Three of Florida's four Cabinet members are spending more and more time away from their Capitol offices as they rush around the state to collect campaign checks at dinner soirees, fishing trips, coffees and private parties.
The packed schedules reflect the reality of what is shaping up to be one bizarre election cycle.
A dour economy, four Cabinet offices up for grabs and the fund-raising juggernaut that is U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist are all combining to make it historically tricky for candidates to juggle both the official duties of their offices and the increasing pressure to quickly build massive war chests.
"It's the invisible primary," said George LeMieux, former chief of staff and campaign architect to Crist.
"You've got more people running with fewer funds available. You have to work twice as hard as you did in the last cycle to raise money."Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, for instance, has taken off nearly half his work days since he announced he was running for governor on May 18.
According to his daily schedules, the attorney general took off 14 of the 29 work days between his announcement and the June 30 end of the fund-raising quarter. He appears to have also worked half-days on seven other occasions, often with his schedule showing only one or two events or staff meetings.
Most of the open time was spent raising cash for his gubernatorial campaign, which reported Friday raising $1 million during the past six weeks of the quarter.
One half-day, for example, McCollum traveled back home to Central Florida for a June 25 Fraternal Order of Police convention at the Wyndham Orlando Resort, then off to raise cash that evening at a dinner at The Ballroom at Church Street.
McCollum was in Canada this week on vacation and unavailable for comment. But while his campaign acknowledged the demands of seeking a statewide office are time-consuming, they said McCollum was never more than a phone call away from his state job.
"It's a very delicate balancing act. His first duty is to serve the people as attorney general," said campaign senior adviser Shannon Gravitte. "But at the same time, running for governor is no small task and takes a considerable amount of time."
His likely Democratic opponent, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, took less time off six full days and six half days but spent more time traversing the state. She often traveled on state planes to attend conferences in Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale public events that coincided with fund-raisers.
On June 25 the day critical media coverage of her use of state planes broke her campaign decided to reimburse the state $17,022.75 for 20 commercial and state flights Sink had taken this year in which the travel involved political work.
The total taxpayer cost of all the flights was $32,600, records show.
Sink said this week that by also reimbursing for the commercial flights she was going beyond what state law requires, which is to pay part of the cost when a state plane is used to attend both official and political activities.
"I don't want the people of Florida feeling like I'm taking advantage of a situation, and so I felt like it was the right thing to do," Sink said.
Fleeing the capital city is a Tallahassee tradition during the muggy summer months, and Sink said statewide officeholders are expected to get south to "where the action is."
"You could go out on Adams Street [near the Capitol] and shoot a rifle and not hit anything," Sink said.
Sink reported on Friday that she raised $1.28 million for the fund-raising quarter, which combined with previous money raised for her CFO re-election bid allowed her to end the reporting period with $2.1 million in the bank.
But Crist, who only took a half-day off, has been the master of mixing his day job and political duties.
Records show he was fund-raising for his Senate campaign virtually every night, which allowed him to break the bank, hauling in a record $4.3 million in 50 days.
Crist spent a majority of the 50 days since announcing on the clock but outside of Tallahassee, flying between ceremonial bill signings in South Florida and Orlando, mixing with lawmakers and raising hordes of cash.
"This is the precursor to an avalanche. I believe you'll see him raise record money," said prominent Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who held a fund-raiser at his home for Crist last month and predicted the governor's levers of power would help financially overwhelm GOP primary opponent Marco Rubio.
Crist "has got appointments to make. He has got a session to go through. He has got a veto pen. He has got judges to appoint," Morgan said."It's all over but the shouting."
In one 30-hour stretch on June 29-30, Crist hit six fund-raisers in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, sandwiched between official appearances and meetings.
Crist said this week the logistical demands of making phone calls to solicit cash and rushing between multiple fund-raisers by night didn't interfere with his job as governor.
"I governed a lot more," he said.
Josh Hafenbrack contributed to this story. Aaron Deslatte can be reached at 850-222-5564, or at email@example.com.