Primary races picking up steam
Primary elections are less than three weeks away. Most have little drama, but some, especially on the Democratic side, will be fun to watch. Republicans have far fewer tight races.
President Donald Trump has weighed in on a few races, most notably his full-throated endorsement of Rep. Ron DeSantis for governor. He has also made a couple of safe choices for House seats.
He backed Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach in his three-way primary in Florida’s 1st Congressional District. On Thursday, he came out in support of Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville in CD 3.
Neither Gaetz nor Yoho expect to face significant difficulty in their re-election races.
Pundits will be watching Districts 6, 7, 15 and 17.
Democrats have some great primaries. The race in District 5 between former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee seems to make news every day. The state’s Stand Your Ground Law (see below) is the latest high-profile issue in the campaign.
In CD 6, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is up with her first ad of the campaign. Titled “Hurdles,” it is an introductory piece taking voters through her life as a diabetic who was refused health insurance, and a lengthy diplomatic career one “who helped bring Northern Ireland’s opposing sides together,” and among the first to say “let’s get (Osama) bin Laden.”
Soderberg, who is running against John Upchurch and Steve Sevigny, has nearly $400,000 more cash on hand than any of her opponents from either party in this GOP-leaning district currently held by DeSantis. The winner among three closely matched candidates running on the Republican side will be slightly favored in the fall.
The matchup between Rep. Darren Soto and former Rep. Alan Grayson is heating up. Soto is leading by 7 points in a recent poll.
The most competitive, and most costly, primary race is the free-for-all for the CD 27 seat held by the retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrats are favored to flip the seat into their column and the top three candidates have each raised $1 million.
One of those candidates is bucking the national Democrats who have told their members to stop talking about impeachment of Trump. National Democrats have tried to quash talk of such action, but state Rep. David Richardson is out with a new ad that uses humor to get his message across.
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
Standing in front of the U.S. Capitol, Richardson utters the impeachment word three times, only to have it bleeped out each time. Richardson appears to be calling out front-runner Donna Shalala for not taking a stand.
Shalala is touting two new ads. One talks about health care, an issue where she has come under attack for not supporting universal health care as well as her investment in a for-profit health insurer.
Another is in Spanish and serves as an introduction to Hispanic voters. Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli is the narrator.
Fellow Democrat Matt Haggman earlier put out a 15-second video that said he would work to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. He also took a poke at Shalala saying “She’s had her chance. It’s time for a new day.”
On August 28, all of the winners can celebrate. Some represent a district that virtually assures their win in November.
For others, it’s back to raising money and appealing to independents for the following two months.
Nelson, Scott in rare agreement
The race between Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson seemingly grows more bitter each day. Scott ads criticize Nelson for “cutting Medicare” by way of his support for the Affordable Care Act; a supporting group now says Nelson “is too old” for the rigors of being a Senator.
Nelson is focusing on his stands relating to current issues like gun control and the environment. He went after Scott’s environmental record recently by blaming the governor for asking EPA to delay implementation of stricter water quality standards, which have a role in the recent algal bloom outbreak in South Florida.
The Tampa Bay Times may have taken away that advantage for the three-term Senator. The newspaper revealed that Nelson wrote a similar letter to the EPA before Scott weighed in asking them to finalize the water quality standards “in a deliberative manner.”
Nelson said he did not recall the letter but freely admitted that he wanted Floridians to have time to comment on the standards. He supported their implementation.
Rubio slammed for endorsement
Rubio recently endorsed a Republican South Florida blogger who is one of three Republicans challenging Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch for his District 22 seat. Deutch claimed he was not upset that Rubio endorsed one of his opponents, but he was upset that it was Javier Manjarres, who Deutch claimed insulted the father of a Marjory Douglas High school shooting victim.
“If Rubio wants to endorse in this race because it’s important to him, it’s his prerogative, but for him to choose to endorse someone who has cruelly attacked a grieving father and regularly mocks student survivors, I think that just surprised a lot of people,” Deutch said.
Deutch has also said that he was surprised to see Rubio “wade into” the primary to endorse a candidate. He has suggested that the endorsement could mean that Rubio agrees with the comments Manjarres made about the victims of the shooting.
Deutch pointed to comments Manjarres made on Twitter during exchanges last month with Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was one of 17 people killed during the massacre.
“C’mon Fred. I can’t only imagine the pain you are feeling over the loss of your daughter, but stop exploiting her death in the name of some political agenda. Your daughter was shot by some lunatic who had an AR-15, not by the gun itself. #Fixit #VoteJavi,” Manjarres wrote.
Deutch claimed that since Rubio endorsed Manjarres, publisher of the conservative Shark Tank blog, he must share the views of the candidate.
“I don’t know why (he endorsed),” Deutch said. “If this is some signal about the beliefs that Senator Rubio has, I think he ought to be more upfront about them because it’s certainly not the image that he puts forth. I was very surprised about that.”
Rubio’s office is declining comment.
Nelson’s phenomenal elections claim
Trump finally conceded the Russians tried to influence the 2016 elections directly. Now two Congressional committees have concluded they are working at it again.
Nelson claims they already have.
“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free reign to move about,” Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times. It marked the second time this week he made such a claim.
Nelson’s claim takes previous warnings to the next level. Last month he joined with Rubio to warn the state and the 67 elections supervisors in a letter urging them to be wary of hacking activities.
Nelson would not elaborate saying the information was “classified.” State elections officials are puzzled.
“The Florida Department of State has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims,” agency spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in a statement. “If Senator Nelson has specific information about threats to our elections, he should share it with election officials in Florida.”
Rubio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, has raised alarms himself. He also continues to express concern, though not as overtly.
VA clinic renaming draws big guns
Congress routinely names government buildings, post offices and Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities after local politicians or other individuals. On Tuesday, the Tallahassee VA clinic was renamed for a Monticello World War II soldier, but it was far from routine.
The recently confirmed VA Secretary, Robert Wilkie, flew to Tallahassee for the ceremony to rename the facility the Sergeant Ernest I. “Boots” Thomas VA Clinic. Joining Wilkie was Nelson and the two delegation members who represent the area in Congress; Lawson and Republican Rep. Neal Dunn.
Sgt. Thomas was part of the famous group, who raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. While four of his group raised the flag, Thomas and a handful of others served as protectors. Thomas was killed the next week, just 7 days before his 21st birthday.
“Thank you for rededicating this wonderful facility in the name of a man from a generation that continues to inspire,” Wilkie said.
Nelson and Lawson were credited with responding to requests from Jefferson County residents to honor Thomas and carrying the bills through Congress. Opening originally in 2016, the clinic serves more than 16,000 veterans in North Florida and South Georgia.
Everglades Foundation asks McConnell for reservoir vote
With the algae outbreak in South Florida continuing to infect local waterways, residents and advocates believe the need for the proposed Everglades Reservoir is greater than ever. The Everglades Foundation is going directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to speed things up.
In a letter to McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg urged McConnell to schedule a vote on a bill that would authorize a vote on the reservoir when the Senate returns to Washington next week.
“There is no other way to say this,” Eikenberg wrote. “Florida is being ravaged by a perennial algae crisis that is destroying our beaches, fisheries, tourism and real estate industries, and we are desperate.”
The area is prone to algal blooms each time highly polluted water is released from Lake Okeechobee. A proposed reservoir south of the lake that would create nearly a quarter-million acres of dynamic water storage gained the approval of the White House last month.
“On behalf of Florida’s 20 million citizens and the countless millions of other Americans — many of them from Kentucky — who visit or call our state a second home, I implore you to save Florida from its perennial algae crises,” Eikenberg added. We cannot afford to wait any longer.”
Yoho honors Korean War vets
When the remains of Korean War soldiers returned to the United States two weeks ago, Vice-President Mike Pence spoke of these veterans as “forgotten no more.”
This week, Yoho joined the effort to remember Americans who served, including those who never made it home, at a ceremony that included a high-level representative of the South Korean government.
Korean War veterans were honored at Camp Blanding in North Florida at the ceremony, which included South Korea’s Ambassador to the U.S., Cho Yoon-Je. Cho presented the Ambassador for Peace medal to each veteran attending the ceremony.
“There is simply not enough we can do for our veterans and today is no exception,” Yoho said during his remarks. “While today we are exceptionally hopeful for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, we are ever mindful of the service of those who fought during the Korean War. Thank you for your service.”
Camp Blanding leadership helped to arrange transportation for the veterans seeking to attend the ceremony. In addition to the media from South Korea, Yoho also presented them with a Congressional challenge coin.
Black caucus endorses Lawson, who changes on SYG
Lawson got a big boost this week from some of his colleagues in Congress. On Tuesday, 37 members of the Congressional Black Caucus jointly announced their endorsement of his bid for re-election.
“I am honored to have the endorsement of so many of my colleagues in the CBC,” Lawson said in a news release. “They understand, as I do, the importance of fighting against some of the unfair policies of this current administration, protecting affordable health care for all Americans, protecting voting rights, ensuring access to a quality public education, and strengthening marginalized communities all across the nation.”
Lawson is one of 49 members of the caucus, which makes almost one-fourth of the House Democratic Caucus.
For his part, Brown has hammered Lawson for his support of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, while Brown favored repeal. Lawson pointed out the legislation passed unanimously in the Florida Senate and would only go as far as saying the Legislature needs to “look at it.”
On Wednesday, at a rally in Tallahassee advocating the law’s repeal, Lawson officially changed his position and now seeks to repeal. Joining him was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a candidate for governor committed to the law’s repeal.
“It’s been used to let people get away with murder,” he said. “We’re not going to let that happen in the state of Florida.”
Crist bill to legalize medical pot for vets working for feds
Medical marijuana is gradually becoming more mainstream in some states. Florida placed its use into the state Constitution in 2016.
It is technically not legal on the federal level, but Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg wants to take the step of making it available to veterans serving as government employees. As part of a roundtable featuring veterans and cannabis industry representatives, Crist announced he had filed the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act.
The act would apply to states like Florida that have legalized medical marijuana.
“Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD,” Crist said. “At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions,” Crist said.
Georgia Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson joined Crist in filing the bill. He said “no one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment,” including the veterans who make up one-third of the federal workforce.
“Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state’s cannabis laws, because our veterans shouldn’t have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities,” Crist continued.
Realtors endorse Steube
In the battle to win the CD 17 seat currently held by the retiring Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, two Republicans are running in a highly competitive primary. State Rep. Julio Gonzalez and state Sen. Greg Steube have raised similar amounts of money and each claiming endorsements worth noting.
This week, Steube gained the backing of the American Realtors organization. The National Realtors PAC announced they were supporting Steube for his service as first a member of the House and now the Senate.
“Greg Steube has a varied background of public service and experience, which will help make him a strong leader and a voice for Realtors and property owners,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “His desire to serve, to listen and to work hard makes him the Realtors’ choice.”
The group cited Steube for his stances on behalf of property rights and low taxes.
“I have been a champion of private property rights, low taxes, and low regulation during my time in office,” said Steube. “I am proud to receive this endorsement.”
White House Hispanic comms chief moves on
Helen Aguirre Ferré of Miami, the White House head of communications for Hispanic media, has quietly left her position, according to Univision. She has not spoken publicly about her departure.
“We greatly appreciate Helen’s work, service and dedication during her time in the White House,” Mercedes Schlapp, White House Director of Strategic Communications, said in an email to Univision. “She will continue to work for the Administration in a different capacity.”
Schlapp, also a native of Miami, would not divulge what future role Aguirre Ferré would play. Rumors are she may head to the National Endowment for the Arts,
Her exit from the White House comes at a tumultuous time when the administration was dealing with the aftermath of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy, but Aguirre Ferré has not commented publicly on the controversy.
In June, she said: “I support the President’s efforts in securing the border, and I support the President’s efforts in ensuring that the laws are enacted properly.”
At one time, both Schlapp and Aguirre Ferré were Trump critics, especially over some of his statements toward women. But they later came around after Trump won the Republican Party’s presidential nomination; he was preferable to Hillary Clinton, they concluded.
On this day in the headlines
August 9, 1974 — Facing certain impeachment from the House of Representatives, President Richard Nixon became the first chief executive to resign from office. Vice-President Gerald Ford was sworn in and told the American people “our long national nightmare is over.”
“To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American,” Nixon said in his farewell remarks. “In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: may God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.”
August 9, 1998 — Democrats worry that independent counsel Kenneth Starr will drop an “October surprise” just before this year’s midterm elections. Starr is said to be wrapping up his Whitewater investigation that morphed to include the Monica Lewinsky scandal that involves President Bill Clinton.
Normally, midterm elections are years of losing House seats for the party in power, but Republicans say the report should be released when it is finished and not wait. Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the report should be made public regardless of its proximity to the election.
(NOTE: Democrats defied history by gaining five seats in the fall elections.)
Trump backer/Never Trumper trade jabs
Tallahassee-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson and Republican Rep. Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach have a couple of things in common. In addition to being Republicans, both have a sense of humor that can add a humorous touch to any story.
Wilson is among the country’s most vocal “Never Trumpers.” He has written a book called “Everything Trump Touches, Dies …” In it, he mentions Gaetz, one of Trump’s biggest supporters.
“You’ve seen Matt on a hundred cable news shows,” Wilson wrote. “Young, dark-haired, and slowly going to seed, he looks like a frat boy wearing his father’s suit.”
Gaetz had a measured response.
“Three things happen to #NeverTrump Republicans — they lose, disappear from relevance, or get a job at MSNBC/CNN,” Gaetz said. “I’m glad Rick got the best of these options. I’ve always liked him.”
Wilson is a frequent CNN commentator.