When Florida voters went to the polls in 2014, they saw little competition for state Senate seats.
But then came redistricting. And as updated campaign-finance totals rolled in Monday, it was apparent that candidates --- and their contributors --- expect some heavily contested Senate races this year.
In Miami-Dade County's redrawn Senate District 40, for example, state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, raised $209,669 in little more than two weeks in March as he prepares to take on Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami. Bullard raised $915 in March, though he also received $20,400 worth of in-kind polling from the Florida Democratic Party.
Another high-dollar race is developing in North Central Florida, where former Sen. Rod Smith, a Gainesville Democrat who also is a former state Democratic chairman, collected $150,585 after entering the Senate District 8 race on March 1. The state Democratic Party also covered $16,538 in in-kind expenses for Smith's campaign, such as staffing and research expenses.
But Republicans also are clearly looking to battle for the redrawn district, which includes Alachua, Putnam and part of Marion counties. State Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, raised $53,050 during the second half of March to help fuel his campaign for the Senate seat, bringing his overall total to $98,275.
Candidates, parties and political committees faced a Monday deadline for filing reports with the state Division of Elections that showed finance activity through March 31. Incumbent lawmakers were somewhat hamstrung in March because they could not raise money until after the legislative session, which ended March 11.
But even with that constraint, the finance reports offer additional evidence that a redistricting legal fight will lead to more competitive Senate races. That fight, which centered on allegations that the Legislature violated the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" standards when drawing districts in 2012, led to a new map this year --- and all 40 Senate seats going on the ballot.
Another closely watched race is taking shape in Miami-Dade County's Senate District 37, where Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, is running against Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. Rodriguez collected $41,355 after the legislative session ended, bringing his overall total to $109,315. Diaz de la Portilla raised $15,000 in March, bringing his overall total to $32,000.
A little bit to the north, meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale Democrat Gary Farmer continued piling up cash as he seeks to win the Senate District 34 seat in Broward County. Farmer collected $36,690 in March, bringing his overall total to $295,755. Farmer, a prominent trial attorney, also loaned $103,000 to his campaign last year.
Also in the District 34 race are state Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, and former Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. Waldman's updated numbers had not been posted online late Monday afternoon, but he had raised $235,730 through Feb. 29 and also loaned $202,500 to his campaign. Clarke-Reed raised $1,000 in March, bringing her overall total to $15,100.