign account and $35,000 for his political committee, Liberty Florida, for a total haul of $101,395 in April, however Pilon edged him out with a combined $104,433 raised between her campaign account and committee, Moving Pinellas Forward.

The six-figure sum is Pilon’s first report since she announced she would challenge Brandes for the Pinellas County seat. Brandes haul follows a big March, when he bolstered his campaign account with $300,000 of his own after he learned he would be facing a challenger in the fall.

Brandes’ campaign report showed 136 contributions, including 42 for the $1,000, the maximum allowable contribution for state legislative races.

Max donors included political committees tied to Senate President Joe Negron, Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and St. Petersburg Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, who is set to become House Speaker after the 2020 elections.

Expenditures weighed in at $25,807, including $7,500 in payments to Election Management Solutions for political consulting and $4,600 to Arizona-based Campaign Graphics for t-shirts.

Heading into May, Brandes had about $458,000 in hard money at his disposal.

The committee cash came in through just four contributions, including a $25,000 check from private prison company GEO Group. Also on the report was ride-sharing company Lyft, which gave $5,000.

Liberty Florida’s lone expenditure was a $500 payment to Robert Watkins & Company for accounting services, leaving it with $110,000 banked heading into May.

Brandes now has $568,000 on hand between the two accounts.

Pilon’s inaugural campaign report showed 149 contributions, including 37 for $1,000.

The majority of those max donors were fellow attorneys or law firms. Notables included Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer, who donated via his committee, Floridians for Ethics, Accountability and Responsibility. Pilon’s husband Chad Pilon, the son of former Sarasota Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, also chipped in with a max check last month.

More than half of the contributions Pilon received came in from small-dollar donors giving $200 or less. She has $51,740 in hard dollars after paying out about $2,700 between printing jobs and bank fees.

Pilon also received nearly $14,000 worth of “in-kind” contributions from the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, chaired by incoming Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson. About $6,000 of that money paid for campaign staff and their healthcare while the rest was spent on polling.

Pilon’s committee cash came in through a single check from Florida For All, Inc., a political committee chaired by Joe Falk. Moving Pinellas Forward showed no expenditures and entered May with $50,000 on hand.

After one month, Pilon has $101,740 at the ready.

Brandes has been in the Senate since 2012 when he was elected to the pre-redistricting SD 22. He had been a member of the Florida House for the two years prior.

He didn’t face a Democratic opponent in the 2012 or 2016 cycles, and in 2014 he cruised to victory with a 16-point win over his Democratic challenger in the old SD 22.

If Pilon remains competitive in fundraising going foward, the seat isn’t completely out of reach for Democrats, who see 2018 as the year they can break the Republican Party’s 20-year hold on state government.

The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within SD 24 even though the seat voted for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008, though it went plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Jeff Brandes a headliner at self-driving car demo

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes will be on hand for a three-day event in Tampa next week where the public can take a spin in a self-driving car.

The Society of Automotive Engineers’ inaugural SAE Demo Day, to be held May 9  through May 11, will allow attendees to ride down Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in a self-driving car outfitted by Virginia-based robotics software company Perrone Robotics.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is also a partner in the event.

“I am incredibly grateful that SAE International is bringing this self-driving ‘hands off’ demo to Tampa Bay. Our residents will be able to experience the future of transportation and provide feedback that will be invaluable to industry leaders and policy makers as we chart a course towards the shared, electric, and autonomous future,” Brandes said in a press release.

The longtime Pinellas County lawmaker has been an outspoken advocate for autonomous vehicle, or AV, technology for the better part of a decade.

In the 2018 Legislative Session he and Jacksonville Rep. Jason Fischer sponsored bills that would have allowed for the safe and legal operation of self-driving cars in Florida, mainly by updating state statutes that “require or presume” there’s a human behind the wheel.

Six years prior, he pushed for legislation encouraging testing and study of automated vehicles in Florida. To that end, he requested some self-driving cars be demoed for lawmakers at the Florida Capitol and Google obliged, taking them around the capital and then out to the freeway where speeds hit 70 mph.

“It was an education campaign to get people to understand that this is the future,” Brandes told Quartz a couple years ago. “This is our generation’s transition from horse-and-buggy to the Model T.”

Those tests played no small part in the Florida Legislature passing the first bill nationwide making autonomous vehicles street legal.

Now, Floridians of all walks can see what all the fuss is about and offer their feedback – love it or hate it – on how their experience could be improved.

To get in the passenger seat, would-be attendees need to sign up for a demo on SAE’s website and be prepared to show up 30 minutes early. Tagalongs will need to register as well, or they could find themselves watching from the curb.

Corrections agency cuts programs to fill budget hole

Blaming the Legislature for not fully funding the state prison system, Florida corrections officials are slashing substance-abuse services, transitional housing and re-entry programs – services and programs launched to keep inmates from returning to life behind bars – in an attempt to fill a $28 million budget hole.

The Department of Corrections announced the cost-cutting measures late Tuesday. The cuts are focused largely on doing away with or dramatically reducing substance-abuse, mental-health and re-entry programs to plug a $28 million health care services deficit.

With an annual budget in excess of $2.4 billion and about 100,000 inmates, the corrections agency makes up one of the state’s largest spending areas. But the agency is running an overall deficit of about $79 million, after budget reductions imposed by lawmakers over the past two years and escalating health care and pharmaceutical costs.

The corrections agency has been struggling to keep up with the cost of health care for the majority of the state’s inmates, after one private vendor quit years before its contract was up and the state fired another.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, in a statement announcing the cuts, said she hoped the reductions are temporary.

“In order to secure a health services contractor, fund the increased pharmaceutical budget, and adjust for reductions, we’ve unfortunately had to make some very difficult decisions. At the start of the next fiscal year, we will be reducing some of our current contracts with community providers. Additionally, we are reducing operating costs to include maintenance, repair, utilities, and working to find every possible internal solution to reduce costs in order to maximize services for inmates and offenders,” Jones said in the statement issued Tuesday.

The budget cuts came a month after corrections officials asked vendors for a “voluntary rate reduction and/or cost-saving measure” in their current contracts.

Lawmakers this spring included money in the state budget to address a number of legal challenges centered on health care in the prison system, including the treatment of inmates with hepatitis and inmates with disabilities and mental-health issues.

But according to documents distributed by the department Tuesday evening, the $437 million earmarked for inmate health care – which includes pharmaceuticals – still came up about $55 million short.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican, told The News Service of Florida Tuesday evening that he has repeatedly warned his colleagues they were shortchanging the prison system.

Brandes said the funding crisis has “been festering for years” and called the cuts announced Tuesday unacceptable.

“In the short term, we’re going to have to fund the shortfalls in unconventional ways. But they must be funded. Period. These are not options. You must fund them,” he said.

Especially disturbing are the cuts to substance-abuse treatment, which are coming at the peak of the state’s opioid epidemic, and re-entry programs. Both have been shown to reduce recidivism and to aid prisoners as they transition to the community, said Brandes, who has been at the forefront of a criminal-justice reform movement in Florida.

“These are the very programs that have been proven to work. You can’t have an opioid crisis and cut opioid funding. You can’t just let people out of prison without some type of transition back into society. These are the types of programs that the research shows provide the best outcomes,” he said.

Jones announced the cuts as she prepares to sign a new contract with a private vendor to provide health services to about 87,000 inmates in state-run prisons.

The privatization of prison health care has been plagued with problems for the past several years.

Jones severed ties with Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources a year ago, after Corizon Health in late 2015 notified the state that it was walking away from a five-year, $1.2 billion deal three years early. The Tennessee-based company said it was losing money on its contract with the state.

Jones came under fire for signing a no-bid, $268 million contract with Centurion of Florida LLC in January 2016 to take over for Corizon. Wexford’s contract with the state was unaffected by the deal with Centurion, which eventually took over health care for the entire state-run prison system.

Jones decided to redo the health care services contracts in 2015 and issued an invitation to negotiate for select companies to submit proposals.

But, after re-issuing the invitation to negotiate, Centurion – whose contract expires in June – was the only respondent for what is expected to be a $2 billion, five-year contract with the state. According to corrections officials, the agency is finalizing negotiations with Centurion.

“First and foremost, it’s our responsibility to ensure the security of individuals in our custody and to make certain their human and constitutional rights are upheld while incarcerated. Health care is one of these constitutional responsibilities, and in my tenure, I’ve held vendors accountable for ensuring these services are provided at an adequate and appropriate level, that is in line with required standards. Like every state agency, we must make fiscally sound decisions to operate within our legislatively appropriated budget,” Jones said in the statement.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jeff Brandes holding St. Pete fundraiser today

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is holding a fundraiser Wednesday evening benefiting his Senate District 24 re-election campaign in St. Petersburg.

The event will be held at 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, 400 Beach Drive NE, starting at 5 p.m. Those looking to sneak in an RSVP before the fundraiser is in full swing can send a note to Rick Porter via Rick@PoliticalCaptitalFlorida.com or call him at 407-849-1112.

The host committee list on the invite features several high-profile Republican operatives and elected officials. Current lawmakers joining Brandes at the event include Tampa Sen. Dana Young and St. Petersburg Rep. Chris Sprowls.

The committee also includes numerous local pols such as former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, Pinellas GOP chair and HD 66 hopeful Nick DiCeglie and Pinellas Park Mayor Sandra Bradbury. Former House Speaker Will Weatherford and former Gov. Bob Martinez will also be in attendance.

Brandes has been in the Senate since 2012 when he was elected to the pre-redistricting SD 22. He had been a member of the Florida House for the two years prior.

He didn’t face a Democratic opponent in the 2012 or 2016 cycles, and in 2014 he cruised to victory with a 16-point win over his Democratic challenger in the old District 22.

Democrats are making another play for SD 24 in 2018. At the beginning of the month, trial lawyer Carrie Pilon filed to challenge Brandes.

The Florida Democratic Party’s Senate Victory staff leaked her entry a couple of weeks early, giving Brandes the opportunity to make a statement on his March finance report. He did just that by plunking down $300,000 of his own money to bolster his campaign. He had $417,195 on hand heading into April.

SD 24 could end up being a swing district, though the advantage certainly belongs to Republicans.

The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations even though the seat voted for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008, and went plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Brandes’ invite is below.

Brandes fundraiser 4.25.18

Electoral map scrambles race for Senate presidency

For the first time this decade, a race to one day lead the Florida Senate is not confined to an intra-party scrum among Republican lawmakers.

And while Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo is now the slight front-runner to hold the gavel beginning in 2022, she and her GOP colleagues must first navigate two election cycles in which control of the Senate could be at stake.

Passidomo is emerging as the leading candidate to succeed Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson after Tampa Republican Dana Young declared that she would not pursue the Senate presidency. That left Passidomo and St. Augustine Republican Travis Hutson as the two contenders for the position.

Based on not-for-attribution conversations with at least four members of the 2016 class of the Florida Senate, other Senators, and key staff and lobbyists close to Passidomo, Hutson, Galvano, and Simpson, it appears that Passidomo holds a one-  or two-vote lead over Hutson within the nine-member class of Republicans.

In addition to Passidomo, Hutson, and Young, the other Republican members of the 2016 class are Dennis Baxley, Doug Broxson, George Gainer, Debbie Mayfield, Keith Perry and Greg Steube.

Steube is exiting the Senate to run for Congress, so he’s not part of the math here.

Almost all of those tracking the race peg the vote at 5 to 3 for Passidomo with Baxley, Broxson, Gainer and Young behind her. Hutson can count on the support of Perry and Mayfield.

The consensus that Passidomo is leading the race gelled last week when Senate leaders and elite-level lobbyists raised money for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at a series of events in Nashville. According to an itinerary obtained by Florida Politics, lawmakers were treated to a private concert by Phil Vassar at the Loveless Barn and a songwriters luncheon at the famous Bluebird Cafe.

With the twang of country music in the background, a handful of Senators and other Adams Street players talked openly about two factors driving the race in Passidomo’s direction.

The first is Young bowing out of the race and squarely backing Passidomo. Sources close to both Passidomo and Young say that the Tampa Republican has, indeed, signed a pledge card for Passidomo.

The second factor has a tinge of post hoc ergo propter hoc, specifically that since Hutson was not able to win his own class, he could not win the race at large.

“If you can’t even win your own class, your butt has no business being up there [in the president’s rostrum],” said one member aligned with Passidomo, who asked to speak without attribution so as to provide clearer insight into the workings of the Senate.

Hutson has told a handful of Republican lobbyists and donors that he expects the contest between him and Passidomo to be a “long slog” and may involve the votes of members from the incoming class of Senators.

However, Hutson’s position runs counter to what President-designate Galvano and Leader Simpson have reportedly told other members. Fearing a repeat of the kind of race between President Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, which divided the chamber for years, the incoming leaders want the matter settled before the November elections.

This said, Galvano and Simpson are both said to want to be careful about not interfering in the Passidomo vs. Hutson contest. They, like other Senators, prefer not to openly discuss leadership races other than to note that the Senate conducts its business differently than the Florida House, which has endured back-to-back internal conflicts about who will lead the chamber after Jose Oliva.

Yet what is really concerning Galvano, Simpson, and other GOP members is not which Republican will follow them, but whether it will even be a Republican.

With Lantana Democrat Lori Berman‘s unsurprising win Tuesday night in a special election for a seat in the Florida Senate, the chamber is now divided 23 to 16 between Republicans and Democrats.

As previously reported on Florida Politics, state Democrats are systematically laying out a plan to recapture the upper chamber. They hope to win at least four of seven battleground seats on the ballot in 2018.

To that end, Rep. Janet Cruz has entered the race for SD 18, where she will try to pick off Young and trial lawyer Carrie Pilon has filed to challenge incumbent Jeff Brandes in SD 24. The party likes its chances with the campaigns of Kayser Enneking and Bob Doyel, two first-time candidates challenging Republican incumbents Keith Perry and Kelli Stargel, respectively.

It is also recruiting former state Rep. Amanda Murphy to run for the open seat in Senate District 16, once held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala and Alex Penelas, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, to run for SD 36, where Republican Rene Garcia is term-limited.

On Wednesday, Democrats were relieved to learn that Jose Javier Rodriguez will remain in SD 37, giving the party a better shot of funding those campaigns.

Even if Democrats fall short of winning control of the Florida Senate, the results in these competitive seats could impact Passidomo vs. Hutson (assuming Passidomo doesn’t have the race locked-up by November. If Perry loses his re-election bid, Passidomo would have a hammer-lock on the contest, but her chances could be hurt if Young were to lose.

All the more reason for Passidomo to conclude her business by the summer.

Jeff Brandes

Jeff Brandes bolsters re-election bid with $300K of own money

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes made a statement with his March fundraising report, which comes one week after Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon filed to run against him in Senate District 24.

Brandes’ report saw the longtime lawmaker plunk down $300,000 of his own money just days after Pilon’s candidacy was leaked by the Florida Democratic Party’s Senate campaign arm.

The single self-contribution equals Brandes’ total fundraising for the 2012 campaign that sent him to the Senate.

The report also shows 13 other contributions, including four checks for the maximum campaign donation of $1,000.

Those max checks came in from government relations firms Johnson & Associates, Johnson & Blanton, Abbianna and Tallahassee real estate group 537. A trio of $500 checks came from St. Pete real estate group Echelon, the Cable Television PAC for Florida and Fla. Cable Telecommunications, while another half-dozen individuals showed up on the report with contributions of $100 or less.

The Republican Party of Florida’s Senate campaign arm also chipped in via an $16,204 “in-kind” contribution for polling in the last week of the month.

Spending came in at $12,684 for the month and mainly paid for consulting contracts.

St. Pete-based Poli Solutions Consulting received $7,000 across three checks, while Jacksonville-based Political Capital received $2,500 and Tallahassee-based firm Supernova Digital Communications received $1,365 for social media work.

Robert Watkins & Company was also paid $3,000 for accounting services.

The report puts Brandes’ 2018 campaign at $545,910 in total fundraising with $417,195 on hand heading into April.

In addition to piling onto his money lead, Brandes sought to deflate Pilon’s announcement day by announcing an endorsement from former Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, Carrie Pilon’s father-in-law.

Pilon, who filed April 2, will not release her first campaign report until the middle of next month.

SD 24 is considered competitive on paper.

Republicans have a 4-point advantage over Democrats, 37-33, when it comes to voter registrations in SD 24. The seat would have voted for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008, though the seat went plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Pilon’s candidacy indicates Florida Democrats’ optimism of a “blue wave” of anti-Trump and anti-GOP sentiment in November, and SD 24 is not the only Tampa Bay area seat on their wish list.

The party is currently trying to recruit former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy to run against former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper in SD 16, the Pinellas seat vacated Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. In SD 18, Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz is eyeing a run against incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Young.

JJR’s looming resignation puts hopes of a Democratic Senate at risk

Chattering Class Democratic operatives, donors and labor leaders in Florida are fretting that one of their own rising stars, JJR (née Senator José Javier Rodriguez), could sully their hopes of capturing control of the upper chamber of the Florida Legislature.

As Florida Politics reported last week, Democrats believe they are on the precipice of retaking the Florida Senate for the first time in the 21st century — but JJR’s congressional run, which since Rick Scott’s signature put resign-to-run back into Florida law for federal offices, and which would require JJR to leave the Senate in April, could jeopardize their narrow path to do so.

Major political shifts like that — which would require a four-seat gain to achieve a 20-20 Senate — need major political tailwinds (which Democrats believe they have nationally and in-state) but they also need candidates. (Duh.)

Democrats have been scoring some significant successes in the recruitment department, most recently with Carrie Pilon’s announcement of a challenge to Sen. Jeff Brandes in Pinellas County’s Senate District 24.

But alongside recruitment is retention, and defending a Democratic seat in the swingy SD 37, in the crazy expensive Miami-Ft. Lauderdale media market would cost Dems millions; millions that they desperately need if they want to pick up perceived vulnerable Republican targets like the aforementioned Brandes — a prolific fundraiser who has never lost a race, and who can pump personal cash into what promises to be a multimillion-dollar campaign.

Simply put: if Democrats have to spend $3 million electing Rep. Nick Duran (the likeliest wannabe successor to JJR’s seat), that’s $3 million they can’t spend electing someone like Pilon. Hopes for 20 or 21 seats fade pretty quickly.

Gripes about JJR abandoning his newly-won Senate seat have been pervasive, if quiet, since he announced his run last Spring. Major donors, labor and others have groused about the fact that they spent millions getting him elected to the Senate in a bruising campaign against Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, only to see him turn around and leave the seat before completing a full term. Those complaints have reached a fever pitch in the weeks leading up to Scott’s signing of the updated resign-to-run law.

Especially since the entry of former UM President, and Clinton HHS chief, Donna Shalala, Democrats are questioning the wisdom of such a move. “The only people who think JJR should run for Congress at this point are he and Sonia (his wife)” is a refrain repeatedly heard from insiders and observers. The logical argument goes that Shalala is both the favorite to win, and at 77 years old, unlikely to serve for more than a term or two, allowing JJR to bow out gracefully, continue to serve in the Senate, and have a more accessible path to the same seat in a few years time.

But we all know there’s no controlling for ambition and ego in The Process, and JJR remains publicly and privately committed to his campaign for Congress, and the requisite resignation from the Florida Senate in a few weeks.

For those next weeks, Senate Democrats and JJR stand at a crossroads: does he roll the dice on a safe seat in Congress, albeit one requiring victory in a competitive, multicandidate primary, or does he stay put in the Senate and emerge as Democrats’ savior?

¿Qué quieres hacer, José?

Carrie Pilon - SD 24

Trial lawyer Carrie Pilon files for state Senate

Democrat Carrie Pilon announced Monday that she’s filed to run for the Senate District 24 seat currently held by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Florida Politics previously reported Pilon, a former prosecutor who now runs an injury law firm, was planning a run for the Pinellas County district.

“I’m running for the State Senate because the legislature in Tallahassee is not working for Florida’s families,” Pilon said in a press release. “As a member of the State Senate, I’ll hold special interests accountable, and stand up to the Legislature’s Trump-style agenda. I’ll invest in our community by ending corporate welfare, fighting for a quality and safe education, affordable healthcare, and protecting our precious natural resources.

“As a small business owner, I know firsthand the challenges of meeting payroll and providing health insurance for our staff and families. We deserve a state legislature focused on helping our small businesses grow, not handing out corporate welfare checks to their friends.”

Pilon is an alumna of Stetson University law school and Florida State University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The St. Pete native is also the daughter-in-law of former Sarasota Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, who was quick to endorse Brandes Monday morning.

“Senator Brandes and I served in the Florida House and were both elected in 2010,” he said. “We worked closely on many issues and that continued when he was elected to the Senate. He is a person of high moral values, of integrity, honesty and fairness.”

Ray Pilon served three terms in the House before running for state Senate in 2016 and losing in the Republican Primary. He is looking to reclaim his old House seat in 2018.

Carrie Pilon’s campaign declined to comment on Ray Pilon endorsing Brandes.

So far, Carrie Pilon is the only challenger to file for SD 24.

Brandes has been in the Senate since 2012, when he was elected to the pre-redistricting SD 22, and had been a member of the Florida House for the two years prior.

He didn’t face a Democratic opponent in the 2012 or 2016 cycles, though in 2014 he was challenged by USF St. Pete Professor Judithanne McLauchlan. He outmatched her in fundraising, bringing in $815,000 to her $307,000, and secured re-election by a 16-point margin on Election Day.

Through the end of February, Brandes had raised $240,000 for his re-election campaign and had about $124,000 of that money in the bank.

That number will likely shoot up now that he’s contested – shortly after Pilon’s announcement, Brandes’ campaign sent out an invite for an April 25 fundraiser. The host committee list featured several high-profile Republicans, including Tampa Sen. Dana Young, St. Petersburg Rep. Chris Sprowls and former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker.

Republicans have a 4-point advantage over Democrats, 37-33, when it comes to voter registrations in the district, though the seat is far from a Republican stronghold.

SD 24 would have gone for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008. In 2016, the district flipped and went plus-7 for Donald Trump.

The invite to Brandes’ fundraiser is below.

Brandes fundraiser 4.25.2018

Florida Democrats look to expand number of state Senate seats in play

It’s been nearly 25 years since a Democrat presided over the Florida Senate, but if the plans of party leaders and operatives come together, the president’s gavel could be theirs as soon as November.

The Florida Democratic Party and the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the recently-established campaign arm of the Senate Democrats, are aggressively working to reshape the map of seats in play this election cycle.

According to multiple sources, including several Democratic state senators, as well as senior staff at the FDP and the FDLCC, the party is:

— Hoping to persuade former state Rep. Amanda Murphy to run for the open seat in Senate District 16, once held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. Currently, former state Rep. Ed Hooper is running for the Pinellas-based district against a long-shot Democratic opponent.

— Actively encouraging outgoing state Rep. Janet Cruz to enter the race for SD 18, where she would go up against Republican incumbent Dana Young.

— Expecting trial lawyer Carrie Pilon to challenge incumbent Sen. Jeff Brandes in SD 24, a seat that’s historically flipped back and forth between the parties.

— Investing a higher level of resources than first expected in the campaigns of Kayser Enneking and Bob Doyel, two first-time candidates challenging Republican incumbents Keith Perry and Kelli Stargel, respectively.

— Counting on Alex Penelas, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, to step up and run for SD 36, where Republican Rene Garcia is term-limited. State Rep. Manny Diaz has already declared for the seat and, in fact, just raised more than $50,000 at his first fundraiser.

Currently, the Florida Senate has 23 Republicans and 15 Democrats, although Lori Berman‘s special election victory is a foregone conclusion, so it’s really 23-16.

That means Republicans hold a seven-seat advantage heading into the 2018 cycle. If the Democrats protect all of their incumbents (currently none are engaged in particularly competitive re-elections) and win five of the seven targets listed above — an enormous, almost herculean task — Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville will serve as president of the Senate in 2018-20.

Of course, it’s easy to draw targets on a map. Having candidates actually file for the seats and win their races are other matters altogether.

There’s also the issue of money.

Florida Democrats have been traditionally hamstrung by a decided lack of financial resources, while their Republican counterparts in the Senate are flush with campaign cash, both in the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee’s fund and in the individual accounts of several Senators.

Republicans have other advantages at their disposal. First of all, most are incumbents and can use the power of their offices to reach voters. And despite what some in the traditional media might have you believe, Florida’s Republican lawmakers are actually held in good standing by most voters, with 52 percent of Floridians giving them the thumbs-upaccording to a recent poll from the University of North Florida.

There’s also the reality that most of the Republicans being targeted by the Democrats are off to big head-starts over their prospective Democratic challengers.

“We have excellent candidates who have strong support from their communities and have the resources and on-the-ground teams needed to win,” said Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, who leads his party’s campaign efforts. “The Democrats can focus on recruiting candidates. We are focusing on preparing our already-set slate of candidates for victory.”

Young has banked away nearly a million dollars for her re-election. Brandes has a large, near-permanent campaign staff that really hasn’t stopped working since he was first elected in 2010. Hooper has decades of experience representing Pinellas voters, whereas Murphy would be a new face to many SD 16 constituents. There isn’t a weekend when Diaz isn’t walking door-to-door in this district (Don’t believe me? Just check his Twitter account).

Despite these and other disadvantages, the Democrats are taking the first steps of putting the pieces on the chessboard.

Murphy confirms that interest in her challenging Hooper is spiking. She said her phone was “blowing up” Tuesday as word of her prospective candidacy spread. While she acknowledges that “in today’s climate it would be crazy not to think about running for office,” she also is concerned about what a return to public life might do to her professional career: “I have clients, a team and regulations that demand my time.”

Florida Politics reported Tuesday night that Cruz, currently running for the Hillsborough County Commission, has spoken with Senate Democratic leadership and party donors about challenging Young. Several sources say she has contacted Young’s current Democratic challenger Bob Buesing to discuss clearing the field for her.

Florida Politics recently acquired the internal working documents of the nascent campaign of Pilon, who could launch her campaign as soon as next week.

Penelas, last in office 14 years ago, confirmed Wednesday morning that he is considering a run and that he will likely make a decision next week. A lot depends on what his family — Penelas has a young daughter — thinks of the decision, he says.

With a potential abundance of riches, at least in terms of candidates, the question remains whether the Democrats will have the money to play in as many as seven or eight competitive seats.

One potential source of the kind of money needed to compete in all of these seats is national money, like that from former Attorney General Eric Holder‘s National Democratic Redistricting Committee. It’s attracted to the possibility of flipping chambers, not just winning seats.

“If there was ever a cycle when Democrats could make huge gains in a chamber, including possible flipping one, it’s this year, and it’s in the Florida Senate,” said Christian Ulvert, a prominent Democratic political consultant.

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