Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 289

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

Joy Goff-Marcil ousts Bob Cortes in HD 30

Democratic Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil pulled off one of the big upsets of the night, soundly defeating Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes in Florida’s House District 30.

Goff-Marcil topped Cortes 55-45 in her Orange County portion of the district, and also defeated in in his Seminole County portion, 51-49 Tuesday night. Overall she won 53-47.

The victory topples a conservative Republican who had established himself as a leader in Tallahassee both on fiscal issues and in support for Seminole County’s rapidly-growing Puerto Rican population. Cortes was on the shortlist for Ron DeSantis’s running mate, and also made a name for himself countering the anti-capital punishment position of State Attorney Aramis Ayala in Orlando.

But Goff-Marcil pushed hard on her commitments to public education and local control for cities and counties, and knocked on thousands of doors throughout the district.

The district, covering inner-Orlando suburbs of Winter Park, Maitland, and Altamonte Springs, has been trending Democrat for years and she enjoyed a five-point Democratic voter advantage in registration.

Bill Posey re-elected in CD 8

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey may have seen his most organized Democratic opponent yet this fall but it made little difference as he easily won re-election to a sixth term representing Florida’s Space Coast in Congress.

Posey crushed Democratic activist and business consultant Sanjay Patel by a spread of 61 percent to 39 percent Tuesday, after Patel’s campaign raised more money and organized more volunteers than any previous challenger Posey has faced in Florida’s 8th Congressional District.

The Republican from Rockledge, who has a critical seat on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and on its Space Subcommittee, ran a campaign largely on supporting the economic policies of President Donald Trump and on his record in bringing the commercial space industry to life in Brevard County.

The district, which covers Brevard County, a piece of east Orange County, and a section of north Indian River County, went solidly for Trump in the 2016 election and has trended more Republican since.

Posey won in Brevard by 60 percent to 40 percent, and in Orange by slightly better, 61-39.

Republicans keep all four Brevard County House seats

Republicans are sweeping all four Florida House seats Tuesday, returning state Reps. Rene Plasencia, Thad Altman, and Randy Fine to office and keeping the other in GOP control by electing Tyler Sirois.

None of the four had much trouble, in what turned out to be a pretty red wave washing ashore along the Space Coast.

Plasencia, a former high school teacher and cross country coach from Orlando, whose House District 50 stretches from east Orange into northwest Brevard, defeated Democrat Pam Dirschka. He won a third term in the house, but his second term representing HD 50. He crushed Dirschka in her home Brevard County 65 percent to 35 percent, rolling up a 9,000 vote lead, though she won his Orange County by 1,000 votes, and a 51-49 spread.

Sirois, executive director for the state attorney’s office for Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit, from Merritt Island, overcame Democrat Mike Blake, a teacher and former Cocoa Mayor, to take House District 51, an open seat. With just a couple of districts not reporting yet, Sirois led 58 percent to 42 percent.

Altman,  president of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and an Indialantic resident, beat Seeta Durjan Begui, a Melbourne nurse. He won a second term in HD 52, though he has served continuously in the Florida Legislature since 2003, having earlier served in another house district, then two terms in the Florida Senate.

Altman had no problem, crushing her 64 percent to 36 percent.

Fine, a businessman from South Brevard County, had a little closer race, but Democrat Phil Moore, an athletic trainer from West Melbourne, 55 percent to 45 percent. That wins Fine a second term representing HD 53.

Anna Eskamani elected in HD 47

Riding what arguably has been a movement based entirely on her campaign, Democratic Anna Eskamani is on her way to easy election Tuesday to Florida’s House District 47, flipping the seat and sending the progressive avenger to Tallahassee.

Eskamani, a young progressive activist and former Planned Parenthood official, defeated Republican businessman and former political consultant Stockton Reeves to take HD 47, 57 percent to 43 percent, flipping the seat currently held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller.

From the very start her campaign broke molds and eventually set records as Eskamani brought her unabashedly-liberal platform and legions of supporters from the Orange County progressive community she had helped lead for several years as an activist.

HD 47 might be a purple district, leaning just four points Democratic in voter registration, but she campaigned for the deep-blue votes to be found in the urban neighborhoods around downtown Orlando, while also reaching out to the traditionally more Republican neighborhoods in Winter Park and the south Orange County suburbs of Belle Isle and Edgewood.

Reeves and the Republican Party, meanwhile, hammered her as a “radical” and cast him as a moderate, to no avail.

Eskamani, 28, of Orlando, raised more than a half-million dollars for her campaign and attracted national attention in numerous ways, starting with appearing on Time Magazine’s cover in January as one of the women’s march “avengers” set out to redefine politics from a woman’s perspective, and ending last week with features playing on youth-oriented shows on MTV News and Vice News.

She also pushed her own story, the daughter of Iranian immigrants who’d worked hard and sacrificed to achieve the American Dream for their children, and how she became committed to public service after her mother died from cancer.

In winning, Eskamani joins two other unapologetic progressive Democrats, state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado, who also easily won Tuesday, with a platform locked into women’s rights, gay rights, gun law reform, public education funding, minimum wage increases, and declaration of health care as a right for all.

Amy Mercado, Rene Plasencia, Carlos Smith re-elected

In election contests that were far from mysteries, voters returned Orlando Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado, and Orlando Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia to office in eastern Orange County Tuesday.

Mercado and Smith are leaders of the progressive wing of House Democrats and fended off token challenges from late-qualified Republicans George Chandler and Ben Griffin in House Districts 48 and 49 east-central and northeast Orange County.

They both won second terms with more than 63 percent of the vote in their Orange County districts.

Plasencia won a third term, but his second representing House District 50 in far eastern Orange and northwest Brevard County. To do so he faced a more formidable challenge from Democrat Pam Dirschka of Titusville, who has been campaigning for nearly a year.

Through early returns, Dirschka was leading by about 1,000 votes in Plasencia’s home county, but Plasencia was crushing her in her home, Brevard, leading her by nearly 9,000 votes there, with most precincts reporting.

All three have been highly active in the Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Central Florida and on Puerto Rico, a critical issue throughout eastern Orange County, which has a large Puerto Rican population and is home to thousands of hurricane refugees.

Darren Soto coasts to easy re-election in CD 9

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto won himself a second term as the only Puerto Rican member of Congress from Florida, representing Florida’s most Puerto-Rican district.

Soto, of Celebration defeated Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky Tuesday in a rematch of the election that sent Soto to Congress in 2018.This time Soto won 58 percent to 42 percent, running up big vote totals in Orange and Osceola counties, while Liebnitzky won by a slight margin in Polk County.

Soto represents a district that sprawls across all of Osceola County and much of south Orange and east Polk counties, taking in a number of communities that have been rapidly growing, and particularly growing with Puerto Rican migrants in the two years since he first took office.

Liebnitzky largely campaigned on issues tied to support of President Donald Trump and his economic policies, particularly of tax cuts and free enterprise. However, Soto pushed a mixture of moderate Democratic positions on economic issues with calls for vigorous environmental protection policies and a strong stand on gun law reforms.

Stephanie Murphy solidifies claim to CD 7

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who quickly went from “who’s she?” to “how did she do that?” when she ran for and won a stunning upset in Florida’s 7th Congressional District in 2016, is no longer anyone’s surprise, as she won easy re-election victory Tuesday.

Murphy, of Winter Park, defeated Republican state Rep. Mike Miller 58 percent to 42 percent Tuesday, claiming a lock on a district that her Republican predecessor had owned for 24 years.

Murphy won both in Orange County and in the more conservative Seminole County, providing Miller, also of Winter Park, no place to go to look for a base.

After her victory, Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo issued the following statement, “Over the last two years, Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy has proven to be one of the most effective leaders in Congress and tonight her community recognized her hard work with their overwhelming support at the ballot box.

“Congresswoman Murphy has cut through Washington’s gridlock to deliver real results, including $100 million for K-12 schools and universities in central Florida in the wake of Hurricane Maria and the lifting of the 22-year ban on federally-sponsored gun violence research. Congratulations to Congresswoman Murphy on her well-deserved victory tonight,” she concluded.

Her re-election victory rewards a first term that saw her cutting a decidedly centrist path in Congress, rejecting siren calls from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, though she was a frequent critic, and occasional legislative opponent, of President Donald Trump’s foreign affairs policies.

Miller, who had cut his own moderate path on many issues in the Florida House of Representatives, nonetheless took staunchly conservative positions on social issues such as abortion and gun reform, for which Murphy held liberal views. Yet he tried to characterize her chiefly as a tax-and-spend liberal, and she easily shrugged the attacks as largely false.

The result showed a socially-progressive voter base in the increasingly urban Seminole County and decidedly urban north and central Orange County that, at the least, preferred her overall package.

Andrew Gillum’s final ad shows happy Democrats bringing it home

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum is seeking to bring it home with his final television commercial showing happy Democrats rallying around his call to be the “governor for all.”

The 30-second spot, “Governor for All” is being released as the Democrat’s closing argument. He’s making it simple, with video shots showing crowds of young and old, black, Hispanic and white supporters smiling, cheering and reaching out to him as he vows to “create the kind of state that works for everybody again.”

“I want you to bring it home for the faces that I cannot recognize, the names that I cannot call,” Gillum declares in the commercial. “If we get out and vote, if we get out and organize, if we vote like our lives depend on it, we can have that kind of state.”

The commercial comes as voter turnout on Election Day is expected to make the difference, either making Gillum the state’s first black governor and first Democratic governor in 20 years, or bringing Republican Ron DeSantis into office with his vow to continue the conservative policies of Gov. Rick Scott.

For Gillum there always has been a link between his campaign slogan and the story hinted at in the new ad, and his campaign’s efforts to motivate Democrats to get out and vote. The commercial carries that tone to the end.

But we cannot do it without you,” he concludes. “So y’all, let’s bring it home. Let’s bring it home.”

Democrats tracking increases in younger voters, voters of color

Younger voters and voters of color have turned out in much greater numbers through early voting this year than in 2014, the Florida Democratic Party is reporting Tuesday morning.

The party released data tables Tuesday that also show white voters and older voters, key to the Republican base, are trending behind the levels seen in the last midterm election, in 2014.

Democrats are crediting their strategies for voter registration drives and their voter-turnout drives for targeting the Democratic-leaning demographics that traditionally don’t vote in great numbers.

“Early in 2018, the Florida Democratic Party set out to create the electorate we needed to win, as opposed to accepting the electorate we were told that we ‘had,'”  FDP Executive Director Juan Peñalosa declared in a news release. “Over the past year we’ve invested millions in technology, improved analytics, and outreach to communities of color and young voters – the result is an electorate that is significantly younger and more diverse than any midterm election in Florida history.”

According to the Democrats’ tables, African-American voters are trending two points higher this year as a proportion of the overall electorate, up to 14 percent; and Hispanic voters are trending three points higher, up to 13 percent. By contrast, white voters are making up 68 percent of the voting base thus far; that’s down 6 percent as a proportion of the overall total.

Likewise, younger voters are up, older voters are down, according to the Democrats’ tallies of voters so far, comparing voter turnout among early voters in 2014 to 2018. Those ages 18-29 are up three points, to 8 percent of the total, and those ages 30-39 also are up three points, to 9 percent. The oldest group, age 65 or older, are down five points as a proportion of the total vote, to 41 percent.

Voter registration shows 10 House seats most flippable, mostly toward Democrats

At least eight Republican-held Florida House seats should be in Democrats’ grasps — that is if voters vote their colors — while Republicans have two Democratic seats that ought to be flippable.

And another 14 districts, all but one of which are held by Republicans, the voter registrations between Republicans and Democrats are air-tight, within two percentage points.

That’s according to a Florida Politics analysis of voter registration trends that has Republicans picking up strength in rural, small-city, and exurban areas. Democrats meanwhile have improved in cities and inner suburbs.

A look at the latest voter registration numbers, broken down by Florida House District, shows registration trends turning the Orlando urban core more blue are also making Central Florida Republicans among the most vulnerable going into next Tuesday’s election. And that brings eight Republican seats into play, where Democrats actually have more voters in the districts, while just two Democratic-held seats are in districts with more Republican voters.

Many of the most pronounced are in Central Florida.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes‘ House District 30, including parts of south-central Seminole and north-central Orange counties, has moved three points toward Democrats, and now Democrats have a five-point advantage in voter registration there. Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, faces Democratic Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil.

Just to the south, House District 47 including much of north and central Orange County, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, has trended three points toward Democrats. Now that party has a four-point advantage in voter registration. Democrat Anna Eskamani and Republican Stockton Reeves are battling in that one.

Farther to the south, Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa‘s House District 42’s voter base remains unchanged, yet Democrats have a six-point advantage in voter registrations. La Rosa, of Saint Cloud, is being challenged by Democrat Barbara Cady.

In Jacksonville, the House District 15 seat being vacated by Republican state Rep. Jay Fant has trended two points toward Democrats, flipping the voter registration one point in Democrats’ favor. Republican Wyman Duggan and Democrat Tracye Polson are competing there.

In Tampa, House District 59 in eastern Hillsborough County, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, has lost a point of Republican voter registration and now Democrats have a four-point advantage. Republican Joe Wicker faces Democrat Adam Hattersley there.

Just to the north, House District 58 in eastern Hillsborough has trended back Republicans’ way by two points since 2016. Yet Democrats still hold a two-point advantage in voter registration. There, Republican State Rep. Lawrence McClure of Dover seeks re-election against Democrat Phil Hornback.

Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah is running for the Senate so his seat is coming open in House District 103, where Republican Frank Mingo will be facing a four-point Democratic advantage in voter registration favoring Democrat Cindy Polo. There has been no change in the party voter registration balance since 2016.

And in House District 120, Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein of Key Largo faces a one-point Democratic advantage as she seeks re-election against Democrat Steve Friedman. There has been no change in that district’s party proportions since 2016 either.

Republicans saw none of the districts now controlled by Democrats trend more into Republican voter control, but they do have two seats where incumbent Democrats face Republican-dominated voter rolls.

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good in House District 72 saw her district trend two points Democrats’ way since the 2016 election [she was elected in a special 2017 election], yet Republicans still have 42 percent of the electorate, compared with Democrats’ 33 percent. Good, of Sarasota, will be swimming against that still-strong tide again in seeking re-election against Republican Ray Pilon.

Democratic state Rep. Robert Asencio‘s House District 118 is essentially unchanged in party balance, yet it still leans Republican by three points. Asencio will have to buck that voter registration disadvantage as he seeks re-election against Republican Anthony Rodriguez.

In 14 other House districts the differences between Republican and Democratic voter rolls are close to negligible, and in all but one of those districts Republicans currently hold or most recently held the seats.

In three districts the numbers of Democratic and Republican voters are essentially even: House District 27, where Republican state Rep. David Santiago faces Democrat Carol Lawrence; House District 67, where Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala faces Democrat Dawn Douglas; and House District 114, where Democratic state Rep. Javier Fernandez faces Republican Javier Enriquez.

In five other districts the voter registration percentages for Republicans and Democrats are within two points of each other: House District 36, where Republican state Rep. Amber Mariano faces Democrat Linda Jack; House District 40, where Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton faces Democrat Shandale Terrell; House District 44, where Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski faces Geraldine Thompson; House District 50, where Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia faces Democrat Pam Dirschka; and in House District 53, where Republican state Rep. Randy Fine faces Democrat Phil Moore.

In five other districts, all held or most recently held by Republicans, the voter registrations are within two points of even while the seats are open: House District 69, where Republican Ray Blacklidge faces Democrat Jennifer Webb; House District 89, where Republican Mike Caruso faces Democrat Jim Bonfiglio; House District 93, where Republican Chip LaMarca faces Democrat Emma Collum; and House District 115, where Republican Vance Aloupis faces Democrat Jeffrey Solomon. In House District 105 there is no incumbent, as Republican state Rep. Carlos Trujillo stepped down last spring to take a federal appointment as an ambassador. Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez faces Democrat Javier Estevez.

In 53 of Florida’s 120 House districts, one party or the other has an advantage of more than 15 percentage points in the voter registrations. In none of those districts is that party out of office, and any swings there next Tuesday would be historic upsets.

The most extreme cases:

— House District 108, Democratic state Rep. Roy Hardemon is running for re-election with a voter roll that is 69 percent Democrat and 8 percent Republican.

— In House District 3, Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson is seeking re-election in a district where the voters are 59 percent Republican and 19 percent Democrat.

Republicans didn’t bother challenging Hardemon; Democrats didn’t bother fielding anyone against Williamson. There are 21 other districts where one party or the other has a 30-point advantage in voter registrations.

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