Embattled FL lawmakers in Congress stockpile cash ahead of November showdowns

A flag flies near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 18. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images.)

WASHINGTON — Targeted incumbents from Florida’s U.S. congressional delegation were padding their war chests as the election year kicked off. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the landscape for politicians in Florida and across the country as many have been forced to cut back on active fundraising and campaigning.

But the most recent campaign finance reports show that Florida incumbents who are expected to face the toughest reelection challenges this fall had all stocked up more cash than their competitors by the end of March. 

Congressional incumbents often have early fundraising advantages, and some of their rivals posted strong fundraising numbers in the first quarter of this year.

The dynamics are also likely to change in the coming months — particularly after the August primaries whittle down the field of candidates hoping to unseat incumbents in November and financial support coalesces around the party’s nominees. 

Florida is home to seven congressional races that national Democratic and Republican party committees are eyeing as prime pickup opportunities in the fall. They include four seats held by Democrats — two of which flipped from GOP control in 2018 — and three Republican-held seats. 

Last week, campaigns were required to release fundraising reports detailing their cash hauls through March 31. Here’s what they revealed about some of Florida’s most closely watched races: 

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-26th)

Miami Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ousted Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2018, and was quickly listed as a 2020 target by the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-26th). Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The freshman Democrat elevated her state and national profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, which was central to the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. She raised $742,200 in the first three months of this year, and has raised $2.9 million for the full 2020 cycle. She ended March with a formidable $2.2 million in the bank. 

Her donors early this year include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; former Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux, who was chairman of Senate Democrats’ fundraising arm; and the campaign committee of Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings. 

Mucarsel-Powell’s GOP competitors include Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County; businesswoman Irina Vilariño and Omar Blanco, the former leader of a firefighters union.

Gimenez, who scored Trump’s endorsement earlier this year, also has the cash advantage among the Republican contenders. He raised $415,300 in the first quarter of this year and ended March with $405,000 in the bank.

Vilariño raised $10,300 and took in a total of $435,200 for the cycle, including $40,000 in self-financing. She ended March with $339,600 in the bank. 

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates that race as leaning Democratic. 

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-27th)

Rep. Donna Shalala, another Miami Democrat who flipped a formerly GOP seat in 2018, is also among Republicans’ top targets this fall. 

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-27th) and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Resources under Clinton administration. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Shalala beat Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in the 2018 race for the seat vacated by former Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Salazar is running again this year. 

Shalala raised $308,400 in the first quarter of 2020 and a total of $2 million in the cycle. She ended March with $1.4 million in the bank. 

Salazar, the top fundraiser among Shalala’s GOP challengers, brought in $314,400 in the first quarter — slightly outpacing Shalala during those three months. Salazar has raised a total of $1.2 million for the cycle — including $100,000 in self-financing. She ended March with $894,500 cash on hand. 

The other candidates in the race have all raised far less, the reports show. 

Shalala is facing criticism this week for missing a deadline to report stock sales, a violation of federal law. Shalala, who was the only House Democrat appointed to a committee to oversee COVID-19 spending, apologized and said she sold the stocks to avoid a conflict of interest. 

Cook Political Report rates Shalala’s race as likely Democratic. 

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13th)

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg), the former Florida governor, is another top GOP target this cycle. 

Charlie Crist
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D- 13th). U.S. House photo.

Crist raised $229,500 in the first three months of 2020 and $1.8 million for the full cycle, closing March with $2.9 million cash on hand. 

One of Crist’s GOP challengers, Amanda Makki, raised $209,000 in the first quarter and a total of $747,200 for the cycle. She had $612,900 in the bank. Makki is a former health care lobbyist who was also an aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

Republican George Buck, who’s trying to oust Crist again after losing to the Democratic congressman in 2018, raised $212,100 in the quarter and $612,100 in the cycle. He closed March with $59,500 cash on hand. 

Anna Paulina Luna, an Air Force veteran and another GOP contender, raised $223,200 in the first quarter and $369,900 for the cycle. She had $146,700 left in the bank. 

The other GOP candidates in the race — Matt Becker, Sheila Griffin and Sharon Barry Newby — have all raised less, the reports show. 

Cook Political Report rates Crist’s race as solid Democratic. 

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-7th)

Republicans are also hoping to flip Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s seat in central Florida. The 2nd-term Democrat has attracted several GOP challengers, including doctor Leo Valentin and Yukong Zhao, whose website identifies him as former director of global planning at Siemens Energy. 

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-7th). Official photo.

Murphy has raised $1.8 million so far this cycle, including $320,200 in the most recent quarter. She had $1.3 million in her coffers at the end of last month. 

Valentin has raised a total of $341,900 this cycle, including $131,000 in self-financing. He had $276,300 in the bank. 

Zhao, meanwhile, appears to have raised about $137,000 in the cycle, with about $106,600 cash on hand. 

The other Republicans running for Murphy’s seat had raised less cash. 

Cook Political Report rates Murphy’s race as solid Democratic.

Rep. Ross Spano (R-15th)

Democrats are targeting freshman GOP Rep. Ross Spano’s central Florida seat this fall, and it could represent Democrats’ best shot at gaining a congressional seat in the state. 

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, (R-15th). U.S. House website.

Spano raised $229,500 in the first quarter and $895,700 over the cycle. He had $292,600 cash on hand at the end of March. 

Cook Political Report rates the race as leaning Republican, although some Democrats have high hopes for Adam Hattersley, Spano’s highest-raising opponent. In 2018, Hattersley won the state House seat that Spano left open when he ran for Congress. 

Hattersley, a Navy veteran and small business owner, raised $137,100 for the quarter and $411,400 in the cycle. He had $230,800 in the bank. 

Another Democrat in the race, former Tampa Bay area news anchor Alan Cohn, raised $84,800 in the quarter and $275,100 for the cycle. He had $89,800 in the bank.  

Scott Franklin, a Lakeland City Commissioner challenging Spano in the GOP primary raised $266,800 in the first quarter — including $160,000 in self-financing. He had $266,500 in the bank. 

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-16th)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced last August that it would target Rep. Vern Buchanan, a 7th-term Republican representing the district that includes Bradenton and Sarasota. Democrats cited a strong performance in 2018 by Buchanan’s Democratic challenger. 

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-16th). U.S. House website.

Buchanan has raised about $2.4 million so far this cycle in preparation for the political battle, including $250,000 in self-financing, the latest reports show. He raised $438,800 in the first three months of 2020. Buchanan, who once owned nearly 20 auto franchises, ranked No. 8 among the richest members of Congress in 2018, according to a Roll Call analysis

Buchanan ended March with $1.2 million in his campaign war chest. 

He’s facing what could be a tough challenge from Democrat Margaret Good, who defeated his son, James Buchanan, in a Florida House race in 2018. 

Good raised $352,700 in the first quarter of 2020 and $1.2 million for the cycle. She had $737,300 cash on hand.  

Cook Political Report rates that race as likely Republican. 

Rep. Brian Mast (R-18th)

Democrats are again working to unseat Rep. Brian Mast, a 2nd-term Republican whose district sits along the Treasure Coast. 

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, (R-18th). U.S. House website.

Democrat Lauren Baer lost to Mast in the 2018 race, but the DCCC announced it would target him again in 2020. 

 Mast raised $733,200 in the quarter and $3.1 million so far in the cycle. He ended March with $1.5 million in the bank. 

His Democratic opponent, former Florida Deputy Solicitor General Osvaldo Vazquez, raised $116,600 in the quarter and $302,400 for the cycle. He ended March with $98,500 in the bank.  

Cook Political Report rates the race as solid Republican.