With half of 2021 wrapped, and just a matter of months before committee weeks begin for the 2021-2022 Legislative Session, question marks abound about state-level races in Northeast Florida.
The two competitive Senate primaries offer disparate looks.
In Senate District 4, a trio of state legislators seek to succeed term-limited Sen. Aaron Bean. Reps. Cord Byrd of House District 11, Clay Yarborough of HD 12, and Jason Fischer of HD 16 are all planning to skip fourth terms in the House and chase promotion to the upper chamber.
Rep. Wyman Duggan, of HD 15, is running for reelection rather than Senate. Perhaps coincidentally, he does not live in SD 4, being just a few blocks outside the line.
Fischer continues to build a fundraising advantage ahead of the August 2022 Republican Primary.
In May, Fischer added $21,250 to his Friends of Jason Fischer account, pushing his total cash on hand for the political committee close to $780,000. Donors also contributed $6,350 to Fischer’s campaign account, which now has more than $103,000 on hand. A second Fischer committee has roughly $68,000 in the bank.
While Fischer is nearing $970,000 on hand even before counting June totals, due no later than July 10, his opponents are struggling to match.
Yarborough had roughly $68,000 in his campaign account as of the end of May. Floridians for Conservative Values, the political committee supporting Yarborough’s bid, has nearly $330,000 on hand.
Fischer has more than a two-to-one edge over Yarborough, but far behind both is the Representative from HD 11. Byrd raised nothing in May to either his 1845 political committee or his campaign account, and between the two, he has roughly $80,000 on hand.
There are those who suggest that candidates may stand down. Senate President Wilton Simpson is likely to discourage a Primary for a safe Senate seat, meaning someone could just run for reelection.
If that were to happen, Byrd would seem to have the cleanest path. Jacksonville Beach lawyer Heath Brockwell is the clubhouse leader in fundraising in the HD 11 field, with just over $18,000 cash on hand. Duval County Republican Party chair Dean Black has floated a trial balloon to move to the district and run, but that has yet to translate into action.
In HD 12, the field right now consists of former four-term Rep. Lake Ray. Will Ray draw primary competition? It would be a surprise if he didn’t.
HD 13 and HD 14 currently have no filed candidates, but caveats apply. The other open Senate seat in the region plays in one of them.
HD 13 incumbent Rep. Tracie Davis is mulling a run in SD 6 for mentor Audrey Gibson‘s Senate seat, a safe Democratic spot. Gibson is term-limited next year and Davis has done everything but file.
Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Gaffney is likewise exploring a run for Senate. Gaffney has been coy about when he may actually file, and there are rumblings that he is too much of a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) for the politically aware electorate of 2022.
Meanwhile, political newcomer Brooklyn Owen is in fact a filed candidate for Gibson’s seat, though Owen is also one who has yet to file campaign finance reports despite being in the race for months.
HD 14 incumbent Rep. Angie Nixon, meanwhile, just got married, perhaps delaying her filing for reelection. However, having toppled the previous incumbent by 20 points last year, she likely doesn’t have to worry about opposition next year.
Meanwhile, in HD 16, Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey will battle local lawyer Adam Brandon in what will be a chippy Republican primary. Brandon recently moved to the district, as Hershey mentions whenever she can. Hershey is running as a Ron DeSantis Republican, including backing the Governor’s culture war smackdown of critical race theory.