The Democratic Primary for Attorney General will be decided Tuesday, wrapping up a 2022 cycle where the race to oppose Ashley Moody was largely under the radar.
Characterized by slow fundraising compared to the incumbent — whose political machine continued to churn through the summer unencumbered by a Primary — the three qualified candidates go into Tuesday with little indication of who the winner of the race might be.
Daniel Uhlfelder, a lawyer from Santa Rosa Beach who came to prominence cosplaying as the Grim Reaper during the pandemic, has been the strongest and arguably savviest of the candidates when it comes to campaign finance.
As his campaign trumpeted at the time, he was the only person in the Primary field to take campaign matching funds from the state of Florida, a resource of which Moody has also availed herself.
“We’ve accessed these critical funds due to the outpouring of support of thousands of people across Florida,” Uhlfelder said. “Democrats want to nominate a candidate who can win. These funds will help us do that, and return the Attorney General’s Office to Democratic hands.”
In campaign activity through Aug. 18, the last date for which totals are available at this writing, he raised nearly $370,000 throughout the whole campaign, retaining just over $61,000 for potential last-minute spending. More than $40,000 of that was raised between Aug. 6 and Aug. 18, which set up a spend of over $137,000 in the same period, most for advertising.
An affiliated political committee called Hold Tallahassee Accountable raised over $68,000 throughout the campaign, spending more than $63,000 of that through Aug. 18.
Uhlfelder has scored some meaningful endorsements, including most newspaper editorial boards and that of Sen. Jason Pizzo, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and a former Assistant State Attorney.
“He has been a vocal and intrepid champion for Floridians — standing up to those who care only about a select few,” Pizzo said in a statement the Uhlfelder camp provided.
Neither Aramis Ayala nor Jim Lewis came close to matching Uhlfelder in terms of finances.
Ayala, the state’s first Black State Attorney who served for one term in the Orlando area, raised over $116,000 between the beginning of her campaign in March and Aug. 18, with $8,000 left on hand. She couldn’t match Uhlfelder during the final 12-day period where records are available. Ayala raised just over $10,000, about a quarter of what Uhlfelder did.
Though Ayala is a distant second in fundraising, she has an advantage over Uhlfelder in endorsements. The Collective PAC backed her early on, but her best endorsements came late, as a group of Black legislators offered a strong collective endorsement of Ayala early this month.
“Aramis Ayala is the only Democratic candidate for AG who has walked the walk and talked the talk for her entire career — we can trust she will stand up for us, no matter what,” read one of the many quotes in the release from the Ayala camp.
The legislators endorsing Ayala, a former State Attorney from Orlando, hail from all metro regions of the state, and include Sens. Randolph Bracy of Orlando, Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, Shevrin Jones of Miami Gardens, Rosalind Osgood of Ft. Lauderdale and Bobby Powell of Palm Beach County.
Powell and Gibson are both former leaders of the Senate Democrats.
Members of the House are also backing Ayala, including Democratic Leader-designate Fentrice Driskell of North Tampa and regional colleagues Reps. Dianne Hart and Michele Rayner.
Also on board: South Florida Reps. Christopher Benjamin, Kevin Chambliss, Jervonte Edmonds, Dotie Joseph, Felicia Robinson, Patricia Williams and Marie Woodson, along with Reps. Kamia Brown of Ocoee, Tracie Davis of Jacksonville, Yvonne Hayes Hinson of Gainesville, Travaris McCurdy of Orlando and Geraldine Thompson of Windermere.
Uhlfelder has the money, Ayala has the endorsements, but a further complication is posed by the minimalist campaign of Fort Lauderdale lawyer Jim Lewis, who raised and spent less than $25,000 from start to finish of the campaign, with most of that activity being self-funded.
Regardless of who wins this one, a fearsome challenge awaits in the General Election. Incumbent Moody has nearly $1.45 million cash on hand in her campaign account. Her Friends of Ashley Moody political committee has nearly $5 million banked as well.