With no primary on either side of the race for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, the November ballot is set between Republican incumbent Jimmy Patronis of Panama City and his Democratic challenger, former Margate Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring.
Patronis, a Rick Scott appointee with roughly $4 million on hand between his campaign account and his Treasure Florida political committee is well ahead of Ring in the money race. Ring has roughly $175,000 on hand in his Florida Action Fund committee and nearly $300,000 in hard money.
Public opinion surveys show a less stark disparity. Polls of the race earlier this summer reflect a relatively close race. Public Policy Polling had Ring up by five points; the Patronis-friendly Florida Chamber had Patronis up by nine.
We caught up with Ring Wednesday in Jacksonville. He said, despite the cash disparity, he’s not worried about Patronis having a messaging advantage.
Ring noted that with candidates for Senate and Governor running, and Constitutional amendments on the ballot, spending is “already up over $200 million.”
“So, $4 million or whatever buys you maybe a week and a half of TV,” Ring said. “But we’re all going to get lost in the clutter. And the clutter’s no longer just television — it’s digital, it’s scattered, it’s everything.”
Ring noted, regarding Patronis’ haul, that “the insurance companies have just poured money into his campaign.”
“I’m not convinced that anyone [running downballot] is going to be able to break through the amount of money that’s going to be spent,” Ring predicted. “The cluttered environment is going to make it very difficult for anyone that doesn’t have $50 million, $100 million to spend.”
Ring had already forcefully made his case to Florida Politics readers this month, noting that he has an entrepreneurial background that Patronis, who “inherited a seafood restaurant,” lacks.
He amplified those themes in person.
Endorsements that have gone Patronis’ way, Ring said, have done so for “partisan” reasons — a condition that nettles the Democrat.
“This should not be a partisan seat,” Ring said. “Florida Chamber of Commerce is the most partisan organization that we have in Florida.”
“There is no doubt that if I had an R next to my name they would be supporting me. They know my qualifications. They know everything I’ve done. They’re supporting Jimmy Patronis solely because he has an R next to his name,” Ring said, “which is a disservice to their members.”
“For anyone to believe that I know less about business than Jimmy,” Ring added, is “disingenuous.”
While the donors support Patronis, Ring noted that the incumbent has “yet to face the voters.”
Ring contends that if Gov. Scott “were still CEO of HCA, he wouldn’t have even hired Jimmy Patronis to be in the finance department of a hospital.”
“I cannot wrap my arms around the fact that Rick Scott doesn’t see business and politics the way I do, which is that they should be identical, outside of the profit motive aspect of it,” Ring said, thumping the table for emphasis. “It’s all cronyism. It has nothing to do with qualifications.”
Ring, when asked about Scott’s economic legacy and accomplishments, noted that macroeconomic factors contributed to the boom after “the worst recession in generations.”
“We bottomed out,” Ring said. “I would think that anybody would be in a position to see it go up.”
“Florida follows America,” Ring added. “So if America’s doing well, we’re going to do very well.”
Scott, said Ring, has failed to create an “innovation economy,” with a dearth of “high-paying jobs like I created when I created the Florida Institute of Commercialization, with 75 technology companies in our portfolio … and the Florida Growth Fund,” another venture capital operation.
“Making Florida the call center capital of America … how does that add to our economy,” Ring added. “No one has done more than me — certainly I’ve done more than the governor — to create an innovation ecosystem in this state.”
“You shouldn’t be striving to create low-wage, service-based jobs,” Ring said. “If all you’re trying to do is lift numbers, that’s an easy way to do it.”
However, Ring contends that’s not the optimal method.
We asked Ring about the challenges of working with a Republican Legislature and potentially Republican Cabinet members. He wasn’t worried.
“For 10 years, I’ve been attacked by Democrats for working across party lines,” Ring noted, citing his time as committee chair of the Government Oversight Committee in a GOP controlled Senate.
“The CFO shouldn’t be a partisan seat,” Ring added.
Looking forward to the campaign, Ring notes that he has target markets (“certain counties of the state … areas that may have been red, now turning purple”) and a “very robust digital program.”
Ring will continue to write checks as needed, though he doesn’t have a number in his head.