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Sink raises over $1 million in Fla. special, including from in-state frenemy Crist

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Headshot of Alex Sink, Democratic candidate for Congress
Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate in a highly competitive Florida special congressional election, has raised more than $1 million so far. Photo credit: Alex Sink for Congress

Tucked into the impressive $1.1 million haul reported Thursday by Alex Sink, the Democratic hopeful in what promises to be a red hot Florida special congressional election, is a donation from a seemingly surprising source: Charlie Crist.

The $1,000 contribution from the former (and, he hopes, future) Florida governor is surprising given the duo's less than congenial past: In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in June, Sink called the prospect of Crist as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee "a disaster," citing job loss during his tenure, flip-flopping and "all the stuff that hasn't been written about yet."

That was back when Sink, who narrowly lost a bid for the Florida governor's seat to Rick Scott four years ago, was considering a rematch. Instead, Crist, who was popular when he served as Florida's Republican governor, was eagerly sought after by Democrats, once he switched to their party.

Sink meanwhile is hoping to win back for the Democrats a Tampa Bay congressional seat that Republican powerhouse Bill Young held for more than four decades before his death in October. The March 11 contest is sure to draw plenty of national attention as the district is a bellwether: President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney there by barely more than one percentage point in 2012.

There's a contested Republican primary Jan. 14, but Sink, who is sailing to victory on the Democratic side, is dominating the field with her heavy fundraising haul. Sink's only potential challenger from the left — Jessica Ehrlich — dropped out after Sink entered the race, while Sink has received thousands from the campaigns of House bigwigs like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Sink seems likely to face either David Jolly or state Rep. Kathleen Peters. Jolly already has experience in the hallowed hallways of Capitol Hill as a former Young staffer, though his more recent post as a lobbyist for Three Bridges Advisors has been a point of emphasis for his opponent, Peters. The sitting state pol blasted him as a Washington insider, beholden to special interests in a recent campaign ad.

Peters, meanwhile, has won the support of Young's son and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. Both hosted a recent fundraiser for Peters at the Republican Capitol Hill Club, according to records in Sunlight's Political Party Time. Party Time also shows that Sink has made at least one fundraising pilgrimage to Washington for a fundraiser that featured a number of Democratic lawmakers.

Both leading Republican candidates have been outpaced by Sink's fundraising efforts. As of the most recent reports on Dec. 31, Jolly had raised under $250,000 and and Peters clocked in at a little under $150,000 — though neither appear to have spent much on TV ads.

Jolly began buying ad time on Tampa broadcast stations before Christmas. Ad filings gathered from Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth show Jolly's campaign committee spending $4,170 to run eight spots on station WTVT, a Fox affiliate, and $600 to buy an ad during the "Price is Right" on CBS affiliate WTSP.

The National Republican Congressional Committee appears to be the only outside spending group to have waded into the race thus far, spending nearly $40,000 on negative ads aimed at Sink.

The campaign of Republican Mark Bircher, a veteran and Delta Airlines pilot, is struggling to maintain his opponents' fundraising pace despite the public backing of former Florida congressman Allen West. Bircher has raised just over $58,000 — $44,000 of which came from the candidate himself.

(Contributing: Kathy Kiely)