Week in Review: Historical look at DeSantis’s staggering war chest; plus Disney’s political paradigm shift

by | Nov 14, 2021

Fueled by national prospects, perhaps?

Unprecedented. That’s the only way to describe Governor Ron DeSantis’s fundraising as the 2022 election cycle starts to heat up.

An apples to apples comparison of historical campaign fundraising numbers is difficult, because of wildly different circumstances, but the difference between DeSantis’s numbers and any of his predecessors is so large that the circumstances don’t make much difference.

The most recent comparison available, in which a Republican incumbent governor was running for re-election, is the 2014 campaign of then-Governor Rick Scott. By November of 2013, one year before he’d face off against Charlie Crist, Scott had banked $17 million. At the time, it was an impressive sum of money that now pales in comparison to DeSantis’s stacks of campaign cash. Some might point out that Scott might not have had the same urgency to raise money for his campaign because he was wealthy enough to underwrite any financial needs his campaign encountered, regardless of donor support.

But those that know Scott and how he operates know that he was and remains methodical in his fundraising efforts, unafraid to ask donors to match his own financial commitment to his campaign.

Going back twelve years ago this month, Bill McCollum was viewed by most as a lock for the Republican gubernatorial nomination with a clear fundraising advantage over any potential challenger. In fact, when then-Senator Paula Dockery announced her own candidacy for the GOP nomination on November 4th, 2009, newspaper accounts noted that her personal wealth might enable her to write her campaign a check to help offset McCollum’s own fundraising advantage of $1.9 million.

Obviously, comparing an incumbent governor’s fundraising to that of a gubernatorial hopeful, no matter how “obvious” it might be that he was a shoe-in, still isn’t a fair comparison. So let’s look at Charlie Crist’s fundraising that same month: he was the incumbent governor, but of course he’d already announced he was running for Florida’s open Senate seat. Still, he had enough juice and fundraising experience that he should have been able to pull together a significant financial haul, right?

In November 2009, Charlie Crist had $4.17 million in his campaign for Senate.

Let’s take it all the way back Jeb Bush in November 2001. At that point in his re-election campaign, he’d banked $1.2 million. Newspaper accounts at the time note that his fundraising efforts had been curtailed out of sensitivity to the September 11th attacks just two months earlier. That’s perfectly understandable. But even if Jeb were raising money at DeSantis levels during those two months, his campaign would have hauled in, at best, another eight or nine million, giving him, generously, $11 million.

Now for the real kicker: add up the fundraising totals of all previous GOP gubernatorial frontrunners or incumbents one year before their respective elections over the last two decades: Jeb Bush in 2001 ($1.2 million), Charlie Crist AND Jim Gallagher in 2005 (about $9 million between them), and incumbent Governor Crist’s Senate fundraising in 2009 ($4.17 million), Bill McCollum in 2009 ($1.9 million), and yes, even Rick Scott in 2013 ($17 million), they raised a combined $33.27 million, a little more than half of DeSantis’s total so far.

With just under a year to go before election day, DeSantis looks extremely tough to beat.

Disney’s political paradigm shift

Speaking of big bucks (no, not the governor’s race) the conventional wisdom in Florida when it comes to gambling is that Disney opposes it because it threatens the company’s family-friendly image. That’s all about to change, as Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek pointed out to investors during an earnings call last week. Chapek says that Disney has conducted extensive research on the issue and found that changing attitudes, especially the younger generation, view gambling – especially sports betting – differently than before.

Potential sports betting licensing partnerships between Disney’s ESPN brand and companies like Draft Kings could prove to be a multi-billion dollar windfall for Disney, while enhancing the ESPN brand and having no negative impact on Disney’s brand image overall, Chapek says.

“It’s driven by the consumer, particularly the younger consumer that will replenish the sports fans over time and their desire to have gambling as part of their sports experience,” Chapek said on the call. “As we follow the consumer … we have to seriously consider getting into gambling in a bigger way.”

In Florida, that could mean a political paradigm shift where the state’s biggest tourist draw has traditionally donated heavily to maintain the gambling status quo. How that plays out in the months and years ahead remains to be seen, but political operatives should take note that the political terrain appears to have shifted in a profound way.


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