Darryl Paulson, Author at Florida Politics

Darryl Paulson

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

Darryl Paulson: Can Democrats regain control of the Florida Congressional Delegation?

Since losing control of the Florida Congressional Delegation over a quarter-century ago, the Democrats have their best opportunity to regain control in 2018.

All the signs on both the national and state level favoring the Democrats.

After his first year, Donald Trump is the most unpopular president in modern history. The generic vote favors Democrats and they have clobbered Republicans in special elections. The most stunning was the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore. If Republicans cannot win in ultra-red Alabama, can they win anywhere?

In Florida, Republicans have all but abandoned the race to retain the seat held by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for a quarter century. Why waste money in a seat that is heavily Democrat and that Hillary Clinton won by 20 percent.

Neighboring District 26, held by Republican Carlos Curbelo, will also be hard to retain. District 26 is the most Democratic district in the nation held by a Republican. Curbelo has raised over $2 million, so this is not a sure pickup for the Democrats.

Republican Brian Mast, in District 18, has also raised over $2 million, but pundits have moved the seat from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.” Mast, a double amputee from the Afghan conflict, has just announced his opposition to the sale of assault weapons. Will this help or hurt his campaign?

Republican Ron DeSantis is abandoning a safe seat in District 6 to run for governor. Will Republicans be able to retain this seat against a strong challenge from Nancy Soderberg, former national security adviser for President Bill Clinton?

Republican Gus Bilirakis in District 12 has won most of his races by 20 points or more, but he faces a tough challenge from former FBI agent and federal prosecutor Chris Hunter, who has skills in attracting media attention.

Finally, Republican Vern Buchanan in District 16 faces his most difficult campaign since defeating Keith Fitzgerald by 7 percent in 2012. Shapiro is an attorney with broad name recognition and the ability to raise sufficient resources. The defeat of Buchanan’s son James in a special election for a Florida House seat has heightened concerns for Buchanan’s supporters.

Republicans still have the advantage, but Democrats need only to flip three seats to take control of the delegation.

The opportunity is there. Will the Democrats be able to take advantage of the situation?

Darryl Paulson: The forgotten voices in the opioid debate

Anyone who follows the news knows that opioid abuse and drug deaths are a national problem; 63,000 Americans die of drug overdoses in 2016, an increase of 21 percent over 2015. Opioid deaths in Florida increased to 5,725 in 2016, a 35 percent increase over the previous year.

It is important to remember that opioid abuse covers a range of things, including street drugs and prescription opioids.

Of the 63,000 drug deaths in 2016, most were not related to prescriptions from doctors.

Fentanyl, which attracted national attention due to the death of Michael Jackson, accounted for 19,000 deaths. Most of these deaths came from illegally made pills or powder which was then mixed with heroin or other drugs. Most of the fentanyl was illegally imported from China.

Heroin accounted for 15,500 of the drug deaths. No physician prescribed this for their patients. Pain meds accounted for 14,500 deaths, but less than one-third of opioid abusers got their drugs from a doctor.

Everyone wants to reduce drug deaths, but the legislature must adopt a plan that focuses on the real problem. Most drug deaths do not come from doctor prescribed pain meds, so the plan to attack drug abuse must concentrate on the real source of the problem.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature are focusing on abuse of prescription opioids. This is important, but the Legislature must realize that this is not the primary source of drug abuse. They must also be careful not to impose burdens on Floridians who need the pain meds prescribed by their doctor.

We all want to eliminate illegal drug use and limit the over-prescription of drugs to those suffering from temporary pain. At the same time, we must realize that individuals suffering from a terminal illness, chronic pain or major surgery should not be denied access to pain meds that will allow them to function with minimal pain.

That decision should be made by the doctor, not the Legislature.

It is estimated that 11 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain. This is a particular problem for the elderly, and Florida has more elderly citizens than any state. I have had chronic pain since age 12. When I was 20, I could no longer sit in my University classes because of the pain.

I was forced to withdraw from classes and had my first major back surgery. My physician wrote the draft board, which had just requested I appear for my physical, that I was unfit to serve due to “chronic discogenic back pain.”

That surgery would be the first of three major back surgeries. I have had seven surgeries total, and five were major surgical procedures. This does not include more than a dozen other medical procedures ranging from numerous epidurals to a procedure where surgeons attempted to thread a wire up my spinal canal. Nor does it count the osteoarthritis that led to a total knee replacement.

I worry about the proposed three and seven-day limits on pain meds. This means that many Floridians will no longer be able to travel to visit friends and family because they won’t be able to get their pain meds. Vacations, especially overseas, will no longer be possible.

Many pain patients are elderly and will have difficulty seeing a doctor every 3 to seven days. Instead of one visit to a pain specialist a month, patients must now visit the doctor as many as 10 times a month. The cost will be prohibitive for many patients. Then imagine the difficulty of going to the pharmacy every three to seven days. Prescription costs will skyrocket.

Many in need of pain meds will likely go days without their meds because of the new guidelines. Withdrawal will happen.

Melissa Sanders-Self, a teacher who suffers from neuroendocrine cancer who must have radiation treatments every three weeks, describes her withdrawal symptoms because she often cannot get the pain meds the doctor has prescribed.

Sanders-Self writes: “Without medicines, I begin to vomit, shake and cry. I cannot concentrate.” Every chronic pain patient can relate to her experiences.

A final issue is that the Legislature is attempting to become the doctor. Remember when Republicans across the nation opposed “Obamacare” because they said it interfered with the doctor/patient relationship. Isn’t that precisely what the Legislature is now doing by dictating what medicines we may have and in what quantity?

We can cut down on illegal drug use, but we must realize that most problems do not come from doctors prescribing pain meds for their patients. The Legislature does have a responsibility to see that Floridians who have documented pain needs can get the medicines they need.

Imposing additional time and financial costs on those who are already suffering from severe medical problems is hardly compassionate.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Five potential flips for 2018

Although re-election rates for the U.S. House exceed 90 percent, eight of Florida’s 27 House seats, or 30 percent, switched in 2016.

Will these high turnover rates continue in 2018?

Here are five Florida races to watch. Republicans hold the four most vulnerable seats. The fifth, and least likely flip, is held by a first-term Democrat.

District 27 is the most vulnerable House seat in Florida and the entire nation. After a quarter of a century, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement. Seven Democrats are already vying for this seat, and former Health and Human Services cabinet member Donna Shalala, may become the eighth.

Current Democratic front-runner Mary Barzee Flores has launched a peremptory challenge to the 76-year-old Shalala, stating that her values are “quite different [from] my values and I think out of touch with the values of the Democratic Party. . .”

District 27 is one of two Florida congressional districts with a Democratic majority, but a Republican member of Congress. The district is +5 Democratic, which is one reason that the rating for the district moved from “likely Republican” with Ros-Lehtinen’s  to “leans Democrat” after she announced her retirement.

Republican Carlos Curbelo in neighboring District 26 holds the second most vulnerable seat. Democrats have a +6 advantage and the rating has moved from “leans Republican” to “toss-up.”

Curbelo has raised $2.25 million and has $1.7 million in the bank. His primary Democratic challenger, Debbie Murcasel-Powell, has raised $417,000.

The third district to watch is District 18 held by Republican Brian Mast. In the past four elections, the seat has rotated from Democrat to Republican to Democrat to Republican.

In recent months, the rating has moved from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.” Mast has raised over $2 million while his likely Democratic opponent, Lauren Baer, has $414,000 in the bank.

District 6 is the fourth most likely to flip. The seat has been held by Republican Ron DeSantis who would have easily retained the seat, but he has announced his campaign for governor. The district does have a +7 Republican advantage, but there is no solid favorite.

An open seat puts District 6 in play, even though it leans Republican. Republican businessman John Ward has raised $644,000, but all but $110,000 of that total came from a personal loan from Ward. Democratic favorite Nancy Soderberg has raised $545,000.

The fifth seat to watch is held by first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy in District 7. Murphy pulled a surprise upset of 12-term Republican John Mica and has raised $1.36 million so far to retain this seat. The district is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Two Republicans are vying to oust Murphy. State Representative Mike Miller has only $185,000 on hand, while businessman Scott Sturgill has $265,674 cash on hand. Given these weak numbers, Republicans will have a tough time winning this seat back

Darryl Paulson: Will partisan gerrymanders end this year?

We know Florida has the third largest population of the 50 states, which means it has the third largest congressional delegation. Its 27 members are split 16 to 11 in favor of Republicans, even though Republicans amount to 35 percent of the electorate.

Democrats are 38 percent of the Florida electorate, but their support is concentrated in the urban areas of Florida. Gerrymandering has become the lazy person’s way to explain political defeat. If we lose, it is due to partisan gerrymandering. If we win, we are better than the other side.

Democrats hoped that the Fair Districts Amendment, passed by over 60 percent of Florida’s voters, would end Republican dominance in the state. So far, that has not been the case.

Now Democrats hope that the United States Supreme Court will end Republican dominance by overturning partisan gerrymandering. Gill v. Whitford involves partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin where a Republican minority has resulted in Republicans dominating the state Legislature.

Democrats and critics of partisan gerrymandering believe the “efficiency gap” formula being advocated in Gill v. Whitford will bring an end to 200 years of partisan drawing of district lines. But, half of the members of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice John Roberts, argue that partisan gerrymandering would create enormous problems.

One of the problems is that the courts would be forced to ignore 200 years of judicial precedence if they overturn partisan gerrymandering. Courts are always reluctant to overturn precedence, especially precedence with a 200-year history.

A second problem is expressed in the comments of Chief Justice Roberts during oral arguments. Roberts argued that in negating such a long-held precedent, it would cause “very serious harm to the status and integrity of this court in the eyes of the country.”

Roberts expressed concern as to whether the country would understand and accept the use of a mathematical to decide constitutional law.

In an unusual move, the Supreme Court decided to hear a second case this term involving partisan gerrymandering. Seldom does the Court hear two similar cases in the same term.

The first case was the Gill v. Whitford case involving partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. The second case involves partisan gerrymandering in Maryland, where the Democrats have used gerrymandering to their advantage.

In hearing both cases, the Court could strike down the long-established policy of not interfering in partisan gerrymandering, while not appearing to favor either party. Democrats would be advantaged by overturning partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin, while Republicans would be advantaged by such a decision in Maryland.

Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued in a 1986 case that the Court should do what it has always done with respect to partisan gerrymandering:  stay out.

O’Connor argued that the Court did not need to get involved with partisan gerrymandering because “an overambitious gerrymander can lead to disaster for the legislative majority.”

Florida provides just such an example. After complete Democratic domination from 1845 until the 1990s, the Democrats turned down a Republican offer to create an independent reapportionment commission. Within a few years, the voters booted out the Democrats and Republicans have controlled the state Legislature and congressional delegation ever since.

Maybe O’Connor was on to something.

Darryl Paulson: President Oprah Winfrey?

Is Oprah Winfrey seriously considering a run for the presidency in 2020?

If so, will Americans support another celebrity politician with no political experience after the disaster known as Donald Trump?

If you ask me whether I would prefer having Trump or Oprah as a neighbor or a dinner companion, it is clearly Oprah. Ask me which one I would prefer having as president, the answer is neither.

I opposed Trump as president because I found him neither to be a Republican or a conservative. Most importantly, I found Trump to be uniquely unqualified to be president. Nothing has happened in his first year in office to change my opinion.

I would oppose Oprah Winfrey for the same reasons. She is extraordinarily successful; so was Trump. She is a billionaire; so is Trump. She has no political experience; neither did Trump.

Politics may be the only career where experience is considered a weakness. I hope you don’t choose your heart surgeon using the same criteria.

For those who argue that Oprah could not do any worse than Trump, I would argue that it is a low standard on which to judge a candidate. In addition, we won’t know if Oprah would be better or worse than Trump until she holds the position.

Supporters of Oprah argue that she is far more likable than Trump. She has consistently been rated among the most admired women in America. So was Hillary Clinton, and that did not help her in her presidential campaign.

Although Winfrey has no formal political experience, she did help secure passage of what is known as the “Oprah bill,” or the National Child Protection Act, which set up a national database of convicted child abusers.

Winfrey has given away tens of millions to support various causes, including the construction of 60 schools in 13 nations. One of those schools was the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Winfrey has strong ties to two critical Democratic constituency groups, women and African-Americans. This could be an asset in a presidential race.

Even many Republicans see Winfrey as a strong candidate. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, stated that Oprah is “more sensible on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands middle-class Americans better than Elizabeth Warren, is younger than Joe Biden and nicer than Andrew Cuomo.”

Oprah Winfrey’s negatives are long. Will American support another celebrity candidate with no political experience, or will they see her as a left-wing version of Trump?

Voters often select someone who is the opposite of the person occupying the White House. Will Oprah be seen as more of the same?

As a longtime media personality, every statement Winfrey has ever made will be reviewed and analyzed. How many times will we hear: “And you win a car. Everyone wins a car?”

A recent piece by Robert Tracinski described Winfrey as “our nation’s premier snake oil salesman.” Gwyneth Paltrow pushed her coffee enemas, Suzanne Somers offered her hormone therapy and vitamin treatments, and Jenny McCarthy attacked vaccinations for children on Oprah’s show.

Oprah created Mehmet Oz as “America’s Doctor.” Dr. Oz has recommended so many controversial cures that his colleagues at Columbia University wrote an op-ed saying that over half of his recommendations lacked scientific underpinnings. “Many of us are spending a significant amount of our clinical time debunking Oz-isms regarding metabolism game changers.”

Oprah is a successful person who has been a voice for the voiceless. Is that enough to qualify her as a presidential candidate?

Oprah’s elevation as a presidential candidate may simply signal the weakness of the Democratic Party and its pool of presidential candidates, just as Trump’s candidacy signaled the debacle that is now the Republican Party.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Democratic tsunami is coming

Forget the talk about Democrats picking up Congressional seats in 2018. If Democrats don’t take control of the House, it will prove that Democrats are either inept, or God has intervened for the Republicans.

Almost every political indicator going into the 2018 election favors the Democrats.

Midterms: The party occupying the White House has lost seats in the House in all but three elections over the past century. The average midterm loss is 33 seats. Democrats need to flip only 24 seats to take control of the House

President’s Approval Rating: Unpopular presidents stir the passion of voters to turn out in larger than normal numbers. President Barack Obama had only a -3 rating (46 percent approval, 49 percent disapproval) in 2010, but Democrats lost 63 seats primarily due to negative reaction to Obamacare without a single Republican vote. Many see parallels in the 2018 midterm with voters upset about the tax reform passage without a single Democratic vote. President George W. Bush was at a -16 rating (39 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval) and Republicans lost 31 seats. President Donald Trump is at a historic low in approval at -22 — just 36 percent approval.

Generic Congressional Vote: The Democrats had been leading in the generic congressional vote by 7 percent during much of 2017. That lead has now grown to anywhere between 12 to 18 points according to three surveys. Each would be the largest lead in the generic vote in congressional election history. There are currently 58 Republican seats with a partisan lean of 12 points or less and 103 seats with a partisan lean of 18 points or less. If these numbers hold, Democrats could pick up far more than the 63 seats that Republicans won in 2010.

Special Elections: There have been 70 special elections for state and federal legislative seats in 2017. Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean in 74 percent of those elections. The Democratic margins have exceeded the lean by 12 percent. In April, a special election was held in Kansas to replace Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo, who resigned to become director of the CIA in the Trump administration.

Trump carried the district by 27 points.  The Republican candidate won by only 7 points, a shift of 20 points to the Democrat. A 21 point rout by Trump in Montana was followed by a mere 6 point win for the Republican candidate in a May special election. A 19 point Trump victory in South Carolina’s 5th District turned into a 3 point squeaker for the Republican candidate in a June special election. In a state senate race in Miami, Annette Taddeo, who had lost multiple races for office, defeated a well-known and well-financed Republican to win a low-turnout special election.

Democrats had a long record of losing such races.

Democrats easily won gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia and picked up scores of seats in the Virginia legislature. Finally, a 28 point Trump victory in Alabama turned into an embarrassing Republican loss in a special election to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become Trump’s Attorney General. Democrats had not won a Senate race in Alabama since 1992. It was so bad that only 41 percent of Alabama Republicans had a favorable impression of Republican Roy Moore, while 51% had a favorable impression of Democrat Doug Jones.

Republican hopes rest on the belief that circumstances will change between now and election day. They could change, but that also means circumstances could get even worse for Republicans. For example, many Republicans hope the recently passed tax bill will benefit them politically when many voters see extra dollars in their paychecks. However, the economy has steadily improved during Trump’s first year, and he has received virtually no benefit from that.

Second, Republicans hope that we are in a different political environment. They point to the fact that Trump’s approval numbers were lower than Hillary Clinton’s, but voters still elected Trump.  They are hoping that Trump’s low approval numbers will not have an adverse impact on Republican congressional candidates.

Finally, Republicans hope that Democrats will continue to blow political opportunities, just as they blew the 2016 presidential election. Democrats have often pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.

As Ed O’Keefe and Dave Weigel recently wrote in the Washington Post: Democrats “can’t agree on what the party stands for. From immigration to banking reform to taxes to sexual harassment, many in the party say it does not have a unified message to spread around the country.”

Will Democrats push too hard on the Trump impeachment?  Will the party come up with a unified vision of the future? Finally, who will be the face and spokesperson for the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is out, but are Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders any better?

Democratic hopes for 2018 may depend on Republicans being more inept than Democrats. It should be a great battle.

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and Elections.

Darryl Paulson: Al Franken is a big, fat sexual predator

In 1996, Al Franken wrote a book called “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.”

I understand Limbaugh is working on his book about Franken, which he will call “Al Franken is a Big Fat Sexual Predator.”

What comes around, goes around.

After 20 years as a writer and cast member for Saturday Night Live, Franken concluded that he had much to offer to the political realm. He wrote a series of books critical of conservative politics. In addition to his Limbaugh book, Franken wrote: “Why Not Me” (1999), “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” (2003), “The Truth” (2005), and “Giant of the Senate” (2017).

Franken also decided to sign with Air America Radio and go head-to-head with Limbaugh on the radio. Franken got crushed, and Air America folded after a few years.

The death of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone in an October 2002 plane crash would create a new political opportunity for Franken. Minnesota Democrats selected former senator and Vice President Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone and take on Republican St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.

Coleman pulled off a surprising upset of Mondale, defeating him 50 to 47 percent.

Six years later, Franken moved back to his native Minnesota and was positioned to take on Coleman. Franken led the field of Democratic challengers until a Playboy article that he wrote in 2000 surfaced. The article was about a virtual reality sex institute where men were free to do whatever they wanted with women. Feminists were outraged, and Franken apologized and was able to secure the nomination.

On election night, both Coleman and Franken received 42 percent of the vote, with Franken leading by 206 votes. A recount increased Franken’s led to 312 votes and July 7, 2009, eight months after the election, Franken was sworn in as Minnesota’s junior senator. As the 60th Democrat in the Senate, Franken was critical in securing passage of Obamacare.

After defeating Coleman, Franken worked hard to suppress any comedic impulse flowing through his veins. Franken wanted to be considered as a serious politician, not a funny politician. He impressed senators across the aisles, who praised Franken for his hard work and serious demeanor.

In 2014, Franken easily won re-election, defeating his Republican opponent Mike McFadden by a 53-43 percent margin.

After Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016, speculation immediately arose about Franken running for president in 2020. Progressives created a “Why Not Al” movement along with a “Draft Al Franken” website. Few doubted that Franken would be a serious candidate.

Franken’s announced resignation from the Senate not only ends his Senate career but also any talk of a presidential campaign.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will now appoint a replacement for Franken until a 2018 special election. Speculation is that Dayton will appoint Tina Smith, his Lieutenant Governor.

Smith is the likely replacement for Franken for three reasons. First, Dayton picked her as his Lieutenant Governor, so he is a close personal and political friend. Second, a female replacement seems appropriate since seven women have come forth and alleged they were assaulted by Franken.

Finally, Smith has indicated that she will be a caretaker replacement and is not interested in running in the 2018 special election.

Possible Democratic candidates in the 2018 special election include Betty McCollum who represents Congressional District 4, Keith Ellison from District 5 and Rick Nolan in District 8. Another possibility is Ileana Omar, a state representative, who would become the first Somalia-American in the Senate.

Republican candidates include members of Congress Tim Walz of District 1, Erik Paulsen of District 3 and Tim Emmer of District 6. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is another possibility, along with former Sen. Norm Coleman. A final candidate might be Stuart Mills, heir to the Fleet Farm fortune, who narrowly lost a campaign against incumbent Democrat Richard Nolan for the Congressional District 8 seat.

Whoever the nominee, the open seat race will force the nominees to raise $20 million if they want to seriously contend.

Although Minnesota has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 1976, longer than any other state, the Republicans hold the state Senate by one seat, the state House by 20 seats and Clinton carried the state by just 1.5 percent, her smallest margin of victory of any state other than New Hampshire.

Minnesota is turning redder than most observers note, and this will create a very interesting 2018 special election.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: Republican prospects in the 2018 Florida congressional campaign

Republicans have controlled the Florida congressional districts for almost three decades.

During that time, the size of the Florida congressional delegation has jumped from 23 in 1990 to 25 in 2000, and 27 in 2010. Projections have Florida adding two more seats after the 2020 census, growing the delegation to 29 seats in the House of Representatives.

Only California and Texas have larger delegations.

Currently, Republicans hold 16 of the 27 congressional seats, meaning Democrats need to flip three seats to take control of the delegation. How likely is that to happen?

That’s the topic of Paulson’s Politics for next week.

Three decades of Republican control of the delegation is testimony to the party’s ability to attract quality candidates and to provide them with the organizational and financial support essential for victory.

Is Republican dominance of the delegation over?

At one point, there were as many as seven more Republicans than Democrats in the Florida delegation. Democrats had hoped that a judicial redraw of the congressional district lines in 2016, due to a League of Women Voters challenge to the legislature’s redistricting plan that they believed violated the Fair District Amendment, would allow Democrats to pick up a number of congressional seats. In the end, Democrats picked up one seat, reducing the Republican advantage to 16 to 11.

Floridians elected eight new members to the Florida delegation in 2016, the highest turnover rate of any state with at least eight members. Typically, 90 percent of House members win re-election.

Three incumbent Republicans retired and were replaced by three new Republicans. Two Republicans lost to Democrats and another Republican, Daniel Webster, moved from District 10 to 11 after his District was redrawn and made heavily Democratic. Republicans picked up two seats that had been held by a Democrat. Gwen Graham decided not to seek re-election after her District 2 seat was redrawn to favor Republicans, and Patrick Murphy abandoned his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate. Republican Neal Dunn won the Graham seat and Brian Mast won the Murphy seat. The net result was a one seat gain by Democrats.

One Republican strength has been that Republican voters have been more motivated than Democrats to turn out on Election Day, especially in midterms. Democratic advantages in voter registration numbers have been diminished by Republican advantage in voter turnout.

A recent Washington Post/ABC Poll indicates that the Republican edge in motivation will not be there in the 2018 midterms. An identical percentage of Republican and Democratic voters, 63 percent, indicated that they are certain to vote in 2018. That number may change by Election Day, but it has to be a concern for Republicans.

Republicans in Florida have been advantaged over the past three decades due to their organizational strength and their ability to finally support their candidates. This is no longer the case.

Democrats, who have had a long history of forming a circular firing squad and executing their own members, finally seem to have their act together. It is now the Republicans who are divided. When Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate to lead the party was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott told Republicans not to contribute to the party, but instead to his own Let’s Get to Work PAC.

The flow of money to the Florida Republican Party has slowed to a trickle, making it difficult to support more than a small number of candidates. During the first six months of 2017, the Florida Democratic Party raised $3.5 million compared to only $2.4 million for the Republicans. This is, and will be, a major problem for the Republican Party and their candidates heading into 2018.

NEXT WEEK:  An analysis of the 2018 congressional races. Will it be status quo, or will Florida experience a political tsunami?

Darryl Paulson: Political purges in American politics

Steve Bannon, a former Donald Trump political adviser and the head of Breitbart News, has declared a “season of war” against the Republican establishment.

Bannon is recruiting challengers to all Republican senators except Ted Cruz of Texas.

He is requiring all of the challengers to oppose the nomination of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as party leader. Bannon said the candidates he recruits must “play Brutus to your Julius Caesar.”

President Trump gleefully cheered the announcements this week that Republican senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee will not seek re-election in 2018. Flake was facing a difficult re-election bid, but Corker was favored to win re-election even though Trump said Corker “couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee.”

President Trump supports Bannon’s effort to a degree but has promised Republican senators Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and John Barrasso of Wyoming that he will support their 2018 re-election’s.

Trump has also noted that some of the people Bannon is seeking to purge are “great people” and he will “see if I can talk him out of that.”

Some purges have succeeded. Conservatives ousted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in 2014 after accusing him of being too moderate and too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Tea Party activists were able to purge several Republicans in 2010, including their support of Marco Rubio over Governor Charlie Crist in the Senate race. Some purges were embarrassing, such as the Tea Party support for Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell over proven Republican vote-getter Mike Castle. O’Donnell won the primary and got trounced in the general election.

Most purges have been dismal failures. The most famous political purge in American history was Franklin Roosevelt’s 1938 attempt to defeat Democratic opponents of his New Deal policies.

Roosevelt preferred an ideologically based party system, with a liberal Democratic Party and a conservative Republican Party. He used one of his “fireside chats” to encourage voters to throw out any members of Congress opposing his policies.

Roosevelt was operating from a position of strength. He won re-election to a second term in 1936 with 61 percent of the vote and lost only two of the 48 states.

In addition, FDR’s approval ratings were sky-high.

Key targets of the purge were Democratic senators Walter George of Georgia, Millard Tydings of Maryland and Ellison “Cotton Ed” Smith of South Carolina, along with a half-dozen other members of Congress.

How successful was Roosevelt? The purge failed. All the targeted senators won re-election and only one House member, John O’Connor of New York, was defeated.

Voters resented Roosevelt’s attempt to influence state elections. The use of the term “purge,” was a direct reference to the purges taking place in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Presidential historian Robert Dallek called the purge “a serious failure.” FDR failed to remove a single senator, and 60 percent of the voters disapproved of the purge/.

If one of the most popular presidents in history could not succeed in purging opponents, how will Trump and Bannon succeed? Trump barely won the election and his approval ratings are at an all-time low for a president in his first year in office.

As Roosevelt discovered, purges not only fail, but they can backfire. Purge targets became more embolden after beating back Roosevelt’s challenge.

More recently, the Tea Party challenged incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The Tea Party candidate won the primary, but Murkowski won the general election as a “write-in” candidate. Trump was powerless to try and win her support in Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Even if the purgers fail, they often claim a moral victory. When progressive Democrats opposed the nomination of former long-term Republican Senator Arlen Specter as the Democratic nominee, they challenged Specter in the primary. Specter won, but was so weakened that he lost to conservative Republican Pat Toomey. Purgers ousted the liberal Specter who was replaced by the conservative Toomey, but they claimed victory for ousting a political opportunist who had grilled Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings.

The ideological parties that Roosevelt desired came to pass due to natural events and not due to FDR’s attempts to cleanse the party. Roosevelt would likely be pleased that ideological parties have come to pass in America.

The unanswered question is: Are we better off with our ideological parties, or were we better served by our former party system where both parties had a mix of liberals, conservatives and moderates?

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Darryl Paulson: So much for presidential gravitas

Once again, President Donald Trump has taken what should be a solemn occasion and turned it into political theater. Unfortunately for Trump, he won’t win any Academy Awards for his performance.

On October 4, Sgt. La David Johnson and three other Green Berets were ambushed and killed in Niger. Only a dozen years ago, my daughter Rebecca served 27 months as a Peace Corp volunteer in Niger. Shortly after she left, the Peace Corps shut down its operations in Niger due to increased terrorist activity.

For almost a week after the deaths, President Trump made no mention of the tragedy in Niger. When asked about the incident at a press conference, Trump said that, unlike prior presidents, he calls the families of all fallen soldiers.

In fact, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, were upset by Trump’s statement. In addition, it turned out that Trump had not yet called the families of the four Green Berets.

Sgt. Johnson, from Miami, had previously participated in the 5000 Role Models program for at-risk boys established by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who represents the 24th congressional district in Miami. That was the start of a long-term relationship between Sgt. Johnson, his wife and Wilson.

That was why Wilson was riding in the car with Mrs. Myeshia Johnson on the way to pick up her husband’s body when Trump finally called Mrs. Johnson.

Mrs. Johnson asked the military escort to put the call on speakerphone so other relatives could here what the president had to say. Wilson was not eavesdropping on the call as General John Kelly, chief of staff, alleged.

According to Mrs Johnson and Wilson, the president did not seem to know Sgt. Johnson’s first name and he told Mrs. Johnson that he “knew what he signed up for. . . “

President Trump accused, via Twitter, Wilson of totally fabricating “what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” Trump later tweeted that Wilson was “wacky” and contended that she is “killing her party.”

Kelly compounded the problem when he alleged that Wilson claimed she was instrumental in getting funding for a new FBI building in Miami instead of focusing on the two slain agents for whom it was named. A videotape of her speech showed that Kelly’s comments were inaccurate.

Wilson has represented Florida’s 23rd Congressional District since 2010. She previously served in the Florida House (1998-2002) and Senate (2002-2010).

Wilson is best known for having a large collection of colorful hats which she wears every day. Press secretary Sarah Sanders alluded to Wilson’s hats when she accused Wilson of being “all hat and no cattle.”

Further complicating the issue was a statement made Sanders, who criticized reporters for attacking Kelly. “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star general, I think that’s highly inappropriate.” Since when did generals get immunity for what they say?

I see three apologies that need to be made. Trump needs to apologize to Mrs. Johnson, even if it is merely to say his statements were misconstrued and he honors the sacrifice of her husband.

Kelly should apologize to Wilson because his accusations cannot be substantiated by the evidence.

Finally, Sanders should apologize to the media for telling them to not be critical of a four-star general.

Since Trump is on record as saying he has never asked for forgiveness in prayer, one cannot expect him to ever apologize. Kelly and Sanders still have a chance to correct the record and make amends. I hope they do.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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