Bring On The Primary

Under The Hood

Democrats need a primary in Florida House District 72. They need it to raise the profile of the race. They need it to spread awareness. They need it to keep the district blue in a presidential election year.

I want to be clear, I’m not saying this because Drake Buckman, now the only Democrat serving, is unfit as a candidate. He may well emerge as Democrats’ choice to run.

But at the moment, the party risks all but forfeiting its greatest local win in 2018 — really in more than a decade — and the progress made in turning the greater Sarasota area blue even if the county as a whole remains elusively red.

I spoke with Buckman on Friday, two days after Republican Fiona McFarland announced she had raised $25,000 in January and made the direct comparison to just under $25,000 that Buckman raised from July through the end of 2019.

It’s not a fair comparison in many ways (or at least one). McFarland remains locked in a competitive primary and will have to use much of her money before August. And Republican voters may yet elect Donna Barcomb or Jason Miller. Barcomb, in particular, was campaigning for this seat before McFarland moved to town and has won office before.

Buckman, meanwhile, remains unopposed.

And should McFarland be the nominee, Buckman seems motivated and practiced with cutting lines to attack her after a bruising primary. “Do you know what it’s like to smell red tide?” he asked. “Were you here a year or two ago to do that?” Spoiler alert, she wasn’t.

But then, Buckman lacks a platform right now to deliver witticisms. And he lacks the financial resources to broadly share his words with voters. It shows a lack of competition brings problems of its own.

Whoever emerges from the Republican primary will have enjoyed months of press. Just Friday, a debate was held at Michael’s On East putting the three GOP contenders on stage in front of party voters. There will be no such get-to-know-the-candidates events worth attending when Democrats don’t have a competitive primary.

Rumors have died down that former Sarasota Democratic Party chair Rita Ferrandino or Florida Young Democrats President Wesley Beggs will run for the open House seat. But either would draw intense attention on a race where Democrats sorely need voters attention.

Some pressure came out of Tallahassee last month for Margaret Good, who won the seat in a special election and held it through another campaign in 2018, to run for reelection instead of challenging U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. But Good and the people around her have all emphatically told me she’s in the Congressional contest, period.

But at the moment, McFarland has around $200,000 raised, Barcomb has upward of $78,000, and Buckman has in the neighborhood of $25,000. Many factors can explain the differences in those numbers. But one is that Buckman remains unknown for lack of publicity.

He has a plan to meet with 25,000 voters individually. That connection should and will matter more than heavy spending, he said. That sounds great. But there’s no reason Democrats can’t both run an excellent ground game and buy some TV time, as they were able to do with Good.

If Buckman emerges out of a competitive primary field, good. He’ll be all the stronger for it and more money will flow his way. The same goes if another candidate wins such a contest.

And if a strong Democrat does appear on the ballot, it will help Good and any other candidate sharing the ballot, including whoever Democrats nominate for president.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ MEDIA.

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