SWFL’s 19th congressional endorsement race: Who’s ahead and who’s endorsing whom–UPDATED

08-06-20 Endorsements 2

Aug. 7, 2020 by David Silverberg

Updated 11:45 am with correction to Banyai endorsements and new addition, 5:00 pm with Donalds NRA endorsement.

We’re in the final days of the primary races in Southwest Florida. Early in-person voting begins tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 8. Mail-in voting has been underway since ballots were mailed out in mid-July.

The race is down to inches—and insults. With in-person campaigning and canvassing curtailed due to the pandemic, it’s a battle of clashing television ads and claims.

But one aspect of traditional campaigning that the pandemic hasn’t derailed is endorsements.

Endorsements are very important. When made, campaign communication directors should blare them to the heavens. Do endorsements move voters? Well, some do. But equally important, they have a cumulative impact. They can tell a lot about a candidate’s support and presumably an endorser brings a whole host of followers to the favored candidate’s camp.

In fact, so important are endorsements that FiveThirtyEight.com, the statistical journalism website, created a whole system for evaluating endorsements during the Democratic primary race beginning last year. Endorsements are significant, wrote FiveThirtyEight’s founder Nate Silver, because while they don’t mean “the candidate leading in endorsements will automatically win the nomination, or even necessarily be an odds-on favorite,” endorsements are nonetheless an indicator of a political party establishment’s support for a candidate and the ultimate nominee is usually the one favored by the party leadership.

As it goes for the presidential primary races, so it should go for Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District primary race, which with 12 candidates, is one of the most crowded and contentious in the country.

This article looks at all the endorsements for congressional primary candidates of both parties. The endorsements are in four categories: organizations; candidates (meaning candidates in other races); activists (people who are active and prominent in pursuing particular causes); and others (by which are meant current and former officials).

Unlike FiveThirtyEight, this does not give numerical points to different endorsements. It also doesn’t count ratings from organizations, which are usually given as grades from A to F. Endorsements counted here are specific to each candidate, although organizations often endorse numerous candidates, whether competing or not. It is also important to note that the local political parties will not endorse candidates until after the primary and the party conventions.

We checked all the candidates’ websites for lists of endorsements (some seemed to actually hide their endorsements or make them as difficult to access as possible), included their press releases and invited all candidates to list any endorsements that are pending or might not yet be posted.


In the Democratic primary race, candidates David Holden and Cindy Banyai have both been endorsed by the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida.

Also on the environmental front, Holden has been endorsed by VoteWater Florida, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization designed to identify candidates supporting clean water initiatives.

Among other candidates, Holden, who ran in 2018, has been endorsed by his former rival, Todd Truax, who is currently running for Lee County Board of Commissioners, District 3; Javier Estevez, running for state representative in District 105; and Sara McFadden, who is running for state representative in District 106.

Among community activists, Holden has been endorsed by Crystal Johnson, president of the Community Forum Foundation, a community-building non-profit based in Fort Myers, and W. Earl Sparrow Jr., a community activist and organizer in Fort Myers.

Banyai has been endorsed by: Lee County Young Democrats, No Dem Left Behind, a movement of Democrats running in heavily Republican districts, Moms Demand Action, an organization calling for an end to gun violence, Women for the Win, a coalition of media professionals helping female candidates, 90 for 90, a voter registration organization, Peaceful Protests Lee County, a grassroots protest and gatherings group, and Boots of Recovery, a group that seeks to raise political awareness for recovery acceptance and solutions.

Candidates who have endorsed Banyai (and whom Banyai has endorsed in turn) are: Rachel Brown, candidate for state Senate District 27; Katherine Norman, candidate for state Senate District 23; state representative candidates Anselm Weber, District 76; Maureen Porras, District 105; Danika Fornear, District 79; Juan Gonzales, Lee County Commission District 5; and Connie Bennett-Martin, candidate for Fort Myers Ward 4.

Among community activists, Banyai has been endorsed by: Alexandra Anderes, a Fort Myers attorney; Isaiah Carter, a campaign worker; Johnnie Terrell, a Fort Myers social worker; and Eddie Thinger, a Florida Gulf Coast University graduate, who serves as her press secretary.

(Of note: The Paradise Progressive has endorsed in this race.)


Of the Republican candidates, state Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) has by far the largest number of endorsements. Partially, this is a result of his prominence as Florida state House Majority Leader and his numerous connections. Even at the young age of 37 he’s been a prominent politician for a long time.

He’s also the candidate who has come closest to running a traditional campaign. If not for the pandemic, he’d be the guy with the ground game; volunteer door knockers, phone callers and envelope stuffers who have gotten people elected in the past.

Eagle started collecting endorsements immediately after his campaign announcement on Nov. 6, 2019 and he’s made a real effort to solicit them.

Of course, the big endorsement has to date eluded him. Despite slavish devotion and pictures of him with President Donald Trump from a single encounter appearing in all his campaign literature and media platforms, the Big Man has not reached down into this particular primary race to anoint Eagle his chosen one. That one endorsement would probably have settled this contest long ago.

Despite what surely must be a disappointment, Eagle has racked up 22 endorsements from individuals, many sitting Republican officials, more than any other candidate.

The most prominent of these is Florida’s senior US senator, Marco Rubio. He has also been endorsed by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-12-Fla.)

Of sitting state officials, Eagle has been endorsed by State Attorney Amira Fox; state Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson; and state Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto, District 27. Sitting state representatives include: House Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls, Ray Rodrigues, and Spencer Roach.

Local mayors Kevin Ruane of Sanibel, JoeCovielo of Cape Coral, and Bill Ribble of Estero have endorsed him. Local officials include: Sanibel Councilwoman Holly Smith; Lee County Sheriff Carmen Marceno; Kathy Smith, public defender; Larry Hart, tax collector, and Linda Doggett, clerk of the court.

Nor has Eagle overlooked former officials, being endorsed by: Jeff Kottkamp, former lieutenant governor; former state representatives Matt Caldwell, Gary Aubuchon and Trudi Williams; former Cape Coral mayors Joe Mazurkiewicz and Eric Feichthaler; former Lee County sheriff Mike Scott; and former state attorney Steve Russell.

Eagle has also been endorsed by Doris Cortese, the “godmother” of Lee County Republican politics, who encouraged him to run the minute Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement in October 2019.

In terms of organizations, Eagle has been endorsed by Florida Police Benevolent Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders and Personhood FL ProLife PAC.

The only other candidate who can count a US senator as an endorser is state Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee), who has been endorsed by US Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Donalds has also received endorsements from prominent national conservative organizations: Americans for Prosperity, Florida Family Action, the Republican Liberty Caucus, Empower America and Club for Growth. He is the only 19th District candidate to receive a full endorsement from the National Rifle Association.

The next most endorsed Republican is Dan Severson but his endorsements are from out of state. Reflecting his time in the Minnesota state house, he has been endorsed by former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, New Jersey-based Tea Party activist Michael Johns, and Texas-based Clint Lorance, a US Army officer who was court martialed and found guilty of second degree murder in Afghanistan and pardoned by Trump in 2019.

The other candidates in the field have received single endorsements or none at all: Casey Askar has been endorsed by the Everglades Trust; William Figlesthaler has been endorsed by former Florida state senator Garrett Richter of District 23; and Darren Aquino has been endorsed by the New York Young Republican Club.

Candidates Randy Henderson, Daniel Kowal and Christy McLaughlin do not list any endorsements on their websites or other platforms. Information on Independent Antonio Dumornay is not available.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg


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