Two Jacksonville political veterans are battling for a chance to replace term-limited Sen. Audrey Gibson in the Democratic Primary, and the stretch run of the campaign has been as heated as any on the August ballot in Northeast Florida.
Rep. Tracie Davis has spent three terms in Tallahassee, but with her ally, Gibson, term-limited, Davis passed up a chance to run for a fourth term in the House to pursue the open Senate District 5 seat.
Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney was also near the end of his time in City Hall, with just one year left before being term-limited in his current role.
Though this contest was slow to get started, it has heated up in recent weeks, with both candidates attempting to impeach each other’s Democratic bona fides.
“Basically a Republican,” read one mail piece from Davis, targeting Gaffney.
Gaffney’s side, meanwhile, has hit back with similar claims, spotlighting votes Davis cast throughout the years, to make the argument that Davis represents “conservative values” and that, per one mailer, a “vote for Tracie Davis is a vote for Ron DeSantis.”
Gaffney defended the sharp tactics this week, saying Davis’ side brought the smoke first.
“Please,” he said. “Talk about negative. (That’s) what her campaign (has) been doing (since) Day 1.”
Davis was even more searing, offering a text she wanted quoted in full:
“Jacksonville voters won’t be fooled by my opponent’s lies about my record as a champion for Democratic values and a strong voice for our community. His attacks reek of desperation, fueled by his well-documented history of defrauding taxpayers, unethical behavior and conservative politics. Reggie Gaffney doesn’t care about this community, he cares about one thing: himself,” Davis contended.
The rhetoric has been pitched for weeks, while the dynamics of the campaign have favored Davis as the Primary has gotten closer.
In the week ending Aug. 5, Davis raised more than $150,000 between her campaign account and her political committee, Together We Stand. Trial lawyers invested heavily, giving the third-term Democrat a boost at a key moment in the race.
Gaffney wasn’t sure why trial lawyers were backing Davis over him.
“I really do not know,” he said. “I guess I’m a small business owner.”
Gaffney raised a lot of money before Davis was able to fundraise, as legislators can’t collect donations during Session. But the fundraising has slowed as the summer heated up. During the week ending Aug. 5, he collected just $17,700 in donations between his campaign account and the supportive Friends of Reggie Gaffney political committee. He has roughly $60,000 for the final week.
Gaffney has a secondary political committee, the Committee to Revive Florida, which had been largely dormant for most of the cycle, but had $23,500 of donations parked therein, with the most recent donation coming in April. That committee has been used for the hardest-hitting contrast mailers thus far.
Interestingly, given Gaffney’s well-documented ability to work with Republicans on the municipal level — including Mayor Lenny Curry — Davis ended up scoring the key endorsement this summer from the JAXBIZ political committee associated with the local Chamber of Commerce.
Non-Democratic candidates also qualified, and their main effect in this heavily Democratic district was to close the Primary.
Write-in Patrick Lee Cooper and Republican Binod Kumar are both running.