Second Republican files in heavily Democratic HD 86 race


A second Republican has filed for House District 86, currently held by term-limited Democrat Mark Pafford, setting up a GOP primary for the heavily Democratic district.

Laurel Bennett, who runs health records company PHR Solutions, filed for the seat Friday, joining fellow Republican Stuart Wade Mears and Democrats Tinuade Pena and Matt Willhite in the race.

This is Bennett’s first Florida House campaign, though she did run for mayor in Royal Palm Beach in 2014, taking 5.6 percent of the vote in a four-way race that ended with incumbent Matty Mattioli holding on to his post.

During that election Bennett’s husband was her treasurer and failed to file a campaign finance report on time, resulting in a fine from the Florida Elections Commission that was eventually waived on appeal.

As a Republican, Bennett will likely have a hard time gaining traction in District 86. Pafford has taken about 60 percent of the vote the last two cycles, and with a 16,000 voter registration advantage for Democrats, the winner of that primary will have major a leg up come Election Day.

Mears, Bennett’s Republican competition, hasn’t taken in any contributions  since refiling for the seat in November. Last cycle he was able to raise about $23,000 before being defeated by Pafford in the General Election. On the Democratic side, Willhite has a commanding with about $32,000 cash on-hand compared to Pena’s $6,400 war chest, which came mostly through loans.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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