Campaign Cash Flows to Florida’s Open Seats

TALLAHASSEE — Stretching from St. Augustine south through Flagler County, state House District 19 is solidly Republican.

And as House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, prepares to leave the Legislature in November, his exit from the Northeast Florida seat is leading to a big-money battle among Republican candidates who want to succeed him.

Newly filed reports detailing campaign-finance activity during the first three months of 2024 show similar patterns in other parts of the state: Open seats in places such as Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County and Central Florida drew influxes of cash.

As an example, Republican Sam Greco, who entered the District 19 race in February, quickly raised $88,222 and loaned $20,000 to the campaign, making him one of the top House fundraisers of the quarter, according to reports on the state Division of Elections website.

But another Republican in the race, James St. George, reported $84,000 coming into his campaign account during the quarter — including $75,000 that he contributed. Since entering the race last year, St. George’s campaign had brought in $389,205 as of March 31.

As another example, cash quickly flowed into Miami-Dade County’s House District 115 after Rep. Alina Garcia, R-Miami, announced in February that she would run for county supervisor of elections instead of seeking another term in the House.

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Republican Omar Blanco quickly raised $78,835 for the race, while another Republican, Alian Collazo, raised $52,488, according to the state Division of Elections website. The reports also showed groups and lawmakers lining up behind the candidates. For example, Blanco got money from police and firefighter unions, while Collazo received money from political committees led by Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, Sen. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, Sen. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, and Rep. Juan Porras, R-Miami.

Contributions to candidates’ campaign accounts provide only a partial picture of financial activity because of the enormous role that well-funded political committees — some affiliated with candidates — play in elections. Money is often routed through multiple committees to make it difficult to track.

But the campaign accounts give an indication of where money is flowing and, as an extension, where hotly contested races could play out.

Lawmakers could not receive contributions during this year’s legislative session, which began Jan. 9 and ended March 8, the bulk of the first quarter of the year. But many incumbents will not face serious opposition in the November elections, one of the reasons money goes to races in open districts.

In Palm Beach County, for instance, candidates are battling to replace term-limited Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, in House District 94.

Republican Anthony Aguirre raised $71,910 for his campaign account from Jan. 1 through March 31, bringing his overall total to $154,035, according to the Division of Elections website. Meg Weinberger, another Republican seeking the seat, raised $33,755 during the quarter, bringing her total to $208,440. And Democratic candidate Rachelle Litt raised $44,827 during the quarter, bringing her total to $97,467.

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The top House fundraiser during the quarter was Republican Richard Gentry, a former state public counsel and lobbyist, who brought in $101,084 as he seeks to replace term-limited Rep. Stan McClain, R-Ocala, in District 27 in Lake, Marion and Volusia counties. Gentry entered the race in January.

One of the other Republicans in District 27, Stephen Shives, had raised a total of $16,410 as of March 31 — but had loaned $127,000 to his campaign, finance reports show.

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