Open seats are majority of competitive Florida races in 2014

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With  fewer than six months to go until Election Day, a relatively small number of state House and Senate seats seem to be truly competitive in 2014, according to the latest round of campaign finance reports.

Although every one of the 120 House seats, as well as 20 of 40 Senate seats, will be on the Ballot in November, a handful of incumbents (and nearly none in the Senate) face challengers with any fundraising traction, writes Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

What appears to be a factor in the most competitive House districts is term-limits, where incumbents cannot running again or simply decided not to seek re-election.

Fundraising success may not guarantee into a win at the polls, but it does provide a sense of which candidates have support from the influential players in both the community and in Tallahassee, in addition to who will afford advertising during crucial points in the campaign.

Saunders notes one such competitive race for an open seat is between Jacksonville Republicans Paul Renner and Jay Fant, who have raised more than $347,000 combined in the contest for House District 15, vacated by Rep. Daniel Davis. Fant raised $190,683 through April 30, and $186,500 in loans, while Renner has banked $156,550, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports from the state Division of Elections.

Sarasota County’s House District 74 is another example.

Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez raised $180,781 through April and Nokomis Republican Richard DeNapoli took in $79,161, with a $150,000 loan, in the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Doug Holder.

As for the Democrats, the Tampa-area House District 61 race has attorney Sean Shaw raising $164,719 through April, while opponent Ed Narain raised $84,246 for the contest for term-limited Rep. Betty Reed’s seat.

Traditionally, incumbents have a significant advantage when fundraising and building campaigns, meaning that political up-and-comers often have to wait open seats. The lack of political newcomers is most obvious in Senate races, where each of the 20 seats November’s ballot has incumbents seeking re-election, Saunders writes.

The Senate non-incumbent raising the most in the 2014 election cycle is Pinellas County Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan, who has $82,402 in cash and $22,585 in in-kind contributions through April as she challenges Sen. Jeff Brandes in District 22. Brandes, with $409,465 in cash and $77,943 in in-kind contributions, was prohibited from during the 60-day legislative session ending May 2.

By the April reporting period, only 14 non-incumbent House candidates cracked $100,000 in campaign contributions; 11 of them are running for open seats.

DeFuniak Springs Republican Brad Drake was the top fundraiser of the 14. Drake was a House member in 2012 when redistricting  put him in the same district as Rep. Marti Coley, who faces term limits this year.  Drake raised $231,405 through April for Northwest Florida’s District 5 seat.

A few non-incumbents are not running for an open seat. Republican Daniel Diaz Levya raised $173,262 through April as he challenges incumbent Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez for the Coral Gables House District 112. Rodriguez raised $134,399.

Republican Chris Sprowls raised $145,041 to date in his campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Carl Zimmermann in Pinellas County’s House District 65. Zimmermann raised $63,351.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.