Ron DeSantis, Ben Carson and a Roger Stone sighting at Palm Beach County GOP Lobsterfest

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and Brian mast and HUD Secretary Ben Carson pose for photos with attendees at the Palm Beach County GOP’s Lobsterfest dinner in Boca Raton. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Palm Beach Gardens resident Ben Carson got the top billing at the Palm Beach County GOP’s annual Lobsterfest on Thursday night, but there was also plenty of buzz for Ron DeSantisthe gubernatorial candidate backed by President Donald Trump — and for longtime Trump friend Roger Stone.

Roger Stone arrives at the Palm Beach County GOP Lobsterfest on Thursday. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Both DeSantis and his rival in the Aug. 28 Republican primary, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, were scheduled to attend the 450-attendee dinner at the Polo Club. But Putnam got tied up at a previously scheduled meeting in Miami and couldn’t get to the Palm Beach County event on time, Putnam spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said.

So DeSantis, accompanied by wife Casey and 4-month-old son Mason, had the crowd of party activists and donors to himself.

While a line formed to get pictures with DeSantis, Carson and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, in a VIP reception area, Stone arrived in a seersucker suit and generated his own crowd in the lobby.

Longtime Trump friend Stone’s name has frequently been mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation of potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I know that there is no evidence of Russian collusion, Wikileaks collaboration or anything pertaining to John Podesta’s devastatingly incriminating emails and me,” Stone said. “It’s not inconceivable that the special counsel could conjure up some other bogus offense in an attempt to get me to testify against the president, who I’ve known for 40 years. I’m not going to do that.”

After being interrupted by several people asking to get pictures with him, Stone added: “I wouldn’t rule out cooperating with him on some other basis if I can be helpful, but I will never testify against the president.”

Stone said there’s nothing for him to testify against Trump about “that I know of, but they may think otherwise.”

Ron DeSantis talks to reporters while holding son Mason. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

DeSantis has rocketed to the top of GOP polls since Trump tweeted his “full endorsement” in late June. The president also flew to Tampa last week to appear with DeSantis at a rally.

Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee member Steven Ledewitz of Boynton Beach, a Putnam supporter, said he’s seen a decided swing among local Republicans to DeSantis since Trump’s endorsement.

“It’s certainly helped Congressman DeSantis quite a bit,” said Ledewitz. “And he (Trump) is technically the leader of the party, so he’s got a right to do that. I wish he hadn’t, but he did.”

DeSantis said Trump’s June 22 endorsement helped his campaign, but he also pointed to a Fox News debate a week later and other factors.

“It’s a positive impact, but he had tweeted for me in December and then did another tweet, but ultimately you’ve got to bring it home,” DeSantis said. “We had a debate in late June, I finally started spending money after getting $12 million dumped on me. I think it was a combination of the tweet, the debate and then the fact that we started being on TV.”

DeSantis crowed about his polling numbers in the race for the Republican nomination.

“I am kicking his keister in South Florida…I will win Palm Beach, Broward and Dade with significant margins” in the GOP primary, DeSantis said.

Carson, who told the partisan crowd he was appearing “as a private citizen with concerns about what’s going on in our country,” discussed the vehement opposition to Trump on the left.

“I don’t think it’s President Trump himself that the left is concerned about, it’s what he represents that they’re concerned about. He represents America. He represents the true values of the things that made us into a great nation and that’s what they don’t like,” Carson said.

“Why is there a Trump derangement syndrome going on? Why are there so many people that are just mad, irrationally mad?” Carson said. “Actually, it’s kind of logical if you stop and think about it. They have been attempting to fundamentally change America for decades. Now when I say ‘they,’ I’m talking about the Fabians, the socialists, the communists, the liberals – now they call themselves progressives. As soon as you figure out who they are they change their name, but they’re the same people. And they don’t like what this country represents. And they want to change it to their ideal, which is a government that takes care of you from cradle to grave, takes care of all your problems, but you give them all the power and they are the all-knowing. The problem is that system, wherever it has been tried, has failed.”




What your member of Congress says about immigrant family separations

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, at a news conference today denouncing the government’s separation of minors from adults accused of trying to enter the U.S. illegally. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

The decision by President Donald Trump‘s administration to separate minors from adults accused of trying to enter the U.S. illegally has generated controversy.

Here’s a look at what Florida’s two U.S. senators and the four members of Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation are saying about it — as well as a statement from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who’s running for Senate this year.


Sen. Bill Nelson (D): (From a June 7 letter Nelson and 39 other Senate Democrats sent to Trump) “Your decision to separate children from their parents at the border is cruel, unnecessary, ineffective, and goes against our values as Americans. There is no legitimate reason why these children need to be separated from their parents. … We ask that your Administration rescind this unethical, ineffective, and inhumane policy and instead prioritize approaches that align with our humanitarian American values.”


Sen. Marco Rubio (R): “The current situation at the border is the result of a choice between the only two options current law and federal court mandates allow: The Obama administration approach of releasing adults who illegally entered with children, which turned our border into a magnet for illegal immigration and traffickers looking to exploit vulnerable migrants; and the current approach of detaining parents, which divides families – something everyone says they want to avoid. Neither is an acceptable approach. Therefore, Congress must act to legally allow families to be held together pending their hearing, and to provide funding for the creation of family facilities and for expediting the process of adjudicating illegal entry and asylum. While this third option is not perfect, it is far better than incentivizing future illegal immigration or separating children from their parents.”


Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City:  “It is our duty as an American government to deal compassionately with any child from any nation just as it is the responsibility of foreign families seeking asylum in the U.S. to choose only legal means to enter our nation so they can avoid family disruption. I am confident this process will be improved.”


Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach: “Let’s be clear: the child-separation policy comes directly from President Donald John Trump’s Administration. No matter how he tries to cast blame on others, he started this immoral policy, and he can end it himself. I’ll never understand why Donald Trump looks at a tired, hungry, and frightened child and sees an enemy of the state. But in doubling down on this indefensible policy, the President continues to inflict immeasurable trauma on thousands of children and families. He has really outdone himself this time and unfortunately our entire country will suffer the consequences of this shameful episode for years to come.”


Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach: (From a news conference this morning) “We are outraged…There is a horrific crisis on our border, thousands of migrants seeking asylum from violence, looking to save their children — looking to save their children — coming to America. We’ve seen a lot of ruthless, dangerous actions by the Trump Administration, but this is as bad as it gets. I call it government-inflicted child abuse. The government is cruelly ripping children from the arms of their mothers and fathers who are fleeing violence and horrible conditions.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, in 2016.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton:  “Hundreds of people have called my office to demand that the inhumane policy of forced separation of parents and children at our border come to an end. I share that outrage, and I agree–this policy must end…And I won’t stop speaking out until this Administration stops ripping kids away from their parents…A nation that is committed to moral integrity doesn’t place children—alone—in detainment centers that are described as jails. A nation that is committed to family values doesn’t go out of its way to rip children from the arms of their parents.”


Gov. Rick Scott (R), candidate for U.S. Senate: “What the country is witnessing right now is the byproduct of the many years of bi-partisan inaction and failure from our federal government. They have failed to secure our borders, which has resulted in this chaos. Let me be clear – I do not favor separating families. Washington is to blame for this by being all talk and no action, and the solution is to secure the border. Anyone seeking to enter our country illegally needs to be sent back, with the exception of those who are truly seeking asylum from an oppressive regime.”


Dave Aronberg, courted by Dems for U.S. House seat, weighs in on Dem primary


Democratic congressional candidate Lauren Baer picks up an endorsement from Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who has been courted in the past by national Democrats to run for Congress, is endorsing Lauren Baer in the Democratic primary for a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast U.S. House seat.

Baer, a former foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration, is running against attorney and Navy veteran Pam Keith in the Aug. 28 primary in District 18, the seat held by freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.

“Our community is facing many challenges. From the opioid epidemic to threats to our environment, we need a representative in Washington who will seek common sense solutions — and actually accomplish them. I am proud to endorse Lauren Baer, who has the experience of bringing people together in these divisive political times,” said Aronberg in a statement released by Baer’s campaign.

Some Democrats tried to woo Aronberg to run for Congress in 2010 against U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, when he held a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also approached Aronberg about being a 2016 candidate and again last year about running in 2018.

Aronberg’s support is the latest in a shock-and-awe endorsement campaign by Baer. She has previously announced the backing of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, current Democratic U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch and a variety of other elected officials. In addition to Aronberg, the Baer campaign today rolled out endorsements from Democratic state Sen. Lori Berman, state Rep. David Silvers, St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky, Palm Beach Gardens Councilwoman Rachelle Litt, former Gardens Mayor Eric Jablin, Treasure Coast Black Chamber Founder and President Chauncelor Howell, Puerto Rican Association for Hispanic Affairs President Robert Roldan and Vice President Jacquelene Burke.

Mast, a decorated Army combat vet who was mentioned as a potential nominee to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, faces two GOP primary challengers: physician Mark Freeman and businessman Dave Cummings.

U.S. fulfills Trump Jerusalem embassy pledge; Florida Republicans jubilant, Dems restrained

Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted this picture of himself with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called the opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem “a great day for Florida, Israel and the United States.”

The U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and formally opened its embassy there today — fulfilling a campaign pledge of President Donald Trump and a stated goal of many politicians in both parties.

“Big day for Israel. Congratulations!” Trump tweeted this morning.

“Today is truly a historic day for America’s unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel,” said Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “…The unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital comes after presidents in both parties stalled our embassy’s rightful relocation to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. So I truly appreciate the Trump Administration for implementing U.S. law and finally moving our embassy.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who’s in Jerusalem for the occasion, tweeted a picture of himself with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and declared himself “Proud to join @netanyahu to celebrate the U.S. Embassy being moved to Jerusalem, where it belongs. Today is a great day for Florida, Israel and the United States. FL will continue to stand with Israel.”

Republican Scott is running for U.S. Senate against three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who also tweeted his support for the embassy move — while adding that problems remain in the Middle East.

“Big day for Israel,” President Donald Trump said of the embassy opening. Here’s Charlton Heston depicting another big day for Israel from the 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments.”

“Today we celebrate the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to its appropriate place in Jerusalem. But the hard work of helping bring about a secure and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians must go on,” Nelson said.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, also tempered her expression of support for the move.

“Opening the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, symbolizes the enduring friendship between our nations,” said Frankel in a statement released by her office. “While I join Americans and Israelis in celebrating, I remain disappointed by the absence of a serious commitment to the two-state solution. Divorced from a broader peace process, relocation risks more violence between Israelis and Palestinians. I urge the Administration to put forward a plan with the goal of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, a U.S. Army combat veteran who once volunteered with the Israeli Defense Forces, said the U.S. is “finally recognizing the truth by moving our embassy to the center of freedom in the Middle East and the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. I chose to volunteer alongside the IDF in Israel after serving in the Army because the United States and Israel share the common values of freedom and democracy. The Hamas-led terrorism erupting around the Middle East reaffirms that those who oppose Israel’s sovereignty are fueled by a murderous and hate-driven ideology in stark opposition to these values. Today’s move sends the clear message that the United States will support our allies and won’t tolerate affronts to human dignity.”

No congressional Democrats attended the ceremony in Jerusalem. But U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, said he would have gone.

“While I wasn’t there today, I would have loved to have participated in this historic and moving embassy dedication. Despite reaching out to the Administration, I was not invited to be a part of the official American delegation, but I look forward to visiting our embassy in Jerusalem next month,” Deutch said.


Mast for VA secretary? House seat would become prime Dem pickup opportunity

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, at a town hall meeting in Stuart last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

If President Donald Trump taps freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mast’s already contested Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional seat would become a top pickup opportunity for Democrats.

If decorated combat veteran Mast leaves office, two Republicans would be left to contend for the 2018 nomination to represent the District 18 seat: physician Mark Freeman and businessman Dave Cummings. The deadline for congressional candidates to qualify for the 2018 ballot passed last week.

Two Democrats are running for Mast’s District 18 seat: Lauren Baer, a former Obama administration foreign policy adviser, and Pam Keith, a Navy veteran and attorney.

The Washington Democratic establishment has anointed Baer as its choice to topple Mast. She raised more than $1 million through March with fundraising help from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and has campaigned with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. Keith, who got a surprisingly strong 15.4 percent in a 2016 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, is touting her grassroots support in the District 18 Democratic primary.

Republican Freeman spent $1.6 million of his own money to finish third in a six-candidate GOP primary for the District 18 seat in 2016. He opened a 2018 campaign last month with an introductory video urging Americans to dedicate “ourselves anew to the ascendant glory of American preordination, by which the world will ever be atoned.”

Who will get a free ride to re-election at noon today?

U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

As Florida’s candidate qualifying period for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and judicial offices nears today’s noon deadline, several sitting judges — and perhaps a member of Congress or two — are hoping to win re-election without opposition.

As of Thursday night, no candidate had submitted paperwork and paid the $10,440 filing fee to challenge U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach. Republican Derek Schwartz opened a campaign for Frankel’s District 21 seat in February, but hadn’t met the criteria to get on the ballot as of Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, has so far drawn only a write-in opponent.

In Tampa, two Democrats and a Republican opened campaigns for the seat of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, but as of this morning she’s the only candidate to have  qualified for the ballot.

Incumbent judges rarely face challenges in Palm Beach County and, as of late Thursday, the six circuit judges up for re-election were unopposed.

At least two of Palm Beach County’s congressional districts will be busy.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, has drawn two Republican primary challengers, Mark Freeman and Dave Cummings. Two Democrats — Lauren Baer and Pam Keith — have also filed for Mast’s Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 seat.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, drew a Democratic primary challenge Thursday when Jay Fandl qualified for the ballot in Palm Beach-Broward District 22. Hillary Clinton won District 22 by 16 points in 2016, but that hasn’t deterred four Republicans — Nicolas Kimaz, Javier Manjarres, Paul Spain and Eddison Walters — from qualifying to run there.

While Florida’s qualifying period for federal candidates ends at noon today, candidates for state and local offices have a June 18-22 qualifying period.


‘The most patriotic speech in all of American history?’ asks Mast GOP challenger

Republican congressional candidate Mark Freeman in his campaign video.

Mark Freeman, a physician who spent $1.6 million of his own money on a losing 2016 GOP primary bid in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast U.S. House District 18, is making another try for the seat against fellow Republican Rep. Brian Mast.

Freeman filed candidate papers with the Federal Election Commission last month and launched a campaign website last week that, so far, consists mainly of an eight-minute video of Freeman speaking.

“The most patriotic speech in all of American history? You be the judge,” says a message on Freeman’s website encouraging visitors to watch his video.

“When darkness casts its many shadows pent upon our civil land divided, let blood for blood defend these principles,” begins Freeman in an oration that touches on America’s founding principles and makes no allusion to Mast or Freeman’s campaign.

“We the American people affirm to all peoples that America must be first among the nations so that the nations shall be led in justice…We must now dedicate ourselves anew to the ascendant glory of American preordination, by which the world will ever be atoned,” Freeman says in the video.

In 2016, Freeman finished third in a six-candidate GOP primary for the District 18 nomination, garnering 15.8 percent of the vote. Mast won the primary with 38 percent and went on to win the general election.

Mast has angered some Second Amendment advocates by calling for a ban on “assault weapons” in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Gold Star mother Karen Vaughn considered challenging Mast in the primary but decided against.

Democrats Lauren Baer and Pam Keith have opened campaigns for the District 18 seat.

GOP’s Brian Mast has $1.5 million to defend congressional seat; how that compares to predecessors

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

With two Democrats and possibly a Republican primary challenger eyeing his Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional seat, freshman U.S.  Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, raised $887,637 during the first three months of 2018 and began April with $1.5 million in cash on hand — a solid figure but not as much as some past District 18 candidates at similar phases of their campaigns.

In 2014, the last time an incumbent defended the District 18 seat, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy ended the first quarter with $2.2 million in the bank. He went on to easily win re-election over Republican Carl Domino.

In 2012, shortly after District 18 was created by the decennial redistricting, Republican Rep. Allen West had $3.3 million in cash on hand at the end of the first quarter and Democratic challenger Murphy — who went on to win the seat that November — had $1 million.

For 2018, Democrats Lauren Baer and Pam Keith have opened District 18 campaigns. And Gold Star mother Karen Vaughn said last week she’s considering a GOP primary challenge to Mast. Vaughn is expected to announce her decision this week.

Democrat Baer announced last week that she had raised more than $450,000 during the first quarter. She didn’t announce a cash-on-hand figure.

Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports for the first quarter aren’t due until Sunday, but candidates often release select figures ahead of time.

Rep. Lois Frankel endorses Lauren Baer in Dem congressional primary

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel (left) is endorsing Lauren Baer in a Democratic congressional primary.

Lauren Baer has picked up the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, in her bid for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, in a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional district.

Baer, a former Obama administration foreign policy adviser, is running against U.S. Navy veteran and attorney Pam Keith in the District 18 Democratic primary.

“Lauren was raised in FL-18 and understands firsthand the challenges facing the district and our country,” said Frankel. “Her passion, experience, and deep roots in our community set her apart and will make her a great Representative for the district. From day one, Lauren will work hard every day to find meaningful solutions. I am proud to stand with Lauren and look forward to serving together in Congress”


Rival Democrats Pam Keith, Lauren Baer spar over clip in campaign video

Democrat Pam Keith’s congressional District 18 primary foe, Lauren Baer, appears briefly in a new Keith campaign video.

Democrat Lauren Baer‘s congressional campaign isn’t pleased that Baer shows up briefly in a new campaign video by her Democratic primary rival, Pam Keith.

Keith’s campaign says the concern over the video suggests Baer might not be ready for the rough-and-tumble of a general election in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18, where Baer and Keith are vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City.

The two Democrats spoke at a Jan. 28 “Progressive Pep Rally” in Stuart sponsored by the anti-Donald Trump group Indivisibles. Keith came to the event with a professional videographers, who shot footage and put together a two-minute video that mixes interviews and speech excerpts with music and a montage of slow-motion crowd shots.

Baer appears for about one second in one of the clips, seated and expressionless while others around her applaud.

“No one informed Lauren Baer for Congress that a political advertisement for Pam Keith was being shot nor was Lauren Baer asked for her consent to participate,” said Baer campaign manager Rebecca Lipson. “To our knowledge, none of the attendees were informed or asked for their consent either. From my understanding, when filming an advertisement of any kind, people should be notified and consent provided to have their image used.”

The Baer campaign response was “unfortunate,” said Keith campaign manager Rummi Khan.

“The response to Pam’s video, filmed at a public event, has been tremendous. This 100 percent positive video focuses on the passionate leadership of Pam Keith, and her incredible ability to connect with voters throughout the 18th Congressional District,” Khan said. “The response of Lauren Baer’s campaign is unfortunate. If Lauren can’t handle a positive video showing progressive values, how on Earth would she handle the negative ads from Washington Republicans this fall? Pam Keith is a proud progressive who is not afraid to take on Brian Mast and Donald Trump.”