Democrat Carl Zimmermann has lost two close races to Republican Peter Nehr for state House of Representatives in northern Pinellas County. In both 2006 and 2008, Zimmermann had a big fundraising disadvantage in a Republican-leaning district, and both times he came within 3 percentage points of victory.
Some people might look at how close Zimmermann has come to winning and think, with a little more money, the Countryside High School journalism teacher could finally beat Nehr in 2012.
However, not the people in charge of the Florida Democratic Party's checkbook.
After getting more than $60,000 from the state party in 2008, Zimmermann hasn't received a dollar from that source this year.
Zimmermann had raised $25,720 through Oct. 12, according to campaign filings with the state Division of Elections. Three-term incumbent Nehr, meanwhile, has gotten more than $70,000 from the Republican Party of Florida, part of the $251,109 he had raised through Oct. 12.
The financial disparity demonstrates that 1) The Florida GOP has deeper pockets than the state Democratic Party, and 2) The state Democrats are spending the money they have strategically, and Zimmermann is not one of the candidates benefiting from that strategy.
"There's no one doubting that Florida Republicans are outspending us and that they have more resources than us," said Christian Ulvert, a Miami-based consultant working on Democrats' state House campaigns.
Ulvert said he has worked closely with Pinellas County Democrats to "make sure whatever resources are needed are spread around."
Those resources don't apparently include cash, though, because Democrat dollars are almost exclusively being spent in two southern Pinellas County races — Districts 68 and 69 — not in Zimmermann's District 65.
"They don't have the money to play in all the races," said Zimmermann, 61. "They do believe I can win this race, it's just that they have very limited funds, and they are trying to go in races where the number of registered Republicans versus Democrats is favorable or very close."
District 65, which includes Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and parts of East Lake, has about 13,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. St. Petersburg-area District 68 has about 2,500 more registered Democrats than Republicans, and Democrat Dwight Dudley has gotten more than $50,000 from the state party as a result.
Four years ago Zimmermann was one of the candidates getting significant state party money.
"Every election cycle has different dynamics," said Ulvert. "Carl's definitely been on our radar, and voters, I'm sure, will make their voices heard on Election Day."
Zimmermann has $1,750 from the Pinellas Democratic Party, and chairman Mark Hanisee said Wednesday the county group is giving Zimmermann another $5,000 for the stretch run.
"This is not a race where you can just look at the (registration) numbers," Hanisee said. "This is the wild card race. Carl could win this."
Despite facing a nearly 10-1 money disadvantage, Zimmermann holds out hope this is the year he will come out on top.
"If the playing field were even close to being level financially, this man (Nehr) would never have been elected," Zimmermann said.
Nehr, not surprisingly, disagrees.
"I'm very grateful to the people who have given me money," said Nehr, 60. "I'm still the strongest candidate, the best candidate, the most experienced candidate ... I'm doing everything I need to do."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.