Gonzalez, Steube Fight for Funding, Endorsements



While candidates from all around Rep. Tom Rooney’s congressional district have explored efforts to succeed the retiring lawmaker, two Sarasota legislators have set themselves apart with fundraising and endorsements. And with the release of first quarter fundraising figures, state Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, surprised many by pulling in contributions from dozens of individuals and finishing the period raising $233,706. But state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, still feels confident in a district that substantially overlaps with his current constituency. He finished having raised $56,052, far more than any other candidate in the running sans Gonzalez.

While Gonzalez built his warchest with more than 60 contributions from individuals, predominantly smaller checks, Steube pulled in hearty loads from larger donors and groups. 

Gonzalez received a $1,000 check from a political action committee associated with U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and also touted the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. He also got a $5,000 contribution from the American College of Radiation Association’s PAC and another $5,000 from a PAC for the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, groups Gonzalez knows would like to see more medical doctors in the halls of Congress. But he said his focus has been building enthusiasm within the district. “You will see a lot of different donors, and that’s because I’ve been reaching out to all sorts of people to share with them my vision and aspirations,” Gonzalez says. “I’m not interested in getting the support of the establishment as much as I am in getting the support of the people, who are not politicians or lobbyists.”

Steube stressed that his primary focus has not been on fundraising. He just announced the support of pro-life leader John Stemberger, and has touted his reputation as a pro-gun lawmaker. His donations include $2,500 from a U.S. Sugar PAC, $2,500 from a fund associated with the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists and $3,000 from the American Banker’s Association, among others. And the dozen individual contributions he received include checks from prominent donors like Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy. It’s his record over eight years in the legislature that will set him apart, Steube says, over Gonzalez’s four years in the state capital. “If you are a conservative, then I’m the type of person you want representing you in Congress,” he says.

Steube’s district now includes areas outside Rooney’s district, but he notes that he’s losing liberal parts of Sarasota to gain conservative inland areas like Okeechobee. He expects his vocal support for Trump will play even better in the ultra-conservative district, which went for Trump by 27 percent in 2016, over Gonzalez, who had supported Marco Rubio in the primary that year. “Based on the things I filed and bills I worked on, you will know as a voter where I stand on everything,” he says.

Gonzalez will need to reach more new voters, as he’s never run outside of Sarasota County and the House district spans parts of eight other counties. But he says he’s been visiting inland parts of the district and voters in Charlotte County extensively. And he does plan to do a fundraiser in Miami and to do more to rally state support. “Sen. Steube is essentially the establishment candidate, and I’m the candidate who is going in there hoping to represent the will of the people in this district,” he says.

Other potential candidates have discussed running but many have backed away as the May 4 qualification deadline looms. Steube says state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, will support his candidacy. Charlotte veteran William Akins raised $4,002, less than the qualifying fee, and conservationist John Sawyer has reported no contributions. On the Democratic side, Cape Coral film producer April Freeman raised $2,637 and Sebring sleep technologist Bill Pollard raised $7,043.

The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 28. The general election is set for Nov. 6.

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