Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis formally launched his years-in-the-making campaign for Jacksonville Mayor, pledging to make it a “new day” in Jacksonville.
Davis addressed a crowd of 350 supporters at a Westside trucking operation, delivering an 11-minute speech full of aspirational phrases and personal history.
“Like so many of you, I’m Jacksonville grown,” Davis said. “I grew up on the Westside. We didn’t have much, but we had what mattered.”
“No matter where you start in Jacksonville,” he said later, “the sky is the limit and everything is possible.”
“The time is now,” he added later, “to seize the greatness.”
Though he is the fourth Republican in a nine-candidate field, he presents, arguably, the most serious candidacy among GOP contenders. With more than $4 million in his political committee, Building a Better Economy, along with a statewide network of support that extends to the inner circle of Gov. Ron DeSantis, he will be a formidable challenge for his relatively underfunded opponents.
Polling of the field showed that even before Davis entered the race, he was among the top tier of candidates.
A recent survey from the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida showed Davis was in second place even before filing. He drew 11% total support and 25% backing from Republican voters.
Democrat Donna Deegan, a former broadcast journalist, led in the poll with over 30% support, and is the leading Democratic fundraiser. She has nearly $210,000 in her campaign account and more than $300,000 on hand in her Donna for Duval political committee.
Deegan rolled out an endorsement Thursday from former Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, who said Deegan was “the leader we can trust to bring City Hall into the sunshine and represent all of us.”
Davis stopped short of saying DeSantis would endorse him, adding that he loves DeSantis and what he’s done for Florida.
“I’m just going to fight my fight and hopefully he comes along,” Davis said. “Same policies.”
The next leading fundraiser: Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber has nearly $2.3 million on hand in her Jax First political committee. She also has more than a quarter million dollars in her campaign account, but polled a few points behind Davis in the UNF survey.
The tension in the early stages of the campaign is between the Cumber and Davis camps. Off-the-record volleys and charged speculations come forth from each side about the other, a surprising fact given both are essentially establishmentarian business wing campaigns, but a reality that will shape messaging in this race given the mutual animus and how fundraising has gone thus far.
Cumber says Davis is a “more-of-the-same candidate,” arguing he’s a reason Jacksonville is behind where it should be in terms of development, and saying he has a history of supporting tax hikes.
Davis called such characterizations a “desperate attempt to keep (him) out of the race” and that “it didn’t work.”
Forces friendly to her also have called attention to the city’s funding for the Chamber of Commerce.
“That’s ridiculous,” Davis said, decrying the assertion as a “failed attempt” by opponents to cast aspersions on the Chamber.
Davis added that he will be representing the Chamber on the annual trip to London with the Jaguars, citing a “lot of important meetings” on this year’s trip as a reason why.
Beyond the two business wing Republicans in the field, there are seven other candidates, including two on the right. Social conservative Al Ferraro, elected twice to the City Council, is running, as is former lawyer Frank Keasler.
In addition to Deegan, two other Democrats are running, including state Sen. Audrey Gibson and political newcomer Theresa Ann Richardson, suggesting that lane will be crowded also.
Independent candidates are also on the ballot, including repeat mayoral candidate Omega Allen, who got more than 10% of the vote in 2019, and perpetual candidate Darcy Richardson, a veteran of third-party campaigns of varying levels of electoral significance nationwide.
This may not be the final configuration of the mayoral race. The field will not be finalized until qualifying week, which ends Jan. 13, 2023.
From there, all qualified candidates will be on the March ballot. The top two finishers will advance to the May ballot, unless someone gets a clear majority.