Election 2022: Five most expensive Florida legislative races still in play

Democrats, Republicans have spent big supporting several battleground state legislative races. A look at the numbers.

A view of the historic Old Florida State Capitol through the columns of the  New Capitol in Tallahassee.

A view of the historic Old Florida State Capitol through the columns of the New Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

This year’s political redistricting has thrown several Florida legislative districts into the virtual toss-up category, creating an environment where Democrats and Republicans will clash – and they already have with their wallet. Voter registration numbers and inferences from 2020 Presidential election results suggest at least five state Senate races are within four points. Several House races also are in similar territory.

This is also the first cycle since the “ghost” candidate controversies. Political operatives are alleged to have paid people to run to siphon votes from Democratic candidates in South Florida and Central Florida in the 2020 election. The schemes thus far appear to be unconnected.

In response to the potential for seats to be up for grabs, the state’s Democratic and Republican parties have dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in “in-kind” donations across several battleground races, referring to non-cash contributions of goods or services. The candidates themselves haven’t slouched on their own fundraising either. Several of their political committees and campaign accounts have brought in many thousands worth outside of the support they have received from their respective party. 

Here are five of the most expensive – and tight – Florida legislative races in which both candidates have taken in at least $100,000 in contributions:

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 3

Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties

Candidates: Loranne Ausley (D), Corey Simon (R)

Campaign Accounts Total: $457,396

The Tallahassee-centered District 3 seat is the first Senate race of several on this list that are a top priority for both political parties, with Democrat and Republican officials virtually throwing money at it. Democrat Loranne Ausley, the incumbent, has amassed over $230,000 to date, including over $80,000 worth of in-kind contributions from the Florida Democratic Party, which helps pay for campaign office rent and paying campaign staff. Her political committee, Florida 2020, has also brought in $362,000 since last September.

She is being challenged by Corey Simon, most recently the CEO of Volunteer Florida and a former football player for Florida State University and in the NFL, mostly with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s brought in over $219,000, with over $85,000 in in-kind contributions from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee for expenses like polling, research and other campaign expenses. His political committee, Friends of Corey Simon, has raised $82,000.

This is not the first time Florida Republicans have spent big in a race against Ausley for that seat. Indeed, they’ve had a distinct appetite in recent years to win it. In 2020, they and others spent an estimated $5 million to block Ausley in her first run for the seat. Ausley beat her GOP opponent, Marva Preston Harris, by seven points. Redistricting likely will make the next margin closer. Residents of the district’s new boundaries backed President Joe Biden by 3 points in 2020; those in its previous lines backed him by 9 points.

Ausley and Simon did not face primary opponents, meaning all of their money spent has been focused on their fight against each other. Ausley has spent about $108,000 so far in her campaign account, leaving her with about $50,000 on-hand there with about $130,000 left in her committee. Her most recent reported purchase was $10,000 spent on radio advertisements in late August. Simon has spent almost $75,000 so far, including glossy mailers, leaving him with about $130,000 left in both his committee and campaign account combined.

STATE HOUSE DISTRICT 91

Palm Beach County

Candidates:  Peggy Gossett-Seidman (R), Andy Thomson (D)

Campaign Accounts Total: $519,919

This battle between two South Florida city officials is the only state House race that cracks the top five, likely because it is one of the most tighter contests in that chamber and for one of the candidate’s large personal buy-ins. According to an analysis by MCI Maps, the seat went to Biden by four points, closer than before redistricting. 

Highland Beach Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, fresh off a Republican primary contest she won by over 6%, has seen her campaign benefit from the shift, receiving almost $45,000 in in-kind support from various Florida Republican entities. She also lent her own campaign $200,000, bringing her total campaign account to $289,285.

Boca Raton City Councilman Andy Thomson has not received financial support from his party, nor has he given any loans to himself but he still brought in over $230,000. He also has received more than three times the number of donations as her, bringing in 469 donations to her 137.

Thomson also has a massive lead when it comes to money left to spend. Gossett-Seidman spent $195,010 over the course of her primary campaign, leaving her with about $50,000 left in her campaign account. Thomson, who faced no primary opponent, has only spent a little more than $30,000, leaving him with $200,000 on hand.

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 14

Pinellas County

Candidates: Jay Collins (R), Janet Cruz (D)

Campaign Accounts Total: $530,705

While both candidates have received help from their respective party in this race, Republican officials seem less likely to open the wallet. The district has a slight Democratic slant, with its constituents going to Biden by 4 points in the 2020 general election.

Collins, who is challenging Cruz for the seat, has raised $206,000 so far, including $65,000 in-kind from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. While he has received less support from Republicans than other Senate candidates on this list, they also are supporting him by co-hosting fundraisers. Collins’ political committee, Quiet Professionals FL, has brought in over $300,000 to-date.

Collins, however, is sitting on most of his cash. He has only spent $28,000 of his campaign account and $66,000 from his PC, leaving him with about $350,000 to play with as election day approaches.

Cruz, a veteran lawmaker who’s been in the Legislature since 2010, has been a more successful fundraiser. She’s brought in $323,000 to her campaign account and over $600,000 to her political committee, Building the Bay, since last summer. She has gotten over $170,000 in in-kind support from Florida Democratic Party entities. 

And Cruz has given back to Florida Democrats, with her PC making a $400,000 donation to the Florida Democratic Legislative Committee in September. She has already sent $128,000 out the door from her campaign account, leaving her with about $160,000 in her committee and account left to spend. 

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 36

Miami-Dade County

Candidates: Ileana Garcia (R), Raquel Pacheco (D)

Campaign Accounts Total: $573,723

Talk about close: Garcia won this Miami-Dade seat by just 32 votes in 2020 against Democratic incumbent José Javier Rodríguez. But that was after a former state lawmaker allegedly recruited a sham candidate to run against Rodríguez in a scheme to siphon votes. That no-party-affiliated candidate, Alex Rodriguez, has since pleaded guilty to accepting money to run. The former lawmaker – ex-state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican – was charged with bribery but pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. 

Nonetheless, Garcia has had relatively monstrous fundraising success, bringing in over $470,000 to her campaign account, and another $700,000 to her political committee, No More Socialism. Much of that PC’s support came from yet another political committee, Fighting For Florida's Families, controlled by GOP state Rep. Bryan Avila. The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has given her over $190,000 in in-kind support, more than any other candidate during this cycle so far.

Pacheco, on the other hand, has raised just over $100,000. She did get a $41,000 in-kind boost from various Democratic Party entities, but that number is less than what any other Democratic state senate candidate got that’s on this list. A political committee supporting her called Defend Democracy has raised $27,500, most of that being a $25,000 donation from Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo’s committee, New Opportunity Florida.

Since she did not face a primary challenger, Garcia is sitting on most of her political war chest. She has spent only $56,000 from her campaign account and $150,000 from her political committee, leaving her with about $800,000 left for the election cycle. Pacheco has spent even less, with $12,700 from her campaign account out the door and all of her PC money remaining. She has about $70,000 total on-hand across both accounts.

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 10

Seminole and Orange counties

Candidates:  Jason Brodeur (R), Joy Goff-Marcil (D)

Campaign Accounts Total: $659,340

The only “sitting lawmaker vs. sitting lawmaker” race on this list has generated the largest party buy-in for both candidates combined. This district’s constituents went to Biden by four points in 2020, making it a top priority for Democrats to flip – and for Republicans to hold on to. 

But this is also a race that’s sucked into the sham candidate drama. The Orlando Sentinel reported earlier this month that disgraced Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg this summer told state investigators that Brodeur “ ‘absolutely’ knew about a plan to recruit a spoiler candidate to join the race in which he was elected in 2020.” Brodeur has not been accused of wrongdoing. But prosecutors filed charges against Seminole County Republican Party chair Ben Paris, political consultant Eric Foglesong and candidate Jestine Iannotti. So far, Paris has been found guilty and sentenced to a year on probation and 200 hours of community work, according to reports.

The Republican incumbent’s latest receipts have slowed but Brodeur still is leading the race in fundraising by a large margin. He has brought in almost $440,000 to his campaign account and raised $586,848 in his political committee, Citizens for Solutions. His campaign account also was boosted with over $142,000 in in-kind donations from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

State Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil has raised $219,757 for her campaign account and about $71,000 into her political committee called Joy for Florida. She’s benefited from about $108,000 in in-kind donations from the Florida Democratic Party, as well as $25,000 from Pizzo’s New Opportunity Florida political committee to her PC.

Brodeur, who faced a primary challenger, has already spent over $275,000, while Goff-Marcil has spent about $58,000. The incumbent is left with only about $23,000 on-hand in his campaign account, while his challenger has almost $54,000 left. But Brodeur has a large chunk of the money from his PC remaining – sitting on over $250,000 after spending more than $315,000. Goff-Marcil has most of her PC money remaining, having only spent a little over $5,000.

Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood 

NEXT STORY: Following the money: Who’s giving in the Marco Rubio-Val Demings matchup

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