PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor

OPINION | Primary battles to watch in 2022

Published on November 28, 2021 at 8:57 pm
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We will have a few live August contests in this region next summer. While top-of-the-ticket stuff leaves some intrigue for the November general election, the down-ballot stuff is often of greatest interest in these primaries.

For those who need it, here’s a cheat sheet breaking down the partisan dynamics in play and the potential outcomes. 

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The biggest-stakes competitive primary is to be found in Senate District 6, where two established players battle for the chance to replace term-limited Audrey Gibson on the Democratic ballot. 

Current state Rep. Tracie Davis is in, as is City Councilman Reggie Gaffney. 

Gaffney continues to dominate fundraising, with nearly $300,000 in his political committee as of the end of last month, with more than $86,000 in hard money. Davis launched with a little more than $45,000, and $10,000 of that was personal money. 

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Davis is the “real Democrat” in the race, but will that matter? 

Gaffney has proven much more capable of getting earned media, with high-profile spots on local television seemingly whenever Downtown issues hit the news. 

Unless Davis’ Tallahassee friends swoop in with money in addition to Twitter likes, it will be a tough primary. Gaffney has proven willing to go along with Republicans on a number of issues throughout his political career, and his win would serve as a functional Republican pickup of a Senate seat in some respects. 

The race to fill Davis’ spot in House District 13 is also worth watching, as it is a three-way Democratic primary. 

City Councilman Garrett Dennis is an old friend of Davis’ from their days at the Supervisor of Elections Office and would seem to be the favorite, but Mincy Pollock and Iris Hinton are filed candidates. 

Those with long memories will remember Pollock as a 2015 candidate for City Council who threw salt in the game of then-candidate Tommy Hazouri. Dennis is the establishment pick, but Pollock will provoke him and the campaign will have more drama than Dennis’ snoozer re-election in 2019.

Another House race of interest is in District 12, a three-way Republican primary to replace Clay Yarborough, who is currently unopposed in a bid for the Senate.

“Angel mom” Kiyan Michael is running, and she will be the Donald Trump/”America First” candidate, a true outsider compared to the establishment names in the field. 

Former Rep. Lake Ray, who served the district through 2016, is running again, and he is Yarborough’s favorite. 

Jessica Baker, an assistant state attorney in the 7th Circuit and the wife of political consultant Tim Baker, is backed by many other Republicans in the orbits of Baker and Mayor Lenny Curry.

Baker will dominate the fundraising; she launched with $132,950 for her campaign and an additional $87,100 for her political committee. Ray launched his campaign in March and had roughly $174,000 on hand through the end of October, between his campaign account and political committee, A Stronger Florida for Us.

But Michael will be the wildcard. She is not to be underestimated, even if she doesn’t keep up in terms of cash on hand. 

Those close to the Ray effort believe a third candidate in the field benefits him, because he is the known quantity and Baker won’t be able to attack Michael. This will be one to watch to see how strategy evolves for all three campaigns.

Two other primary fields bear mentioning. 

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In House District 11, Rep. Cord Byrd has two opponents right now: Jacksonville Beach lawyer Heath Brockwell, who raised $10 to his campaign account in the last two months, and Hilliard’s Bo Wade Hodges, who has not really fundraised. Maybe one of the challengers qualifies for the primary, but it doesn’t seem like there’s momentum now that Byrd is running for reelection.

In House District 12, Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey continues to struggle to get momentum for her bid for the GOP nomination to replace Rep. Jason Fischer, who is now running for Duval County Property Appraiser.

Hershey has tried to be a Ron DeSantis adherent member of the board, voting against the consensus in various moves to buck the state on masking policies in recent months, but it hasn’t translated into donations.

She has roughly $7,000 in a political committee (Faith, Family, and Freedom) with no new money raised since it launched in June. She has raised just over $1,700 to her campaign account in the last two monthly filings, giving her about $24,000 to deploy there. 

This will be an uphill slog. Rogers Towers lawyer Adam Brandon has raised over $135,000 total, with more than $128,000 of that on hand. Tallahassee lobbyists like Brandon, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Judicial Review Commission earlier in his term. 

Perhaps localism wins it for Hershey, who plays up her roots in the district as something voters will respond to. But what really could help her would be a third candidate in the primary. Will one emerge?

The House races could see some changes, it should be noted. We have yet to see draft versions of maps. 

Cord Byrd, who chairs the legislative redistricting committee, has been coy, suggesting that districts could look “radically different” in the new maps. 

Though maps for the state Senate and congressional districts promised relatively little disruption to our region, the House maps could force some of these candidates to recalibrate if the lines change to their detriment.

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A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

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