Lauren Book and Barbara Sharief locked in ‘ugly’ Primary contest
Lauren Book won her re-election bid, but it came at a cost. Image via Florida Politics.

Lauren Book Barbara Sharief art
The Senate Democratic Leader outspends longtime local pol in closely watched race.

The most-watched Primary Senate race is in southwest Broward County, pitting the Senate Democratic Leader against a local politician who’s served the area for 13 years.

Sen. Lauren Book, who’s broken fundraising records for boosting other Democrats, is facing her first-ever ballot challenge in former Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief in Senate District 35.

A quirk of redistricting triggered the contest, as Book moved here to avoid a Primary with Sen. Rosalind Osgood, who had just won election to Senate District 32 in a March Special Election.

The campaign, which pits one of the Legislature’s best-known pols against a veteran city and county Commissioner, has unleashed beaucoup negative TV ads and mailers, one of them resulting in Sharief filing a lawsuit against Book.

Both candidates support abortion rights, tightening gun control and doing more to increase the affordability of insurance and housing.

There are no Republicans running in this race, so the Primary will determine who will become the Senator representing the newly drawn district that includes Weston, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Southwest Ranches, Cooper City and parts of Davie and Hollywood. And voters of any political party in the district are eligible to vote.

The campaign has involved charges and counter-charges between the two camps with each saying the other is lying. The Sun-Sentinel awarded its endorsement to Book, but did so “with little enthusiasm” because of the attacks that have flown between the two campaigns.

Sharief has portrayed Book as a privileged carpetbagger, unfamiliar with the struggles of the constituents she would be representing in an advertisement that highlights Book’s $1 million wedding and the salary she earns from her nonprofit Lauren’s Kids, which gets state funding.

Book and her supporters have put Sharief’s record on the County Commission under fire, such as one vote that gave incentives for a gun manufacturer to open in Pompano Beach. Her health care company’s fine for Medicaid overbilling was showcased, along with the contention Sharief “narrowly avoided jail.” That ad, which came through two-year-old Fort Lauderdale-based committee Winning Florida, chaired by Jason B. Blank, spurred Sharief’s lawsuit against Book and the committee.

“We’ve gotten to a very ugly place in this race,” the Sun-Sentinel reported Book acknowledging.

Sharief says she knows the needs of her district that Book has only come to recently. Sharief said she will use the office to serve her constituents.

“This is an opportunity for minority access,” Sharief said during a debate with Book on “This Week in South Florida” with reporter Michael Putney.  “I’ve been living in this district for 21 years and served it for 13.”

Besides the charges against Sharief, Book’s campaign has also focused on her accomplishments over her six years of legislative service. That service has earned her a wide spectrum of people and organizations endorsing her for re-election. She successfully advocated for a diaper tax holiday and expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage, among other successes, in spite of the numerical advantage Republican lawmakers have over Democrats.

When she’s not attacking Book, Sharief focuses on how she’s risen from a fatherless girl of 14 who lost her parent to gun violence to become the first Muslim woman to be County Mayor in addition to a successful entrepreneur and leader of a health care company that employs 350 workers.

The politicians are waging very different campaigns.

Since January, nearly $1.8 million has flowed into Book’s political committees, Leadership for Florida and Leadership for Broward and about $2.5 million has flowed out of those accounts.

Several six-figure checks of that spending went toward the Florida Democratic Legislative Committee that supports other Democrats. But outreach to voters about Book’s campaign is flying fast and furious.

Book’s personal account and the committees showed the campaign spent $209,517 with Edge Communications in Miami on consulting, outreach and communications between July 30 and Aug. 5.

In the same period, Sharief, who largely self-funded her campaign, spent $30,149. Of that, $29,058 went to Win On the Ground Consulting in Coral Springs for mailings.

Sharief, founder and CEO of the health care company South Florida Pediatric Homecare Inc., gave her campaign a $500,000 loan, and as of Aug. 5, shows $45,395 in outside donations to her personal account and political committee, Real Empowerment for the People.

On her TV appearance last Sunday, Book made it clear this is not a race she wanted. “Republicans drew me out of … District 32 by four blocks because I am the leader of the Democrats,” she said. “That’s what happens when you’re in leadership.”

Sharief had no apologies: “I have a right to run in the seat where I’ve represented and that’s why I’m running.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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