State Politics

Miami state Senate campaign already most expensive

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, debates on an abortion bill during session, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Tallahassee.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, debates on an abortion bill during session, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Tallahassee. AP

The post-session campaign finance reports are in and, no surprise, the most expensive contests are shaping up to be in steamy South Florida.

The race in the newly drawn swing district between incumbent state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, against Democrat Andrew Korge is already a $1.2 million affair. A heated Democratic primary to replace Sen. Eleanor Sobel in Broward has topped $1 million, and in Southwest Florida, the five-person matchup to replace state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, is approaching the $1 million mark as state Reps. Greg Steube and Ray Pilon wrestle for the GOP nomination against former Rep. Doug Holder and former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.

The shifting political sands in Miami have made it a dicey place for Republicans in the wake of redistricting, but Flores has fortified her campaign with lots and lots of cash — at least $743,002 to date — while Korge, the son of one of South Florida’s most successful fundraising moguls, Chris Korge, is keeping it competitive.

Flores’ fundraising haul included $124,275 for March, the most for any state Senate campaign since lawmakers ended the annual legislative session on March 11 after their self-imposed fundraising ban during the two months. Korge has raised $220,750 for his individual Senate committee, including $16,472 for March, and has more than $246,211 in cash on hand in his political committee.

Here are the most expensive state Senate races based on fundraising through March. The total includes the total raised for the individual Senate campaigns and cash on hand from affiliated committees for this cycle.

▪ 1. $1,209,963: District 39, Miami, Flores v. Korge.

▪ 2. $1,098,886: District 34, Broward, Farmer, Waldman, Clarke-Reed.

The Fort Lauderdale battle for this Democrat-controlled Broward district is, predictably, pricey as lawyers Gary Farmer and Jim Waldman, a former state representative, battle it out against retired educator Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed. Farmer has raised the most with $503,755, including $207,000 from his lawyer-financed political committee. He has also given himself a $103,000 loan. Waldman has raised $368,230 with $132,500 on hand from his political committee. He has given himself a $202,500 loan. Clarke-Reed has raised $15,100.

▪ 3. $902,304: District 23, Sarasota, Steube, Pilon, Holder, Patterson, Levine.

The high-stakes Sarasota seat promises to be a fierce fight with Reps. Greg Steube and Ray Pilon wrestling for the GOP nomination against former Rep. Doug Holder. Holder has the edge over Steube, having raised $206,800 and has $135,000 in cash available in his PAC. Steube raised $230,0205 and has $54,298 remaining in his longer-running PAC. Republican Nora Patterson, a former Sarasota County commissioner, has raised $100,787 in cash and loaned herself another $60,000. Only Steube and Holder have political committees.

▪ 4. $757,692: District 13, Orlando, Asher, Clelland, Stewart and Roach.

The battle to replace Senate President Andy Gardiner in the newly drawn Orlando-based swing district promises to be one of the most expensive in Central Florida. Realtor Dean Asher has raised nearly $413,000 to date, with half of it coming from Realtors’ contributions to his political committee. In the Democratic primary, former state representative Mike Clelland has raised the most with $165,780 coming into his Senate committee and $92,000 in his PAC. He faces Democrats Linda Stewart ($17,208) and Rick Roach ($69,841).

▪ 5. $619,385: District 17, Melbourne, Workman and Mayfield.

The Melbourne-based district makes the list by the sheer force of the fundraising heft of former House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman. He has $322,485 on hand in his political committee and has raised $273,000 for his individual Senate campaign. Rep. Debbie Mayfield faces Workman in the Republican primary, and she has raised $16,265.

There are a handful of notably expensive campaigns with no contests. The first is in District 2 in the Panhandle where Bay County Commissioner and car dealer George Gainer loaned himself $500,000 and raised another $206,255 to give himself a substantial lead in fundraising when he thought he was going to face Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar. But Gaetz jumped into the District 1 congressional seat, and Gainer now faces no other opponent.

In Tampa, if outgoing Republican House Leader Dana Young had a challenger for Senate District 18, her race would be the most expensive. Instead, Young remains unchallenged with a hefty campaign fund of $789,000 to spread around and make many friends.

Mary Ellen Klas: meklas@MiamiHerald.com and follow @MaryEllenKlas

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