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Candidate spends heavily to explain switch from Republican to Democratic Party

ElectionsRepublican PartyPublic Officials

Scott Herman ran for state representative as a Republican in 2012 and lost to a Democratic incumbent. Now he’s switched parties, found a new district and a Republican to challenge – and has become one of the most negative stereotypes of a Democrat: big spender.

“The fiscal conservative part of me finds it gut wrenching,” Herman said.

A campaign finance report filed last month with the Florida Division of Elections explains why. Herman took in just $1,060 in contributions and in-kind donations of good and services since he became a candidate in March.

But he spent $26,865 – almost as much as the combined $28,608 spent by 15 other candidates for state representative seats mostly or entirely in Broward.

He made up the gap with his own money, lending his campaign $27,084. The only candidate who came close to that was Joe Geller who lent $25,000 to his campaign for a South Broward/Miami-Dade County seat. Loans from a handful of other candidates to their campaigns were typically $200 or $500.

(Geller is one of three candidates seeking the nomination to succeed term limited state Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, in what could be the county’s most expensive legislative primary.

(Geller raised more than any of the other 15 candidates for Broward seats, taking in $50,310. John Paul Alvarez, took in $5,354 and lent himself $9,550. Another candidate in the primary race, Alex Lewy, raised $33,872 and lent himself $100.)

Most of Herman’s money went to pay for political help. Consultant Barry Harris’s firm Politically Direct was paid $10,094, records show. Another $5,355 went to Susanna Bott, whom Herman called a “political assistant.”

Their aid was vital, Herman said, “to help me with transitioning from Republican to Democrat.” He said he needed help getting to know the players and the minefields as a candidate in Broward’s majority political party.

“Learning exactly what takes place in Broward politics is a whole new ballgame than any other area that I was involved in. Plus I didn’t want to send the wrong message that I just flipped parties to win an election,” he said. Herman said Harris helped him “convey that this is a real sincere switch and not just to win an election.”

Herman, who won 16 percent of the vote last year as the Republican candidate against state Rep. Perry Thurston, who is the Democratic Party’s leader in the Florida House, said he became a Democrat in December.

He concluded that Republican Party in Florida is “15 to 20 years behind what I have been fighting for, which is to make sure everyone has a voice. I want to make sure that things are handled appropriately both in being fiscally responsible, but also in being socially moderate to liberal.”

He said he’s been “extremely welcomed” by his new party.

Herman, 42, is retired from the Army. Previously an elected member of the countywide Board of Supervisors in Cabarrus County, N.C., for four years, he moved to Broward in December 2009. He moved to Pompano Beach, in the district he hopes to represent, in March.

The 93rd District is 36.9 percent Republican, 36.2 percent Democratic and 26.9 percent independent/no party affiliation and minor party voters.

He said he thinks he has a decent shot at picking off state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale. Mortaitis has raised $13,000, lent his campaign $500, and spent $5,465 since he became a candidate for re-election in February. He wasn’t allowed to raise money during much of that time when the Legislature was in session.

Herman said he is encouraged that Moraitis’s 2012 challenger, Gerri Ann Capotosto,  won 45 percent of the vote even though she spent just $16,500 to Moraitis’s $314,600. However, 2012 was a presidential year with high Democratic turnout. Next year’s election is a midterm between presidential contests when Republicans typically have better turnout than Democrats.

Herman said he isn’t discouraged. “This by no means is now the Republican district that it was,” he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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