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This Week in State Politics

Charlie Crist may have blotted out the fundraising sun with his astronomical numbers last week, but with Gov. Sunshine’s eclipse having passed this week, fundraising was again at the forefront.

The deadline for federal candidates like Crist to reveal their fundraising prowess came and went this week, but since most of the big fish had already tipped their hands, official Tallahassee began fishing in a smaller pond of legislative races. The reporting deadline for state candidates was Friday afternoon, leaving their number jumble for this week.

And so the Capitol game of “who’s up, who’s down,” began. Senate hopeful Joe Negron blew other candidates out of the water as he raised more than $303,000 in less than three months in his quest to replace Sen. Ken Pruitt for the District 28 Senate seat. Facing a special election Aug. 4, Negron led all candidates in fundraising activity for the quarter ending June 30, according to data filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

A former House member and Stuart-based Republican, Negron boosted his campaign kitty to $405,000, second only to Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, a Republican candidate for Senate District 38. Rivera, the former House Rules Committee chairman, raised more than $412,000, including $161,504 for the quarter that ended June 30.

Rivera’s Republican rival, Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who jumped in the race in February, ran about even with Rivera during the quarter, having raised $160,445, but remains behind him overall.

In the race for the Senate District 25 seat being vacated by Senate President Jeff Atwater, which originally was a 2012 race, Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, brought in $88,825 during the quarter, bringing her total to $122,575. Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, raised just $3,200 during the quarter, but had a $110,000 loan to fill his war chest to about the same amount as Bogdanoff.

But while they may be better known in Tallahassee, Republican Nick Loeb outraised them both, pulling in $232,305. One Democrat is in the race. Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, raised $25,425.

Tallahassee veterans dominated Senate fundraising, but because most sitting lawmakers on the House side face no opposition impeding their return, incumbents were scarce in the upper echelon of campaign collections. Republican candidates dominated fundraising efforts in the House as the top hopefuls try to secure open seats; nineteen of the top 20 fundraisers seeking House seats are Republicans.

The lone Democrat in that list is House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands, who ranked 19, according to state Division of Election reports on the fundraising quarter that closed at the end of June.

Miami Republican Jose "Pepi" Diaz led the list of House fundraisers, having amassed $154,816 since opening his campaign in January. Diaz -- an attorney whose resume includes being fired by Donald Trump during the fifth season of the NBC show "The Apprentice" -- is running to replace Rep. J.C. Planas, who is prevented from running again for the District 115 seat because of term limits. The haul made it look maybe the Donald gave up on Pepi too soon.

But despite being drastically out-raised by Republicans in House races, there was good fundraising news for Democrats. For the first time since former President Bill Clinton was running for re-election, Florida Democrats raised more money in the second fundraising quarter of the year than state Republicans did.

Democrats continued the momentum they built in 2008 when they registered more voters and won the state's Electoral College votes by raising $36,000 more than the Republicans did between April 1 and June 30 of this year. In previous second quarters after presidential elections since 1996, Republicans had an average fundraising advantage of $1.5 million, though this year, the Democrats turned that around.

Each party spent more than they brought in, however, with Democrats spending $1,302,059 and raising $1,196,529 and Republicans spending $1,612,571, while raising $1,160,064.

Fundraising, or the lack thereof, also led to speculation that former House Speaker Marco Rubio was considering making a switch from the contentious and costly U.S. Senate race to an open Republican slot for state attorney general. The National Journal reported this week that Rubio was calling top Republican fund-raisers and activists, floating the idea that he would abandon his campaign against well-financed Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate and enter the attorney general's race.

A Republican contender has yet to emerge to challenge Democratic state Sens. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, already vying for their party's nomination. Gelber advisor Steve Schale poured gasoline on the hot rumor when he tweeted that a Rubio versus Gelber race would be "one for the ages."

But Rubio categorically denied making the calls or eyeing any race other than Senate. "Those things have been going around from the very beginning of this campaign," Rubio said this week before speaking to the Tallahassee Northeast Conservative Club. "I'm a U.S. Senate candidate, that's what I am."

POLITICAL COMINGS AND GOINGS

While second quarter fundraising was still being digested by official Tallahassee this week, there was some moving and shaking on the political personnel front as well. Crist appointed former Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools Earl Lennard, a Republican, as the county's new elections chief to fill the vacancy left by the death of Democrat Phyllis Busansky last month.

Lennard served as superintendent from 1996 to 2005 and worked as a teacher in the district before that. He was considered for the post of state education commissioner in 2007, but was passed over in favor of current commissioner, Eric Smith. Lennard, who is currently working as an education consultant, told the News Service that he hoped to carry on Busansky's work to promote the office's credibility.

Elsewhere this week, it seemed the way to get appointed to the Florida Elections Commission was to have friends in high places. Crist tapped former Jeb Bush aide Alia Faraj-Johnson for the FEC, the nine-member panel that hears campaign finance and election law complaints. Faraj-Johnson, 44, a former television journalist and press aide to Bush when he was governor, now is vice president of Ron Sachs Communications. She will succeed Karen Unger, who also has ties to Bush having managed his campaigns for governor. Faraj-Johnson's term starts immediately and goes through 2011.

Crist also tapped Brian Seymour, 38, of Palm Beach Gardens, an attorney with Gunster, Yoakley and Stewart, the law firm chaired by Crist's former chief of staff, George LeMieux. Seymour succeeds Donald Rhodes, and his term will run through 2012. Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Also this week, the Florida Democratic Party on Wednesday named Scott Arceneaux executive director following the announcement that Leonard Joseph is stepping down to take a job with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Arceneaux comes to the party fresh off helping Creigh Deeds in his upset gubernatorial primary win in Virginia, and in addition to being the day-to-day director of the party's Florida operation, will serve as political director as well. Arceneaux has also worked for Chris Dodd, and was executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party from 2001 to 2004. Joseph, who has headed day-to-day operations at the party since 2006, will serve as chief of staff in Homeland Security's policy office.

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER ECONOMY

And then there was the economy, which despite the robust fundraising unveiled this week is still closer to busted. Florida's jobless rate ticked up a bit in June to 10.6 percent, up from 10.3 percent in May and the highest it has been since 1975. Also, Florida's biggest counties have halted their slight decline but property foreclosures still fell statewide last month even as the state retained its grim, second-in-the-nation ranking for action against delinquent property owners.

RealtyTrac, which follows the housing market, reported this week that there were 52,902 foreclosures in Florida last month, behind only California's 101,053 actions. One out of 164 housing units are in foreclosure in the Sunshine State, a slight dip from the May ratio, which had one in 148 properties facing foreclosure, the tracking company reported.

While the number of Florida foreclosures is down from the nearly 59,000 legal actions taken statewide in May, the state's biggest counties are no longer reporting the downward trend in foreclosures most had experienced that month. But those foreclosure increases in many large metro areas coincide with the state's climbing unemployment rate climbing to 10.2 percent in June, which haven’t been this high since a move was afoot to move the Capitol from Tallahassee to Orlando.

STORY OF THE WEEK: It was another week about fundraising as everyone who wasn’t the $4.3 million governor that could released their second quarter fundraising totals and official Tallahassee pulled out it’s calculators and re-handicapped next year’s legislative races.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Steve Schale is a nice guy, but he's not one of my political advisors," former House Speaker Marco Rubio on the possibility raised by Schale that he would run for Attorney General instead of the U.S. Senate next year.

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