TALLAHASSEE -- Most challengers to the state’s 27 U.S. House members posted light fund-raising quarters, which could require a re-evaluation of the competitiveness of some seats or a need to draw bigger-named candidates off the sidelines.
Based on money raised between April 1 and June 30, two races are relatively competitive — involving the seats held by Republican Congressmen Steve Southerland of Panama City and Bill Young of Indian Shores. Other contests show potential to tighten as the November 2014 elections approach, despite financially underperforming challengers.
But so far, incumbents in potentially competitive districts, including Democrats Joe Garcia of Miami, Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando, and Republicans Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, face little financial threat, despite optimism from across the political aisle.
University of Florida political-science Professor Dan Smith, whose expertise is in the conduct of elections, said fiscal totals are indicative of a lack of competitive seats in the state. Smith added he was most surprised that Garcia’s opponents have yet to mine deep pockets of contributors.
"He’s embattled right now," Smith said. "If there is an opening among Democratic incumbents, it’s certainly Garcia’s seat. It’s a 50-50 seat and one with an incumbent with a lot of baggage right now."
Garcia has had to confront an investigation into members of his staff for alleged election violations.
Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida, said the campaign-finance numbers appear down from the past year in part because of the negative ratings of Congress. Also, contributors continue to have hesitancy from the recent recession to start investing in candidates in uncompetitive contests.
"I think it’s just the times we’re in a little bit that there is a sort of tentativeness about pouring a lot of money into campaigns," MacManus said.
Despite controversial candidates in Miami, on the Treasure Coast and along Interstate 4, the most financially competitive race, more than a year from the election, is in northwest Florida.
In the District 2 battle, Democratic challenger Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, drew $377,448 during the second quarter, the best for any Florida congressional challenger.
The quarterly number still wasn’t enough to outpace two-term incumbent Southerland. He amassed $464,990 in April, May and June and also held a $476,740 to $303,956 advantage in money on hand as the third quarter began.
A Tampa Bay-area rematch is also shaping up to become a fiscal dogfight.
Jessica Ehrlich, a St. Petersburg attorney who failed last year to unseat Young in District 13, out-raised the longtime Pinellas County Republican by a margin of $153,737 to $86,208 during the second quarter.
"The (total) that surprised me was Young’s," Smith said. "Not only was that a pretty paltry amount that he raised in the quarter, but for a member of Congress with one of the greatest seniorities in Congress, it’s quite little."
Ehrlich, who entered the third quarter still more than $110,000 behind Young in terms of cash on hand, is the only challenger to have collected more than a Florida congressional incumbent.
On average, the 24 incumbents whose quarterly reports were available Tuesday picked up $172,326 during the second quarter and entered the third quarter with $379,144 on hand to spend.