A deep blue district in Tampa Bay wasn’t supposed to generate so many headlines. But court battles over who should even appear on the Republican Primary ballot turned the race for who to nominate in Florida’s 14th Congressional District into one of the hottest in town.
Around $600,000 has already been spent in combined disbursements by Republicans James Judge, Sam Nashagh and Jerry Torres — much of that in court. Two of the three Republicans in the race have been kicked off the ballot. Each was later restored and just hopes voters know that as they fill out ballots for the Aug. 23 GOP Primary.
First off, shortly after qualification week, the Division of Elections disqualified Judge for signing the wrong partisan candidate oath. Judge blamed a staff error at the state agency for the mix-up, and argued regardless that Florida law only required an oath to be signed. He sued and had his candidacy restored just in time for his name to be printed on vote-by-mail ballots.
But then Torres faced trouble. The Florida Democratic Party, along with individual plaintiffs Thomas Hodges and Sean Shaw, sued over the revelation that Torres’ final qualifying forms had been notarized while he was out of the country. Of note, Shaw is a former state Representative and the 2018 Democratic nominee for Attorney General, and Hodges is a Republican lawyer who works at the same law firm as CD 14 U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s husband, Bill Lewis.
The Democratic lawsuit, with Judge’s moral support, led to a judge booting Torres from the race, even though his name still appeared on the ballot. The candidate appealed, and just days before the Primary election, won his case before the First District Court of Appeal.
Torres continued to campaign the whole time his case was appealed, spending $414,028 through Aug. 3. Comparatively, Judge dumped $148,623 into the race by the same point.
Nashagh has quietly spent just $17,531 on the race, most of that via the $10,440 filing fee with the state of Florida. But he happens to be the only Republican in the race to have remained a candidate the entire Primary season.
Torres has remained a fundraising leader, pulling in almost $260,000 in donations on top of more than $200,000 in candidate loans. The founder of global consulting firm Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, which he has since sold, has testified before Congress on defense contracts and worked with embassies around the globe. He’s also pledged to largely self-finance a General Election campaign against Castor, the likely Democratic nominee.
Judge established himself early as an endorsement leader, with the backing of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and former U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, as well as some right-wing national figures like Roger Stone and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. He’s pulled in almost $125,000 in contributions on top of a $25,000 candidate loan.
Nashagh, meanwhile, is a combat veteran who moved to Tampa Bay while his family was homeless.
Of note, all of the legal fights and six-figure spends are for a Republican Primary in a deep blue district.
A new congressional map signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, while criticized for shifting multiple Democratic-leaning districts into Republican-favored jurisdictions, resulted in CD 14 becoming somewhat of a Democratic sink. Under the new CD 14 lines, which span downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, about 58.8% of voters favored Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election compared to 39.72% who voted for Republican Donald Trump.
That makes Castor, who does face a Primary challenge from Christopher Bradley where she is expected to win, a heavy favorite for the General Election.