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.”

Democrat Kristen Carlson commits to $250K ad buy in CD 15

Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson’s campaign released a quarter million dollar campaign ad Tuesday in her race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The massive ad buy is her first major ad campaign since winning the party’s nomination in a three-way race in the August 28 primary. It will run over the major television network stations and cable stations covering the district for the next seven days and will not be the last, according to campaign manager Conor Hurley.

Carlson’s work as an attorney for several associations in the citrus industry in education and children’s safety and seniors are the main elements of the current campaign ad, including her work in detecting and stopping the import into Florida of altered citrus juices.

Carlson was endorsed by EMILY’s List early on in her primary race which carried with it several large contributions from associations and individuals who support the group’s campaign to elect more women and from local contributors as well.

Political prognosticators had rated her race against Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Valrico first as “Likely Republican” and then “Lean Republican.” The Economist magazine released a predictive model showing that it now considers CD 15 a “Toss Up.”

The seat is being vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who is not seeking re-election.

SD 26 candidates ‘debate’ first time face-to-face

Lake Wales Democrat Catherine Price and state Rep. Ben Albritton held the closest thing to a Senate District 28 debate Wednesday before the Tiger Bay Club of Polk County.

While they tried to play nice, it wound up becoming a political junkie’s dream.

The seat, currently held by Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican, will be vacant in the November election. Grimsley ran unsuccessfully for Commissioner of Agriculture in the Aug. 28 primary.

Albritton, term-limited from his House seat, is a citrus grower and partner in a grove management company. He is the former chair of the Florida Citrus Commission and served as chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and vice chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee, among others.

Price, a nurse and public health administrator, is in her first run for office hoping to spur state lawmakers to promote better health care, improved access and more affordable care in the state. She also served abroad in the Peace Corps.

Both seemed to agree there should be no laws allowing recreational use of marijuana or an immediate jump to $15 an hour minimum wage, although Price said it could be done incrementally.

They even started out polite.

Albritton praised her perspective on health care (her premier issue) and her intelligence “instead of a wing nut who just wants to get elected.”

“He is quite charming and a nice guy to run with,” Price said.

Nevertheless, the two took a few definite rhetorical shots at one another.

“I am tired of criticism and over testing. This has been a pretext for stripping money from public schools and giving it to for-profit schools,” she said.

Under a written question on education from the audience, Albritton said, “I support public, charter and home schools and follow the lead of some superintendents and principals that this is not just about money. What about home life? What about the community?”

SD 26 is geographically the largest, most rural, agricultural and Republican districts. Three of four candidates who ran in last month’s GOP primary for Agriculture Commissioner live in or very close to the district.

Beginning in southern Polk County the SD 26 runs south, including all or portions of Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Charlotte, Lee, Glades and Okeechobee counties.

What SD 26 is not is among the six current-Republican districts that the Florida Democratic Party has assigned special attention and funding to as “viable.” But Price said her almost continual presence among the eight counties will help her race.

“I am here because of the ‘blue wave.’ We need to have good strong debate on public issues,” Price said. “I have been all over the district and this is the first time I have met Ben … I haven’t seen him out there.”

“If you think I don’t move around in this district, keep thinking that all the way to the election. I have the endorsements and I know what I am doing. I hear a lot of non-specifics from you,” Albritton shot back.

Each insult brought a cheer from the crowd, of course.

By the end of the last reporting period, Albritton raised $241,720; Price listed campaign contributions of $38,010.

Robert Doyel defeats Ricardo Rangel in SD 22 Democratic primary

Retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel of Winter Haven defeated former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Osceola County to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for Florida Senate District 22.

The unofficial vote tally was 20,770 for Doyel, or 66 percent of votes cast, to 10,672, or 34 percent, for Rangel.

“I am happy with the outcome, but not resting,” the Doyle said. ” I will continue to run 12 hours a day, seven days a week until I get to Tallahassee.”

The Doyel campaign early on had broadcast that he collected the required signatures from 3,321 voters in Senate District 22 to qualify for the ballot without having to pay a filing fee.

The exercise was not so much to avoid the filing fee but to show he had a wide range of support, a consultant said.

Doyel did not campaign specifically against Rangel. In fact, he ignored him and instead campaigned heatedly against incumbent Republican State Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, who he now will meet in the general election Nov. 6.

The state Democratic Party has listed Senate District 22 as “viable” and sent assistance down for Doyel.

An internal poll conducted earlier this month showed Doyel with a 5-percentage point lead over Stargel. A Democratic Party official working with the campaign said they didn’t bother with tallies in a head-to-head with Rangel because his recognition factor from those surveyed never went above 20 percent.

Doyel served 16 years on the 10th Judicial Circuit bench before retiring in 2010. But has remained involved with social issues and family issues. He is the author of “The Baby Mama Syndrome,” a book dealing with the problems of unwed teenage mothers.

Rangel, who like Doyel is a military veteran had listed an Auburndale address for his campaign headquarters but would not confirm where he lived. He represented northern Osceola County for a two-year term 2012-2014.

Florida Senate District 22 covers most of northern Polk and southern half of Lake counties.

CD 15 Democratic primary split could mean general election defeat

The campaign of Kristen Carlson, a Lakeland Democrat running for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, is accusing primary opponent Andrew Learned of Valrico of negative campaigning.

Learned’s campaign claims Carlson‘s money is coming from outside the district, making her beholden to corporate campaign contributors.

A political scientist from Florida Southern College in Lakeland said the damage of a primary fight may very well end Democrat’s hope of flipping decades-long Republican control of the district.

A third Democrat, Raymond Pena of Lakeland, is also seeking his party’s nomination for the CD 15 seat and has largely been out of the fray between the two candidates.

“The whole race looks like the Democrats are in a primary fight that could mean trouble in November,” said Florida Southern professor Bruce Anderson.

The last highly competitive Democratic Primary in the region, now known as CD 15, was 1976 when Winter Haven banker Andy Ireland won the primary and general election. In 1984, Ireland switched to the Republican Party.

Republicans have represented CD 15 ever since.

The fact that two Democrats are “slugging it out” is an indication that Democrats believe that after more than 30 years of GOP control of the seat they have a chance to win it back.

Both campaigns appear to have left the issues and are nitpicking at each other.

Learned has criticized Carlson for accepting large corporate donations. Her campaign reached back and found a donation made to Learned from the Steel Manufacturers Association.

It was one contribution made before Learned said he would not accept corporate donations.

“Andrew Learned is running a negative, dishonest campaign,” said Conor Hurley, Carlson’s campaign manager, who does most of the talking for the Carlson campaign.

Learned disagreed. “That’s not personal,” he said. “That’s her on the record.”

Anderson said he believes such decisions should be left to campaign managers.

“Running your own campaign is the worst thing in the world,” Anderson said seeming to agree with the Carlson campaign’s relationship of letting its manager manage.

It might be true considering one ad takes on longtime Polk County families. The mailer states: “Carlson Gave to Extremist Republicans.”

The “extremists” she gave to, according to the mailer, were Adam Putnam and Jennifer Spath, both Polk County residents. Probably not a good idea to call Polk County’s “hometown boy” an extremist in mailers to Polk voters (regardless of party) or Spath who ran unsuccessfully as a mainstream Republican in a special primary election for the Florida House in January.

It is clearly a rookie mistake, and not a wise one. But perhaps neither is the Carlson campaign manager hammering at the opponent as well.

“Either could have a chance to win (over a Republican) but only with a united campaign in the general election,” Anderson said.

He added that Carlson and Learned appear to be at a point where they cannot work together after the primary and there will not be a united front against the Republican nominee in a traditionally Republican congressional district.

“I was at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco,” Anderson said. “When Walter Mondale won the presidential nomination the Gary Hart supporters and workers were ignored and practically thrown out. Everyone realized that Mondale then basically lost half the party.”

He had to run against Ronald Reagan, popular and running for his second term, with only half the Democratic Party,” Anderson said.

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.

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