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Democrats running to succeed Alcee Hastings in Florida spend big on themselves

·4 min read

Donors aren’t opening their wallets in a Democratic primary that will decide who replaces U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, so the candidates are reaching into their own.

Six of the nine Democratic candidates in Florida’s 20th Congressional District who have filed campaign finance reports have loaned their campaigns thousands, and in one case millions of dollars, according to federal campaign filings made public on Friday.

Leading the way is Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a healthcare executive from Hollywood who ran against Hastings in 2020 and who was campaigning for a rematch before his death in April. Cherfilus-McCormick, who loaned $2.3 million to her campaign earlier this year, invested another $1.4 million of her own money in the latest fundraising quarter from July 1 through Oct. 13.

Other candidates have stepped up their loan games, too.

Barbara Sharief, a Broward County Commissioner, loaned herself $526,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter after previously loaning herself $230,000. State Sen. Perry Thurston loaned himself $70,000 after loaning his campaign $100,000 in previous quarters. Former state Rep. and West Palm Beach mayoral candidate Priscilla Taylor loaned her campaign $23,000, up from a $3,000 loan previously.

Public speaker and author Elvin Dowling loaned his campaign $40,000 this quarter after previously reporting no loans, while Phil Jackson, a retired Navy officer, loaned himself $36,900 and donated another $10,800 directly to his campaign in the most recent quarter.

When you’re campaigning and people actually start believing in you, you won’t have to reach into your own pocket,” said Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones, whose district overlaps partially with the congressional district. “This is no knock against anyone, I don’t care how much money you have. It’s how much small donors are giving to your campaign.”

But small donations aren’t pouring in either.

Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness, one of three candidates who reported no loans to his campaign, raised the most money in the recent quarter among donations of less than $200, with $17,531. The two other candidates who did not loan themselves money, state Rep. Bobby DuBose and state Rep. Omari Hardy, were second and third with money raised among small donors with $15,798 and $10,148 raised, respectively.

No other candidate exceeded $10,000 raised from small donations.

The Democratic primary scheduled for Nov. 2, with early voting set to begin next week, is the contest that matters in a majority Black seat in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The winner in the 11-candidate field for Florida’s bluest U.S. House seat will face nominal opposition in a January general election.

Four of the six candidates who loaned their campaigns money — Cherfilus-McCormick, Sharief, Dowling and Jackson — have taken in less money from donors than they’ve given personally to their campaigns. Thurston and Taylor’s loans add up to about half of the total money they’ve raised from donors.

Two candidates who will appear on the November ballot, Emmanuel Morel and Dr. Imran Uddin Siddiqui, have yet to file federal campaign finance paperwork, a sign that they are not actively fundraising for the seat.

Campaign loans essentially function as a donation, do not have to be paid back and are not subject to federal donor limits. Republican Sen. Rick Scott is Florida’s most prominent self-funder, pouring more than $150 million of his own money into two gubernatorial campaigns and a U.S. Senate run in 2018.

But self-funding isn’t a guarantee for success at the U.S. House level. Last year, a similar dynamic to Florida’s 20th Congressional District played out in Florida’s 19th Congressional District among Republicans in a deep red Southwest Florida seat.

State Rep. Byron Donalds, who did not loan his campaign any personal funds, ultimately won a nine-way race by 777 votes in a field that included four self-funding candidates.

“When you do build a groundswell you do what Byron Donalds did,” Jones said. “He was able to win against very wealthy self-funders because he had support.”

Jones, who isn’t backing anyone in the Democratic primary, said he thinks money “ultimately won’t matter” with such a large field of candidates in what is likely to be a low-turnout election.

“Don’t so put so much focus on how much money you can loan yourself in the race,” Jones said. “How do you get the groundswell of people who will actually vote for you?”

And as early voting begins, major endorsements or high-profile visits for any of the candidates do not appear to be coming. Only one local member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of Palm Beach County, has backed a candidate after she endorsed Sharief earlier this month.

And Jones said multiple candidates attempted in recent weeks to reach out to South Carolina U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black lawmaker in Congress, through intermediaries for an endorsement after Clyburn’s backing of President Joe Biden was a crucial moment for Biden’s successful primary campaign.

They didn’t get a call back.

“He made it clear he sees it as a sea of good candidates and they’re not getting involved in this race,” Jones said.

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