Billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene has halted his multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign in his Democratic bid for governor, with a spokeswoman saying the airwaves have become “too saturated” before Tuesday’s five-candidate primary.
Reports posted this morning show 1,247,345 Floridians have already voted — topping the 1,214,193 who cast ballots ahead of the last midterm primaries in August 2014. And there’s still ample opportunity to vote before the traditional election day next Tuesday. In-person early voting ends on Sunday. Elections officials can receive mailed-in ballots through Tuesday.
Republican voters have been more enthusiastic than Democrats so far. There have been 583,960 ballots cast by Republicans, or 46.8 percent of all pre-election ballots, and 519,691 ballots cast by Democrats, or 41.8 percent of votes so far.
The Republican turnout advantage includes both mail-in ballots (450,402 to 389,046) and in-person early voting (133,558 to 130,645).
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — given up for dead by some Republicans after primary foe Ron DeSantissnagged the endorsement of President Donald Trump — will make a Palm Beach County appearance this evening amid some recent polling numbers that suggest the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination is tightening.
“You can’t afford to have a governor who calls the White House every morning and says ‘What are we going to do today boss?’” Putnam said during a breakfast event at Theresa’s Restaurant. “No, if you want to help our president make America great the third-largest state has to be hitting on all cylinders.”
RIVIERA BEACH — Democratic governor candidate Jeff Greene stands out as the lone white face on a “Democratic ticket” with nine black elected officials and candidates on a flyer distributed in this predominantly black city by a recently created political committee called the Florida Defense Fund.
The Florida Defense Fund, it turns out, is bankrolled by Greene, the billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor who has poured more than $30 million into the race since June.
After one of the black officials on the Palm Beach County flyer complained about it, Greene’s campaign on Monday acknowledged being behind the committee. The Florida Defense Fund has also distributed flyers in at least one other area, Miami, showing Greene with a different mix of black officeholders and candidates.
Late Monday night, Greene announced he’s putting $5 million into the Florida Defense Fund to help other Democratic candidates around the state. Greene and the four other Democrats seeking the nomination for governor have similar stances on most issues, but Greene has sought to differentiate himself by pledging to use his wealth to boost a party that has been out of the governor’s mansion and a minority in the state legislature for the past two decades.
The Florida Defense Fund was created July 31 and is chaired by Miami attorney Stuart I. Grossman, whose Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman firm was paid $16,097 by Greene’s campaign for legal services on Aug. 9, according to campaign finance reports.
Few people had heard of the Florida Defense Fund until its literature depicting Greene among black candidates began appearing on the windshields of cars parked at black churches on Sunday and at the Wells Recreation Center early voting site in Riviera Beach.
State Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, cried foul after seeing his picture on the flyer.
“This is not official at all and it is disrespectful,” Powell wrote on Facebook. “This is going on cars at Black Churches. As a Democrat I can assure you that the party has not endorsed in the primary. Personally, I am supporting Andrew Gillum.”
The Palm Beach County Democratic Party put out a statement clarifying that it “did not endorse or print slate cards for the August 28th Primary.”
A small-print disclaimer on the back of the flyer says it’s “provided for educational purposes and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any candidate or political party.”
Greene campaign spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren defended the flyers Monday.
“These cards were developed by Jeff Greene organizers in local communities and contain no express advocacy, nor suggestion or statement of endorsement,” VanSusteren said.
Referring to Florida Defense Fund as a “PC” or political committee, VanSusteren continued: “Jeff is the only candidate who isn’t beholden to special interest money. He has self-funded his campaign and is the only person who has contributed to his PC (along with his wife, Mei Sze). The PC will continue to disclose all contributions and expenditures to the Division of Elections in a timely manner.”
The back of the flyer lists early voting sites, but overall the literature is of limited use as a voter guide. Two of the candidates pictured — school board member Debra Robinson and candidate Edwin Ferguson — are running against each other. Two others — school board member Marcia Andrews and state Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Delray Beach — are not on the Aug. 28 ballot after winning re-election without opposition in June.
Late Monday, Greene announced his $5 million contribution to the PAC, which he said will target seven key state Senate races.
“This is my vision for Florida: I will help Democrats take back the Senate, make a dent in the House, and defend Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat against Rick Scott,” Greene said in a statement released by his campaign. “Just imagine how effective we can be together.”
This year’s early and mail-in turnout will likely exceed the advance voting turnout for the August primaries in 2014, the last midterm election year. Four years ago, 1.2 million voters cast ballots before the primary election day and about 900,000 people voted on the traditional election day.
In 2016, the August primaries drew 1.8 million early and mail-in voters and about 1.1 million voters on the traditional election day.
Among those who have voted so far this year, 46.5 percent are Republicans and 41.3 percent are Democrats.
Republicans have turned in 402,881 vote-by-mail ballots, compared to 344,753 Democratic mail-in ballots.
Early voting, which began last Monday in Palm Beach County and some other counties but didn’t go statewide until Saturday, has drawn 78,656 Democrats and 73,092 Republicans.
In Palm Beach County, 37,857 voters have cast mail-in ballots and 15,485 have voted early.
Of the ballots cast so far, 46.5 percent are from Republicans and 40.4 percent from Democrats.
In Palm Beach County, more than 45,000 people have already voted. That includes 35,458 mail-in ballots and 9,958 ballots cast at early voting sites.
Palm Beach County has 15 early voting sites, which opened Monday. The Hagen Ranch Road Library west of Delray Beach has been the most popular, drawing 1,714 voters. The Belle Glade Branch Library seen the least traffic, with only 152 voters showing up in the first four days.
Early voting will be available in all 67 counties beginning Saturday.
The new survey of 600 Democrats by pollster Tom Eldon of SEA Polling & Strategic Design was conducted Saturday through Tuesday and has a 4 percent margin of error. It shows Levine at 27 percent, Graham at 24 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 15 percent, billionaire Palm Beach real estate investor Jeff Greene at 13 percent and Winter Park businessman Chris King at 3 percent. Eighteen percent of Democrats say they’re undecided.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s hoping to tap into the Sanders base of liberal voters in the primary, will campaign with Sanders on Friday in Tampa and Orlando.
Sanders endorsed Gillum Aug. 1, joining a cast of out-of-state stars of the left that includes George Soros, Tom Steyer, Norman Lear and Jane Fonda in supporting Gillum’s candidacy.
Sanders and Gillum are scheduled to appear at an 11 a.m. Friday rally at the hipsterish Armature Works in Tampa, then attend a 3 p.m. rally at the CFE Arena on the campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Philip Levine stopped by an early voting site west of Delray Beach this morning and told supporters that Florida is “the last line of defense for Democrats against Donald Trump and against his little Mini-Me, Ron DeSantis.”
The former Miami Beach mayor visited the Hagen Ranch Road Library as part of a statewide swing that was to include stops at early voting sights in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville.
With turnout usually low for the August primaries and five Democrats vying for the gubernatorial nomination, Levine played the Trump card to try to energize voters. His attack on DeSantis reflects the widespread expectation among Democrats that the Trump-endorsed Republican will win the GOP nomination over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
“This is how we’re going to change the state. This is how we’re going to change the country,” Levine said to about 20 supporters. “And what you guys are doing here today, you’re at the front lines. Because this is the last line of defense for Democrats against Donald Trump and against his little Mini-Me, Ron DeSantis. So this is it. You being out here is so important for everything we need to get done – stop offshore oil drilling, make sure we have health care for everybody, raise the minimum living wage, pay our teachers a fair, nationally competitive salary…”
While Trump’s support of DeSantis has reshaped the GOP primary, Levine said Trump will also be a significant factor in the Democratic primary.
“It’s a huge issue because for people that want to fight climate change, for people that want health care for everybody, for people that want to pay their teachers more, for people that want safe gun laws in the state of Florida, they realize that Donald Trump and his little Mini-Me, Radical Ron, they are against all those things for the state of Florida,” Levine said in an interview.
“Which means that the Democratic nominee is going to be fighting against the white House. And the key is, who is best equipped, who has the most experience to fight back against Donald Trump. And I believe I am that person,” Levine said.
The number of voters registered with minor parties or with no party affiliation in Florida has increased 4.2 percent since the 2016 presidential election while Democratic registrations are down slightly and Republican registrations have increased slightly, according to new statistics from the Florida Division of Elections.
There were 12.8 million voters registered to vote in Florida for the 2016 general election. There are just over 13 million registered for Florida’s Aug. 28 primary elections — an increase of 1.2 percent. The new figures were released after registration closed on July 30 for the Aug. 28 elections.
The overall gain of 149,884 voters in Florida includes an increase of 144,377 voters registering with no party affiliation or with minor parties. There were 3.44 million of those voters in 2016 and there are 3.58 million of them now.
The number of Democratic voters has decreased by 38,315 or 0.8 percent since 2016 — from 4.88 million to 4.84 million.
The number of Republican voters has increased by 43,822 or nearly 1 percent since 2016 — from 4.55 million to 4.59 million.
As a share of overall voters in Florida, Democrats have dropped from 37.9 percent in 2016 to 37.2 percent now. Republicans have decreased from 35.4 percent to 35.3 percent. No-party and minor-party voters have increased from 26.7 percent in 2016 to 27.5 percent now.