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Follow the money: 13 questions from the latest campaign finance filings

The budget has been signed, the House Speaker’s race is settled, the camera crews have left Miami, and most people in the process are prepping for a four-day weekend.

But the dog days of summer will be few. When campaign finance reports drop next week, there’ll be a plethora of numbers to dissect. Some of them could give hints on leadership races, and others could show which districts will be competitive come Election Day 2020.

Here are some of the big questions that could get answers:

What’s going on with Andrew Gillum’s committee cash?

One of the biggest mysteries of the 2018 cycle is why Gillum neglected to spend more than $4 million in soft money ahead of Election Day. A few months after narrow loss to now Gov. Ron DeSantis, he started a voter drive, Bring it Home Inc. With the former Tallahassee Mayor at the center of another investigation — this time with possible ties to his campaign money — it’ll be interesting to see who, exactly, is cashing checks from that seven-figure stash.

Has Matt Gaetz developed a small donor base?

Gaetz hasn’t had any trouble earning media attention since getting to Washington. Just this week, one of Pete Buttigieg’s campaign staffers helped keep him in the headlines, albeit in an odd way. His rising star has helped him pick up donations from across the country. In the first quarter, only about a third of his donors hailed from the Sunshine State. If that trend continues in Q2, Gaetz can safely put his campaign on cruise control.

Has U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho finally gotten serious about running for re-election?

When the Gainesville Republican was running for a fourth term representing Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, he made a pledge: there won’t be a fifth. The election was a cake walk for Yoho, but half a year later but he’s showing some flexibility on that campaign promise — maybe he’ll run, maybe he won’t. Though he’s filed for reelection in 2020, he’s been coy about whether he’ll follow through. If he’s piling on campaign cash, the jig is up — he’s running. If he’s posting goose eggs, he may be prepping for his exit.

Did the Republican running against U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist raise serious money?

It’s been a month since Amanda Makki announced she would challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. His 2018 challenger, George Buck, is running again, too. Crist is no fundraising novice — his campaign account was so overfull last cycle that he was sending checks up the chain to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Can Makki compete? Did Buck learn anything over the past eight months? If not, the GOP aspirants may as well start writing their concession speeches.

Can Ross Spano get it right?

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign finance paperwork has been a comedy of errors. First, there was the personal loan scandal — a saga that has yet to be rectified on paper. Then, there was his distinct lack of grassroots support in the first quarter. Nobody is expecting him to set the world on fire in the second quarter. In fact, flying under the radar would likely be a welcome change of pace for the first-term Republican’s finance team.

Did U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell raise enough to scare off possible opponents?

U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo last year to put Florida’s 26th Congressional District in the Democratic column. But the nature of narrow upsets means she’s likely set for a battle in 2020 — the Cook Political Report says as much, though it slightly leans toward her winning reelection. Thus far, Mucarsel-Powell has raised a healthy $457,000 and her lone opponent, Republican Irina Vilarino, has yet to post a report. If Mucarsel-Powell can string on another big quarterly she might just keep a cadre of candidates from joining Vilarino in challenging her.

Who wins the quarter: Wilton Simpson or Gary Farmer?

The next-in-line leaders in the state Senate have some work to do — control of the chamber could hinge on their fundraising efforts. Neither Simpson, on deck to lead Senate Republicans, nor Farmer, leader designate for the Dems, has had trouble raising money. Simpson’s already raised more than $850,000 for his political committee, Jobs for Florida, this year. Farmer, however, hasn’t posted much via his committee. But the real competition will be between the party-affiliated committees they’re managing, The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and The Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. FRSCC started the year off with a $4.4 million quarter. FDLCC managed $333,000.

Which Senate President hopeful is having a great summer?

Unlike their House counterparts, Senate Republicans don’t like to get years ahead of themselves in leadership races. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot going on behind the scenes. The major contenders for 2022 Senate President —Sens. Travis Hutson and Kathleen Passidomo — have been raising beaucoup bucks for months. Passidomo’s PAC, Working Together for Florida, has about $500,000 banked. Hutson meanwhile, has $750,000 on hand between his two committees, Sunshine State Conservatives and First Coast Business Foundation. Money won’t be a major factor in who’ll take over for Sen. Wilton Simpson in 2022, but spreading around a little cash won’t hurt anyone’s chances.

How worried should Loranne Ausley be about Marva Preston?

The race to replace term-limited Democratic Sen. Bill Montford next year may feature something no prior election in Senate District 3 has: a Republican primary. Marva Preston of Crawfordville entered the SD 3 race last month, joining fellow Republican Benjamin Horbowy. While Horbowy hasn’t shown any signs of life in the money race, Preston is still a question mark. SD 3 is a naturally Democratic seat, and Rep. Loranne Ausley is no slouch when it comes to fundraising — as of May 31, her campaign had about $190,000 banked. Her political committee, Florida 2020, was stocked with another $73,000. Still, if Preston can scrounge some skrill, it could change the narrative.

Is Rep. Ray Rodrigues done counting all of the money he raised last month for his state Senate campaign?

State Rep. Ray Rodrigues showed a strong start in fundraising for his Florida Senate campaign. And his receipts for his political committee, Free Markets for Florida, were even stronger. With a million bucks banked 16 months out from Election Day, he can likely afford to take it easy for a couple months. Or, he can keep the pedal to the medal. Which route he chose to take will be clear soon enough.

Is Shev Jones outpacing Daphne Campbell’s comeback campaign?

When former Sen. Daphne Campbell lost to Sen. Jason Pizzo in last year’s Democratic primary, few tears were shed. Campbell didn’t get the memo, though, and she’s mounted a comeback campaign in Senate District 35. She’s facing three other candidates in the 2020 primary, state Rep. Shev Jones among them. The West Park Democrat has so far kept his foot on the gas, raising more than $70,000 in hard money with another $10,000 stashed away in his political committee, Florida Strong Finish. Campbell, meanwhile, barely broke the $10,000 mark through five months in the race. Former state Rep. Cynthia Stafford hasn’t wowed, either. If Jones keeps the momentum, it’s smooth sailing from here.

Will Anna Hochkammer keep piling on in SD 39?

Senate District 39 is one of the few competitive seats slated for the 2020 ballot, and so far Anna Hochkammer has gone gangbusters in her quest to flip it blue. She posted more than $100,000 in receipts between her campaign and committee back in April and followed it up with another $28,000 in May — including a check from U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala. Meanwhile, the Republicans looking to pick up the mantle from term-limited Sen. Anitere Flores have had less success, at least in comparison. Angie Chirino pulled in about $17,000 between her first two reports, while Alexandria Suarez filed a waiver, though she was only a candidate for a day in May. If both fail to impress with their June reports, count on Ana Maria Rodriquez to file her paperwork tout suite.

Did anyone actually contribute to Mike Hill?

It’s been a month since the Panhandle Republican was caught on tape joking about killing gays. Calls for him to resign swelled following the inflammatory incident, but he’s held firm — he even held a rally for his supporters in the aftermath. Whether any of those who showed up did so with their checkbooks in hand is another question. Hill isn’t a wunderkind when it comes to fundraising, and he is facing a primary challenger in his reelection campaign.

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