HD 78 candidates checking on neighbors, not asking for money
Instead of campaigning, Jenna Persons checks on her neighbors. Image via Jacob Ogles.

Jenna Persons
Jenna Persons did raise more than $13,000 in March.

For Fort Myers Republican Jenna Persons, voter outreach has taken on a different tone. It’s not hard appeals, or even asking candidates about the issues they care most about.

“I’m just spending time talking to folks— small business owners, teachers and parents — just about how they are doing and what they are facing,” she said.

“My current focus is as a community member as well as a candidate.”

That’s not to say she hasn’t worked to boost her candidacy. Persons raised $13,225 in March for her race in House District 78. That gives the prolific fundraiser a total of $207,200.

“That was raised more than a month ago, and a month ago seems like a lifetime ago,” she said.

The bulk of her March money came before March 11.

Fort Myers Republican Roger Lolly raised $1,600 in March, bringing his own total to $46,175.

A perusal of his social media shows his focus has been on community support. The owner and president of the If I Can Dream Foundation and of AllCare National, said he’s continuing to pay full-time staffers through a stay-at-home order and keeping essential contract employees working.

Lolly said he and his wife has focused their energy on delivering meals to families in need, putting door-knocking on hold.

“Safety is the most important thing right now,” he said. “But we are running a robust social media campaign right now.

He’s voiced support for President Donald Trump for forcing 3M to produce face masks for use in America instead of selling them overseas.

“Thank you President Donald J. Trump,” Lolly wrote. “It never should have had to come to this. Our doctors, nurses and first responders have been begging for masks and 3M is sending them oversees. 3M putting profit over the health of the American people is disgraceful.”

Charlie Lynch, a third Republican in the race, acknowledges the timing of this pandemic doesn’t work especially well with getting a House campaign running.

“A lot of the residents in Fort Myers are over the age of 65 and not on social media,” Lynch said. “So that means additional mailers will have to be sent out.”

But the pandemic made fundraising impossible in March, when he collected just $10 out of $2,785 raised in total.

But he’s at least hoping his expertise as a consultant in the pharmaceutical world will serve him well with a constituency more attuned to health care needs than ever.

“We always have to be ready for the next fight,” Lynch said, noting everything from stockpiles of personal protection equipment to a website unprepared for the current level of traffic.

“From my medical background, I know it’s important to be proactive instead of reactive,” he said.

Democrat Shawn Michael Williams continues efforts to qualify for the ballot via petition, a process that has been made easier by a rule change allowing online signatures. He raised just $65 in March, bringing his total to $6,406.

But like Persons, he said his primary focus right now remains on the well being of voters.

“We just need to check on our brothers and sisters to make sure they are alright,” he said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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