In an unprecedented move, the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus — led by Oscar Braynon — is picking a favorite candidate in an open, competitive primary.
State Representative Ed Narain has emerged as the preferred choice of Braynon and his caucus over state Representative Darryl Rouson, former state Representative Betty Reed, and trial attorney Augie Ribeiro. The four Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination in Senate District 19, a seat stranding Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties and currently held by term-limited Arthenia Joyner. The predominately African-American district was at one of the seats at the center of the contentious effort to redraw Florida’s legislative districts in accordance with new constitutional directives against political gerrymandering.
“After much consideration, the members have decided that Representative Narain has the best chance of winning this seat and that he also best reflecting the ideals of our caucus,” said Braynon in a telephone conversation Monday.
The decision to get behind Narain was revealed after Florida Politics reviewed the latest campaign finance documents and discovered that Narain was transferring money from his political committee to the Florida Democratic Party, which was in turn paying for television advertisements — at a more affordable rate than Narain’s political committee would have received — stamped with the party’s disclaimer.
While the Florida Democratic Party has allowed the transfer of so-called soft money from political committees engaged in competitive statewide primaries (such as in the Charlie Crist vs. Nan Rich race in 2014) and also in primaries where an incumbent legislator was being challenged (for example, Geraldine Thompson and Reggie Fullwood both received party support in their re-election races), there is no precedent for the party getting involved in a competitive race where there is not an incumbent.
“I don’t know of another instance,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele when asked if a financial transfer like the one executed by Narain’s political committee had previously occurred.
The transfer involved the state party paying Hulsen Media Services $40,934 for cable airtime in the Tampa Bay market between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15. This ad buy comes after Floridians for Principled Leadership, the political committee backing Narain, gave the state party a $50,000 contribution on Aug. 5.
According to the committee’s website, Narain is the only legislator associated with Floridians for Principled Leadership.
Floridians for Principled Leadership last week released a campaign advertisement featuring Narain. In the 30-second spot, called “All About,” Narain talks about his beliefs when it comes to public education, gun laws and Medicaid expansion.
Narain’s opponents are incensed with Braynon’s decision to put his thumb on the scale.
“I am disappointed with the feigned neutrality of Senator Braynon and his attempt to influence a race that should be decided by Democratic voters in Tampa Bay — not politicians from outside the community,” said Rouson.
Reed expressed “extreme disappointment” with Braynon’s decision to back Narain.
Ribeiro suggested there was ulterior motive for Narain’s transfer.
“I understand why Ed Narain would want to funnel his money through the state party as his committee continues to take contributions from large utilities and tobacco companies,” said Ribeiro.
A recent survey by St. Pete Polls found 26 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they would vote for Narain if the primary were held today. Nearly 23 percent picked Rouson, followed by 18 percent who picked Ribeiro. Reed pulled 16 percent support. About 17 percent of voters said they were still undecided.
The primary is less than one month away and absentee ballots began hitting mailboxes last week. The winner of the race will face a token Republican in November.