11 questions Florida politicos want answered during federal candidate qualifying week

Rick Scott Debbie Mucarsel-Powell SBS AP
Will we see Primary challengers to Rick Scott, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Laurel Lee or Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick?

Florida’s first qualifying period, for federal and judicial offices, kicked off Monday at noon. Candidates have until noon on Friday, April 26, to qualify for the ballot with the state.

That mostly likely means a week of winnowing fields — but likely also some surprises. So what will Florida’s political world learn this week?

Will Rick Scott face a Primary?

Outside of the Presidential Election, the top of the ballot will be the U.S. Senate race. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott seeking re-election is a given, but it’s gut check time for challengers on both sides of the aisle.

On the Republican side, lawyer Keith Gross reported $1.9 million raised through March, but all except $38,000 has come directly out of pocket or through a $1.74 million candidate loan. He closed the first quarter with just under $30,000 in cash on hand.

John Columbus is the only other Republican who closed the quarter with enough cash on hand to cover a $10,440 qualifying fee. There are four other Republicans — Shannon O’Dell, Joe Smith, Alix Toulme and Angela Walls-Windhauser — who opened federal accounts but never raised a dime. Farid Khavari filed with the state but never bothered dropping papers with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Will there be a Democratic Senate Primary?

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell remains the most prominent challenger having raised $7.29 million and closing the quarter with $2.75 million in the bank. But she’s not the only Democrat who could qualify. Businessman Stanley Campbell has reported more than $1.05 million in receipts, but $1 million comes from a loan, and most of that is unspent with the campaign reporting $771,000 cash on hand.

A big question mark for months? Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who has run for Senate before, quietly opened a Senate account with the FEC but has never formally launched a campaign. He did wrap the quarter with almost $98,000 cash on hand and has raised more than $518,000, even if his social media still just lists him as a “Former Congressman” and author.

Perennial Primary candidates Brian Rush and Rod Joseph have both raised thousands to run as Democrats. Other Democrats who filed something with the state or FEC but have no cash on hand reported include: Matt Boswell, Donald Horan, Josue LaRose, Chase Romagnano, Matthew Sanscraite and Everett Stern.

Any Primaries in the suspended State Attorney races?

Normally, a region’s head prosecutor post only becomes a hot race when there’s an open seat. But Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspensions of Democratic State Attorneys Monique Worrell and Andrew Warren upped the stakes in Florida’s 9th and 13th Judicial Circuits, respectively. Both Democrats at this point have announced that they will seek re-election. But the Republicans appointed by DeSantis to replace the prosecutors — Andrew Bain against Worrell and Suzy Lopez against Warren — have filed for full terms as well.

In the 9th Circuit, Bain may face a GOP Primary, where Thomas “Fighter” Feiter and Seth Hyman both filed. Meanwhile, Democrat Elizabeth Martinez Strauss already filed in the 13th Circuit before Warren decided to file for re-election. The question at this point is whether any Primaries unfold or if any potential challengers to the elected or appointed incumbents follow through.

Who wants to succeed Dave Aronberg in Palm Beach?

The other race to watch happens to also be a Democrat-held seat. State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced last year that he won’t seek another term in Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit. The Division of Elections shows four Democrats filed — Alexcia Cox, Gregg Lerman, Rolando Silva and Craig Williams. But two Republicans — Forrest Freedman and Samuel Stern — have also filed, as has independent Adam Farkas. By week’s end, the picture will be clear regarding who is serious about a run.

Will Democrats contest every House race?

The eight Democrats representing Florida in the U.S. marks the smallest blue team delegation from Florida in more than a decade. Many have credited a map designed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which appears all but certain to remain in place this election cycle. But how many races see any competition at all?

More than 130 candidates had filed paperwork to run for House in Florida at the start of the week, but the vast majority haven’t reported any fundraising since throwing their hat in the ring. This week, it’s time to put up to the tune of $10,440 in qualifying fees (for those who haven’t qualified by petition), or it’s time to pack up shop.

Florida Democratic Party leaders last week said they wanted to field candidates in every congressional race. The party said then it needed candidates in Florida’s 2nd, 5th and 12th Congressional Districts to challenge Republican U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn, John Rutherford and Gus Bilirakis, respectively. For the record, there’s also no Democrat challenging GOP U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, at least when it comes to who has federally filed. Tom Wells has papers in with the state.

Will CD 13’s Primary remain crowded?

But beyond symbolic runs, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has made it clear it wants to challenge GOP Rep. Anna Paulina Luna in Pinellas County. And Democrats have lined up to take on the task. So. Many. Democrats.

Seven Democrats have filed against the freshman lawmaker. Four of those — Sabrina Bousbar, Liz Dahan, Whitney Fox and Mark Weinkrant — have raised more than $100,000 for the seat. Fox has been the most prominent fundraiser, with $422,000 in total receipts and about $280,000 cash on hand at the end of March. But is that enough to spook the rest of the field away from qualifying?

Three more Democrats — Tony D’Arrigo, John Liccione and Peter Owen — have all filed paperwork but don’t have enough cash on hand to qualify. But it’s anyone’s guess as to how many of these candidates make the ballot — or if we have another surprise candidacy by week’s end.

Will any Democrat in CD 27 back down?

The only other district where DCCC officials seem interested in funding a challenge in Florida is against U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican. But there’s also a pretty significant Primary battle brewing there between Lucia Baez-Geller and Michael Davey. Those candidates closed the quarter with $138,000 and $288,000 in cash on hand, respectively. That’s plenty of money to fight a Primary in the Miami market, but Salazar is sitting on $1.26 million in cash on hand, and it seems unlikely right now that either of her challengers qualify for the ballot. Will both Democrats?

Will CD 9 see a real election?

There’s not much space for Republicans to grow its House delegation, but Washington Republicans say they want Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto on defense. Sources at the National Republican Congressional Committee have pointed to former state lawmaker John Quinones, but he closed the first quarter of 2024 with under $62,000 available. Meanwhile, Jose Castillo had more than $76,000 in the bank. Self-funder Thomas Chalifoux, meanwhile, reported $998,000 in cash on hand, more than Soto had liquid at the end of March.

Is Uncle Luke serious?

U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, meanwhile, is likely only vulnerable to a challenge from her Left in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. And there is a name that does loom over the race: Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame. The rapper’s brother, Stanley, already represents maybe the greatest risk of a Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate (see above). But as Campbell promoted the “Freaknik” documentary he produced for Hulu, he also teased a potential House campaign.

Former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness has kept an account open with the FEC, and it had a little more than $19,000 as of March. But that was after a quarter where Holness raised no money for a potential rematch against Cherfilus-McCormick. A national celebrity with a reputation for campaigning as nasty as he wants to, however, could suddenly turn the August Primary into a nationally watched contest.

Will Carlos Giménez seek re-election?

After Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez reported more than $1 million in cash on hand at the end of March, it largely put this question to rest. But rumors persist that he may try to return to the Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office that led him to prominence in South Florida. As a congressional incumbent, there is little hope that Democrats can take back the seat Giménez flipped red in 2020. But the race becomes a top-tier race if Giménez somehow doesn’t qualify for re-election this week and sets his sights elsewhere.

Phil Ehr, a Democrat who considered a Senate run last year but then shifted to Florida’s 28th Congressional District, appears poised to become the presumptive Democratic nominee, with more than $48,000 in cash on hand as of end of March. But don’t expect Republicans to give this seat up uncontested. The second that Giménez qualifies, this race likely moves off the map in Washington absent a super Democrat-friendly climate in the Fall. If the incumbent bolts, expect this race to instantly become top-tier, with the only question being what Republican jumps in to fill the void.

Who will be the MAGA challenger to Laurel Lee?

Donald Trump shook up conventional wisdom in Florida’s 15th Congressional District when he called on Truth social for a GOP Primary Challenger to U.S. Rep. Laurel Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican. But who will be the anointed the America First challenger?

So far, two candidates who had planned to challenge Bilirakis in a GOP Primary have said they will run. That included conspiracy podcaster Brian Perras and Tampa Bay business James Judge, who both have made failed runs for Congress before. But are they really the whole field? Rumors persist that some MAGA-connected candidates like Maureen Bannon, daughter of former Trump political advisor Steve Bannon, and Rogan O’Hanley, the Tampa personality behind the DC Draino social media accounts, could make a run. If so, this is the week to emerge.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Wendy Gerber

    April 22, 2024 at 1:17 pm

    No comment

    • Anna

      April 22, 2024 at 4:27 pm

      well done

    • Anna

      April 22, 2024 at 4:30 pm

      do online work at home here go… M­­­­­o­­­­­n­­­­­e­­­­­y­­­­­P­­­­­a­­­­­y­­­­­1­.C­­­o­­­­m

  • Wendy Gerber

    April 22, 2024 at 1:19 pm

    I don’t approve of Florida’s politics

  • Wendy Gerber

    April 22, 2024 at 1:21 pm

    I don’t agree with Florida’s politics. De Santos is just as crooked as all the Republicans that follow Trump

  • Wendy Gerber

    April 22, 2024 at 1:23 pm

    I’ve posted my comment several times. I don’t know what you want

  • Hi, Jacob:

    Will you be covering the race in District 2 of the Cape Coral City Council? (Or, are we too far down in the “food chain” to merit your attention?).

    Eager minds want to know. Thanks.

  • Don’t

    April 22, 2024 at 4:04 pm

    Debbie Mucarsel-Powell still the choice of you Zombies? She is gonna get steam rolled. Still waiting for MH to place the wager.

  • Anna

    April 22, 2024 at 4:29 pm

    do online work at home…

  • Bozo The Clown

    April 25, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    A 12th question would be, “Why is a paranoid schizophrenic wife beater running for congress in FL-13”?

Comments are closed.


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