Rick Scott takes a page from Charlie Crist in latest TV ad

Charlie Crist depicted Democratic rival Jim Davis’s empty chair (left) in ads during the 2006 governor’s race; Republican Gov. Rick Scott is reviving the empty-chair theme this year in attacks on Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, trying to paint Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as an inside-the-Beltway layabout, released a new TV ad — using figures the Nelson camp disputes — that accuses the three-term Democrat of excessive absenteeism on Capitol Hill.

Scott’s ad, titled “Empty Chair,” shows an empty seat at a committee dais with Nelson’s name plate in front of it.

Floridians of a certain age may remember then-Republican Charlie Crist using an empty chair in TV ads during the 2006 governor’s race to accuse Democrat Jim Davis of missing too many votes as a member of Congress.

Hear about the Scott-Nelson contest and other races in the latest Inside Florida Politics podcast…

Scott’s new ad says Nelson “skipped 45 percent of the hearings on national security.” The Scott campaign said that’s a reference to Armed Services Committee hearings and provided figures that list Nelson as attending 352 of 636 of the committee’s hearings since 2001.

Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown called the ad “nothing more than another false attack by Rick Scott who is nothing more than a phony politician.”

Brown said Nelson “attended about 80 percent of the Armed Services meetings this year and 86 percent last year.” Scott’s camp says Nelson attended 76 percent of the committee’s hearings during 2017-18.

 

This week: Charlie Crist poised to do something he hasn’t done in 24 years

Charlie Crist campaigning in West Palm Beach during his 2014 Democratic bid for governor. (Gary Coronado/The Palm Beach Post)

Florida this year will witness something it hasn’t seen for nearly a quarter-century: a Charlie Crist re-election campaign.

U.S. Rep. Crist, D-St. Petersburg, has already raised more than $2.6 million in pursuit of a second term in Congress  — but this is the week it becomes official. Florida’s window for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and judicial candidates to submit paperwork and pay filing fees to secure spots on the 2018 ballot opens at noon today and closes at noon Friday. The ballot qualifying period for state and local offices is June 18-22.

Crist has been a presence in Florida politics since the early 1990s as a Republican, an independent and a Democrat. He just hasn’t stayed in a single job for very long. The last time Crist ran for re-election was 1994, when he was a Republican state senator and successfully sought a second term.

In 1998, Crist was the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate but lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Graham.

In 2000, Crist was elected state education commissioner. He couldn’t run for re-election, however, because voters had approved a constitutional amendment making it an appointed post beginning in 2003.

In 2002, Crist was elected Florida attorney general.

Rather than seek re-election in 2006, Crist — still a Republican — ran for governor and won.

Rather than seek re-election as governor, Crist in 2009 launched a 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate as the slam-dunk favorite for the Republican nomination. By early 2010, however, he had fallen behind Marco Rubio in GOP polls. Crist left the Republican Party to pursue an independent bid for Senate, losing to Rubio in the general election.

Crist was still an independent in 2012 when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in favor of President Barack Obama‘s re-election. He changed his registration to Democrat at the end of that year and ran for governor in 2014 as a Democrat, but lost his bid to deny Republican Gov. Rick Scott a second term.

In 2016, Crist ran for U.S. House and won. And now — unless he’s got some shocking last-minute maneuver up his sleeve — he’s poised to run for re-election.

 

 

Bill Clinton’s frequent Florida appearances could be a #MeToo casualty

Bill Clinton at an October 2016 appearance in Belle Glade for Hillary Clinton. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

Former President Bill Clinton has been a frequent election-year presence in Palm Beach County and elsewhere in Florida — stumping for such Democrats as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Charlie Crist, Patrick Murphy, Lois Frankel and Kendrick Meek.
But 20 years after he survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal as president, Politico reports that Bill Clinton could be shelved for the 2018 midterms amid heightened awareness of sexual harassment and the desire of Democrats to draw a clear contrast with President Donald Trump on the issue.

Bill Clinton appears with Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek in Delray Beach in 2010. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Putting Clinton on the stump “just brings up a lot of issues that will be very tough for Democrats. And I think we all have to be clear about what the #MeToo movement was,” says House Progressive Caucus Vice Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., in a Politico article that says the 42nd president has become “too toxic” for Democrats.

Bill Clinton with former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in Palm Beach Gardens in 2014. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

Bill Clinton narrowly lost Florida to George H.W. Bush in 1992 (the last person to lose Florida but win the presidency), then carried the state in 1996. He’s become a popular figure in the Sunshine State, and particularly deep-blue Palm Beach County, since leaving office.

Bill Clinton at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth for a 2012 rally for President Barack Obama’s re-election. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

In 2016, Bill Clinton’s Palm Beach County appearances included a rally for his wife in Belle Glade a month before the election, a high-dollar fundraiser in Palm Beach Gardens in the summer and a key primary-season stop at the Port of Palm Beach as Hillary Clinton sought to ward off the Bernie Sanders insurgency.

He raised money in West Palm Beach for Democratic congressional hopefuls Frankel and Murphy in 2012 and then campaigned for Murphy’s re-election in Palm Beach Gardens in 2014. In 2012, when he was a frequent “explainer-in-chief” surrogate for Obama’s re-election bid, he appeared at the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College for the Obama campaign. He appeared in Delray Beach for Meek in 2010.

When will the shutout streak end for Florida lieutenant governors?

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (right) and Florida’s 10 previous lieutenant governors.

Since Florida re-established the office of lieutenant governor in 1969, the job has been a political dead end.

Eight men and two women have held the job before current Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. None has gone on to win another elected office.

And the streak probably won’t be broken soon.

Lopez-Cantera announced Sunday that he will not run next year to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, or for any other office in 2018.

“I am honored and grateful to all who have encouraged me to run for Congress but, after thoughtful consideration and deliberation with my family, we have decided that being a candidate in 2018 is not what’s best for our family,” Lopez-Cantera said.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, (left) and Sen. Marco Rubio at a 2016 Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch a few weeks before Lopez-Cantera dropped his Senate bid to make way for Rubio to seek re-election. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“Beyond 2018, I look forward to spending even more time with my wife and two daughters while remaining involved in the greater Miami-Dade community, helping job creators be more successful, citizens be more empowered, and government be more efficient and accountable. There is still a lot of work to be done and I will continue to look for ways to be part of the solution — I may run for office again but not in 2018.”

Lopez-Cantera seemingly has a bright future if he decides to run in 2020 or beyond. He’s only 43, bilingual and has been seasoned in Florida’s largest media market, where he won elections for state House and for Miami Dade property appraiser.

Lopez-Cantera ran for U.S. Senate in 2016 but dropped out when his friend, Sen. Marco Rubio, decided to seek re-election after quitting the presidential race.

Florida had a lieutenant governor from 1865 to 1889, when a constitution change abolished the office. Nearly a century later, a 1968 constitution change re-established the office.

Here’s a brief look at Florida’s lieutenant governors in the modern era and their political fortunes:

Ray Osborne (1969-71): Appointed by Republican Gov. Claude Kirk in 1969 after a constitution revision reestablished the office, he ran for Senate in 1970 but dropped out of the race before the GOP primary. Originally from the St. Petersburg area, Osborne settled in Boca Raton in the 1970s and practiced law. He died in Boca Raton in 2011.

Tom Adams (1971-75): Running mate of Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew, he was censured by the state House in 1973 after it was reported that he used state employees in his private business. After Askew dumped him as running mate in 1974, Adams challenged Askew in the Democratic primary and was resoundingly beaten.

Jim Williams (1975-79): Askew’s second-term running mate, he ran for governor in 1978 but finished fourth in a seven-candidate Democratic primary. He was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to a U.S. Department of Agriculture post.

Wayne Mixson (1979-87): Running mate of Democratic Gov. Bob Graham. Graham won a 1986 Senate election and resigned the governorship on Jan. 3, 1987 to take office in Washington. Mixson became governor and served three days until Republican Bob Martinez took office. Mixson didn’t seek office afterward. He recently celebrated his 95th birthday and is Florida’s oldest living ex-governor.

Bobby Brantley (1987-91): Running mate of Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, he decided to leave politics and did not join Martinez for his unsuccessful 1990 re-election bid. Brantley is now a lawyer and lobbyist.

Buddy MacKay (1991-98): Running mate of Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, he won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998 but lost the general election to Republican Jeb Bush. When Chiles died in December 1998, MacKay served as governor for a few weeks until Bush was inaugurated.

• Frank Brogan (1999-2003): Bush’s running mate in 1998 and 2002, he resigned in 2003 to become president of Florida Atlantic University. Brogan later became chancellor of Florida’s university system and now holds that post in Pennsylvania.

Toni Jennings (2003-07): Tapped by Bush to succeed Brogan, she was encouraged by Bush to run for governor in 2006 but declined.

Jeff Kottkamp (2007-11): Republican running mate to Gov. Charlie Crist, Kottkamp ran for attorney general in 2010 but lost in the primary to eventual AG Pam Bondi.

Jennifer Carroll (2011-13): Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2010 running mate, she resigned in 2013 shortly after Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators questioned her about Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine-based nonprofit accused of running an illegal gambling ring. Carroll, who once represented Allied Veterans as a public relations consultant, was not accused of wrongdoing but said she wanted to avoid being a “distraction.”

Carlos Lopez-Cantera (2014-present): Selected by Scott in 2014, he helped Scott win re-election that year. When Rubio launched a 2016 presidential campaign, Lopez-Cantera opened a campaign for Rubio’s seat but bowed out in June 2016 when Rubio decided to seek re-election.

 

 

 

 

Jack Latvala draws contrasts with GOP rival Putnam, punts on Trump comments

Republican governor candidate Jack Latvala talks to reporters in Hialeah after kicking off his campaign.

HIALEAH — State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, formally launched his Republican bid for governor here by casting himself as both an old-school Republican and a nonpartisan dealmaker who’s neither a career politician like former Gov. Charlie Crist or an “outsider businessman” like current Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Latvala also said he’s not a “sellout” — a reference to Republican primary rival Adam Putnam, who recently described himself as “proud to be an NRA sellout” — and said his experience running a direct-mail printing business makes him different from Putnam, who has worked in his family’s citrus and cattle businesses but has spent most of his adult life in politics.

While making reference to other Florida figures, Latvala said he hasn’t been following President Donald Trump‘s recent series of controversial remarks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Latvala began his event by asking for a moment of silence for the two police officers and counterprotester who were killed in Charlottesville.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Latvala was asked if neo-Nazis bore 100 percent of the blame for what happened in Charlottesville.

“I wasn’t there. I condemn all violence,” Latvala told reporters. “If people are peacefully exercising their rights, whether they be white supremacists or whether they be Black Lives Matter folks, you know, they have a right to demonstrate without having a mob attack them. I wasn’t there. I’ve heard a lot of different stories about what may or may not have gone down. I’m sure the president and people closer to it have a lot more information than I do. I’m involved with what goes on in Florida.

“I’m sad about what happened. I think the three people that lost their lives were innocent people,” Latvala said.

A reporter asked if Latvala was equating Nazis and Black Lives Matter.

“I just said whoever it might be that’s out there  protesting…I’m not supporting Nazis,” Latvala said.

Latvala appeared at a fire station here with police officers and firefighters behind him as he made the first of three scheduled announcement speeches today. He’s heading to his hometown of Clearwater and to Panama City later today. In an unusual sight for a Republican event, several members of the Democrat-leaning public employee union AFSCME were also on hand in green t-shirts to thank Latvala for pushing for a pay increase for state employees.

“I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I have friends on both sides of the aisle and sometimes peole criticize me because I have friends on both sides of the aisle,” Latvala said in his announcement speech. “But I think that the people that we represent want results. And they know that to get results you have to sit down with other people across the table and work things out. We don’t see much of that in Washington, D.C., anymore but we still get that done in Tallahassee and that’s what I want to continue doing.”

Latvala noted his reputation as a gruff figure, but said he gets things done and cited Everglades Restoration as an example. He supported a plan by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

“He got that bill to a certain point and then he called me in and said ‘I need you to help finish the job.’ And that’s when I started busting heads to get it done. You know, sometimes you do things the nice way in Tallahassee and then sometimes you do things my way,” Latvala said.

Everglades Trust Executive Director Kimberly Mitchell, a former West Palm Beach city commissioner, attended the event and praised Latvala’s work on the Everglades.

Bobby Jenkins, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police for Florida, was one of several police union officials on hand to back Latvala.

“He’s got our back. Now it’s our turn to get his back,” Jenkins said before Latvala spoke.

Latvala said Scott deserves “a lot of credit” for job growth in Florida over the past seven years. But he said 36 counties have lost jobs in that time and said the state doesn’t spend enough on mental health or infrastructure.

Speaking to reporters later, Latvala differentiated himself from Scott and Crist, who was elected as a Republican in 2006 but eventually became a Democrat.

“We’ve tried it both ways. We tried just an outsider businessman. We’ve tried just a career politician. The last two governors have fit those two molds…I think now is probably a good time to try somebody that’s got a little bit of experience in both.”

Latvala and Putnam have formally entered the GOP race for governor. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, could enter the race as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Democrats inject Donald Trump into two Florida races

Democrats are running TV ads in St. Petersburg and Miami linking Republicans to President Donald Trump.

Democrats who hoped nationally watched special congressional elections in Kansas, Montana and Georgia would deliver rebukes of President Donald Trump came away disappointed.

Now two races in Florida — a nonpartisan mayoral election in St. Petersburg and a special election for a state Senate seat in Miami — have revived Democratic hopes that Trump and his slumping approval ratings will be an albatross for Republican candidates.

In St. Petersburg, where polling shows former Mayor Rick Baker leading current Mayor Rick Kriseman, the Florida Democratic Party this week began airing TV spots that put Baker, who is a Republican, on an “extreme team” with Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The same ads link Kriseman, a Democrat, to former President Barack Obama, former VP Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg.

Seven mayoral candidates are on the Aug. 29 St. Petersburg ballot. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers square off on Nov. 7.

Democrats are also playing the Trump card ahead of a Sept. 26 special election in Miami to fill the Senate District 40 seat of former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in April. The special election pits Democrat Annette Taddeo against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, who was once a contestant on Trump’s The Apprentice.

Republican Artiles won the district by 10 points in November and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio edged Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy in the district, but Democrats have a slight registration edge and Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump there by 16 points.

Democrats launched an ad in English and Spanish this week that shows a selfie of Diaz and Trump and says the Republican “supports Trump’s every move.”

State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, in line to become Senate Democratic leader next year, says there are “a lot of other issues” besides Trump in District 40, but Diaz presents a special anti-Trump opportunity.

“If you were asking for the Democrats to draw up a candidate that had links to Trump you couldn’t do any better than someone who actually appeared as a contestant on The Apprentice. He was also an early Trump endorser. So Pepi Diaz is going to have to live with Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, his anti-health care policies, and those aren’t particularly popular in Miami,” Clemens said.

DeSantis wants Justice to freeze assets of arrested Wasserman Schultz staffer

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, at a 2016 Republican Party of Florida meeting.

Republican U.S. Rep. and potential Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis today called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to freeze the assets of a recently arrested congressional staffer who did information technology work for Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch and several other House Democrats.

Imran Awan was arrested July 24 on a bank fraud charge as he tried to leave the U.S. for Pakistan. He entered a not guilty plea and his attorney said he is the victim of “a frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, taking heat at last year’s Democratic National Convention, is being criticized again over information technology issues.

Awan and four House Democratic staffers — including his wife and two of his brothers — have been under investigation by U.S. Capitol Police since February and were denied access to the House computer and email systems then.

“The allegations levied against Imran Awan are alarming and could have serious national security ramifications,” DeSantis said in a statement released today by his office. “The Department of Justice must work to immediately mitigate the damage done by Awan and take whatever measures are necessary, including freezing illicit funds, in order to fully investigate this incident.”

DeSantis sent a letter to Sessions outlining his concerns.

Awan and the other IT staffers under investigation were paid as much as $160,000 a year as “shared employees” who drew their salaries from the office budgets of a dozen or more Democratic House members. None of the other staffers has been charged and the charge against Awan is not directly related to his work as an IT staffer.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

Reps. Wasserman Schultz, Deutch, Lois Frankel, Charlie Crist and former Reps. Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham are among the Florida Democrats who paid Awan and the other staffers under investigation. Most of the House members employing the staffers terminated them in February after the investigation came to light. But Wasserman Schultz kept Awan on her payroll as a consultant until he was arrested.

DeSantis, a member of the House Oversight Committee, has floated the idea of Wasserman Schultz being called to testify at a congressional hearing on the matter.

“It was clear there was a major, major problem and for this guy to have been on the payroll all the way until he was absconding, it’s just inconceivable to me,” DeSantis said in an interview this week with The Palm Beach Post.

DeSantis is a potential candidate for governor or attorney general who is expected to announce his 2018 plans in the fall.

 

Deval Patrick for president in 2020? What he once said in West Palm Beach

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick during a 2014 visit to West Palm Beach to campaign for Charlie Crist’s bid for governor. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Former President Barack Obama is “nudging” former Masssachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to run for president in 2020 against President Donald Trump, according to Politico.

Patrick was also the topic of some early 2016 presidential chatter. When he visited West Palm Beach in 2014 to campaign for Charlie Crist‘s gubernatorial bid, Patrick told The Palm Beach Post  that the White House talk “blows my mind. I’m just a kid from the south side of Chicago and people are speculating about such a thing. It’s extraordinary but it’s not what I’m planning on, thank you.”

Patrick didn’t run in 2016. During his 2014 visit, he warned Democrats against giving Hillary Clinton a free ride to the party’s nomination in 2016.

Patrick called Clinton “fantastic” but added: “The problem with inevitability is it’s sometimes interpreted as entitlement and I think that voters want competition and they want their candidates to have to work for it.”

If he’s at all serious about 2020, expect Patrick to spend time in crucial Florida next year to campaign for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson‘s re-election bid and/or for whoever wins the Democratic nomination for governor.

Brian Mast snags $355,835 for re-election bid; Frankel war chest nears $1 million

Brian Mast talks to voters at a 2016 Republican candidate forum in Stuart .

Freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, collected $355,835 in campaign contributions during the first quarter of 2017 to begin his defense of a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast House seat that is usually a battleground between Republicans and Democrats.

 

Mast began April with $409,636 in cash on hand for his 2018 re-election effort.

 

While Mast had a healthy haul, another Florida freshman in a competitive seat — Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg — raised $720,604 during the first quarter. In what could be Florida’s most contested House seat next year, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, raised $613,623 for the quarter.

 

Other Palm Beach County House members:

 

• Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, raised $206,046 and has $926,542 in cash on hand.

 

• Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, raised $51,772 and has $260,717 on hand.

 

• Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, raised $28,855 and has $83,156 on hand.

GOP narrowing Democratic voter registration advantage in Florida

Some Florida voters lined up in March in Palm Beach County.
Some Florida voters lined up in March in Palm Beach County.

Republicans have cut in half the voter registration advantage Democrats enjoyed in Florida on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, when President Barack Obama narrowly carried the Sunshine State on his way to re-election.

 

But the new registration numbers aren’t necessarily good news for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Trump has antagonized many Hispanic voters, and the number of Latino registrations in the state — particularly those who signed up with neither of the major parties — has surged since 2012.

 

Democrats hold a 37.9-to-35.8 percent registration edge in Florida as of Aug. 1, the last date for voters to be eligible for the Aug. 30 primaries, according to figures posted today by the Florida Division of Elections. That’s down from a 40.1-to-35.5 percent Democratic advantage on the eve of the 2012 presidential election.

 

The share of Florida voters with no party affiliation has increased from 21.6 percent in 2012 to 23.6 percent now.

 

White voters, who were 66.5 percent of the Florida electorate in 2012, comprise 65 percent of the state’s voters now. The percentage of Florida voters who are Hispanic has increased from 13.9 percent four years ago to 15.4 percent now. The percentage of Florida voters who are black has slipped from 13.6 percent in 2012 to 13.3 percent.

 

In raw numbers, Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 259,321 in Florida — down from a 535,98-voter advantage in 2012.

 

Races at the top of the ticket tend to be close in Florida. Obama carried the state by 74,309 votes or 0.9 percent in 2012. Republican Gov. Rick Scott won re-election over Democrat Charlie Crist by 64,145 votes or 1 percent in 2014. Florida drew international attention in 2000 when George W. Bush won the state by a mere 537 votes.

 

Republican registrations have increased from 4,245,991 in October 2012 to 4,431,400 now — a gain of 185,409 voters.

 

Democratic registrations have declined from 4,781,978 in October 2012 to 4,690,721 now —  a decrease of  91,257 voters.

 

The number of voters registered with no party affiliation has increased from 2,572,901 in October 2012 to 2,913,948 now — an increase of 341,047 voters.

 

Voters who register with minor parties — such as the Independent Party, the Libertarian Party or the Green Party — have remained fairly stagnant since 2012. There were 333,575 minor-party voters in Florida in 2012; there are 342,332 now.

 

The number of Hispanic voters in Florida has increased by 242,005 or 14.6 percent since 2012, from just under 1.7 million to more than 1.9 million.  Florida Hispanics are 38.9 percent Democrat and 26.4 percent Republican, with 34.9 percent registered with no party or minor parties.

 

Since February, when books closed for the March 15 presidential primaries, Florida voters have been more likely to choose a major party.

 

Republican registrations in Florida have increased by 155,296 since February and Democratic registrations have increased by 120,933. The number of voters with no party affiliation has increased by only 35,480 since February.

 

Nearly half of the voters Democrats have added in Florida since February — 60,020 — have been Hispanics.