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2020

Vennia Francois opens challenge of Val Demings with bigger fundraising haul

Francois just switched to the CD 10 contest in February and quickly raised $100K.

After just entering the contest in February, Republican Vennia Francois managed to raise more campaign money in the first quarter of 2020 than Democratic incumbent Rep. Val Demings.

Francois, a lawyer with a background working in U.S. Senate offices and campaigns, raised $103,305 in the first quarter of 2020, according to the Federal Election Commission. That comes mostly after she decided, in mid-February, to switch races, moving from the crowded Republican field in Florida’s 7th Congressional District to the neighboring CD 10.

Demings, sometimes mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, raised just $95,438 for her congressional reelection bid during the first quarter of 2020.

Francois’ transfer to the contest for Florida’s 10th Congressional District drew immediate fundraising support this winter as the upstart Orlando Republican candidate outperformed the nationally recognized Orlando Democratic.

In doing so, Francois swapped ambitions from taking on Democratic Rep. Stephane Murphy, a well-established moderate in a purple district, to take on Demings, who has earned a national spotlight in the past six months for her participation in the impeachment investigation and trial of President Donald Trump.

Demings previously had two other nominal Republican opponents, but both pulled out of the race this winter.

“The outpouring of support we’ve received in fundraising and from the community, even under these extremely tough times, is a sign that Demings has turned her back on our community and they want change from the partisan politics in Washington,” Francois said in a statement issued by her campaign.

The Demings-Francois contest is for a district that covers most of western Orange County, including prominent suburbs such as Windermere, Winter Garden, and Apopka, and almost all of Orlando’s tourism corridor, including Walt Disney World. It also encompasses most of Orange County’s predominantly African American neighborhoods. Democrats hold a commanding lead in voter registration, with about 45% of voters registered as Democrats, compared with 26% as Republicans.

Francois worked for two of Florida’s former U.S. Senators, Mel Martinez and George LeMieux. She is making her second bid for Congress. In 2018 she ran in CD 7 but lost in the Republican primary.

Demings is a former social worker and career Orlando police officer who retired as the city’s first female police chief. She won the CD 10 seat in 2016 and was easily reelected in 2018. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, she was a key player in the impeachment investigation hearings and was selected to be a house manager, the only non-lawyer in such a role, for the impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.

In the first quarter of 2020, Francois raised all of her money from individual contributors. Her haul in January, February, and March was three times more than she was able to raise in virtually all of 2019 while she competed in a CD 7 Republican field that has included, at various times, nine candidates wanting a shot at Murphy.

Francois’s campaign now has raised $133,039 in total, and she entered April with $104,468 of that still on hand.

To date, Demings has raised $538,149 for her bid for a third term. Yet in the first quarter she spent $104,888, more than she raised, and so she entered April with just $145,041 of that left in the bank, barely more than Francois’ cash-on-hand total.

Demings’ first quarter 2020 fundraising total was less than half of what she was able to raise in the last quarter of 2019.

In the first quarter of 2020, Demings courted $44,837 in individual contributions, including $20,958 in small donations the Federal Election Commission does not require campaigns to itemize with information about donors.

She also attracted $50,500 from political action committees, a relatively paltry sum of PAC support compared with some of her congressional colleagues, including Murphy.

Among Demings’ top contributors in the first quarter of 2020, the Regions Financial Corp. PAC donated $3,500 and the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida PAC, $3,000. She received $2,500 checks from FLIR Systems, Morgan Stanley, New York Life, Delta Air Lines, Ernst & Young, Lowe’s Companies, Honeywell International, and the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades. Walmart and AFLA each gave her $2,000.

Demings also got $1,000 from former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s now-retired reelection campaign.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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