Florida’s 4th Congressional District is historically a reliable seat for Republicans, but in 2020, a Democrat with a decent amount of money and visibility is vying for an upset in the Jacksonville-centered district.
Former broadcast journalist Donna Deegan, who had no opposition in her party’s primary last week, will take on a two-term incumbent Republican, former Jacksonville Sheriff and current U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.
The district, which includes Nassau County and some of Duval and St. Johns, is set up as a safe Republican seat, giving the Congressman a structural advantage demographically.
GOP voters account for 297,712 of the district’s 607,634 registered voters, compared with 170,254 Democrats, with independents and third-party registrants making up the balance, according to August 2020 book closing reports provided by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections.
In addition to having a registration advantage, Rutherford also has the money lead, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Rutherford had roughly $750,000 on hand in the pre-primary report, and Deegan had nearly $300,000. Both have raised money since, with Deegan saying she had $340,000 on hand earlier this month.
Florida Politics reached out to the campaigns for insight on the unique challenges ahead.
On behalf of the Deegan effort, campaign manager Erica Connor expressed confidence that Democrats could overcome structural hurdles.
“We plan to appeal to NPA and open-minded Republicans with the power of Donna’s personal story and her commitment to bring real change to Congress at a time of unprecedented chaos and dysfunction in government,” Connor said. “Donna is a three-time breast cancer survivor with a lifetime of helping others in our community as well as speaking truth to power. Donna is not a politician, and her enthusiasm for people and for real change will attract the voters we need.”
Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Connor said the campaign is reaching “tons of voters every week” with organizing and earned media. They have yet to poll, however, noting that the only poll that counts is Election Day.
Debates, Connor suggested, would be key to that strategy … assuming they happen.
Meanwhile, Rutherford’s operation will be run again by Tim Baker, an operative who routinely has a number of irons in the fire statewide, with this year no different.
In the 2016 and 2018 general elections, Baker didn’t have to do much to delegitimize Democratic opposition no one actually knew.
In 2020? He expects voters to recoil from Deegan’s liberal platform.
“We are already on TV sharing John’s record of service and accomplishments for the people of NE Florida,” Baker notes.
“From being named one of the most bi-partisan members of Congress who’s worked across the aisle on tax cuts, protecting pre-existing condition coverage and working to lower the cost prescription drugs to VA reform and protecting our veterans. The choice in this campaign is clear between a bi-partisan problem solver who delivers real results for NE Florida or a radical liberal who supports extremist politicians and ideology,” Baker posited.
“While Deegan has some more notoriety than previous opponents from her past work on television she’s not well known to the voters and her values are hopelessly out of touch with Northeast Florida,” Baker added.
“I expect the voters will speak loudly and forcefully reject the liberal ideology she supports that puts political stunts over bi-partisan solutions to the problems that face our region and nation.”
As for debates, Baker didn’t mention them.
Deegan seems aware of the campaign that may be ahead.
In a video Monday afternoon, the Democrat lamented “the politics of personal destruction” and decried “political nonsense.”
“Most of you have known me a long time. I think you know my heart and my values are squarely aligned with service to our community. Anyone who tells you otherwise may be a political consultant,” she tweeted.