Tropical Storm Florence turned into a hurricane Sunday morning and swirled toward the U.S. for what forecasters said could be a direct hit on the Southeast toward the end of the week.
The storm’s sustained winds reached 75 mph (121 kph), just over the threshold for a hurricane, as it made its way across the Atlantic, about 750 miles (1,210 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west at 6 mph.
The Miami-based center said that it was still too early to predict the hurricane’s exact path but that a huge coastal area from South Carolina to the mid-Atlantic region should prepare for a major strike late in the week.
“All indications are that Florence will be an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane while it moves over the western Atlantic toward the southeastern United States,” the hurricane center said. A Category 4 storm packs winds of 130 mph (209 kph) or more and has the potential for catastrophic damage.
The governors of North and South Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency to give them time to prepare, and the Navy said ships in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area would leave port for their own safety.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement Sunday that coastal and inland residents alike need to get ready for potentially heavy rainfall and flooding from the storm. Cooper urged residents to “review your emergency plans and gather your supplies now.”
The South Carolina Emergency Management Division tweeted Sunday that officials there are “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster.”
The storm brings with it an increasing risk of two life-threatening impacts: storm surge along the coast and freshwater flooding from prolonged rains, the hurricane center said.
Dangerous swells generated by Florence affected Bermuda and have begun to reach parts of the Eastern Seaboard.
The National Weather Center warned of dangerous rip currents in popular tourist areas like Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. Advisories warning of dangerous beach conditions or coastal flooding were in effect for parts of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
The White House seethes with intrigue and backstabbing as aides hunt for the anonymous Deep (state) Throat among them. A president feels besieged by tormentors — Bob Woodward is driving him crazy — so he tends his version of an enemies list, wondering aloud if he should rid himself of his attorney general or the special prosecutor or both.
For months, the Trump administration and its scandals have carried whiffs of Watergate and drawn comparisons to the characters and crimes of the Nixon era. But this week, history did not just repeat itself, it climbed out of the dustbin and returned in the flesh.
There was John Dean again, testifying on the Hill, warning anew about a cancer on the presidency.
Nearly every element in Trump’s trouble has a Watergate parallel.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is leading an independent investigation sparked by a break-in at the Democratic National Committee, the same target that opened the Watergate can of worms, though this time the burglary was digital and linked to Moscow, not the Oval Office.
President Richard Nixon first ordered his attorney general, and then the deputy, to fire the Watergate special prosecutor; they refused and quit on a convulsive weekend that gave history the Saturday Night Massacre but did not derail the independent investigation or Nixon’s collapse for long. Trump, for his part, fired the acting attorney general as well as FBI Director James Comey, triggering the Mueller investigation that has dogged him for more than a year.
Some of the same reporters are causing the president’s pique.
It was Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who uncovered the Watergate break-in, getting under the president’s skin once again. “Dem operative,” Trump fumed about Woodward. “Degenerate fool,” he said of Bernstein, who helped report a CNN Russia-probe related story that Trump contends is “a major lie.”
“Everybody’s trying to get me,” Trump told an aide, according to the new Woodward book, “Fear.” The book describes a tragi-comedy inside the White House with top aides dismissing the president as an “idiot.” In Nixon’s time, top lieutenant Henry Kissinger called his boss “meatball mind” behind his back.
But in those days, the world did not have Twitter or a U.S. president who would have been publicly airing his visceral feelings on it even if he could.
“This is a president who says things publicly that we know from the tapes that Nixon said privately,” says Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian who directed the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “It’s as if Trump is wrestling with the history of Watergate openly. It’s the president who is inviting these parallels.”
Trump’s list of those he considers enemies is obvious on his Twitter feed. It includes former political opponents, his own attorney general, his predecessor and former national security officials, whose security clearances he’s threatened.
Now he’s added an anonymous senior official who authored a New York Times op-ed describing the president as amoral. The aide described a “steady state” within the administration working to temper Trump’s erratic impulses — a portrait just a degree away from the “deep state” Trump says is resisting his policies. Trump said Friday he thinks the Justice Department should investigate the unnamed official’s identity.
In Nixon’s time, on Aug. 16, 1971, a White House memo laid out thoughts about “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Prosecution, litigation and the withholding of grants and contracts were considered and Nixon loyalists were asked to contribute names to the list.
Nixon’s enemies list was written by Dean, the lawyer-fixer who abandoned loyalty to Nixon and helped bring down his presidency. Democrats asked Dean to appear at the Senate’s Supreme Court hearings as an expert of executive power. He presented himself as an older and wiser man.
“There is much to fear from an unchecked president who is inclined to abuse his powers,” Dean told senators. “That is a fact I can attest to from personal experience.”
As counsel to the president, Dean arranged hush money to the Watergate burglars who tried to find material helpful to Nixon’s 1972 re-election at Democratic offices in the Watergate complex. Dean participated broadly in the cover-up of Nixon’s culpability before breaking with the president and delivering devastating testimony to the Senate Watergate committee. He served four months for obstruction of justice; Nixon resigned from office under threat of being removed by impeachment.
Dean’s loose counterpart today: Michael Cohen, who as Trump’s personal lawyer arranged hush money to women alleged to have had affairs with Trump.
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges and said in federal court he broke campaign finance laws as part of a cover-up that Trump had directed, an accusation the president denies.
Or perhaps Dean’s equivalent is Don McGahn, the White House counsel who has cooperated with investigators and sat for hours of interviews. It’s not yet clear whether McGahn gave up material damaging to the president.
Trump is not accused of any crime and the series of convictions Mueller has achieved against Trump campaign aides has not unearthed collusion between Moscow and the campaign. There’s no smoking gun.
The parallels with Watergate only go so far, thus far, says Naftali.
Yet “Nixon’s playbook for dirty tricks and abuse of power and political espionage is a useful source of questions for any investigation of an impulsive, erratic and potentially criminal presidency,” he said. “We’ll be watching. The Nixon presidency makes us smarter as we try to make sure that our presidents don’t do what Nixon did.”
A gunman opened fire Sunday at an online video game tournament that was being live-streamed from a Florida mall, killing multiple people and sending many others to hospitals, authorities said.
Sheriff’s officers did not immediately confirm the number of dead at the Jacksonville Landing, a collection of restaurants and shops along the St. Johns River.
But an official close to the investigation said the shooting left four people dead and that the gunman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was not clear if the official included the suspect in the death toll.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to release information.
Sheriff Mike Williams said authorities had yet to identify the suspect who attacked the video football tournament, which featured the game “Madden NFL 19.” The competition was held in a gaming bar that shares space with a pizzeria. Viewers could watch the games online and see the players.
Investigators were looking into an online video that appeared to capture the scene right before the shooting began, Williams said.
A red dot that appears to be a laser pointer is visible on the chest of a player seconds before the first of a dozen gunshots rings out.
The sheriff’s office used Twitter and Facebook to warn people to stay far away and to ask anyone who was hiding to call 911.
“We are finding many people hiding in locked areas at The Landing. We ask you to stay calm, stay where you are hiding. SWAT is doing a methodical search inside The Landing. We will get to you. Please don’t come running out,” the sheriff’s office said via Twitter.
The sheriff’s office did not provide any other information, but also warned reporters to stay away from the area.
Police barricaded a three-block radius around the mall. Officers and Coast Guard boats patrolled the nearby river. Many ambulances could be seen in the area, but the mall area appeared empty of all but law enforcement. Police also took up positions on a bridge overlooking the river.
The Jacksonville Landing, in the heart of the city’s downtown, also hosts concerts and other entertainment. It was the site of a Donald Trump rally in 2015, early in his campaign for the White House.
John McCain lived most of his life in the public eye, surviving war, torture, scandal, political stardom and failure, the enmity of some colleagues and the election of President Donald Trump.
Even brain cancer didn’t seem to scare McCain so much as it sobered and saddened him.
“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,” McCain wrote in his memoir, referencing a line from his favorite book, the Ernest Hemingway war novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” ″I hate to leave.”
A look at public moments that made McCain:
PRISONER OF WAR, CELEBRITY
McCain became a public figure at age 31 when his bed-bound image was broadcast from North Vietnam in 1967. The North Vietnamese had figured out that he was the son and grandson of famous American military men — a “crown prince,” they called him.
He was offered an early release, but refused. McCain’s captors beat him until he confessed, an episode that first led to shame — and then discovery. McCain has written that that’s when he learned to trust not just his legacy but his own judgment — and his resilience.
Less than a decade after his March 1973 release, McCain was elected to the House as a Republican from Arizona. In 1986, voters there sent him to the Senate.
THE KEATING FIVE
He called it “my asterisk” and the worst mistake of his life.
At issue was a pair of 1987 meetings between McCain, four other senators and regulators to get the government to back off a key campaign donor.
Charles Keating Jr. wanted McCain and Democratic Sens. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Alan Cranston of California, John Glenn of Ohio and Don Riegle of Michigan to get government auditors to stop pressing Keating’s Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. All five denied improper conduct. McCain was cleared of all charges but found to have exercised “poor judgment.”
“His honor was being questioned and that’s nothing that he takes lightly,” said Mark Salter, McCain’s biographer and co-author of his new memoir, “The Restless Wave.”
McCain became his party’s leading voice on matters of war, national security and veterans – and eventually became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He worked with a Democrat to rewrite the nation’s campaign finance laws. He voted for the Iraq War and supported the 2007 surge of forces there even as his own sons served or prepared to serve.
But there was one thing that wasn’t as widely known about him: McCain, owner of a ranch in Arizona that is in the flight path of 500 species of migratory birds, became concerned about the environment.
“People associate John with defense and national security, as well they should. But he also had a great concern for and love of the environment,” said Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who traveled to the ends of the earth with McCain — to the Arctic Circle in 2004 and Antarctica two years later — on fact-finding missions related to climate change. Back on McCain’s Arizona ranch, the senator gave Collins an extensive nature tour of the property. “I particularly remember his love for the birds,” Collins said. “He loved the birds.”
TOWN HALLS, STRAIGHT TALK
McCain in the 2000 election did something new: He toured New Hampshire on a bus laden with doughnuts and reporters that stopped at “town hall” meetings where voters were invited to exchange views with the candidate. The bus was called the “Straight Talk Express,” and that’s what he promised to deliver at the town halls.
The whole thing was messy, unscripted and often hilarious. And ultimately the events re-introduced McCain to voters as a candid and authentic, just a year after President Bill Clinton was acquitted of lying to Congress and obstruction.
In New Hampshire that year, McCain defeated George W. Bush in an 18-point blowout, only to be pushed out of the race in South Carolina. But the town halls remained a fond McCain memory.
“The town halls were festivals of politics,” Salter said. “They were so authentic and open and honest.”
McCain, in 2008 making his second run for president, quickly intervened when a woman in Lakeville, Minnesota, stood at a town hall event and began to make disparaging remarks about Democratic presidential nominee and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
“He’s an Arab,” she said, implying he was not an American.
“No ma’am,” McCain said, taking the microphone from her. “He’s a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not.”
It was a defining moment for McCain as a leader, a reflection of his thinking that partisans should disagree without demonizing each other. But it reflected McCain’s reckoning with the fear pervading his party of Obama, who would go on to become the nation’s first black president.
McCain last year was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same aggressive cancer that had felled his friend, Sen. Edward Kennedy, in 2009.
Friends and family say he understood the gravity of the diagnosis — but quickly turned to the speech he wanted to give on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to shed the partisanship that had produced gridlock. Face scarred and bruised from surgery, he pounded the lectern. Some of the sternest members of the Senate hugged him, tears in their eyes.
“Of all of the things that have happened in this man’s life, of all of the times that his life could have ended in the ways it could have ended, this (cancer) is by far one of the least threats to him and that’s kind of how he views it,” his son, Jack McCain, told the Arizona Republic in January.
HEALTH CARE VOTE
Republicans, driven by Trump, were one vote away from advancing a repeal of Obama’s health care law. Then McCain, scarred from brain surgery, swooped into the Senate chamber and, facing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, dramatically held up his hand.
The thumb flicked down. Gasps could be heard throughout the staid chamber. McConnell stood motionless, arms crossed.
Trump’s campaign promise — and the premiere item on his agenda — was dead.
McCain tangled with Trump, who never served in the military, for years.
As a candidate, Trump in 2016 claimed the decorated McCain is only considered a war hero because he had been captured. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at an event in Iowa. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Shortly before Election Day in 2016, McCain said he’s rather cast his vote for another Republican, someone who’s “qualified to be president.”
Trump fumed, without using McCain’s name, that the senator is the only reason the Affordable Care Act stands.
McCain responded: “I have faced tougher adversaries.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.
Mayo, Florida is holding the mayo, at least for a few days.
The mayor of this tiny town of less than 1,500 residents, located where Florida’s Panhandle morphs into a peninsula, is announcing Saturday that the city is switching its name to “Miracle Whip.” But it’s a joke.
The name change started as a secret, tongue-in-cheek marketing proposal for the Kraft Heinz-owned mayonnaise-alternative. Videographers for Miracle Whip on Saturday wanted to capture the shock of residents when they hear that the name of their town is being changed to a corporate brand. Representatives of the condiment planned to spend the next few days filming their jocular efforts to get residents to remove mayonnaise from their homes.
The town’s elected officials say they will let residents in on the joke after a few days, but not before street signs and the name on the water tower have been switched out. The town located halfway between Tallahassee and Gainesville is getting between $15,000 and $25,000 for the name change, and the money will be used for city beautification measures.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mayo’s mayor ran with the concept, insisting it would be a good idea to make the name change permanent.
“We aren’t going to be boring Mayo anymore. We are going to be Miracle Whip!” Ann Murphy said. “I definitely think this will put us on the map.”
Town clerk Linda Cone confirmed the name change is a prank and conceded that in a town so small it probably won’t take long for residents to figure it out. “Everybody knows everybody. It’s been kind of difficult to keep everything under wraps,” Cone said.
The mayor said city council members secretly discussed the deal with Miracle Whip during a closed session because secrecy was needed to achieve the surprise that Miracle Whip wants to capture. However, a closed session would seem to violate Florida’s Sunshine Law requiring meetings to be held publicly except under limited conditions, open-government advocate Barbara Petersen said.
“If this is all supposed to be a big joke perpetuated on residents, I expect they probably violated the law to pull it off,” said Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but seriously, I don’t think they thought this through.”
The town got its original name from a confederate colonel, James Mayo, and it is the county seat of Lafayette County, Florida’s second-least populous county. Possibly its biggest claim to fame is being the hometown of Kerwin Bell, a former University of Florida quarterback. The area’s biggest employer is a state prison.
Other small cities have changed their names to brands, some temporarily and others permanently.
In 1950, Hot Springs, New Mexico, renamed itself Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in order to get the game show broadcast from the town. Granville, North Dakota, temporarily became McGillicuddy City, North Dakota, in the 1990s after the distributor of the mint schnapps paid the town $100,000. In 2010, Topeka, Kansas, temporarily changed its name to Google, Kansas, in an unsuccessful effort to get the company to install a super-fast broadband network.
“I think people thought it was kind of funny and forward thinking,” said Carole Jordan, an official with the League of Women Voters in Topeka.
Branded name changes don’t work for every city, said Chantal Panozzo, chief content officer for The Brand Consultancy. She said one successful example was North Tarrytown, New York’s switch to Sleepy Hollow in the mid-1990s to honor its roots as the setting for Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
“If the town or corporation is just seeking notoriety, publicity or money without considering what the alignment of the naming really means, then it’s not true branding,” Panozzo said. “It’s just a stunt or a desperate cry for funds.”
The conservative Koch brothers are no more — even if they remain a political powerhouse.
The Democrats’ super villains for much of the last decade have quietly launched a rebranding effort that may vanquish the “Koch brothers” moniker from American politics. The catalyst came earlier in the year when ailing billionaire conservative David Koch stepped away from the family business, leaving older brother Charles as the undisputed leader of the Kochs’ web of expanding political and policy organizations.
There were already few, if any, clearly identifiable links between the Kochs and their most active spinoff organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners or the LIBRE Initiative. But in the days after the younger billionaire’s retreat, company officials quickly began pushing journalists across the country to change references from “Koch brothers” in their coverage to “Koch network” or one of their less-recognizable entities.
Asked about the shift on Saturday, Koch’s chief lieutenants explained that 82-year-old Charles Koch was always far more involved with their political efforts than his ailing brother. The elder Koch addressed the shift directly as he welcomed hundreds of donors to an invitation-only summit at a luxury resort in the Rocky Mountains.
“I am not getting weak in the knees. … Truly I am not,” Charles Koch said with a smile. He added: “We’re just getting started.”
Regardless of its name, the conservative network remains one of the nation’s most influential political forces, a conservative powerhouse simultaneously playing the long- and short-game in a way that ensures it will remain a dominant force long after President Donald Trump is gone. And in sharp contrast to the Republican president who is eager to put his name on his accomplishments, the Kochs are happy to do it in the dark.
While much of the network operates out of sight, the Charles Koch Foundation announced Saturday that it would begin publicly posting all multiyear grant agreements with universities. Last year, the foundation gave $90 million for projects on 300 campuses.
An estimated 500 Koch donors — each having committed at least $100,000 annually — gathered for the weekend “seminar” that featured a handful of elected officials and high-profile influencers. As is customary for the bi-annual meetings, guests were required to give up their cell phones during some presentations. And while The Associated Press joined a handful of media organizations allowed to witness some activities, photos and videos were strictly prohibited.
Gov. Rick Scott and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, both Republican Senate candidates, led the list of elected officials on hand. Senate Republican whip John Cornyn of Texas, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin were also on the guest list.
The money behind the Kochs’ push to transform education, philanthropy, immigration, health care, tax laws, courts, government regulation, prisons and the economy has long been cloaked in secrecy.
Koch officials have vowed to spend between $300 million and $400 million to shape the 2018 midterm elections. But there’s no way to verify how or where the money is spent because most of its organizations are registered as nonprofit groups, which aren’t required to detail their donors like traditional political action committees.
While they have long been closely aligned with the Republican Party’s far-right flank, they oppose the Trump administration’s policies on spending, trade and immigration.
On Saturday, network leaders seized on Trump’s push to apply billions of dollars in tariffs on America’s top trading partners. The burgeoning trade war has sparked an outcry from business leaders across the nation, and in a new video Charles Koch lashes out at what he calls the “destructive” rise of “protectionism.”
Koch official Brian Hooks warned that, on trade and immigration, “the divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage.”
Democrats who invested extraordinary time and resources into attacking the Koch brothers in recent years concede that, in the era of Trump at least, the billionaire industrialists are no longer the left’s No. 1 enemy.
Adam Jentleson, who previously worked for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said Koch’s quiet rebranding effort represents “a small victory.”
“Sen. Reid was always very clear that drawing the Koch brothers out of the shadows was a big part of his strategy,” Jentleson said. “He thought people deserved to know who was behind the dark money. This seems like a recognition that they’re uncomfortable being out front and are scurrying to get back in the shadows.”
The NFL’s two-month old national anthem policy is on hold.
Hours after The Associated Press reported that Miami Dolphins players who protest on the field during the anthem could be suspended for up to four games under a team policy issued this week, the league and the players union issued a joint statement late Thursday night saying the two sides are talking things out.
“The NFL and NFLPA, through recent discussions, have been working on a resolution to the anthem issue. In order to allow this constructive dialogue to continue, we have come to a standstill agreement on the NFLPA’s grievance and on the NFL’s anthem policy. No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing,” the statement read. “The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice. Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.”
The issue has dominated headlines over the past two seasons, caused division and alienated some fans.
The NFL rule that was passed in May forbid players from sitting or taking a knee if they are on the field or sidelines during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but allowed them to stay in the locker room if they wish. The policy said teams would be fined if players didn’t stand during the anthem while on the field. The league left it up to teams on how to punish players.
None of the team policies had been made public until the AP obtained a copy of Miami’s nine-page discipline document. It included a one-sentence section on “Proper Anthem Conduct” and was provided to the AP by a person familiar with the policy who insisted on anonymity because the document is not public. It classifies anthem protests under a large list of “conduct detrimental to the club,” all of which could lead to a paid or unpaid suspension, a fine or both.
The Dolphins said in a statement: “The NFL required each team to submit their rules regarding the anthem before their players reported to training camp. We will address this issue once the season starts. All options are still open.”
Miami can choose not to issue any suspension nor fine any player guilty of “conduct detrimental to the club.” Other violations under that label include drug use or possession, gambling, breaking curfew and riding motorcycles as a driver or passenger from the start of camp until the last game of the season.
Jets acting owner Christopher Johnson said shortly after the league announced its policy that he will not punish his players for any peaceful protests — and would pay any potential fines incurred by the team as a result of his players’ actions.
The new league rules were challenged this month in a grievance by the players union. The NFLPA said the NFL policy, which the league imposed without consultation with the players union, is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement and infringes on player rights. Now, the two sides are hoping to reach a solution without litigation.
Dolphins veteran receiver Kenny Stills took a knee with a hand on his heart during the anthem throughout last season. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips put his arm around Stills before one game. Two other players who knelt — safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas — are no longer with the team.
Defensive end Robert Quinn, who raised his fist during the anthem while with the Rams, is now with the Dolphins.
“Players who are on the field during the Anthem performance must stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” says the 16th and final bullet point on Miami’s list of conduct considered detrimental, below disparaging teammates, coaches or officials including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The NFL started requiring players to be on the field for the anthem in 2009 — the year it signed a marketing deal with the military.
In 2016, then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality, social injustice and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, and the demonstration spread to other players and teams.
Critics led by President Donald Trump called the players unpatriotic and even said NFL owners should fire any player who refused to stand during the anthem. Some players countered that their actions were being misconstrued and that they are seeking social change rather than protesting the anthem itself.
Trump’s criticism led more than 200 players to protest during one weekend, and some kept it up throughout the season.
The league and a coalition of players have been working in tandem to support player initiatives for a variety of social issues. The NFL is committing $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in a three-segment plan that involves league players.
Kaepernick didn’t play at all last season and still hasn’t been picked up by another team. He threw 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions in his final season in 2016. Safety Eric Reid, one of Kaepernick’s former teammates and another protest leader, is also out of work.
Both have filed collusion grievances against the NFL.
There are more Democrats than Republicans in Florida, but that hasn’t helped the party win many statewide races over the past quarter century. Weak candidates, low turnout and tepid fundraising have usually left Florida Democrats on the losing end, particularly in nonpresidential years.
But now party leaders believe they have improved their get-out-the-vote and rural and minority outreach programs to go with a not-so-secret weapon to bludgeon Republicans — President Donald Trump. Some think the disdain many in their party have for the Republican president will increase Democratic turnout and money donated to their candidates.
The party’s Florida leaders and strongest supporters are gathering this weekend near Fort Lauderdale, the heart of the state’s most Democratic region, for their annual convention to plan strategy as they try to win November’s governor’s race for the first time since 1994 and keep U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, their one consistent winner, from losing re-election to the outgoing Republican governor, Rick Scott.
Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said Scott won by a percentage point in 2010 and 2014 while Democrats did little campaigning in heavily Republican regions and did a poor job of turning out voters in Democratic ones. That is changing, he said.
“We have learned from our missteps — we are developing and employing a strategy that is working in 2018,” said Penalosa, who said there will be an emphasis on local issues like education. He is not as enthusiastic about directly attacking Trump as other Democrats but says it will have its place.
“Trump has absolutely galvanized our base because we now know what’s at stake when we lose elections,” he said.
There are 4.8 million registered Democrats in Florida, compared with 4.5 million Republicans. Some are conservative Dixiecrats who mostly vote Republican, but it’s still an advantage. Even with that edge, since 2000 the Democrats have won six of 27 statewide races, mostly because they are two for 18 in nonpresidential years like this one, where the governor, Cabinet and, sometimes, a U.S. senator are elected.
One reason, some Democratic strategists say, is simple – Republicans did a better job energizing voters, particularly in 2010 and 2014 when they used the presidency of Barack Obama to motivate their base. Trump can do that for Democrats this year, some believe.
Republicans in past campaigns try to tie Democrats who have baggage, like Hillary Clinton, to Florida Democrats seeking local or state office.
“They nationalize it, whether that be Hillary Clinton or (former House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi or anyone from our party who might be seen as negative,” said Screven Watson, a political consultant and former state party executive director. “We have to do the same thing with Donald Trump.”
Nelson has been Florida Democrats’ strongest performer the last 20 years, claiming three of the party’s six wins in the 2000s (Obama had two of the others in 2008 and 2012), but that comes with a small asterisk: his last two GOP opponents, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, ran campaigns that imploded.
If Democrats want to retake the Senate, Nelson must win. Scott, whose banned from seeking a third consecutive term, runs highly disciplined and well-financed campaigns, bolstered by his immense personal wealth as the founder of a hospital chain.
Scott seems to have anticipated the Democratic strategy – while Trump and Scott have long been tight, the governor rarely mentions him now.
Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist, said Scott won’t be able to shake Trump – voters know their close relationship. He said tying Trump to other Republicans is a strategy that helped Florida Democrats win four special elections the past year.
“If this becomes a referendum on Trump, that’s bad news for Scott,” Schale said.
Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the GOP hopes Nelson campaigns against Trump, believing most voters view his presidency as a success.
“Floridians deserve elected officials who will support a thriving economy, like Governor Scott, not candidates like Bill Nelson who resist and obstruct his agenda,” she said in a statement.
In the gubernatorial race, where the Democrats have lost five straight, the Democrats have five candidates competing in the Aug. 28 primary, with no clear favorite. They are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and two wealthy developers, Jeff Greene and Chris King.
The winner will face either U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has Trump’s endorsement and frequent guest spots on Fox News, or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has three-times the campaign funds and higher statewide name recognition.
In the end, Watson and Schale said, both races will likely be determined by something that happens in October that swings the Florida electorate by a percentage point.
“It could come down to what Donald Trump tweets on Oct. 20,” Watson said.