Florida Republicans are attacking Democratic legislative candidates based on the state Democratic Party’s receipt of a government pandemic relief loan, since returned. And they’re apparently spending heavily to press that attack in Pinellas where Republican Linda Chaney is challenging state Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport.
Webb, who has been considered the frontrunner, said she believes Republicans may be spending up to $1 million to defeat her, based on the volume of mailers and TV ads she’s seen.
The attack is also being used against Democrat Julie Jenkins, who’s challenging Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo in what’s expected to be a tight race in Tampa.
Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, in charge of the Republican state House campaign effort, declined to say how much is being spent in either race, to avoid disclosing strategy.
He defended the rationale behind the ad, despite the Democratic Party’s return of the Paycheck Protection Program money.
“They gave the money back after they got caught,” he said. “The reality is these candidates have been supported by the Democratic Party,” which, prior to the money being returned, “used those funds to keep their political operations going.”
The Paycheck Protection Program loans were to help businesses prevent layoffs. The party applied for the loan through a nonprofit set up to operate its headquarters. Despite rules against political organizations participating, it received and then returned at least $780,000 over the summer.
The ad against Jenkins says she “took money out of your pocket to run her campaign,” and uses a video clip of Jenkins being asked in a candidate forum by a GOP activist whether she would return the money.
In the forum, Jenkins responded that she didn’t have any PPP loan money to return, but the ad shows her saying only, “No I’m not going to return that money.”
Both Democrats say neither they nor their businesses or relatives received a PPP loan.
Webb’s district, covering Pinellas Park, Gulfport and south county beaches, is politically mixed.
It voted for Trump in 2016, but also for Democrats Bill Nelson for Senate and Andrew Gillum for governor in 2018, all by fairly narrow margins.
Webb won the seat by 6 points in 2018 after losing a challenge to Kathleen Peters in 2016.
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