Jacob Ogles, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 41

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

Joe Gruters emerges as front-runner for Florida GOP chair

State Sen. Joe Gruters appears poised to become the next Republican Party of Florida chair.

He appears to have the support of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, remains one of President Donald Trump’s chief allies in Florida and now has a clear path to the chair post with one of his lead competitors stepping aside.

The Republican Party of Sarasota on Wednesday afternoon sent a release announcing Gruters planned to run for state chair and would seek a new term as county chairman. That’s a reversal for Gruters, who previously announced he would step away from party politics, but holding the county post ensures his eligibility to run for state chair. Jack Brill, the front-runner to succeed Gruters in the county slot, will seek another term as vice chair of the party.

“To have Joe as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida is huge for Sarasota County,” said Brill.

A formal endorsement from DeSantis, expected Thursday, will out Gruters, recently named chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism, into frontrunner status to succeed Blaise Ingoglia, who announced yesterday he would not seek another term as state chair.

Gruters has grown increasingly involved in statewide Republican politics over the past decade. He served as vice chair for the Republican Party of Florida in 2016, the same year he served as co-chair for Donald Trump’s state campaign for president.

The relationship with now-President Trump played a major role in DeSantis’ decision to get behind Gruters for the state chairmanship. The chief priority for the next state chair will, of course, be securing Florida’s electoral votes when Trump runs for re-election.

He ran for state chair back in 2010, touring every county in Florida to meet with party chairs and committee members, but ultimately came up short then.

But now may be his year.

The gubernatorial endorsement puts Gruters ahead of party leaders in Florida who have eyes the chair position, including Sarasota County State Committeeman Christian Ziegler.

But the endorsement of DeSantis doesn’t necessarily pave the way for Gruters to become chair, as Ingoglia proved when he beat outgoing Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked choice for chair, Leslie Dougher, in an insurgent bid in 2015.

That led to years-long friction between the state party and the governor, the top Republican office-holder in the state.

Other candidates for state chair have met with DeSantis over the past week, including: Ziegler; Mike Barnett of Palm Beach County; Jeremy Evans of Escambia County; and Peter Feaman of Palm Beach County.

Another contender, Evan Power of Leon County, has backed Gruters and announced he will instead run for state vice chair.

Of course, the news also comes shortly after Collier County Republicans apparently scuttled an effort to set up state Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, for the state chair post. Collier party members elected local activist Russell Tuff over Donalds as the new county chair there.

Gruters won’t likely face the same resistance to being re-elected chairman in Sarasota. He just successfully led the party to a number of solid wins in the region in November.

And over a decade, he’s grown the party massively. Gruters became county chair weeks after President Barack Obama came within a few hundreds of votes of being the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Sarasota County since Harry Truman.

Since then, he’s turned Sarasota into a must-visit locale for GOP presidential candidates in search of wealthy donors and organized supporters. Gruters named Trump as Statesman of the Year well before the New York businessman launched his presidential campaign.

Trump’s last campaign rally in Florida took place in Sarasota before his surprising upset for president in 2016.

Ross Spano

After CD 15 election, Danny Kushmer questions Ross Spano’s credibility

Add Republican Danny Kushmer to the list of former opponents now questioning U.S. Rep.-elect Ross Spano’s credibility in the wake of an admission he violated campaign finance laws.

Kushmer, one of five candidates who ran in the Republican primary in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, endorsed Spano after losing the party nomination to the Dover pol.

But that was before Spano acknowledged he financed his campaign using personal loans.

“On May 4, (when) my wife and I drove to Tallahassee and qualified to run for Congress, we knew it would be difficult and we knew we would be up against career politicians with name recognition,” Kushmer said.

“But we didn’t know we would face an opponent willing to look us in the face and tell us about his values and ethics while at the same time subverting campaign finance laws.”

Spano’s attorneys wrote in a letter to the Federal Election Commission that he used loans from associates Karen Hunt and Cary Carreno to cover candidate donations to his campaign. The law restricts contributions from individuals but allows candidates to put as much of their own money as they choose.

The Spano campaign maintains he acted on bad advice from a since-fired campaign treasurer, but the loans did not become public until they appeared in a financial disclosure filed by Spano days before the general election.

Some $70,000 in loans came to Spano while he was still engaged in the five-candidate Republican primary against Kushmer, Neil Combee, Ed Shoemaker and Sean Harper.

Kushmer notes the heated primary came together quickly after incumbent U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross announced his retirement. The race ultimately became one of the closest Congressional contests in Florida this year, between Spano and Democrat Kristen Carlson in the general election.

Despite Spano’s claimed ignorance of the law, he’s suffered wide, bipartisan criticism since admitting to use the funds. Even before he sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission, Carlson sent a letter to the FBI calling for a criminal investigation.

And Combee earlier this week called Spano a “criminal” who broke the law to win.

Kushmer questioned how Spano, an estates lawyer who previously ran for Attorney General and held a seat in the Florida House, could be ignorant of campaign finance law.

A release from Kushmer noted five of the eight candidates who ran in CD 15 never before ran for office, but understood the fundraising regulations.

Could the winner, a veteran politician, be the only one who failed to know the rules?

“After the primary, I met with Ross Spano and gave him my full support,” Kushmer said. “We discussed the next steps and I assured him I would help in every way possible to get him elected.

“Unfortunately, I did not know to what extent he was willing to go to win.”

Evan Power lines up behind Joe Gruters for Florida GOP chair, says he’ll run for vice

Leon County Republican Party Chair Evan Power is endorsing Joe Gruters for Republican Party of Florida chair and announced his intention to run for vice chair.

“There are few people in the Party that I have known as long and have worked together as well with as Joe Gruters,” Power said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Joe as we move forward building a strong Party to re-elect President Trump and set the groundwork for Governor-elect DeSantis’ re-election.”

Power has rallied support himself to become Party chair,  for as long as two years by some accounts. Last week, he said he would delay any decision until after current Chair Blaise Ingoglia announced whether he would seek re-election.

Yesterday, Ingoglia announced he would step aside.

Gruters, though, appears to have very quickly lined up the support of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis on top of hearty support from the Florida Senate, where he just won a seat in November, and the Florida House, where he has served for the past two years.

The Sarasota Republican also co-chaired Donald Trump’s Florida presidential campaign. Many expect a tweet from the President soon, something that would likely seal the deal for Gruters to become Party chairman.

Power has now stepped away from the chairman race. Gruters candidacy for state chair also impacts close ally Christian Ziegler, Sarasota County’s Republican state committeeman.

With Power backing Gruters, that greatly reduces the odds of an intraparty squabble between of governor’s favored candidate and the choice of grassroots activists, as occurred in 2015 when Ingoglia beat out Gov. Rick Scott’s favored candidate Leslie Dougher.

Power’s statement today reminded activists of his longtime activism as he now seeks the No. 2 position at the RPOF.

“Since I was elected assistant treasurer two years ago, I have attended 63 local county events,” Power writes.

“I have also have been able to visit with many of you as I traveled through your respective counties. In all, I have traveled 52,538 miles getting to know our State and our local parties as only someone has traversed our state from Pensacola to Key West can truly understand.”

Party unity will be Power’s priority moving forward, he said, as party leaders look to make Florida a “permanent majority-red state.”

Miami-Dade’s Christina White says election supervisors need more time

Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White won enormous accolades for not encountering problems during this year’s statewide recounts.

That’s not to say she didn’t face any challenges.

She tells Florida Politics that, as lawmakers in Tallahassee explore election reform, taking a fresh look at deadlines for finishing recounts should be part of the conversation.

“In a large county, what would be nice is more time,” she said. “Whenever you are dealing with a limited amount of time but you are expected to have 100 percent accuracy, speed and accuracy do not always align.”

A total of 813,353 Miami-Dade voters cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election this year, more than any other county in Florida.

But scrutiny on the recount process focused primarily on Broward and Palm Beach counties, where the initial tabulation of votes dragged.

Neither Broward nor Palm Beach counties’ election supervisors attended the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections’ mid-winter conference this week in Sarasota.

Broward County has been in the midst of a leadership struggle, and a packet for newly appointed Broward Supervisor Pete Antonacci sat waiting at check-in throughout the conference.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach Supervisor Susan Bucher could not attend because her county recounts remain underway. The law requires state-ordered manual recounts in the Governor and Agriculture Commissioner races to be completed even though the results will not be certified.

Paul Lux, Okaloosa County Supervisor and president of the state association, said for the most part counties met deadlines for recounts. Many want more time, but acknowledge there’s challenges to changing the time frames.

“Statutory and perhaps constitutional deadlines make it necessary to cram it all in before the state canvassing commission meets,” Lux said.

Recounts must be accomplished before state and federal officials get seated or citizens will be left unrepresented in certain offices, he noted.

White acknowledged that, and recognizes giving more time for an initial tabulation will cut into the time set aside now for a recount, which in turn affects the manual recount process.

“I know there is a domino effect,” she said. “Extending one deadline impacts the next one.”

But she said without the support of county commissioners lending staff to the supervisor’s office, the simple but burdensome task of separating out the top page of a four-page ballot to tabulate in the statewide recounts, the deadlines in place now may have been impossible to meet.

“You have people working 24 hour-shifts exhausted,” she said. “You have machines that are not built to be running 24 hours a day. A little extra time … is something I would advocate for.”

Florida Democrats want full investigation of Ross Spano

Democrats are ramping up criticism of U.S. Rep.-elect Ross Spano following his admission he broke campaign fundraising laws before his win in Florida’s Congressional District 15.

Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo said Spano “knew exactly what he was doing when he took personal loans and used them as campaign funds, which is against the law.”

“This should disqualify Spano from serving in Congress,” she added. “This matter needs to be fully investigated, and appropriate actions taken.”

Spano this weekend acknowledged in a letter to the Federal Elections Commission that he financed his campaign for Congress using four personal loans from associates totaling upward of $180,000.

That illegally bypasses fundraising rules, which cap donations from individuals but allow candidates to contribute as much of their own money as possible.

But Spano insists he did not knowingly violate the law. He said he worked on bad advice from a former campaign treasurer.

“Upon such recognition, the respondents have taken several proactive steps to address this matter, including but not limited to engaging our firm as counsel, terminating prior accountancy, compliance, and relevant consultancy representations, and engaging new accountancy, compliance, and consultancy representations,” Spano attorney Elliot Farah wrote in a letter to the FEC.

The loans only became public through a financial disclosure filed by Spano days before the Nov. 6 general election.

Democrat Kristen Carlson, Spano’s general election opponent, wrote a letter earlier this month to the FBI calling for a criminal investigation, according to The Ledger.

The call for an investigation from Rizzo’s marks the latest action from the left.

But there’s plenty of concern from the right as well. Republican opponent Neil Combee, who Spano beat in the GOP primary after receiving $70,000 worth of personal loans, called Spano a “criminal” in an interview this week with Florida Politics.

Spano’s team maintains the financial error falls under the purview of the FEC and does not warrant a criminal investigation. His team says he will repay the personal loans by the end of this week.

Susan Macmanus explains Florida ‘pitiful’ polling problem

Those who closely followed polls in Florida leading into the general election likely spent that Tuesday evening pondering the same question. What happened?

Susan MacManus, University of South Florida distinguished professor, spoke at the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections’ mid-winter conference on Tuesday and labeled polling in the Sunshine State as “downright pitiful.”

The reason? Pollsters have yet to pick up on the particular nuances of Florida voters. That’s especially true of Republicans, who seem more likely to hang up the phone when pollsters call and subsequently get under-represented in “simply atrocious” samples.

“Republicans are reticent to answer polls, period,” MacManus said.

And so the state suffers with poor prognostication.

Need proof? RealClearPolitics’ RCP Average of major polls taken before the general election showed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson up an average of 2.4 percent in major polls. He lost to Republican Rick Scott by 10,033 votes.

The polling proved worse in the gubernatorial election, where the RCP Avergae showed Democrat Andrew Gillum up an average of 3.6 percent, but ultimately Republican Ron DeSantis won by about 0.4 percent.

Pollsters getting the race wrong included such names as Quinnipiac, Emerson and St. Pete Polls.

And that’s just the top-of-ticket races. A slew of polls on constitutional amendments showed various outcomes for individual items, but none predicted all but the first on the ballot would pass.

There, MacManus offered a simple explanation. Amendment 1 had the only confusing title. Everything else seemed a slam dunk, from helping first responders to banning dog races. And MacManus said few voters, if they are honest, say they read the entire summary before casting their vote.

As for the rampant polling erroneously predicting Democratic wins statewide instead of razor-thin losses? Part of that involves educating those reading the polls, even the supposed experts explaining matters in the media, to take margins of error seriously.

But there’s also specific peculiarities with Florida voters. Older voters in Florida are more conservative and less diverse than in other states, and as a group they still prefer to vote on Election Day. That means in Florida, Republicans enjoy a bigger boost on polling day than in other states.

As for Democrats, the younger voters don’t boast such as strong track record with turnout, nor do minority groups.

And those groups also tend to be more fickle. These voters might plan to vote Democrat, but if they see a poll showing a comfortable lead for their candidate, they seem less inclined to get out and vote.

“Democratic consultants will tell you they worry when a candidate seems so far ahead,” she said. “It usually tamps down late voters who are younger and more diverse.”

She singled out a widely criticized poll published by CNN the night it hosted the first gubernatorial debate between DeSantis and Gillum. The poll showed Gillum up 12 percent among likely voters.

The numbers came out on a night when many voters tuned in to get a feel for the race via the debate, and the poll became fodder for analysts on the network, even as every political analyst in Florida groaned at the outlier.

So what’s MacManus’ feel on future elections? She said Florida has grown used to 1-point elections for President and Governor, and the recounts show that may be generous after watching three statewide contests decided by less than 0.5 percent of the vote this year.

“My prediction in 2020 is it will be close again,” she said.

Seems as solid as any poll taken in Florida the last couple days before the election.

Russell Tuff cuts off Byron Donalds with Collier GOP win

Collier County Republicans chose a new chair.

And it’s not Byron Donalds.

By a 42-36 vote, members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee elected local activist Russell Tuff over state Rep. Donalds, a Naples lawmaker who ran with the apparent blessing of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis.

Tuff, who ran for Collier County Commission two years ago, made the case that Collier County would be better served by a chair devoted full-time to activism in the Naples area.

“I can portray a positive message of what we can accomplish,” Tuff told Florida Politics last week.

On Monday night, outgoing chair Ron Kezeske said that argument landed well within the local party, where activists remain focused on influencing local officials and area administrators.

“With the personality and connections and really the overall personality of Russell Tuff, he will continue a lot of efforts made over the last two years to re-establish a direction and build the community ties and connections,” Kezeske said.

But what does this mean for Donalds, who seemed to be setting himself up for a run for Republican Party of Florida chair?

Some of those in the incoming Governor’s orbit saw promise in pushing the sophomore lawmaker for state chair.

Besides putting a strong policy voice on education issues in charge of the party, it would re-establish a connection between the Governor’s Mansion and the party.

Except what does it mean for party connections that Donalds couldn’t win his local chairmanship? Already, party leaders questioned if there’s any rebound possible for Donalds.

And U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the chairs of the transition team, distanced the transition from any express desire to thumb the scale for Donalds.

“@RonDeSantisFL met w multiple potential candidates for RPOF chair today. Byron, while a GREAT man, wasn’t among them,” Gaetz tweeted.

Kezeske at least doesn’t see this as an effort to abort Donalds’ state ambitions, nor a rebuke of DeSantis and his new administration.

In fact, Kezeske said if anything, party activists might happily have demurred to the new Governor had he expressly made it known he wanted Donalds as county chair.

“I don’t think we would even have seen an election,” he said. “I believe the full support of the REC would have been behind the will of the Governor.”

But no clear delineation ever got communicated to Naples Republicans, just rumors and, er, blog posts.

This may not even submarine Donalds’ ambitions, or at least it won’t rule them out.

Based on some of the individuals already seeking the chair, many party leaders anticipate a change in rules will be proposed soon that allows any at-large member of the Republican Party of Florida committee to seek the top post.

That could help someone like Peter Feaman, a Republican National Committeeman who recently lost his spot as Palm Beach County Republican State Committeeman.

And it could help a state lawmaker who wanted to run for chair, such as Donalds. So long as the appetite for his leadership remains.

But this all depends (in many ways) on whether Blaise Ingoglia seeks another term. And even if he does, there’s also longtime interested candidates like Evan Power and Christian Ziegler who have been eyeing the chair for the past few years.

It could be one county chairmanship was just one unconquerable obstacle for anyone jumping into the contest right now.

Neil Combee: ‘Criminal’ Ross Spano broke multiple laws to win

Former congressional candidate Neil Combee didn’t know what hit him in the final days of the Republican primary in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. He’d outraised his opponent — by enough, he thought, he could keep money in the bank for the general election.

Then came the barrage of attack mailers.

“We didn’t know what was happening behind the scenes,” Combee tells Florida Politics. “We were blindsided in broad daylight. Now it all makes sense.”

Republican opponent Ross Spano, as it turned out, came into a large amount of money just before the election, not from fundraising but from a personal loan illegally funneled into his campaign account in the guise of a loan from the candidate.

Spano on Saturday admitted in a letter to the Federal Election Commission he’d borrowed more than $180,000 from two individuals, Karen Hunt and Cary Carreno.

Some $70,000 of that came before the Aug. 28 primary, when to the surprise of many Spano beat Combee.

Of course, Combee didn’t know then to check Spano’s financial disclosures or to scrutinize rapid expenditure reports. “We weren’t doing opposition research,” he said. “We were just going out and saying what we stand for and believe.”

But he did note what he saw in plain view. A supporter complained to the FBI that a campaign stunt by Spano to cover concealed carry courses for voters seemed a lot like a bribe.

When Spano started offering gas rebates to highlight an unpopular tax vote Combee took as a Polk County Commissioner, Combee publicly slammed the move as a “blatantly illegal attempt to bribe voters.”

But Combee credits Democrat Kristen Carlson with finding the good stuff. Spano’s general election opponent started noticing the candidate’s failure to file all of his finances. In fact, Spano never did so until a couple of days before the general election.

That’s where the disclosures of personal loans to Spano first publicly appeared.

Spano won the general election anyway.

But Carlson didn’t let up. She sent a letter to the FBI calling for a criminal investigation. Spano’s team called that a political stunt.

Then this weekend, Spano admitted he’d wrongly used personal loans for his campaign, and said he’d gotten bad advice on the legality of the maneuver.

Combee doesn’t buy it. Why does a former Attorney General candidate not understand the law well enough to know a personal loan being used to finance a campaign effectively serves as a donation? And how can that excuse work now?

“Had I known that the remedy may be to say I got bad advice and ask for forgiveness,” Combee said, “I bet I could have found some sugar daddy that needed a friend in Congress to ‘loan’ me a wad.”

But that obviously runs around campaign finance law, Combee said.

That’s why out of eight candidates running in the 15th District, only Spano faces these accusations of . Only Spano failed to file his financial disclosures. Only Spano faces accusations he bribed voters.

The most revelation prompted a call by Florida Politics editor Peter Schorsch for Congressional leaders to deny Spano his seat.

Combee’s thoughts? He simply noted that in the world of law enforcement, there’s a word for people who repeatedly violate the law, whether they claim ignorance or not.

“If you commit a crime, then you are a criminal,” COmbee said.

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum to speak at Washington civil rights conference

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum will speak in Washington, D.C., at a conference on civil rights.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights hosts its “Bend Toward Justice” gathering in the nation’s capital on Tuesday.

Gillum will participate in a conversation with The Beat DC co-founder Tiffany Cross.

The event shows some of the national star power the former Tallahassee Mayor continues to hold, even after his narrow defeat this year to Republican Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis.

The D.C. event this year has expanded to be an all-day conference for the first time and expects to see 500 rights advocates convene at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Gillum, along with potential presidential candidate and New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Hawaii U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, Washington U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and Michigan U.S. Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib, will headline the event.

But civil rights voices from across the nation will lead other sessions as well.

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition President Desmond Meade will participate in a conversation with Advancement Project executive director Judy Browne Dianis

That talk comes fresh off the heels of a major victory for the Restoration Coalition, namely the passage of Amendment 4 in Florida, which will automatically restore voting rights for an estimated 1.4 million nonviolent felons before the next election.

Gillum and his wife, R. Jai Gillum, championed the issue on the campaign trail, so it’s likely the measure will be discussed by the former gubernatorial candidate as well, especially in the wake of losing the governor’s mansion by just 32,463 votes, or 0.4 percent of more than 8.2 million cast.

The Democrat, who did make history this year as the first African-American to win the Florida gubernatorial nomination for a major party, drew a national spotlight to the sometimes racially charged election.

He will speak in Washington days after his campaign announced its “Next Steps” effort to direct volunteer support from the Governor’s race toward other policy issues and the election of progressive candidates to office in Florida.

Andrew Gillum campaign looks toward ‘Next Steps’ after defeat

What’s a political campaign to do once their candidate loses?

The Andrew Gillum campaign vowed to continue as a movement and build Florida’s progressive grassroots.

An email headlined “The Mid-Terms are over … Now What?!’ was blasted out to supporters statewide Sunday evening, encouraging those who worked to elect Gillum as Governor to continue the fight.

The organizing, canvassing, phone banking and hard work we put into this campaign has grown into a Movement,” the email blast reads.

The piece encourages volunteers to sign up for a “Next Steps” effort, linking to a website gathering information. Supporters can sign up to receive emails on the “Next Steps Conversation,” about voter registration, voter education, and engagement, or ballot protection, all priorities of Gillum in the wake of his ultimately unsuccessful bid for Governor.

Those options showcase efforts on the part of Democrats as they strive to compete in a year when the Governor’s Mansion and a U.S. Senate seat were lost by less than half a percent of the statewide vote.

Gillum supporters felt particularly stung on Election Day, as the Democrat went into voting ahead in most polls. The RealClearPolitics RCP average showed Gillum leading Republican Ron DeSantis by 3.6 percent on average, but DeSantis ultimately won by 32,463, or 0.4 percent of more than 8.2 million votes cast.

The email blast says Gillum fully supports continued campaign efforts and outlines three programs the campaign apparatus plans to continue.

Those include a “volunteer-driven organization” to address specific local and state issues and policies.

Next, efforts turn toward identifying and recruiting progressive candidates to run for office statewide.

Finally, the campaign looks to consult and deliver more effective campaign strategies to manage and run campaigns from School Board to Governor over the next four years.

What this means for Gillum’s political future remains unclear. New Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey was sworn into office on Nov. 19, replacing Gillum in his immediate past office.

The Next Steps Conversations themselves likely won’t begin in earnest until after the holiday season concludes, the email says.

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