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Congressional Primaries

Vennia Francois gets shot at Val Demings in CD 10

Francois dispatches Willie Montague in GOP primary.

In her second attempt to return to Congress as an elected member, Vennia Francois has taken the critical first step, winning the Republican primary Tuesday in Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Now for the hard part: Defeating a two-term rising star in national politics, Rep. Val Demings, in a district that has a strong Democratic lean, in a town where the Demings family is Democratic Party royalty.

Francois, a lawyer who is a former congressional staffer, easily defeated nonprofit operator Willie Montague by a margin that was 65-35 with just a handful of precincts left to report Tuesday. Francois celebrated her victory with a Tweet to her supporters shortly before 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

The victory marks a comeback for Francois, who finished a distant third in the 2018 Republican primary in neighboring Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

This time, Francois started again in CD 7, but in February she switched her candidacy to CD 10. In CD 7 there was a big crowd of Republicans but arguably a better chance at an election for a Republican than in CD 10.

Democrats have a 20-point advantage in voter registration in CD 10, which covers much of western Orange County. Demings, a former Orlando Police Chief, is married to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

Francois brought some campaign money with her and has continued to raise money at a steady pace, now topping $200,000. She’s been able to appeal particularly to social conservatives who oppose abortion and gay rights, such as Florida Family Action and the Coalition of African American Pastors, which both endorsed her.

But otherwise, Francois has maintained a not-quite right-wing campaign, offering more mainstream economic and social policies in line with her former bosses, former U.S. Rep. John Mica and former U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez and George LeMieux.

Heading into the general, Francois faces a large fundraising gap against Demings, who flexed her fundraising muscle last month, reporting $207,784 raised in the period spanning July 1-29.

Perhaps as a reflection of her confidence, or a signal of support for her party, her latest campaign finance report from the Federal Election Commission shows she donated $100,000 of her campaign cash to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to help other Democratic congressional candidates around the country.

To date, Demings has raised $1.3 million, including the $207,000 she picked up in July. She’s spent $805,015 of that to date, leaving her with $657,671 in the bank on July 29. Francois had raised about $207,000 through the same date and ended July with about $80,000 in the bank.

She’s pushed for smaller government, lower taxes, Second Amendment protection, an improved immigration system, and stronger borders, without quite expressing the strong rhetoric.

Montague, the founder of a nonprofit organization that helps troubled youth in Orlando, ran a low-budget campaign that sought to push a farther-right conservative message, questioning Francois’s loyalty to President Donald Trump.

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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