Christine Jennings (born
November 26 1945) is
a self-made banker and businessperson, and a Democratic politician in Florida.
In 2006, Jennings was the Democratic nominee for the United States Congress
. The seat was left open when incumbent
ran for the U.S.
In the 2006 election, 237,861 votes were cast, but for unknown
reasons, 18,382 of the electronic ballots in Sarasota County
recorded no vote for a congressional candidate. By the tally of the
remaining votes, Jennings received 373 fewer votes than her
opponent, Republican Vern Buchanan
. Of the counted votes in
Sarasota County, Jennings won 52.8%. If the missing votes had
broken for Jennings by the same percentage as the counted votes in
Sarasota County, the Democrat would have won the race by about 600
votes instead of losing by 368, according to a Herald-Tribune
An audit of the machines found nothing wrong, and it is believed
that some voters failed to vote for the Congressional Candidate
because it was on the same page as the crowded Governor's race.
Other voters who failed to vote in the Congressional race initially
were able to catch the mistake on the review page of the ballot.
Still others, who had voted, noticed their votes had not been
recorded when they reviewed the votes at the end. There has been no
explanation as to why some votes did not record after they were
Jennings, a former Republican, never graduated from college and
started her career as a bank teller at the age of 17. In 1992, she
founded Sarasota Bank, which was bought by Colonial Bank
in 2003 for $40.5 million
In her career as a banker, Jennings rose to become President, CEO,
Chairman of the Board and Director of Sarasota Bank. She also
served as President of the Sarasota Downtown Association and
President of the Sarasota Film Festival.
Jennings lost the 2004 primary for the seat to the eventual
nominee, Jan Schneider
, by 47% to 38%
in a four-candidate race, despite outspending Schneider by a ratio
of nearly 4 to 1. "Her supporters attribute this outcome, though,
to Jennings’ late start, and they say her business background gives
her both better cross-party appeal and stronger fundraising
Jennings won 61.8% of the vote in the September 5, 2006 Democratic
primary, having heavily outraised Schneider during the campaign.
wrote that while Schneider had run game
challenges to Harris as the Democratic nominee in 2002 and 2004,
"[her] strongest appeal was to more liberal elements of the 13th
District constituency, and many Democratic officials thought
Jennings’ business background would make her a more viable general
Poll numbers showed Jennings with a lead, which varied from 2–12%
based on five polls.
In November, Jennings faced Republican Vern Buchanan
, who won a bitterly fought
Republican primary with 32.3% of the vote. Buchanan's fund-raising
receipts more than tripled those of Jennings, including infusions
of nearly $6 million of his own money. Jennings was endorsed by the
, the major newspaper in District 13.
After the votes were counted, Buchanan narrowly led Jennings by
fewer than four hundred votes. In Sarasota County, Florida there
were almost 18,000 undervotes in the race. Some advocated for a
revote, but that rarely occurs in Florida, and would have been a
first in Florida for the federal office.
In March 2007 a letter surfaced "in which Electronic Systems &
Software Inc. (ES&S)— the company that manufactured the
electronic voting machines used in the Florida 13 election—told
election officials that the voting screens exhibited slow response
times during testing." The following week "California Democratic
, chairwoman of the House
... announced the formation of the
task force" to investigate the election.
The House committee dismissed Jennings' challenge on February 25,
2008 and affirmed the certified result of the FL-13 declaring
Buchanan the winner of the 2006 election. The full House of
Representatives affirmed the committee's findings in HR 989,
declaring that machine error could not be demonstrated after a
(GAO) review in Sarasota. Jennings
dropped her challenge to the race shortly after to focus on her
2008 Congressional rematch against Buchanan.
Jennings announced her intention to run for the 13th District seat
once again in 2008. On September 6, 2007 she received the
endorsement of Emily's List
lost to incumbent Vern Buchanan, taking just 37% of the vote.
Payroll tax controversy
In August 2007, while Jennings continued her court contest of the
2006 Congressional race results, the Herald-Tribune
reported on a lawsuit filed by Democratic primary candidate Jan
Schneider through the Federal Elections Commission
(FEC). The lawsuit alleged that Jennings collected but failed to
file and submit payroll taxes collected from her campaign staff
during the 2006 election. Initially the Jennings campaign admitted
that they had failed to pay $23,835 in payroll taxes during the
campaign as a consequence of a paperwork error that was cleared up
as soon as it was found. Said Jennings, "when I found out about it,
I corrected it".
However, the next day the Jennings campaign stated that the amount
of unpaid payroll taxes was closer to $38,000, but IRS and campaign
records indicated that the amount of repaid payroll taxes since
July 2006 amounted to $70,126. The revelations followed a 2006
election where Jennings spoke at length about Buchanan's refusal to
release his personal tax returns; upon the breaking of the
controversy, Schneider referred to the news as a demonstration of
"shameful hypocrisy" on the part of Jennings.
- *Mahlburg, Bob Dist. 13 voting analysis shows broad problem
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, November 9, 2006
- Foley Scandal Threatens GOP Hold In Florida
Congressional Races News4Jax.com, October 10,
- Smith, Adam C. A congressional race as big as the Ritz?
St. Petersburg Times, April 18, 2004
-  CQ Politics
-  CQ Politics
-  CQ Politics
- U.S. House, District 13 editorial board of the
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, October 18, 2006