Republicans view House District 72 as a rare pickup opportunity this year. But first, voters must choose a nominee.
A high-stakes Republican primary pits U.S. Navy reservist Fiona McFarland against Sarasota County Charter Review Board member Donna Barcomb, with lawyer Jason Miller playing the role of dark horse.
The three are running to reclaim the district after incumbent Rep. Margaret Good, a Democrat, won the seat, twice, in 2018. Good is running for Congress and is not seeking reelection.
McFarland has faced questions about her residency since entering the race; she moved to the region shortly before qualifying and owns a home in Manatee County outside the district. But thanks both to a national network of donors through mother K.T. McFarland, a Trump administration veteran, and an ability to sign a number of local officials on as advocates, she has remained the fundraising leader most of the race.
But Barcomb, the first Republican to file in the race, has built on decades of service in local elected office, albeit in lower profile positions. Before serving on the charter review board, she spent years on the Sarasota County Public Hospital Board. That helped her nab some notable endorsements for the race, including from Rep. Ray Pilon, who served the district before and ran unsuccessfully two years ago against Good.
Through Friday, McFarland spent more than $240,000 while Barcomb, through July, dropped less than $67,000. That doesn’t count spending by Friends of Sarasota, a McFarland-affiliated political committee that pumped nearly another $13,000 into the race.
Once a friendly contest, the campaign in the weeks leading into the election was marked by attacks on Barcomb and McFarland’s respective backgrounds.
Miller, who also ran in 2018 but lost to Pilon in the primary, jumped in again this year hoping to take a stab at the open seat. But the COVID-19 pandemic led him to stop fundraising altogether at a time when he already trailed in resources. Being the underdog has its perks; Miller has avoided the growing negative mailer war between Barcomb and McFarland.
Things took a turn after a Tiger Bay debate, which prompted Barcomb to lash out at McFarland in mass emails over her use of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” McFarland’s team responded by dinging Barcomb for votes on a measure backed by the controversial Sovereign Citizen movement. From there, McFarland hit Barcomb for votes on the millage rate for the hospital district, while Barcomb slammed McFarland for work at McKinsey & Company, a firm that pushed for regulations allowing jobs to ship overseas to China.
Everything settles with the Republican primary on Tuesday, but from there the nominee heads into a general election that could be equally competitive.
This race started as a contest on who would try and unseat Good, but became a race for an open seat when the incumbent filed for Congress. Instead, the GOP nominee will face Sarasota Democrat Drake Buckman.
And while Buckman has raised $65,754 through Thursday, less than either Barcomb or McFarland, it’s a seat Democrats can win. Good won the district twice in 2018, first in a February special election and then — narrowly — in a general election. It was held for seven years by Republicans before that, and by Democrats before then. President Donald Trump carried the district by 4 percentage points in 2016, but notably, this race hasn’t seen the same competition to show loyalty to Trump as seen in other races.