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Ray Pilon, outraised in June, unfazed by Democratic challenge

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

State Rep. Ray Pilon raised just $1,985 in last month while his opponent in Sarasota’s HD 72, Democrat Edward James, brought in more than $30,000 between his campaign account and an affiliated PAC.

That blowout margin bears an asterisk — Pilon was prohibited from taking contributions for most of June due to a special session — but it also reflects the most serious threat the third-term Republican has faced since he defeated former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald to snag the seat back in 2010.

Pilon, who announced he will seek re-election in the House days after James entered the race, says he’s not concerned.

“We’re fine — it’s a long way away from the finish line and I’m very confident from the calls I’ve been getting we will do very well in raising sufficient dollars to run a strong campaign and win re-election,” said Pilon on Thursday. “He had the advantage of being able to get out of the gate really quickly, and that’s what a formidable opponent should do.”

“People sometimes peak too early,” he added.

Pilon says his experience in government — he served on the Sarasota County Commission before coming to the Florida House in 2011 —  is a major advantage over his opponent.

In particular, he pointed to this year’s passage of his Florida “Right to Try” Act allowing terminally ill patients to access experimental medicines as an example of his ability to move his priorities within the House majority.

“So far my opponent has listed things that he wants to change, all of which I’ve voted for,” said Pilon.

That may be because those things James has cited, like this year’s iteration of the film and entertainment incentives package, were sponsored by locally popular moderate state Sen. Nancy Detert, whose seat Pilon was considering a run for in 2016 and whom James says he admires.

Pilon currently has $48,038 cash on hand compared to James’ combined $30,175, more than 2014 Democratic challenger Greg Para raised during his entire candidacy and just shy of the $32,197 total for 2012 Dem nominee Liz Alpert.

According to an invitation obtained by FloridaPolitics.com, James’ first fundraiser, set for Sunday, will see major Democratic bundlers on the host committee.

Caren & Dick Lobo, Frank Brunckhorst and Marty Rausch — who combined to raise more than $300,000 for Charlie Crist‘s gubernatorial bid last year — will be among them.

If all goes as the James camp plans, the two could be on more or less equal footing in terms of campaign cash, unprecedented in the swing district where President Obama took 51 percent of the vote in 2008 and 48 percent in 2012.

For now Pilon says that doesn’t worry him, saying he’s focused for now at the tasks at hand, including the upcoming special session to redraw eight congressional districts.

“We’re going to do what we’ve always done, and that’s run a great campaign,” said Pilon.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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