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Bilirakis gets run for his money

His opponent raises more funds for the quarter.

Published July 14, 2006

It was a fruitful spring for Phyllis Busansky.

Between April and June, the Democratic candidate for Congress collected $335,000 in contributions, outpacing Republican frontrunner Gus Bilirakis, whose campaign staff received upward of $265,000.

It is far from clear, though, whether Busansky's momentum will be enough to overtake her opponent in the race for the District 9 seat, occupied by longtime incumbent Rep. Mike Bilirakis, Gus' father.

"He's not the incumbent but he has some incumbent advantage," Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said of Gus Bilirakis. "The fact that she raised more money this quarter is a plus for her, but what's important at this point in the cycle is how much you have in the bank."

Even with the flush season, Busansky's staff said that at the end of the second quarter, her cash on hand totaled $540,000, barely half of the more than $1-million estimated by the Bilirakis campaign.

And Bilirakis has several prime fundraisers coming up.

On July 21, Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to headline a luncheon for Bilirakis in Tampa, which will likely draw about 200 people, each of whom will pay $500, said his campaign manager, Elizabeth Hittos.

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has also been confirmed on Bilirakis' calendar.

Hittos said Pinellas County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan will host an evening fundraiser for Bilirakis at his home with Hastert on Aug. 2.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has selected Busansky as one of the party's 22 "Red-to-Blue" candidates, a priority for national fundraising

Whether the big-name duo of Hastert and Cheney can ward off the fundraising prowess of the Democrats and Busansky's underdog momentum is unclear.

"It's an open seat in a national environment that is very vulnerable to Republicans," Rothenberg said. "We're keeping an eye on that race."

District 9 covers a tri-county swath of the Tampa Bay area, spanning northern Pinellas, western Pasco and suburban Hillsborough counties.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 05:41:18]

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