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Democrats Gearing up for Major Race in Florida Next Year

In what is expected to be one of the nation's most expensive gubernatorial races next year, Florida rising star Andrew Gillum is hoping an early fundraising haul will set him apart in the emerging Democratic field.

Gillum raised $765,000 since the start of 2017, even though he only declared his candidacy on March 1, campaign officials told NBC News. The filing deadline for campaign finance reports for the first quarter of the year was the end of last month and the reports will be made public soon.

Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term limited, leaving the seat open in 2018 for what many expect will be one of the most expensive gubernatorial elections on record.

Running for governor of the nation's third most populous state was seen as a big leap for Gillum, the 37-year-old African-American mayor of Tallahassee. But the fundraising haul will likely help buy credibility in a field that is expected to be crowded.

Businessman Chris King, Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, lawyer and activist John Morgan, and Gwen Graham, a former congresswoman and daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, are all also eyeing bids, among others.

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The Republican primary field also may be crowded as well, with more than a half dozen potential candidates considering a bid. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is seen as the early frontrunner on the GOP side.

While GIllum's campaign is quick to tout that their average donation size was just under $60, party insiders will likely be more interested in the major donors who decided to back the young mayor.

They include liberal financier George Soros and his son Alex; Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs; Boston billionaire investor Vin Ryan; TV producer Norman Lear, and former Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.

"This resounding statement of early support proves that Andrew Gillum has the momentum to become the next Governor of Florida. Our campaign will continue to work to earn every vote in all corners of the state and invest in building the infrastructure needed to retake the governor's mansion," said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, a senior adviser to Gillum's campaign.