In HD 16, Ron DeSantis’ candidate takes on the Jacksonville establishment

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The three-way Republican Primary race in Jacksonville’s House District 16 took a turn in late July, when Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed the candidate with the least money and fewest endorsements in the field.

Kiyan Michael is an Angel Mom, military spouse & lifelong Jacksonville resident,” Gov. DeSantis tweeted. “Kiyan has stood with me in the fight against illegal immigration and will be a leader in the Florida House as we fight Biden’s open border policies. I am proud to endorse her candidacy for HD 16.”

The DeSantis endorsement shook up a race that, at least in terms of fundraising, seemed to become static. At the time, Michael had around $23,000 cash on hand, which was roughly one-tenth of what the leading fundraiser in the race had. But the Governor’s backing gave Michael, a first-time candidate, a platform to compete with two political veterans.

A $50,000 donation from the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee funded Michael’s first television ad, which featured Gov. DeSantis’ endorsement and detailed the tragic death of Kiyan’s son, Brandon, who was killed 15 years ago in a car crash by an undocumented immigrant.

The DeSantis push for Michael presented a contrast to the messaging elsewhere in the campaign, which has been characterized by bruising back and forth rhetoric from Chet Stokes, a Jacksonville Beach City Councilman who manages the Marsh Landing Country Club, and Lake Ray, a political veteran who helms the First Coast Manufacturers’ Association.

Stokes dealt with a number of personal revelations throughout the campaign, including having to announce that he did not graduate Auburn University as campaign material claimed.

Ray also dealt with adverse news cycles, including one where his estranged sister resurfaced to endorse Michael, with Ray pretending briefly that she did not exist.

Headed into the homestretch of the campaign, Michael is finding traction with donors right on time for the Aug. 23 Republican Primary for the Duval County seat in the House, after a campaign dominated by stronger fundraising from her opponents, both White male political veterans.

During the week ending Aug. 5, Michael reported raising $54,000 between her campaign account and the supportive Friends of Kiyan Michael political committee. The Safety Net Hospital Alliance gave $1,000 to her campaign account, while other donors with statewide profiles gave even bigger sums to her committee account.

One particularly significant donation was from ICI Homes of Daytona Beach, which gave the Michael committee $10,000. ICI Homes is owned by Mori Hosseini, who chairs the University of Florida Board of Trustees.

Though Michael has recent momentum, she still faces a cash deficit even now. Stokes has aggressively self-funded, adding a quarter million dollars of his own. He still has $225,000 to spend as of this writing.

The Stokes camp was philosophical upon the DeSantis endorsement of Michael, saying that endorsements were of limited utility unless the money was there to message them. Whether that’s true or not, the candidate’s self-funding suggests he is looking to hedge bets.

Ray, a political veteran from the western part of the district, represented the former House District 12 for four terms. Donations were slow for him in the week ending Aug. 5, with just over $5,000 raised between his political committee, A Stronger Florida for Us, and his campaign account. After spending roughly $40,000 that week on media, he has roughly $110,000 on hand.

Only Republicans can vote in this race, as two write-in candidates qualified and closed the Primary, creating an interesting battle of a DeSantis-backed candidate against two more establishment figures.

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