Sarasota Officially A Congressional Battleground

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY OCT 12, 2019

Political observers in Sarasota learned something in the past 48 hours— namely that this area is about to host one of the most important political contests in all of Florida.

Anyone wondering if Margaret Good can upscale her fundraising powers to the federal got their answer. The Sarasota Democrat, who gained national prominent picking off Vern Buchanan’s son James in a 2018 special election, reported $450,000 in contributions to her Congressional campaign against Buchanan.  A day later, incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced he raised $356,000 in new contributions for the quarter.

Does this mean Good suddenly has the edge on Buchanan. Nope. It will take much more before it feels she can genuinely unseat a 14-year incumbent. But the state representative who already shocked the political world once has proven she will to put up a heck of a fight.

Once both candidates had numbers to announce, the spin cycle turned on high in Sarasota.

“It’s time to start the retirement clock,” said Good campaign manager Kevin Lata.

“Margaret is already advising her team to go negative,” responded Buchanan advisor Max Goodman. “Gotta love it.”

Obviously, Buchanan won’t just retire at news Good got more dollars than he did in a single quarter. As chairman of Florida’s Congressional delegation and one of the top Republicans on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Buchanan has plenty of channels to turn to in Washington, D.C. Notably, he’s raised $1.35 million in total for 2020, most before he had an opponent. Good just got started.

Plus, Buchanan has already won over voters in the region seven times. Good won in a much smaller district twice in the same year. Buchanan on average won this Congressional district by about 20 percent, Good’s average victory in her House district is 4.5 percent, including a November victory of less than 1,200 votes.

Still, Buchanan cannot possibly feel comfortable about Good’s initial fundraising haul, especially when the political environment feels so chaotic and unpredictable.

The incumbent won against Democrat David Shapiro in 2018 by about 10 points. It was a blue wave election, but that wave seemed to miss Florida entirely. Maybe that will happen again in 2020. Local Republican leaders note the GOP gained registered voters statewide this year as Democrats saw a net loss.  But Rick Scott’s money seemed to shield all Republicans from a national fallout in 2018 and that won’t be in play this time.

Instead, GOP candidates share the ballot with President Donald Trump, a wild card delivering endless uncertainty in political battlegrounds across America. It’s anyone’s guess if the president will lift or drag candidates in 2020. A single tweet these days has the power to rapidly alter public opinion of the entire GOP at any given minute.

Buchanan, of course, has history on his side in the district. He’s fended off well-funded opposition before (though maybe never as well funded as Good will be). This was a Trump district in 2016, so even if the President turns stomachs in Manhattan, voters here have happily voted MAGA before.

The big question will be if the events of the last couple days repeat themselves. Democrats from across the country called me the last few days expressing (or at least feigning) surprise Good actually got more money than Buchanan. Republicans say it’s going take more than a $100,000 edge over three months to turn a red district blue. Just basic math proves that’s true.

We’ll see in three months if this spooks Republicans into heavily supporting Buchanan or inspires Democrats to further prop up Good. Either way, Sarasota voters will have front row seats to a top tier race.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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