I belive I was the only person in town to attend the Campaign Kick-off Events of both Jeff Brandes and Bill Heller, the Republican and Democrat running in House District 52. And what a difference there was between the two functions: Brandes’ event was at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, while Heller launched his re-election bid at the Great Explorations Museum at Sunken Gardens he helped develop. About 150 people attended Brandes event, many of whom are the young attorneys, bankers and businessmen a candidate needs in order to raise money; Heller’s crowd was more like an Old Northeast garden club — oh look, there’s Connie Kone — with the exception of Scott Johni and Scott Wagman, who could pass as each other’s Doppelganger. Brandes had Bill Foster and Ed Montanari in the crowd ; Heller was introduced by Betty Castor with Reps. Rick Kriseman and Janet Long looking on.
But more important than where the event was or who was in the crowd was the vibe emanating through the room. Brandes’ kick-off had the feel and look of an insurgency, while Heller’s launch had a “once-more-into-the-breach-dear-brothers” air about it.
Still, it will be very difficult for Jeff Brandes, political newcomer, to defeat Bill Heller, the institution (albeit, “the institution unknown to 64% of voters” as one Brandes’ advisor likes to put it.)
Yet, even if Bill Heller does swat away Jeff Brandes, will the campaign to keep House District 52 in the Democratic column end up costing Florida and Tampa Bay Democrats tens of thousands of dollars it doesn’t have? Will the campaign to re-elect Bill Heller end up costing Florida’s Democrats a win (or wins) in other competitive state House races?
Because the Jeff Brandes insurgency most likely could have been avoided. Had the Florida Democratic Party’s House Victory team urged Heller to launch his re-election campaign, oh, I don’t know, sooner than two months before the election, it may have very well scared off a serious Republican challenger. Heller should have filed for re-election last year. He should have been raising money. He should have had his campaign website up-and-running months ago. He should have done whatever he could do to keep a serious Republican challenger out of the race.
Like Cassandra of Troy, I had been warning the Democrats about the impending battle before them for months, first when Connie Deneault entered the race and then when Brandes replaced Deneault. But no one was listening. Not any of the Democratic activists or consultants charged with protecting Democratic incumbents. ‘It’s still early,’ they would say. (Steve Schale just blogged about which legislative races to watch and H-52 barely made the list.)
And they, being my betters, are still probably right. But now, instead of a walk in House District 52, the Democrats will have to devote considerable resources to holding off a challenge from Brandes, whose net worth is in eight figures.
How high will the Democrats’ tab run? $100,000 more than what they planned six months ago? $200,000 more than what they planned. Almost certainly. A couple hundred thousand spent in House District 52 that will not be spent in any of the other competitive seats. All of that money could make a hell of a difference in Stacy Frank’s race in H-57 or even in H-60.
Every dollar donated to Heller’s campaign is a dollar that has to come from somewhere else. Although somewhere else is where the money should be spent.