Republican agriculture commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell rolled out his latest wave of endorsements, many of them from Tampa Bay. Between his steady stream of endorsements and his formidable fundraising – more than $1.5 million raised through December compared, $1.6 million by state Sen. Denise Grimsley, and less than $80,000 in donations to former state Rep. Baxter Troutman.
But there's a giant asterisk for Troutman's financial status. He gave his campaign $2.5 million. There is speculation that Troutman, grandson of the late citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr and worth an estimated $40 million in 2009, did that to scare away rivals. He has no intention of spending his own money, that chatter goes.
"That was not a loan," Troutman told The Buzz. "We fully intend to spend that and raise more."
Caldwell feels excellent about his own prospects: "We're in great shape. We've got two things that make a race work, we've got grassoots support and the ability to raise money so you can convey that message."
He said he also has an advantage on a key issue in a race for the job that oversees concealed weapons permits. Unlike his two opponents, he has consistently top ratings by the NRA.
Troutman said that as an active citrus grower and rancher, he is the candidate who best understands the plight of Florida's agriculture industry today. Caldwell is a real estate appraiser, and Grimsley mainly works in health care although she also grows citrus.
"The fact that I grew up with dirt in my fingernails sets me apart from the other Republican candidates," Troutman said, noting that his campaign is burning through campaign money far less than his rivals.
Caldwell's latest endorsements:
Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Lecanto)
Rep. Amber Mariano (R-Hudson)
Rep. Danny Burgess Jr. (R-Zephyrhills)
Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover)
Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa)
Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa)
Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole)
Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton)
Rep. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota)
Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice)
Former Rep. Jimmie T. Smith (R-Citrus County)
The Caldwell campaign has also announced the endorsements of Republican House members from the Panhandle, Northeast Florida, Central Florida, Southwest Florida, and South Florida delegations. This is in addition to endorsements from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz,and former candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture Paul Paulson.