Amid massive attention around the multimillion-dollar Republican primary in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, a Democratic primary also quietly played out. It produced a more surprising result in many ways with Cindy Banyai defeating 2018 Democratic nominee David Holden.
Banyai had lower name recognition and less money but remained cautiously optimistic heading into Election Day. Now she says she’s ready to surprise the world again as she faces Republican Byron Donalds in the General Election.
“I love when people underestimate me,” she said. “It’s where I thrive.”
Banyai filed for the race last year well before anyone knew it would be an open seat, planning to challenging incumbent Rep. Francis Rooney. A Florida Gulf Coast University professor and mother to a child with a rare blood disorder, she planned to challenge the Congressman on health care issues.
But the race shifted last October when Rooney announced he would not seek reelection. Suddenly a race for an open seat, the stakes quickly rose.
Holden, a financial adviser who challenged Rooney two years earlier, jumped into the race hoping to build on support from his past campaign and make the seat competitive.
Financial reports show Holden raised $229,760 through the end of July, including $65,500 in loans. By comparison, Banyai raised $85,549, with no loans and mostly small donations averaging around $33.
Banyai credits the support of No Dem Left Behind, a national group supporting candidates in deep-red districts and which endorsed Banyai early. The group will host an online gala Saturday with celebrity supporters like Rosie O’Donnell, Mark Hamill and Debra Messing.
She has also put significant effort into working with Democratic candidates in Southwest Florida running for state legislative seats, including Senate candidate Rachel Brown and House candidate Anselm Weber.
“We all need to help one another,” Banyai said. ”We can boost each other with the limited resources we have. That’s how grassroots nonprofit organizations work. When you have low financial capacity, you network and build with one another.”
As for Donalds, Banyai is pleased he has agreed to participate in public debates and forums. The two will appear Friday at Cantina109 at Gulf Coast Town Center for a debate moderated by Brendon Leslie.
“Byron Donalds is a solid candidate and I am pleased he has committed to running an above-the-board campaign going in to the general,” she said. “We will talk issues and not have the horrific mudslinging we saw toward the end of the Republican side of the Florida 19 race.”