South Florida's Democrats and Republicans in Congress are bracing for battles, and pulling in big money to fight them.
Each of the seven who represent Broward and Palm Beach counties ratcheted up their fundraising efforts, according to their most recent disclosures, and are stockpiling money for when they'll need to ramp up spending next summer and fall.
The most money flowed to South Florida's two biggest names in national politics. The biggest fundraisers were U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Allen West, R-Plantation — and the two Democrats seeking their party's nomination to oust West.
But even those considered safe are stashing dollars for next year's races.
West knows he'll have a fight, and he's already gearing up. He is, by far, the biggest money raiser – bringing in $1.6 million, almost twice as much Wasserman Schultz.
West needs to. He's facing an all-out Democratic effort to make him a one-term wonder. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball, national independent rankings, rate West's chances as a "pure toss up" in which the election could go either way.
Wasserman Schultz doesn't face as much of a threat as West — at least not yet — but she's putting enough away to fight Republican attempts to stop her before she can climb higher on the national political ladder.
She brought in $902,000 for the three months that ended June 30, according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Most of Wasserman Schultz' money came from the corporate and labor union political action committees that pump money into lots of congressional campaigns. PACs represented three-quarters of her contributions; contributions of less than $200 from individuals accounted for 0.7 percent.
Like Wasserman Schultz, West benefits from frequent national television appearances. His heavy spending ($248,000) on fundraising efforts is also paying off. As a darling of tea party conservatives across the country he gets lots of small contributions. Those donors, who gave less than $200 each, accounted for half of West's total – and can be tapped again and again before the election.
He also got the maximum allowable $5,000 from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's political action committee.
Democrats are itching to wrest the seat from West, and they're showing it with campaign contributions.
For the second quarter in a row, political unknown Patrick Murphy of Fort Lauderdale was the top fundraiser of all congressional challengers in the nation. He took in $456,000 in three months.
Democrat Lois Frankel, former mayor of West Palm Beach and former minority leader of the Florida House of Representatives was right behind, raising $440,000.
Murphy a certified public accountant who's a vice president of his family's Coastal Environmental Services, has many contributions from people in the construction and real estate fields. His contributors include former Republican and former Gov. Charlie Crist, who added $1,000 to the $1,000 he had given earlier in the year.
Records show 2.4 percent of his money came from donors who gave less than $200.
Many of Frankel's contributions come from people connected to Palm Beach County law firms. Her contributors include developer Jorge Perez, chairman of the Related Group, who gave $5,000. Donors who gave less than $200 accounted for 5.7 percent of her contributions.
Successful early fundraising helps candidates raise even more because they're taken seriously by the political world. "At an early stage, money is the litmus test," said Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar.
Both sides need plenty of money. The district includes the pricey Miami-Fort Lauderdale television market. It's competitive territory with even numbers of Democrats and Republicans, and both sides are focused on it because of West's high profile as a champion of the tea party and his defeat of an incumbent in 2010.
South Florida Republicans dream about defeating Wasserman Schultz, who's one of the state's most prominent and outspoken Democrats. Picking off President Barack Obama's handpicked chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee would be a huge prize.
So far, they aren't backing up their talk with money.
Independent ratings don't put Wasserman Schultz in danger of defeat so big donors tend to concentrate their resources elsewhere. Even though her overwhelmingly Democratic district will change before next year's election to reflect population changes uncovered in the 2010 Census, political insiders in both parties say it isn't likely to become more Republican.
Three candidates seeking the Republican nomination to challenge her — Joe Goldner, Joe Kaufman and Carl Mathiesen — haven't filed financial disclosure reports with the Federal Election Commission, meaning none has raised or spent $5,000.
The fourth Republican, Karen Harrington, reported raising $15,700 in the quarter. She lists campaign debts of $230,900, including $41,900 in current bills to American Express and a $185,000 debt to herself for money she lent to her unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Wasserman Schultz.
Other members of Congress raised far less than Wasserman Schultz or West — and less than West's challengers.
All are likely to receive challengers in the August 2012 primary or November general election.
But even with expected changes in district boundaries to reflect population changes uncovered in the 2010 Census, the region's five other members of Congress are seen by political insiders and independent analysts as having relatively easy paths to re-election.
That means fundraising isn't as critical as it is for candidates in hotly contested top tier races.
Republican Congressman Tom Rooney has accumulated close to $600,000 cash and Democratic U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart each have more than $250,000 in the bank. Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has the lowest bank balance, just under $100,000.
Details from the latest campaign finance disclosures at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.
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