Florida could set vote-by-mail record this election

Top row: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum (left) and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis. Bottom row: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (left) and Republican Gov. Rick Scott. (Photos by George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

With national attention focused on the Florida governor’s race between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis and the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, more than 2.7 million Florida voters have already requested mail-in ballots for the Nov. 6 general election.

That exceeds the total for the last midterm election in 2014 and threatens to eclipse the 3.3 million ballots mailed out for the 2016 presidential election. Mail-in ballot requests can be an indicator of voter enthusiasm — or of voters switching from in-person voting to the convenience of casting a ballot from home.

As of this morning’s update from the Florida Division of Elections, Democrats have a slight edge over Republicans in ballot requests — 1.132 million to 1.064 million. About 550,000 requests have come from voters with no party affiliation or who belong to minor parties. Republicans, however, have been more likely than Democrats to return their mail ballots.

In 2016, the GOP had an 85 percent return rate on mail ballots while the Democratic rate was 80 percent. In 2014 midterms, 78 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats returned their mail ballots.

Some of those who didn’t return their mail-in ballots voted by other means — at in-person early voting sites or at a precinct on the traditional election day.

Trump to visit Orlando; which Republicans will be there?

President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott at the Broward Sheriff’s Office in February a few days after the Parkland massacre. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

President Donald Trump will visit Orlando on Monday to speak to the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Wednesday.

It’s an official trip rather than one of Trump’s signature campaign rallies.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has kept his distance from the president since launching his campaign for U.S. Senate, plans to attend the chiefs gathering, also in an official capacity rather than as a candidate.

Republican nominee for governor Ron DeSantis, whose endorsement by Trump was crucial to his GOP primary win, does not plan to attend.

“The event on Monday is an official event, not a political event,” said DeSantis campaign communications director Stephen Lawson. “But this won’t be the last time the plane comes down to Florida.”

At the police convention, Sanders said Trump plans to “speak about the work of the administration to protect American communities by restoring law and order, supporting local law enforcement, and securing the border.”

Trump’s last Florida appearance was a July 31 rally in Tampa in which he promoted DeSantis four weeks before the GOP primary. Scott did not attend the rally, but appeared with the president earlier in the day at a non-political event at a vocational high school.


Koch network steps up help for DeSantis against Soros- and Steyer-backed Gillum

Republican Ron DeSantis at his campaign launch in Boca Raton in January. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

With liberal billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer supplying at least $2.5 million so far to help Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, a group linked to the conservative Koch network is stepping up its assistance to Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.

Check out the latest Inside Florida Politics podcast here…

Concerned Veterans for America Action mailer for Ron DeSantis.

The Koch-affiliated Concerned Veterans for America Action says it will spend at least $100,000 on mailers supporting DeSantis.

Another Koch network group, Freedom Partners Action Fund, formed a Florida committee in July and spent $323,415 on digital ads and mailers to boost DeSantis in his GOP primary against Adam Putnam.

Libertarian-leaning Charles and David Koch have often clashed on trade and other issues with DeSantis’ biggest backer, President Donald Trump, who tweeted in July that “the globalist Koch Brothers” are a “total joke” and “overrated.” David Koch stepped down this year from Koch Industries and political activities, citing health reasons.

Hedge fund billionaire Soros has given $1.2 million to Gillum’s Forward Florida PAC. Steyer’s NextGen America spent at least $1.3 million to help Gillum before the Aug. 28 Democratic primary.

The CVAA mailers will highlight DeSantis’ service as a Navy attorney advising forces during the 2007 U.S. “surge” in Iraq and his support in Congress for reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs. CVAA is supported by the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners.

CVAA made independent expenditures in 2016 on behalf Republican Sens. Marco Rubio ($90,155) and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania ($139,447) and losing GOP Senate candidate Joe Heck of Nevada ($158,482), according to data compiled by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

This year, CVAA is also involved in efforts to unseat Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in Montana.



Hillary Clinton to campaign with Andrew Gillum in South Florida

Hillary Clinton at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

After courting liberals in the primary by campaigning with progressive icon Bernie Sanders, Florida Democratic governor nominee Andrew Gillum is reaching out to the party’s establishment wing and bringing in Hillary Clinton for a rally somewhere in deep-blue South Florida on Oct. 23, the Gillum campaign announced today.

Check out the brand-spanking-new Inside Florida Politics podcast here…

It will be the sixth consecutive Florida governor’s race in which a Clinton has campaigned for the Democratic nominee. Former President Bill Clinton stumped in the Sunshine State for every Democratic gubernatorial nominee from 1998 to 2014, but the #MeToo movement has put a 2018 Bill Clinton visit in question.

Hillary Clinton lost Florida to Donald Trump in 2016 with 47.8 percent of the vote — a 2.2 percent drop-off from former President Barack Obama‘s winning margin in the state four years earlier. But Clinton racked up big margins in heavily Democratic Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Turning out Democrats in those counties will be a key for Gillum against Republican Ron DeSantis.

“I’m honored to have Secretary Clinton join me in Florida next month,” said Gillum, who backed Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries and spoke at the Democratic National Convention that year. “Hillary knows just what’s at stake in this election — affordable healthcare, a brighter future for our children — and that the choice in this election could not be clearer.”

Republicans sought to exploit the split within the Democratic Party between Clinton loyalists and backers of Sanders, whose endorsement of Gillum was a key to his Aug. 28 primary win.

“Clinton’s sudden re-emergence and fundraising tour will do far more to hurt Gillum’s cause than help it,” said RNC spokeswoman Taryn Fenske. “Gillum’s socialist base isn’t going to like him aligning with Clinton who is tainted by decades of controversy and failed policies. Floridians rejected Hillary in 2016 – he better watch out or he’ll alienate his far-left base.”

Gillum is trying to become Florida’s first black governor. He’s also trying to be the first Democrat to win a Florida governor’s race since Lawton Chiles barely won re-election in 1994 over Republican challenger Jeb Bush.

Four years later, Bush began a 20-year winning streak for the GOP by winning election in 1998 and re-election in 2002. Charlie Crist, now a Democratic congressman from St. Petersburg, won the governorship as a Republican in 2006. Republican Rick Scott was elected in 2010 and re-elected — over Crist — in 2014.

The Democrats who lost those races presented themselves more or less as moderates, but Gillum staked out a variety of liberal positions and urged the party’s voters to try something new this year.

“We have nominated five pretty centrist Democrats, white Democrats, for the last 20 years and not one of them have won,” Gillum said in an August interview with the GateHouse Media. Gillum added: “Black voters, brown voters, young voters, poor voters — I trust my chances at being able to reach those constituencies over anybody else running, and if we’re going to win, our nominee must move more of those voters to the polls.”

In a five-candidate Democratic primary, the endorsement from Sanders helped Gillum get a 34.4 plurality to claim the nomination.

Ron DeSantis brings in Susie Wiles, a key figure in Trump’s 2016 Florida win

Susie Wiles, new campaign chairwoman for Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis.

With multiple polls showing him trailing Democrat Andrew Gillum in the Florida governor’s race, Republican Ron DeSantis has brought on veteran Florida operative Susie Wiles to lead his campaign with the title of campaign chairwoman.

It’s not the first time a high-profile Florida campaign has turned to Wiles for help in September of an election year. Wiles was chief Florida strategist for Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign, taking the role shortly after Labor Day that year and helping Trump win the crucial Sunshine State by 1.2 percent over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

She was also Rick Scott‘s campaign manager in 2010 when then-outsider Scott bucked the GOP establishment to defeat Attorney General Bill McCollum for the gubernatorial nomination, then won the general election over Democrat Alex Sink.

Wiles, who lives in Jacksonville, said she will be taking temporary leave from her job as a lobbyist with the powerhouse Florida-Washington Ballard Partners firm.

Brad Herold will remain as DeSantis’ campaign manager.

Since the Aug. 28 primaries, at least eight public polls have shown Gillum leading. The Democrat’s edge is within or close to the margins of error for each poll, though a Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday gives Gillum a 9-point advantage. Republican insiders concede Gillum has a slight edge in his bid to become the state’s first black governor and first Democrat to win a governor’s race since 1994.

“I’m excited to have Susie join our team as Campaign Chairman. She has the knowledge, expertise and acumen to carry our message to voters all across Florida. With her winning record, Susie is the ideal person to lead our campaign efforts and help us secure a big victory come November,” said DeSantis.

“Florida’s future depends on building upon the successes of our state’s outstanding Republican leadership. Ron DeSantis is the only candidate who will lead Florida forward and help our state and its people realize their full potential. With so much at stake for our state in this election, I am honored to lead his campaign team, and look forward to working with Floridians everywhere to elect Ron as our next governor,” said Wiles.

Democratic trend in Florida? Two new polls show Gillum, Nelson ahead

Democratic governor nominee Andrew Gillum (left) and Sen. Bill Nelson lead their respective races in new Florida polls that differ on the size of their leads. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Two polls released this week show Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic governor nominee Andrew Gillum leading their nationally watched Florida races.

An NBC/Marist poll released late Tuesday shows the Democrats holding narrow leads in both races while results released by Quinnipiac University show a 7-point advantage for Nelson over Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race and a 9-point lead for Gillum over Republican Ron DeSantis in the governor’s race.

The NBC/Marist poll, conducted Sept. 16-20 with a 4.7 percent margin of error, gives Nelson a 48-to-45 percent lead over Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race and shows Gillum holding a 48-to-43 percent lead over Republican Ron DeSantis in the governor’s race.

Quinnipiac released Senate results Tuesday showing Nelson with a 53-to-46 percent lead over Scott — a result out of line with other polls released in the last month and deemed “absurd and not even close to accurate” by Scott pollster Wes Anderson.

Quinnipiac today released more results of its Sept. 20-24 survey, this time showing Gillum opening up a 54-to-45 percent lead over DeSantis in the governor’s race. The Quinnipiac surveys, conducted Sept. 20-24, have a 4 percent margin of error.

The polls also paint different pictures of Florida voter attitudes toward President Donald Trump. In the NBC/Marist poll, 46 percent of likely voters approve of Trump’s job performance and 48 percent disapprove — essentially a tie given the poll’s margin of error. Quinnipiac, however, found 44 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval for Trump among likely Florida voters.

Did Ron DeSantis tell uninsured cancer patients to ‘show up at the emergency room’?

Florida’s candidates for governor: Democrat Andrew Gillum (left) and Republican Ron DeSantis.

A new Florida Democratic Party ad for Andrew Gillum‘s gubernatorial bid hammers Republican Ron DeSantis on health care, noting he opposed Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid in Florida.

The ad’s narrator also says: “And when he was asked what cancer patients should do without health insurance, DeSantis said: ‘Show up at the emergency room.’ How can DeSantis lead Florida when he leaves Floridians behind?”

Check out the latest Inside Florida Politics podcast…

The “show up at the emergency room” quote was extracted from a March 2017 interview of DeSantis by CNN’s Erin Burnett after CNN aired a segment about a Republican Wisconsin woman, Tiffany Koehlerwho relied on Medicaid to receive cancer treatments.

Are Democrats fairly characterizing what DeSantis said?

“Ron DeSantis fully supports covering pre-existing conditions,” said DeSantis campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson. He added: “Andrew Gillum’s attacks are a desperate attempt to distract from his disastrous single-payer healthcare proposal which would cost $33 trillion dollars and take away every Floridian’s current insurance coverage.”

To see DeSantis’ “emergency room” comment in its full context, here’s the relevant portion of CNN’s transcript of the DeSantis interview. 

BURNETT: What do you say to Tiffany? I mean, she’s a Republican, but, you know, she wouldn’t be alive, she wouldn’t be here without that Medicaid expansion and Obamacare.

DESANTIS: Well, if you remember when Obamacare was enacted, there were millions of people who had their healthcare canceled. And so there are stories of people who had certain needs, cancer or whatnot who got pushed into policies that they didn’t want, and then they didn’t have the same coverage that they had because of the broken promise. So I think this law has really created a lot of different aspects.

I would say though, and people who supported Obamacare used to make this point a lot before it passed, there really is no lack of healthcare. If people really need it, if they show up at the emergency room, they do get care, it just gets passed on

BURNETT: But not — I mean, she had $1 million in cancer treatments. You’re not going to get that by showing up in an emergency room.

DESANTIS: Well, I would say this. The bottom line with Obamacare is, a lot of the folks who were qualifying on the policies on the exchanges, more people are leaving, insurers are leaving. So that’s just not a sustainable system. You’re not going to have that going on two, three, four years into the future if nothing is done. And so that’s just the reality that we’re dealing with here with this system.

BURNETT: So when — I spoke to an expert from Standard & Poor’s yesterday, and his view was the GOP would mean 6 to 10 million people on Medicaid would lose coverage under the GOP plan because of what it would do the Medicaid expansion. When you say you wanted to go further, which I know you have said in your statement. What do you mean? You want to get rid of it altogether? What is your view of what should happen?

DESANTIS: Well, so, for example, we said we were going to repeal Obamacare. We did do a bill in January that President Obama vetoed. This bill though, for some reason, even after it were to be signed into law, actually allows more able-bodied people to sign up for Medicare for several years into the future. I think Medicaid should be focused on folks who are truly needy, poor kids, people with disabilities, seniors. I don’t think it’s a really good option for able-bodied people who are able to work and get insurance elsewhere. And what happens is, fewer and fewer physicians will even accept Medicaid, so it’s harder to get access to actual care because —

BURNETT: But what about someone again — like someone Tiffany, right? She loses her job, he’s able-bodied, but if it weren’t for Medicaid, you know, she wouldn’t have had the coverage when it turned out she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

DESANTIS: Well, I mean, I was not aware this was going to be on, so I don’t know enough about her situation, I apologize. I heard part of her story. But I would say, at the end of the day, we want to make sure that Medicaid is given block grant to the states so that the government can experiment with ways to actually get people the care that they need. And I think that we’re finding out that just having a Medicaid card is not necessarily leading to good care for a lot of those folks, both who were originally on the program and then now, obviously, with some of the able-bodied folks who have gotten on. Experiment with ways to actually get people the care that they need. And I think that we’re finding out that just having a Medicaid card is not necessarily leading to good care for a lot of those folks, both who were originally on the program and now, obviously, with some of the able-bodied folks who have gotten on.


New Florida poll: Gillum edging DeSantis; Nelson and Scott tied

Top: Senate candidates Rick Scott (R) and Bill Nelson (D). Bottom: governor candidates Andrew Gillum (D) and Ron DeSantis (R).

The University of North Florida finds tight races for Florida governor and U.S. Senate in a new poll.

In a Sept. 17-20 survey with a 4 percent margin of error, UNF’s Public Opinion Research Lab finds Democrat Andrew Gillum leading Republican Ron DeSantis by a 47-to-43 percent margin in the governor’s race and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a flat-out tie in the Senate race with 45 percent each. The results are consistent with several other public polls in recent weeks.

Can we believe general election polls after the primary polls were so wrong? The Inside Florida Politics crew discusses that question in the latest podcast…

The UNF poll also finds 71 percent support for a Florida constitutional amendment on the November ballot to restore voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded. Constitutional amendments require 60 percent voter support for approval.

Says UNF’s Michael Binder in a release accompanying the new poll: “It’s still early in the election season and even though Gillum has a small lead, a lot can happen in the next six weeks. Nelson and Scott are currently tied, but one bit of hope for Nelson is that more Democrats are unsure who they will vote for and partisans will come home in November. With polling numbers this close, the candidates that are most successful getting their voters to the polls are the ones who are going to win. Historically, Florida has had very close statewide elections, and this year is shaping up to be no different.”

DeSantis camp blasts donor’s N-word tweet; won’t return past contributions

Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump at a Tampa rally on July 31. (Zac Anderson/The Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Republican Ron DeSantis‘s campaign for Florida governor has condemned a campaign donor’s recent tweet that called former President Barack Obama the N-word and pledged not to accept any more contributions from the donor.

But DeSantis is rejecting calls from Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo and others to return at least $4,000 in past contributions from Boca Raton communications executive Steven Alembik and his business.

Check out the latest Inside Florida Politics podcast here…

Alembik’s SMA Communications gave $2,000 to the DeSantis campaign in July and $2,000 to a pro-DeSantis PAC in January. Alembik also gave $2,500 in 2017 to the Fund For Florida’s Future, which is not officially connected to DeSantis but gave $2.5 million to the DeSantis PAC early this year.

“That money was donated before the primary and has been spent. He (Alembik) said something last week and we are not taking any more money,” said DeSantis campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson.

“We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: We adamantly denounce this sort of disgusting rhetoric,” Lawson said of Alembik’s tweet, which has been deleted.

Alembik told Politico, which first reported the story, that he is “absolutely not” a racist and had tweeted about Obama in anger.

Reached Friday, Alembik declined comment but had his company’s vice president of operations, Bianca J. Hennings, call The Palm Beach Post.

“I would never work for or work with a racist. This man stands for integrity,” Hennings said.

Alembik made news last year after President Donald Trump drew fire for initially blaming “many sides” for the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. When a wave of nonprofits responded by cancelling plans to host events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Alembik booked an event there for his organization, The Truth About Israel. He had DeSantis speak at its February event.

Alembik told The Palm Beach Post last year: “I’m reading about these groups pulling out of Mar-a-Lago and I’m thinking, ‘This is ridiculous. Somebody needs to take a stand here and do something. My president is my president. I like what he stands for. With him as president, I don’t have to worry. He’s got Israel’s back.”

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Rizzo, who also chairs the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, called Thursday for DeSantis to return past Alembik contributions.

“Ron DeSantis’ campaign is funded by bigots — and he apparently has no problem with it. Since day one, DeSantis has run a divisive, toxic campaign, and it’s only getting worse with each passing day. If DeSantis doesn’t return the money from Steven Alembik immediately, he owns this,” Rizzo said.


DeSantis fundraising perks up after early Gillum money surge

Democrat Andrew Gillum (left) has an early money edge over Republican Ron DeSantis in the Florida governor’s race.

After getting blown out by Democrat Andrew Gillum in fundraising immediately after Aug. 28 primaries, Republican Ron DeSantis edged Gillum in money collected for the Florida governor’s race during the first week of September.

And a DeSantis PAC has snagged more than $2 million since the last Florida Division of Elections reporting deadline, including a $1.5 million check from Palm Beach County resident Laura Perlmutter, the wife of Marvel Entertainment Chairman Isaac Perlmutter.

As of Sept. 8, Gillum and his Forward Florida PAC had nearly $5.2 million in cash on hand for the general election while DeSantis and his Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC had nearly $2.6 million.

Hear more about the governor’s race in the latest Inside Florida Politics podcast…

The figures for DeSantis and Gillum and their PACs do not include spending by outside groups trying to influence the race.

The Service Employees International Union, for example, recently announced plans to spend $5 million on ads, communications and get-out-the-vote efforts to support Gillum and other “candidates dedicated to lifting up the middle class.” The Republican Governors Association recently launched a statewide TV ad campaign accusing Gillum of going “just too far” with his call for a $1 billion hike in the corporate income tax and other proposals.

Gillum and his PAC raised $4 million in the three days after Gillum’s stunning Aug. 28 Democratic primary victory over four better-financed rivals. DeSantis and his PAC raised only $521,880 in the same period.

Between Sept. 1 and Sept. 7, however, DeSantis raised $1.4 million while Gillum raised $1.3 million.

DeSantis’ latest total includes $380,951 collected by his campaign and $1 million raised by his PAC. Gillum’s campaign raised $874,285 during the first week of September while his PAC snagged $445,500.

DeSantis, whose GOP primary win was largely due to President Donald Trump‘s endorsement, will turn to one of Trump’s arch rivals — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — for fundraising help next week at an event in Coral Gables.