September 1, 2018 Media

SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE: Buchanan vs. Shapiro now a major race

David Shapiro’s victory last week in the Democratic primary for a Southwest Florida congressional seat sets up one of the biggest races the region has seen in years.

Sarasota and Manatee counties could play a key role in which party controls Congress, a matter of great consequence that could determine the fate of the Trump presidency.

Shapiro is a Siesta Key attorney who is trying to knock off six-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.

Democrats have high hopes for Shapiro, who has raised $1.3 million and is expected to give Buchanan a strong test. But primary night left some doubts about his campaign.

Shapiro only beat Sarasota attorney Jan Schneider by 9.4 percentage points — he garnered 54.7 percent of the vote compared to 45.3 percent for Schneider — despite massively outspending her and getting support from top Democrats locally and nationally. Shapiro won by less than three percentage points in Manatee County, the heart of congressional District 16.

Buchanan’s campaign was quick to pounce on the primary results, declaring that Shapiro’s margin of victory is “shocking.”

“Shapiro outspends his opponent 10 to 1, picks up every endorsement, has the entire Washington establishment’s backing, and can’t even eclipse 60%,” Buchanan campaign manager Max Goodman wrote in a statement. “Embarrassing.”

Of course, the Buchanan campaign played a key role in holding down Shapiro’s margin of victory. Buchanan launched a television ad leading up to the primary that seemed aimed at undercutting Shapiro’s support among progressives.

Shapiro accused Buchanan of trying to meddle in the primary with the ad, which calls the Democrat a hypocrite for holding stocks in gun, drug and oil companies while calling for gun control measures, stronger efforts to address opioid addiction and a ban on oil drilling off the coast of Florida.

Shapiro campaign manager Alex Vuskovic pointed to the Buchanan ad and Schneider being well known after five previous congressional campaigns in explaining Shapiro’s margin of victory.

A bigger concern for Shapiro may be the amount of money he had to spend to win. The Democrat already has burned through $865,581 and had just $440,045 in cash on hand as of Aug. 8.

Buchanan has $2.1 million in cash on hand and a big pool of potential campaign money to draw from as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

Vuskovic said the campaign needed to spend money early to avoid being defined by Buchanan. He has touted an internal poll paid for by the Shapiro campaign that shows the race close, arguing the early outlay on television ads paid dividends.

“We’re in a good place to compete in the general,” he said. “We knew we had to spend early. We’re going up against a guy who has an unlimited war chest in Vern Buchanan. We knew we had to define ourselves early because the attacks were coming.”