PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor

Opinion: Can Donna Deegan win?

Published on November 14, 2021 at 8:49 pm
Donna Deegan announces her candidacy
Deegan announced her candidacy for mayor on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Fundraising isn’t everything.

That is what every underfinanced candidate has said since the beginning of time. And that is also the message of Donna Deegan, the first Democrat to run for Jacksonville Mayor in close to a decade.

Deegan launched her campaign the day before the fundraising filing deadline for October, which was Tuesday, and before filing new numbers. 

A television veteran, she knows how to frame a narrative. And on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross in her launch interview, she noted that her fundraising may “look different” than that of her opponents.

We’ve talked about the mayoral fundraising already. 

The big three Republicans, Jax Chamber CEO Daniel Davis and Council members Matt Carlucci and LeAnna Cumber have combined to raise well over over $5 million overall. 

The momentum continues for two of them: In October, Cumber raised roughly $360,000 and Davis raised $274,000 to their respective political committees. Overall, Davis has roughly $3 million in his committee, Cumber has roughly $1.2 million, and Carlucci has close to a million dollars on hand between his political committee and his campaign account.

Deegan has not proven she can match that yet. She raised roughly $30,000 in October to her political committee, and has raised a little more than $200,000 overall since launching it months ago. 

These are reasons for pessimism. It is very hard to run a campaign if you don’t have the resources to match opponents’ messaging. The only way to make a serious run is to do what Deegan is doing and bet on absolute candor.

First Coast Connect listeners who heard Melissa Ross’ launch interview with Deegan, her former colleague at First Coast News, got to understand the candidate in a unique way. Deegan was unflinching in acknowledging that she has a deep personal history in this city, and matters like her long-ago, high-profile divorce could be brought up by political opponents. 

Very often, we hear about candidates not being properly vetted until they are actually elected. We certainly heard that with a number of incumbents over the years, but that question doesn’t hold for Deegan. She is known.

And her politics too are known. She backed Andrew Gillum in 2018 at a time when all the endorsements went Gwen Graham’s way, a measure of her instinct to put candor over calculation. She is trusting that she can forge that personal connection with voters, and if she is able to in a unique way, the money may find her in the end. 

And if it doesn’t? She still has a path. 

In the First Election in March 2023, the path could get more complicated than it looks right now. There is a very good chance that a second or third Democrat could get in between now and Jan. 13, 2023, the qualifying deadline. That nuisance or spoiler candidate could be propped up, potentially by Republican dark money, as a counterweight to Deegan. 

The General Election in May 2023, should she get there, will be a gauntlet all its own, with Republicans overcoming their dramas to come together at the end, and with as much negative messaging thrown her way as they can afford. They will be able to afford a lot of it.

A lot of it will be on spurious points, much of it sexist at its core. There will be concerns that she lacks “CEO” experience like Davis. Or that she lacks “institutional knowledge” like Carlucci. And there will be those who want to judge her because she divorced and remarried.

Deegan is in a position where she has to be able to rise above it, and she’s going to have to be in that position for another year and a half. And even though she got a tidal wave of positive press when she launched her campaign, she can’t count on that every time she gets attacked. 

Can honesty and forthrightness and a reputation for caring about this community overcome the kinds of attacks Deegan will experience? Time will tell. Politics is a brutal business, and the operatives working this race for the various Republican candidates are not sentimentalists.

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