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Jacksonville broadcast media legend Donna Deegan runs for Congress.

2020

In Jacksonville, former news anchor challenges former sheriff for Congress

From broadcast news to ballot box? Time will tell.

2020 promises to be memorable in Northeast Florida, as longtime Jacksonville broadcaster Donna Deegan launches her run for Congress, against incumbent U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.

Rutherford, a former Sheriff, is as entrenched a longtime public presence as Deegan was in her role. The presumptive general election matchup involves two well-known personalities.

Thursday sees Deegan’s campaign launch, amidst a friendly broadcast media blitz that no other Democrat running in the historically Republican 4th Congressional District could get.

Rutherford’s political team is nonplussed. Perhaps they will be goaded into response, but nothing preemptively.

However, compared to the tomato can Democrats Rutherford faced in previous runs, Deegan is the real deal, a test of party identification in an era where the President may be a millstone a year from now even in Republican districts.

A Jacksonville native and alumna of Bishop Kenny High School, she anchored for First Coast News from 1992 to 2016, despite three bouts of breast cancer.

But as was the case with another former Jacksonville broadcaster, First Lady Casey DeSantis, politics would take precedence over broadcast news.

By the 2018 campaign, Deegan was a more-than-capable advocate and campaign surrogate for Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

Gillum carried Duval County handily in both August and November, and the instant credibility Deegan’s early support afforded him factored into what some consultants called “a surge.”

However, a run against Rutherford would come with its own challenges.

In the third quarter of 2019, Rutherford reported just over $70,000 raised, giving him $228,900 raised for the election cycle, and $443,376 on hand.

The vast majority of the funds raised in the quarter came from corporate political action committees, or PACs.

Rutherford, a former three-term Jacksonville Sheriff, faced his toughest challenge in a battle royale style 2016 GOP primary to replace outgoing Rep. Ander Crenshaw.

Since then, he has been protected by a combination of strong name identification, a deep red district, and underwhelming challengers, as well as a strong Republican plurality. He typically garners roughly 70 percent of the vote.

But he has never faced a challenger like Donna Deegan.

Still, institutional protections abound for the political lifer.

GOP voters comprise 286,013 of the district’s 577,173 registered voters, compared to 155,073 Democrats, with independents and third party registrants making up the balance.

Expect that Rutherford’s political consultants, including takedown artist Tim Baker, would dig deep for oppo should there be any significant voter break Deegan’s way.

There doesn’t seem significant worry, as of yet.

At least in a theoretical sense, Rutherford and Deegan could each face a primary challenge, offering nominal complications ahead of the fall ballot.

Perennial candidate Gary Koniz, who has run as Republican and independent in the past, seeks to fly the banner of the Grand Old Party in 2020.

Media types are familiar with Koniz’s blast emails, which advance fringe theories, complete with idiosyncratic capitalization.

Koniz has yet to ramp up his fundraising machine, if Federal Election Commission filings are any indication.

Deegan also may face competition.

Democrat Monica DePaul awaits, according to filings with the state of Florida.

DePaul, a substitute teacher, had floated a run in the 2018 Democratic primary before withdrawing and preemptively announcing a 2020 run.

Like Koniz, DePaul has thus far avoided fundraising.

Chris Eagle, another Democrat, likewise has raised zilch. Erick Aguilar. who is also listed as a candidate with the FEC, leads all filed Democrats in cash on hand.

He has $52 to deploy, as of the end of September.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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