Congressional challengers slow to raise campaign dollars

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.

Challengers who have reported collecting money during the quarter on average raised $35,607. The total does not include the 16 people who have filed for congressional runs but enter the third quarter with no money.

District 8

Two Democrats have filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge; Corry Westbrook, a former legislative director for the National Wildlife Federation, and Gabriel Rothblatt, a property manager from Melbourne.

Westbrook reported her quarterly contributions at $52,741 and Rothblatt picked up $17,260. Meanwhile Posey, a former state lawmaker, pulled in $122,844 in the quarter, which pushed his on-hand total to $276,389.

District 9

The outspoken Grayson easily won in 2012, but three Republicans and one Democrat have filed for his seat. None has shown to be a threat to his early financial advantage.

Two of the three Republicans — Jorge Bonilla and Peter Vivaldi — didn’t post any money in their accounts. Republican Carol Platt reported collecting $21,050 in the quarter. Democrat Michael McKenna collected $580 in the quarter.

Grayson posted $339,107 for the quarter, with his campaign account standing at $237,918 to begin the third quarter.

District 18

Murphy, who won an expensive, bitter and narrow contest over U.S. Rep. Allen West in 2012, continues to draw national attention and money to his campaign. The carryover animosity from the GOP has yet to play out for his 2014 challengers.

June Beach City Commissioner Ellen Andel raised $14,455 in the quarter, and Alan Schlesinger, a past mayor of Derby, Conn., who served in the Connecticut House and ran three times for Congress, put $25,000 into his campaign.

Murphy raised $530,963 in the quarter, raising his reserves to $1.03 million.

District 26

While a number of challengers to Garcia have jumped in already, only Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall posted money in the second quarter, recording $19,400 in contributions.

Garcia, who posted $501,510 on hand to begin the quarter, told the Miami Herald he had raised about $440,000 in the second quarter. His second-quarter numbers were not available from the Federal Election Commission Tuesday afternoon.

Other U.S. House members’ second-quarter fundraising:

District 1: Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, $100,173

District 3: Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, $120,507

District 4: Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, $143,541

District 5: Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, NA

District 6: Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, $148,250

District 7: John Mica, R-Winter Park, $142,358

District 10: Daniel Webster R-Orlando, $137,303

District 11: Richard Nugent, R-Brooksville, $79,002

District 12: Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, $54,677

District 14: Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, $84,009

District 15: Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, $199,880

District 16: Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, $397,586

District 17: Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, $71,734

District 19: Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, $73,387

District 20: Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, $80,607

District 21: Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, $211,859

District 22: Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, $122,884

District 23: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, $263,188

District 24: Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, $47,800

District 25: Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, $112,963

District 26: Joe Garcia, D-Miami, NA

District 27: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, NA