An email from a top Democratic strategist to his consulting colleagues has candidly revealed the dire status of the campaigns of several House Democratic incumbents and battleground district challengers.
Dylan Sumner, a partner at Deliver Strategies and one of the top vendors to Democratic candidates in Florida, emailed who he describes as “a group of FL consultants who all have some stake/interest/engagement in House Battleground races” a sparsely worded but stark assessment of the low investment by Florida House Victory in battleground districts.
“As you can see, it is the weakest of weak teas,” wrote Sumner, a media adverse, but highly respected, operative.
“Unless [House Victory] quickly embarks on the greatest surge in financial support of House Dems over the next four weeks, the Dem. field is on a trajectory for the lowest amount of resources in targeted races in the modern political era.”
Sumner has not returned emails or phone calls from Florida Politics to further expound. But a spreadsheet shared with Sumner’s email shows a total of about $383,288 worth of party support provided to 22 battleground districts. Of that, $138,650 went to help seven incumbent Democrats, many of whom won by narrow margins in 2018.
In six districts, no financial support was offered to candidates at all, though Sumner acknowledged the inclusion of 22 districts in this list utilized a “VERY BROAD” definition of battlegrounds.
Moreover, a substantial amount of the money does not necessarily reflect support from House Victory, the wing of the party dedicated to winning House seats. In-kind research listed on the spreadsheet, Sumner suggests in his email, originated from a third-party source. A number of checks worth $5,000 or $7,500 came from the Florida Democratic Party proper.
Sumner figures just $250,000 of the assistance to battleground candidates comes from House Victory itself.
Party insiders say the list appears startling but not surprising.
Despite a successful 2018 cycle for House Democrats in which the caucus netted five seats, the Florida Democratic Party arm dedicated to winning ground this cycle has come under fire since massive personnel changes last year. The group under the auspices of incoming House Democratic Leaders Evan Jenne and Bobby Dubose severed ties with senior advisers Reggie Cardozo and Janee Murphy. Indeed, some members shortly after questioned the legitimacy of Jenne and DuBose’s leadership at all and suggested there may need to be new leadership within the caucus.
Many within the party since expressed concern House Victory under the leadership of Democrats representing safe blue districts had no knowledge about the support needed by those facing well-backed Republicans, much less anyone trying to unseat an incumbent or flip a red district. Neither Jenne nor DuBose returned calls to Florida Politics on the subject.
The data shared by Sumner reads like a manifestation of those fears.
The most spending thus far was in House District 44, represented by Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who faces Republican challenger Bruno Portigliatti in a district she won in 2018 with just over 51% of the vote. The spreadsheet shows $51,994 spent by House Victory on the race. That includes about $30,286 worth of in-kind research.
Some expected races also get a big chunk of what little money has been spent. About $35,598 has gone to District 26, where former Rep. Patrick Henry hopes to take back a seat he lost to Republican Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff by a mere 61 votes in House District 26.
But only about $18,000, all in-kind research, has gone to help Jim Bonfiglio in his own rematch against Republican Rep. Mike Caruso. The House District 89 race in 2018 came down to an even closer 32 votes.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, who flipped House District 47 from red to blue in 2018, received about $7,786 in support. She faces Republican challenger Jeremy Sisson this year. Though she’s considered a favorite — Eskamani has $136,379 in cash on hand in her own campaign account and $70.479.52 in a political committee People Power For Florida while Sisson has just $1,791 left — some institutional support has lined up behind the GOP candidate.
Eskamani certainly seemed surprised at the amount spent in total by the party. But she’s worked toward November under the assumption there would be no help at all.
“I always operate under the assumption that I will see no outside financial support to help our movement,” she told Florida Politics. ”It’s why I work so hard to fundraise on our own and help other candidates too.”
Indeed, it seems to fall on individual Democratic politicians to step in where House Victory has tread so little ground. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat holding statewide office, partnered with the Florida Democratic Party to provide Voter Action Network access to many legislative candidates, for example.
And according to the spreadsheet, the support going to incumbents and former incumbents seems sizable compared to most candidates trying to gain ground for the Democratic caucus. Many familiar with the process suggest that’s a matter of internal politics; how can limited resources be diverted away from sitting members of the caucus to go to upstart candidates uninvolved until this cycle?
But there’s also a clear need for support for many Democrats trying to compete.
Andrew Learned in Tampa Bay received $2,500 in party support as he tries to defend House District 59, a seat Democratic Rep. Adam Hattersley left behind for an unsuccessful run for Congress. At least Learned has raised $161,670 in monetary contributions, but Republican opponent Michael Owen has already spent $194,746 on the race to win a Republican primary and prepare for the general election.
Eskamani suggests it may be a little soon to roast House Victory. “Major spending typically comes closer to the elections too, so ideally that’s what we’ll see,” she said. “I’m sure more will come in the coming weeks.”
It may also be Sumner’s spreadsheet is a somewhat incomplete account.
In House District 72, Democrat Drake Buckman reported almost $2.072 in in-kind support from the Florida Democratic Party. “I’m getting a ton of support from all the voters and House Victory,” Buckman said. At the same time, that’s not a huge dollar amount when Buckman is running in a district Donald Trump won by 4 percentage point for an open seat held by Democrats now but where he’s spent $35,563 while Republican Fiona McFarland dropped $243,479 just winning the GOP primary. And the district is represented by a Democrat now, Rep. Margaret Good, who won it in 2018 but like Hattersley, chose to run for Congress this year.
There’s plenty of reason for concern about Democrats getting outspent. A look at party contributions gives the impression of a party on defense, not a minority looking to retake control of the House before redistricting and at a time when the Democratic nominee for President leads the Republican incumbent in most statewide polls.
There’s another facet of the story too, though. In many cases, even Democrat incumbents have failed to crack six figures in fundraising for their own reelection campaigns. That raises the question of how hard incumbents themselves must work to stay in office.
Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, a Maitland Democrat, for example, has raised just $45,434 for her reelection, while opponent Bob Cortes, whom she unseated in House District 30 the last cycle, has raised $104,385. The $30,286 worth of support from in-kind research has done little to close the cash gap between Goff-Marcil and her Republican opponent but that was a pretty large gap to fill.
Of course, House Democrats are not completely without support. Billionaire Marsha Laufer donated $1 million to Forward Majority Action Florida last month, a move criticized by some but which Jenne welcomed in comments to Politico.
Sumner’s spreadsheet is linked below: