Bill Rufty, Author at Florida Politics

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

Poll gives Robert Doyel a 5-point lead over Kelli Stargel in battleground SD 22

Retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel has the largest competitive edge of any of the six Republican-held Senate seats specifically targeted by the Florida Democratic Party, according to a recent internal survey.

The Winter Haven Democrat is running for Senate District 22, which covers northern Polk County and southern Lake County and is currently held by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel.

The Florida Democratic Party’s internal poll numbers show Doyel has a higher name recognition in his district than any other Democratic Senate candidate in a targeted race at 54 percent — that means higher than House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, higher than former state Rep. Amanda Murphy and higher than Gainesville physician Kayser Enneking, who started hitting TV last week.

The internal survey also shows Doyel with a 5 percent advantage over Stargel, 45-40 percent, giving him the heretofore biggest lead among the six contested races. The only recent public poll showing one of the six targeted candidates with a lead came in SD 18 early last month, where Cruz held a 1-point lead over Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, 44-43 percent.

The random sample poll was conducted July 23-26 and took responses from 402 likely voters from all parties and results were statistically adjusted to mirror the demographics of the district.

Unlike Stargel, Doyel has to get past a primary challenger in two weeks, however, the poll didn’t give a window on his chances in that contest.

Doyel faces former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, who represented Osceola County from 2012 through 2014. His campaign headquarters is listed as Auburndale which, unlike his former stomping grounds, is within SD 22. Still, he has been a no-show from many forums and campaign events.

In addition to District 22, the state party is targeting Gainesville-based SD 8, Pinellas and Pasco-based SD 16, Tampa-based SD 18, St. Petersburg-based SD 24 and Hialeah-based SD 36. In each instance, party officials have determined that the seats are winnable by a Democrat, though only SD 18 and SD 36 were carried by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Party officials added that the bright polling for Doyel may help him boost his fundraising numbers over the next few weeks as large institutional donors have their doubts assuaged and begin to see his potential for success in November.

As of Aug. 3, Stargel had about $425,000 banked between her campaign account and an affiliated political committee, Limited Govt for a Stronger Florida. Doyel, meanwhile, has raised $125,215 in campaign funds and has $73,212 at the ready, followed by Rangel with $6,145 raised and pennies in the bank.

Baxter Troutman ramps up TV spending in Ag. Commissioner bid

The Baxter Troutman campaign moved into a higher gear Saturday in the Republican primary for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture with two ads in the Orlando media market, campaign manager Carlo Fossi said.

The television ads on began running on Fox News and local network channels showing the Winter Haven businessman and former state Representative talking of the positive future for Florida agriculture and his plans for consumer protection segment of the office.

The second ad is his wife, Becky Troutman, discussing her husband and his race.

The two ads have been running in other parts of the state for a few weeks, but the entry into the Orlando market signals an aggressive increase in the campaign leading up to the Aug. 28 primary.

The media market contains about 25 percent of the Republican voters in the state.

“While Our opponents continue to squabble amongst each other, we’ll continue pushing Baxter’s positive message for Florida agriculture,” Fossi said.

The reference is to Rep. Matt Caldwell of Lehigh Acres accusing Sen. Denise Grimsley of receiving and not returning campaign money from disgraced Sen. Jack Latvala through a third party PAC. Grimsley said the accusation is Caldwell stooping to dirty politics.

A fourth Republican in the primary race, Mike McCalister of Plant City has so far not posted ads or mail outs.

Poll: Bob Doyel slightly edges incumbent Kelli Stargel in Senate District 22

A poll released by the state Senate campaign of retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, a Winter Haven Democrat, shows him edging Republican incumbent Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland in the November general election for the Republican-leaning District 22.

The poll shows a preference of 45 percent for Doyel to 40 percent for Stargel with 15 percent undecided if the election were held today. With a margin of error of 4.9 percent, however, the results are just barely out of a statistical tie.

Asked if they wanted to re-elect Stargel or someone else, the poll said 33 percent of the voters want Stargel re-elected, 39 percent said they they’d vote for someone else, and 28 percent said they didn’t know.

The district breakdown is 42 percent Republican to 38 percent Democrats.

The poll results do not show a Democratic primary matchup versus Ricardo Rangel, who lists his address as Auburndale, but who served a term in Florida House from Osceola County.

Doyel and Stargel are each well known by 54 percent of the voters who were surveyed.

Asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of each candidate, 37 percent of the voters surveyed said that they had a favorable view of Doyel while 17 percent said unfavorable with the remainder as undecided or no answer.

While voters were not asked their reasons for their favorable or unfavorable views, Stargel has taken hits recently by school board members and teachers for the Republican legislators’ actions on school policies and funding,

The race has been identified as a priority by the Florida Democratic Party of Florida and has brought funding and advice from the state party, not seen in the area in many years. It is still the only race in Senate or House districts anchored in Polk County in which the state party has taken a direct interest.

The random telephone poll of 402 likely voters in the November General Election in Senate District 22, was conducted July 23-26. It was conducted by Kevin Akins of Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.

The poll included an oversample of 50 voters in the Lake County portion of the district to bring the results up to a measurable proportion. It also included a party breakdown in proportion to the voters in the district, 43 percent Republican, 36 percent Democrat 21 percent No Party Affiliation or Other.

Polling included the use of both landline and cellphone numbers. Pollsters said the poll results were weighted to reflect the traditional 7 percent GOP turnout advantage.

After a heartbreaking Polk County deportation, introspective Darren Soto lays it out at Tiger Bay

Friday should have been a victory lap of sorts for Democratic Congressman Darren Soto — he was still receiving rave reviews from many in the party for his debate with primary challenger former Congressman Alan Grayson, and he had many local accomplishments to tout in his first term in Congress.

But he arrived at the Thursday luncheon of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club tired and introspective. The deportation to Mexico of 20-year Polk County resident Alejandra Juarez earlier in the day and his long fight to prevent it had taken a toll.

After a campaign to get support in Congress and with federal agencies, Soto accompanied the family to the airport in Orlando to say goodbye to the wife of a Marine veteran.

Temo Juarez is a naturalized citizen and Marine veteran who served two deployments to Iraq and Africa. Her two daughters were born in the United States; both are citizens.

“It was highly emotional and (the deportation order) just puzzled minds,” Soto said. “It was a sad morning.”

Alejandra Juarez says goodbye to daughters Pamela, 16, and Estella, 8, as U.S. Rep. Darren Soto looks on.

There are two options, Soto said.

“We are seeking an appeal for reconsideration by the Department of Homeland Security. The second option is if there is a change in Congress,” referring to a possible Democratic majority after the midterm elections in November.

Many Democrats at the luncheon were boisterous that Soto would be the one returned to the seat from Florida’s 9th Congressional District. They viewed the primary debate Wednesday with Grayson as a victory and cited all of his endorsements. The Republican candidate would face an overwhelming “blue wave” regardless of who wins the primary, they said, because of the heavily Democratic registration in the district.

Soto began with a litany of grants and bills he had brought to Polk County in his first term. Part of that legislative recounting to the group may have been to combat Grayson’s campaign ads claiming he brought back more benefits to the district when he was in Congress.

Thirteen of the 17 cities in Polk County is within CD 9, which also includes all of Osceola County and portions of Orange County.

The shopping list was frugal, though widely distributed:

— Money for improvement of the airports in Winter Haven and Lake Wales, along with the Bartow airport which is in his district, but the city is not. “All emerging cities,” he said

— New police cars for Lake Hamilton.

— Additional funds for fighting last year’s wildfires, which he worked with Congressman Dennis Ross a Lakeland Republican,

“These are the day-to-day things done to solve people’s problems,” he said.

He also refuted Grayson’s claims in television ads that he was in Washington when Hurricane Irma hit.

“I was in with my wife in our home in Celebration. I returned before the hurricane and was flying back with (Congresswoman) Val Demings. The plane was almost empty flying into Florida with a hurricane approaching,” he said. “Then I was out to emergency centers.”

An obvious question from a Polk County crowd — What about citrus greening? — put Soto in a nearly professorial role, considering his position on the House Agriculture Committee, where he discusses plant biology, pesticides and grower-developed treatments of trace metals.

It is crucial to solve the disease, Soto said, noting that in a single year citrus production had dropped from a projected 70 million boxes to 30 million boxes — cutting work for many in the large juice production companies.

He praised the research station in Lake Alfred noting that a new gift fruit species, known as Sugar Bell has shown signs of being resistant to the greening disease.

When asked about the dissent and combativeness in Congress, Soto replied that while there are massive differences on large bills, there is bipartisan cooperation on key everyday issues.

“Eighty percent of our bills pass every day,” Soto said. “A few weeks ago, I passed a bill to protect sharks, marlins and swordfish. It passed House and Senate on voice votes … there are hundreds of examples like that.”

On Puerto Rico statehood, he said there likely could be a bill or resolution in the next few months.

Baxter Troutman, wife bash ‘liberal’ media coverage of Trump rally

Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Baxter Troutman and his wife Becky are taking to the airwaves (and Internet) to criticize one reporter’s characterization of attendees at the Donald Trump rally Tuesday in Tampa as “hillbillies.”

The former state Representative from Winter Haven posted a Facebook video decrying the situation and suggesting more civility from the news media.


“During the event, the mainstream media really went after Trump supporters and calling them ‘toothless hillbillies’… and that is despicable.

“The liberal media, the left, is doing everything they can to discredit Republicans,” he said.

He ended his video telling journalists that they “have a responsibility to your views and readers…take the high ground, guys.”

Troutman’s complaints appear to be directed at POLITICO Florida reporter Marc Caputo, who on Wednesday retweeted a video of Trump supporters heckling CNN reporter Jim Acosta adding that “If you put everyone’s mouths together in this video, you’d get a full set of teeth.”

After writing that message, Caputo engaged in some back-and-forth with those offended by his remarks before issuing the following apology a few hours later:

Thursday, Becky Troutman released a statement of her own referring to the news media as “reporters” in quote marks, implying they really weren’t professional journalists.

She said: “‘Reporters’ attacking civilians for expressing their first amendment rights is despicable. And ‘reporters’ who engage in such behavior should no longer be considered reporters; they’re glorified ‘blogsters’ pushing an opinion.”

The comment was made by one reporter following the rally in which Trump pointed to the press section at the Florida State Fairgrounds and called them ‘fake news.” Videos shot that evening show several of Trump supporters turning and screaming at those in the press box and making derogatory remarks to them.

The reporter has since apologized for the emotional retort, but candidate Troutman said the situation is not diffused. But he continued to refer to professional journalists as the mainstream media rather than the president’s caustic terms.

GOP Agriculture Commissioner race heats up on the air

As primary day nears, the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner heats up on the airwaves, as two of four Republicans running are out with new campaign ads this week.

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven is launching a new ad in the district of state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who is also seeking the Republican Ag Commissioner nomination.

Meanwhile, Florida Politics reported earlier that state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Zolfo Springs is also starting to run “Get it Done,” an ad that addresses phone fraud.

Also competing in the Aug. 28 Republican primary is retired Army Colonel Mike McCalister.

Troutman’s ad is premiering in the Fort Myers-Naples area, largely in Caldwell’s state House district. The spot features segments of other ads he ran in Central Florida, featuring a scene with his wife and daughter, in the boardroom of his employment service and in hunter’s camouflage with a rifle on his shoulder.

Grimsley, who previously ran TV ads on her agricultural background, is now highlighting another responsibility for the head of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service – addressing unwanted calls from telemarketers.

During her time in the state Senate, Grimsley helped pass legislation to allow phone companies to block “spoofed” numbers, which telemarketers use to look like a local call, but are actually from out-of-state or overseas.

Starting Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle and its heartland, the spots will appear in countries roughly south of Polk County in the center of the state, which somewhat corresponds to her state Senate District 26. They will be expanded statewide later, she said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has endorsed Caldwell, a move that perhaps is forcing the other two candidates, who have each outraised the Fort Myers Republican in campaign funds, to spend more on television ads.

Cook Political Report puts CD 15 in play for Democrats

An open seat in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, held by a Republican since 1984, could be in play for Democrats and Kristen Carlson is the front-runner in the Democrats’ primary, according to the latest assessment by the authoritative Cook Political Report.

The report, which analyses congressional elections, has lowered its assessment of the race in the district, from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

Part of the reason is the disarray and competition among Republicans, the report indicates.

Five Republicans are competing for their party’s nomination for the general election to replace U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, who is not running for re-election.

But the report narrows the front-runners for the GOP to Rep. Ross Spano of Tampa and former Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City.

Left unsaid is that the race of the two front-runners mirrors the competition in the party between Polk County, which has had control of the district for decades and Hillsborough County, which after the last redistricting, has the most voters in the district.

Carlson, a former general counsel for the Citrus Commission and current counsel for citrus juice producers, joined the race two days before the qualifying deadline. She is running against Navy veteran Andrew Learned of Valrico and aviation instructor and retired police detective Ray Pena of Lakeland, both of whom have been in the race for more than a year.

She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, a national organization that promotes and supports the election of women to Congress and state legislatures. In part, because of the endorsement, she has amassed a campaign war chest of almost a quarter of a million dollars, larger than any Democrat or Republican in the race.

Learned has also acquired campaign funds close to $200,000. The primary might also be a Hillsborough-Polk race on the Democratic side too.

However, the Cook Political Report notes:

“This district is well within the strike zone of plausible Democratic targets, and Carlson’s experience with citrus could make her formidable in November, particularly if Republicans struggle to unite.”

Kristen Carlson - CD 15

Kristen Carlson begins running TV, mail ads in CD 15

Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson has begun major ad campaigns this week in her quest for Florida’s 15th Congressional District seat that covers portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

Television ads featuring school children and Carlson began running on Facebook and in the regional areas of MSNBC and CNN. A former general counsel for the Florida Citrus Commission, Carlson discusses her role in exposing and stopping out-of-state orange juice manufacturers of tampering with their product sold in Florida.

At the time the Citrus Commission found the companies added sugar, diluted the juice (and thus the nutritional benefits) and possibly added harmful fillers to the juice.

Campaign manager Conor Hurley said the television ad buy was about $28,000.

In the same week, direct mail ads for Carlson are arriving at homes of registered Democrats in the district. Carlson is competing against Ray Pena of Lakeland and Andrew Learned of Valrico for the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican side, five candidates are seeking their party’s nomination for the post. Among them is former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City, whose campaign like Carlson’s started ads on Facebook first. But Combee said his campaign now is evaluating costs versus results before deciding to put the ads on television.

Progressive veterans group endorses Andrew Learned in CD 15

VoteVets, an organization of military veterans who identify themselves as progressives, has endorsed Democrat Andrew Learned of Valrico for the open seat for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Founded in 2006, the Political Action Committee defines its mission as electing veterans to public office, focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and “hold public officials accountable for their words and actions that impact America’s 21st-century troops and veterans.”

Learned, has served nine years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, including three Middle East deployments, and is currently a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve.

“Tampa has a chance to send a new generation of leadership, and true patriotic public servant, to the United States Congress, to stand up for Tampa’s working families,” Jerry Green, Florida Outreach Director for VoteVets, said in the group’s endorsement release.

CD 15 includes portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

Ross Spano

Ross Spano picks up Marco Rubio, Pam Bondi endorsements in CD 15

Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Tampa received what could be a major boost Thursday in his six-way Republican Primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District with an endorsement by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Earlier, Spano’s campaign released a poll showing he was 12 points ahead of his closest competitor, former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City. But with six Republicans running for their Party’s nod to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, someone could when with only 25 percent of the vote, making the race still a tossup.

The Rubio endorsement could be an aid in getting higher than that 25 percent.

“It is certainly an honor and I think it validates the very hard work done by our grassroots organizing,“ Spano said. “I am more energized than ever after this.”

Rubio said Spano has a proven history of advancing conservative values and his credentials as a member of the Florida House.

Spano also has picked up the endorsement from Attorney General Pam Bondi as well as three Polk County Commissioners, in part because of what they called Combee’s meddling in the election to choose his successor to his House seat.

CD 15 includes portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties. The winner of the Aug. 28 primary will face the winner of the three-way Democratic primary in the general election.

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