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Daily finance reports show Nancy Soderberg building cash lead

Former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg has built a sound lead in the money race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District, and 48-hour finance reports filed this week show the Democratic nominee continuing to reel in the cash.

On Monday, Soderberg’s campaign disclosed $35,100 in new contribs and followed it up with another 48-hour report Wednesday showing another $13,700 in new money for a total of $48,800 raised so far this week.

Those reports showed another half-dozen contributions for $2,700 apiece, the maximum allowable donation for congressional races.

Soderberg’s opponent, Republican Mike Waltz, filed a trio of finance reports as well — one each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — though his rake in those filings adds up to $10,700. His filings showed a single check for $2,700, with the remaining contribs weighing in at $1,000 or $2,000 level.

The reports represent the first finance reports since Soderberg posted a $1 million haul for the third quarter of the year, more than doubling Waltz’ $439,000 third-quarter report.

As of Sept. 30, Soderberg had raised more than $2.5 million for her CD 6 run and had more than $500,000 left to spend while Waltz cumulative total hit $1.67 million with $465,000 banked. Waltz to-date total includes $555,000 in candidate loans.

Despite the fundraising lead, CD 6 is still somewhat of a reach for Democrats. The seat was held by Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis until he abdicated to focus on that campaign, but in 2016 he was re-elected by a 17-point margin.

The Atlantic Coast district was just as kind to Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

The district, which covers parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties, is considered “likely Republican” by the handicappers at the Cook Political Report as well as Larry Sabato. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of Soderberg flipping the seat at 2-in-7.

Still, their forecasting model currently expects Waltz’ margin of victory to be much tighter than DeSantis’ last outing, with the projected November split set at 52-48 percent.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Mike Pence: Ron DeSantis’ closer?

The Jacksonville market has been a particular strength for Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis.

A former Mayport-stationed Navy man, DeSantis went on to marry a local newscaster. The candidate has performed strongly against Democrat Andrew Gillum in the region in polls.

And what’s clear is that DeSantis sees the region as key to victory.

If a candidate wants “everyone who voted for the President” to turn out, there is an irony in that Vice President Mike Pence seems to be the preferred exponent of Trump administration policy to the Jacksonville market.

And on Thursday afternoon, he will be working a Jacksonville crowd again, with a one-show-only rally at the Prime Osborn for DeSantis.

Back when the Trump Administration was pushing Obamacare repeal, Pence was the one who made the case in this market.

Pence assured the crowd that “the Obamacare nightmare is about to end.” He had local backing, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Gov. Rick Scott.

Curry said “the President and Vice President told us they’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and that’s what happens now.”

Gov. Scott, introduced by Curry, noted that “Obamacare was sold on a lie. A complete lie … choices have gone down, prices have gone up.”

Sure, the GOP line has changed on the Affordable Care Act.

Repeal and replace didn’t happen. And with midterms approaching, everyone all of a sudden is backing coverage of pre-existing conditions.

But the point here is that for Republicans, Jacksonville is a unicorn: A large population center with Republican leadership, a safe media market that serves as a handy jumping off point for appeals to the right.

Enter the Veep.

The campaign for Governor, Republicans hope, will be predicated on convincing swing voters that Democrat Gillum just can’t be trusted.

Questions about the apparently-FBI-provided ticket to Hamilton remain. As do questions about Gillum’s ties to radical groups, such as the anti police/prison industry Dream Defenders.

Gillum has explanations for both, of course. But whether they will prove to seal the deal with swing voters is another matter.

In a Facebook video posted late Tuesday, Gillum said that, while the tickets were reserved by friends of Corey, he assumed that they were paid by Marcus Gillum, his brother.

He added that criticism from political opponents serves to “reinforce, frankly, stereotypes about black men.”

In Sunday’s debate, Gillum likewise didn’t seem completely aware of the Dream Defenders pledge he signed.

With DeSantis debating him Wednesday, Gillum will be on the defensive for these issues for sure. The question going into Thursday’s rally is how Pence is used as a closer.

Also this week, Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden came to town, drawing roughly 500 people, and making slashing arguments about the Donald Trump administration.

Biden spared DeSantis the rod, but he did smack Gov. Rick Scott, calling him a “know nothing,” an interesting rhetorical choice that opens up a lot of possibilities for Pence.

If Pence wants to talk about corruption narratives in the news, he’s far better suited than the actual President to do so.

Recall that this is the man who, when in New York City, ate at Chili’s: An event that was much of America’s first introduction to him.

There’s no way to run up a $6,000 dinner tab there, even with desserts and appetizers. Chili’s in Manhattan may be as far removed as one can get from the apparent glamor of Gillum’s life, one that included trips to New York, Costa Rica, and the Middle East that have now become part of the campaign narrative.

Pence is also uniquely suited to burnish DeSantis’ positives, reaffirming the narrative of a man who came from a working class home to work his way through Ivy League schools, then through an unpopular war, and then as the avatar of a Tea Party reaction to President Barack Obama.

Even DeSantis’ supporters have been caught by surprise. At his Jacksonville hurricane relief event, this reporter heard a man say that he bought DeSantis’ book, Dreams from Our Founding Fathers, on the trail in 2012 because he felt sorry for him.

No one is feeling sorry for Ron DeSantis ever again.

Like a post-World War II Richard Nixon, he has made all the right moves, taking risks as a foot soldier for the Trump-era conservative movement, and progressing very quickly up the ranks.

And his reward is Mike Pence.

Pence’s first Jacksonville visit during the campaign was a Sunday morning trip to First Baptist Church. The auditorium was not full.

But it didn’t matter. Pence’s role was as sherpa, letting the faithful know that when it came to Donald Trump, there were no worries.

“He and I have had some precious moments,” Pence related of Trump, including Trump asking Pence to pray with him.

Pence received a standing ovation after his remarks.

Expect the same in Jacksonville.


Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe contributed to this post.

Credit concerns compel Jacksonville to re-up JEA Contribution deal

Legislation is imminent for the city of Jacksonville to extend its agreement with municipal utility JEA, a contribution/funding formula that makes up roughly 10 percent of the city’s general fund budget.

The Interagency Agreement, last ratified in 2016 to extend through Sept. 2021, would have two more years added if the City Council passes the legislation.

This would ensure that the agreement is valid through Aug. 2023, though another extension will likely be necessary before the end of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s second term, should he be re-elected next spring.

The timing is of greatest interest here, on a deal that includes an additional one-time contribution of $15,155,000, proceeds from the sale of the Southside Generating Station property that will go to sewage projects, of which there could be a billion dollars worth of work still to go.

JEA’s contribution this year of $117,647,535 would continue to increase annually as agreed, with $122,424,496 expected by FY 22-23.

The renewed agreement comes at a time when the financial commitments of the utility and city are earning harder looks from ratings agencies, which looked askance at moves to privatize the utility, leadership changes, and most critically, attempts to shirk jointly-held obligations in 2008’s ill-fated Plant Vogtle nuclear plant deal.

Earlier this month, Moody’s downgraded $2.1 billion of Jacksonville debt, pinning a negative outlook on issues resulting from the city’s misadventures with utility JEA.

“The downgrade of the city’s debt reflects our concurrent downgrade of JEA’s electric, water and sewer and District Energy System utility debt ratings,” Moody’s contends.

Not all ratings agencies agree with this read: S&P Global Ratings, despite concerns about high fixed costs, maintained on Tuesday a stable outlook on Jacksonville issues in light of Jacksonville’s “very strong budgetary flexibility … proactive management … robust economic growth.

Still, even S&P harbors concerns about Plant Vogtle fallout: “We will continue to monitor the city’s intent and willingness to support … long-term obligations.”

Long-term, indeed.

In the Plant Vogtle deal, the city yoked itself to an agreement without price caps to subsidize out-of-state power companies building a nuclear plant, one that could be the last one built stateside. Cost overruns and a changing landscape of electrical power generation have made the deal look worse over time.

But Moody’s didn’t care. The issue: “the city’s participation as a plaintiff in litigation with JEA, a component unit of the city, against Municipal Energy Authority of Georgia (MEAG), in which JEA and the city are seeking to have a Florida state court invalidate a ‘take-or-pay’ power contract between JEA and MEAG.”

This is a problem for Moody’s, raising questions about the city’s “willingness to support an absolute and unconditional obligation of its largest municipal enterprise, which weakens the city’s creditworthiness on all of its debt and is not consistent with the prior Aa rating category.”

“The negative outlook reflects the uncertainty surrounding the disposition of the city’s litigation during the outlook period,” Moody’s adds.

JEA, meanwhile, is on a negative credit watch from Standard & Poor’s.

“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls,” S&P analyst David Bodek said, according to the Florida Times-Union.

“In our opinion, the utility’s legal claims seeking to repudiate the board’s actions after a decade call into question the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”

In a statement released Wednesday, JEA accentuated the positive.

“S&P Global Ratings today affirmed its ‘AAA’ long-term rating on JEA’s water and sewer revenue bonds and its ‘AA+’ long-term rating to the authority’s water and sewer system subordinate revenue bonds.  S&P Global Ratings has conducted a comprehensive review of JEA’s operations, its water and sewer financial metrics, and the legal claims and public discussion concerning Plant Vogtle. In its statement affirming JEA’s credit ratings, S&P Global Ratings also offers clear analysis stating that recent Plant Vogtle-specific litigation “does not constitute a lack of willingness to meet long-term obligations,” asserted Aaron Zahn, JEA Interim CEO/Managing Director.

Perhaps everything is copacetic. But even if the ratings agencies have been reassured, their eyeballs factor into the decision making process.

“Stable contribution policy through 2023 is viewed as a positive by rating agencies,” asserted an agenda item from an October JEA Board meeting.

Soderberg ad

New ad touts Nancy Soderberg’s bipartisan approach to healthcare

Fresh off a strong fundraising quarter, former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is out with a new ad touting her healthcare priorities in the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The new ad, “Afford,” features one of the St. Augustine Democrat’s would-be constituents, Kay, explaining why she left the Republican Party to cast a ballot for Soderberg in August and is planning to support her again in November.

“I’m a schoolteacher and was a lifelong Republican. My uncle was even the Orange County campaign coordinator for [Ronald] Reagan. But this election, I can’t support Mike Waltz for Congress,” Kay says in the ad. “Because his healthcare plan would cost us more, including higher premiums for millions and eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions. So that’s why I’m supporting Nancy Soderberg for Congress. Nancy will work with Republicans and Democrats and make sure our health care is affordable.”

Soderberg’s campaign didn’t detail the media buy backing up the new ad, though filings with the Federal Communications Commission show numerous TV buys made by the campaign in the past week.

Soderberg and Waltz are competing for the Congressional seat recently vacated by Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis. A recent internal poll circulated by the Soderberg campaign showed her and Waltz tied at 45 percent support apiece with 9 percent of voters undecided.

CD 6 covers parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties on Florida’s Atlantic coast. President Donald Trump won CD 6 by 17 points two years ago while DeSantis, who held the seat for three terms, won re-election by 17 points.

The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato both rate CD 6 as “likely Republican,” while Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has moved the race into the “lean Republican” category. Their forecasting model currently expects Waltz to win 52-48 in November, though it gives Soderberg a two in seven chance of flipping the seat.

Soderberg’s new ad is below.

As HD 15 race gets pricey, Wyman Duggan holds cash lead

As early in-person voting begins in Duval County, money is rapidly being spent in the expensive race for an open seat in House District 15.

Republican Wyman Duggan, per receipts that extend through Oct. 12, holds a cash on hand lead over Democrat Tracye Polson.

Polson has aggressively fundraised and self-financed, and has led the money race for most of the campaign, but the most recent finance report represents an outlier to that trend.

Duggan’s campaign account had just over $46,000 in it as of Oct. 12, with $9,549 raised the week before compared to $32,540 spent ($30,000 of that on television).

Duggan’s political committee still had resources as of Oct. 12, with $20,000 of new money the week before (and no spend) boosting that tally north of $37,000.

In addition to having roughly $83,000 for the home stretch, Duggan has also been the beneficiary of over $100,000 in television buys from the Republican Party of Florida, helping him to amplify his message that Polson, a social worker, is out of step with the Westside Jacksonville district.

Polson actually outraised and outspent Duggan in terms of her campaign account during the week, bringing in $13,776 compared to $41,376 in expenditures (with $38,606 on television). The campaign account has just over $7,000 on hand.

Polson’s political committee likewise spent bigger than it raised: $400 brought in during the week, compared to $24,651 in expenditures (moved to the Florida Democratic Party). It has nearly $40,000 on hand.

The seat did go for Donald Trump two years ago, though Democrats haven’t fielded a candidate in plurality-Democrat HD 15 since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections, so its lean in down-ballot races hasn’t been tested.

No drama: John Rutherford, Al Lawson dominate cash race against longshot challengers

Q3 continued a narrative trend for Jacksonville’s Congressmen, as they continued to dominate their longshot challengers in the cash race.

First-term Reps. John Rutherford, a Republican and Al Lawson, a Democrat, each of whom have districts that are favorable in terms of voter profile, also connected with donors in the period leading up to Sept. 30.

Rutherford, who represents Northeast Florida’s 4th Congressional District, ended Q3 with $430,130 on hand (of $730,000 raised), well above the $4,444 Democratic challenger Ges Selmont had.

The political action committees of corporations such as Boeing and Google ponied up, as did local powerbrokers like Gary Chartrand and Peter Rummell, and old friends like former State Attorney Angela Corey.

Rutherford, who said he wouldn’t bother debating Selmont because there was no point in giving him a platform, raised $132,930 on the quarter, spending just $20,123 of it.

Republicans comprise 281,000, or 49.8 percent of the district’s voters. There are now 150,237 Democratic voters, or 26.6 percent of district voters. NPAs and third-party voters comprise the balance.

The money race in the majority-Democrat Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee Congressional District 5 likewise seems to reflect where voters will go, with Lawson holding a strong lead over Republican Virginia Fuller.

Lawson exited September with $60,303 on hand (he spent heavily in a competitive primary against Jacksonville’s Alvin Brown). Fuller, who had previously said that she wasn’t fundraising, had just $1,864 at her disposal.

The quarter reflected an active August: receipts of $80,522 were exceeded by $151,379 of spending.

In a reflection of the realities of the district, with Lawson a Democrat comfortable with Republicans and their issues, he got donations from GOP interests, such as the Charter School Action PAC.

Lawson and Rutherford both do things that irk their bases, as recently as last week.

Many groaned when Lawson lauded Gov. Rick Scott for his efforts to save lives after hurricanes.

Likewise, word from the Duval GOP Victory Dinner was that Rutherford’s own party was trying to give him the hook after he spoke longer than organizers apparently hoped.

But what’s clear is that neither of these incumbents is going anywhere, but back to D.C., in 2018.

Bloody day in Jacksonville backdrop for political theater

The Jacksonville Jaguars were losing at home when news broke of six people shot just blocks from the stadium.

Shootings are nothing new to Jacksonville, often called the murder capital of the state. However, this one had a particular political weight, right down to the investigating sheriff, who was apparently in Tampa offering support to gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.

The news soon enough went national.

And as it went national, Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat who may run for Mayor, needled incumbent Republican Mayor Lenny Curry about the shootings.

Curry did not respond. However, Jacksonville’s shootings would find a global platform Sunday evening, as Democrat Andrew Gillum debated Republican Ron DeSantis on CNN.

Gillum, in defending himself against DeSantis’ contention that Tallahassee is a hotbed of violent crime, noted the shooting in Jacksonville. That is, unfortunately, an undercount, as shootings happened elsewhere in the city.

Jacksonville, which has a Republican mayor and Sheriff who both endorsed DeSantis ahead of the primary, has struggled with its murder rate for decades.

That Sheriff, Mike Williams, pilloried Gillum on public safety on behalf of the DeSantis campaign, in a statement that dropped just minutes after the debate.

“Andrew Gillum hasn’t supported law enforcement, he signed an anti-police pledge, and he didn’t do anything tonight to calm the nerves of people rightfully concerned about public safety under his failed leadership,” Williams said.

Questions that Williams’ quote may have been pre-provided abounded, but per a picture from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Williams was at the CNN debate with sheriffs and the AG.











Curry and Williams face re-election in 2019. Stemming the murder rate has proven elusive despite increases in law enforcement budgets (largely a function of collectively bargained pay raises and equipment revamps).

Ted Yoho’s final two years could bring drug policy breakthroughs

U.S. Congressman Ted Yoho, a quintessential Freedom Caucus Republican, looks poised for re-election to a fourth term from Florida’s 3rd district.

There won’t be a fifth.

“You can bank on that,” he told us Friday afternoon in Orange Park, after a campaign town hall.

But he’s likely not done this year, if metrics are predictive.

As of the most recent fundraising report, Yoho had $328,257 of his $752,614 nest egg on hand. This compared favorably to Democratic opponent Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a former Gainesville city commissioner who had just $2,478 of $34,726 on hand.

The party split of the north-central Florida district, which includes portions of Alachua, Bradford, Clay, Marion, Putnam, and Union counties, is likewise favorable for the incumbent. CD 3 has 200,504 Republicans, compared to 175,561 Democrats, with NPAs and third parties comprising the rest of the district’s 487,002 voters.

Yoho packed a back room at a restaurant in Clay County’s biggest city, and he made no bones about where he stood: With Ron DeSantis and against Andrew Gillum, and with movement conservatives like Rep. Jim Jordan over the Paul Ryan wing of the party.

Yoho is confident that Republicans will retain the House, and if that’s the case, he may be positioned to play an important role on issues in the next two years no one would have predicted would be the case when he first ran in 2012.

One such issue: the failed U.S. War on Drugs.

Yoho, concerned about the fentanyl and opium sourced from China, Mexico, and other putative American allies, proposes a simple solution.

“Bring drugs in, you’re going to die,” was how the Congressman summarized the proposal of Singapore-style capital punishment for importation of fentanyl and opium.

The draconian solution is needed, in part, because the Drug War is not being won.

“We spent $2 trillion since 1979 on the war on drugs. Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico are growing more drugs today. We’ve got more drugs in our country. How successful have we been,” Yoho said.

“It’s been ineffective, we’re not any better off, and we need to have a different narrative … If these people are going to be our allies, they need to get rid of that garbage,” Yoho said.

“A lot of that money gets lost in funnelling to corrupt politicians is what I personally believe,” Yoho said. “Do they really want to change the problem in that country? If Mexico wanted to correct that problem, they would correct that problem.”

“If there’s a war on drugs, let’s end it, let’s get it fixed,” Yoho said, noting 160 Americans die everyday from overdoses.

Meanwhile, Yoho stated his belief that the federal government should decriminalize cannabis.

For those who have followed Yoho for a while, he has had a libertarian streak to his votes on this issue (such as a 2014 vote to end Barack Obama era busts of state-level medical cannabis programs).

However, it’s a question on which he continues to evolve.

“Are there benefits to marijuana? I think there are,” Yoho said Friday.

“My goal is to decriminalize it at a federal level at a certain volume. If you’re growing your own or you’ve got a little bit on you … I can’t even tell you what volume on that stuff is,” Yoho said. “But if you’re driving around in a pickup truck … and there’s several bales in there, you’re probably going to jail.”

“We’ve got so many people who have screwed up their life and are in prison. They’ve got a record. It’s a mess,” Yoho said. “Our goal is to decriminalize it, make it so it’s not as strong an offense, and let the states regulate it the way they see fit.”

Yoho also noted issues with interstate commerce and the black market from the federal prohibition.

“Right now because it’s a federal crime, all those dispensaries, they can do business in their state but they can’t deposit that [in a bank]. It’s all cash,” Yoho said, which leads to unaccountability on tax returns and a strengthening of the black market.

Yoho is not a fan of the state’s medical cannabis program.

“There is no standard for a marijuana product, so how can a doctor prescribe? There’s too much vagueness,” Yoho said, noting that specific dosage prescription thresholds can be circumvented under the state model.

“It’s like how much salt do I put on my eggs. You use enough to where it tastes good to you,” Yoho concluded.

Defendants to sever in Jacksonville City Council fraud case

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilors Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown are staring down a 38-count conspiracy to defraud.

The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.

The two Democratic Council members have presented a united front, maintaining their innocence. Until now.

Well ahead of a February trial date, Reggie Brown on Tuesday moved to sever his case from Katrina Brown’s. Then on Friday, Katrina Brown filed her own motion for severance.

Reggie Brown’s severance motion contends Brown solely performed “routine acts related to everyday business activity,” and that the “spillover effect” from the allegations against Katrina Brown is essentially guilt by association.

“There is no direct evidence Reginald Brown had any knowledge of any misrepresentations Katrina Brown may or may not have made to lenders. He never willfully agreed to commit a crime. He never knowingly aided and abetted any criminal conduct that may or may not have been committed by Katrina Brown,” the motion reads.

“As to Reginald Brown, the United States appears to simply hope its widely cast net ensnares people like him who associated with Katrina Brown and who, perhaps naively, relied on her purported business acumen,” the motion continues.

Another motion was to strike as “prejudicial” language in the indictment that discussed his vote in favor of the economic incentives the pair allegedly defrauded, as it was “customary” for Brown (a two-term Councilman) to vote for such deals.

The two face a compendium of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.

Katrina Brown filed her own severance motion Friday.

Ms. Brown believes that Mr. Brown’s defense will “shift blame” to her, and the combining of the cases will imperil her receipt of a fair trial.

She also wants recordings and notes of witness interviews, and language referring to the barbeque sauce plant as being “supposed” to produce sauce stricken as prejudicial.

Katrina Brown filed a number of other motions, including for personnel files of officers and criminal histories of alleged witnesses, along with whether or not they had ever been habitual drug users or had “ill will” toward Ms. Brown.

The trial will be high-profile, regardless of whether severance is allowed. The most recent local  analogous fraud case: that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her former chief-of-staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons.

After the severance, Simmons was key to the federal government’s case that Corrine Brown was the ringleader of the conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to a reduced number of counts, and avoided the threatened hundreds of years in prison.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.19.18 — Betting on red

Jacksonville’s political class, with a Republican Mayor and Sheriff, is betting on red this year, all in for Ron DeSantis for Governor.

And if he wins, it will be another case of “Jax on the Rise.”

Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed DeSantis before the August primary, as did Duval-adjacent legislators like Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings.

This is a sharp contrast with most major cities in Florida, led by Democrats, where major players are obviously surfing the hoped-for ‘blue wave.’

One theory goes: If DeSantis wins, Jacksonville wins. And the most recent polling shows he is well-positioned.

Twenty days before Election Day, Democrat Gillum is at 47 percent, while DeSantis is at 46. However, among those who say they have already voted, DeSantis is at 49 percent, while Gillum is at 45 percent.

That four-point spread speaks to a trend that should concern Gillum and the Democrats. But should delight Jacksonville power brokers.

Curry has called DeSantis a “brother from another mother.” For those who have enjoyed current Gov. Rick Scott treating the relaxed Jacksonville media like a homecoming game, scheduling safe events here to get camera time and avoid the more aggressive media down south, expect more of the same if DeSantis wins.

Curry’s best political op, Tim Baker, is on Team DeSantis. So is campaign manager Susie Wiles, the Ballard Partner who has as deep a City Hall pedigree as anyone this side of Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

There aren’t a lot of DeSantis signs on Jacksonville streets. But if DeSantis wins, it likely is in no small part because of his draw in Jacksonville, which was a polling stronghold even when DeSantis was down big in polls, before weeks of attack ads defined Gillum for the voters who weren’t paying attention before Labor Day.

Cash-flush Soderberg seeks CD 6 flip

Democrat Nancy Soderberg is touting another strong quarter of fundraising in her bid to succeed DeSantis in the United States Congress.

Can Nancy Soderberg flip Ron DeSantis’ seat? If no, it’s not because of lack of funds.

The campaign announced last week that it had raised over $1 million in the latest quarter of fundraising, pushing it over $2.5 million raised.

This period includes August, September and October receipts.

Soderberg had over $500,000 on hand as of the filing.

“The support and energy we’re seeing for our campaign is incredibly inspiring,” Soderberg said. “What’s clear, now more than ever, is that Floridians are ready to elect a leader who listens to them, and who will stand up for them in Washington. A leader they can be proud of. I’m proud to fight to protect pre-existing conditions for families here and I’m proud of the movement we’re building together.”

The race between Soderberg and Republican nominee Mike Waltz has increasingly looked like a play for the center in recent weeks, and the most recent poll of the race shows Soderberg in a dead heat with Waltz.

Waltz raised $445,491 in Q3, which means that Soderberg has more ammo for television buys, many of which spotlight contrasts between the candidates on insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.

Lawson lauds ‘life saving’ Scott

Will we see U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in an ad for Gov. Scott? It’s possible he’s already recorded his testimonial during a joint appearance in Gadsden County this week in which Lawson lauded Scott’s post-storm performance over the last eight years.

“We will never know how many lives that he’s been responsible for saving,” Lawson said Tuesday.

Rick Scott couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement. Especially from a Democrat.

“The first thing you hear about is somebody dying in a hurricane. But just think: if it hadn’t been for his leadership, how many other people would be in the same situation,” Lawson asserted.

“When you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s very easy for you to understand people who take a proactive role in trying to preserve life,” Lawson added. “He’s done an excellent job … for many, many years.”

“It’s not about how much we get out of life, but how much we give, and he’s given a whole lot,” Lawson said.

Just as the Scott campaign ad Tuesday used news footage of storm recovery, it is quite easy to imagine this footage circulating in the commercial sphere.

Big money in HD 15

While most of Jacksonville-area state House races are settled in the primary (by dint of gerrymandering), an exception is in the one true swing district: House District 15 on the Westside.

With current Republican incumbent Jay Fant walking away this year, Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan are vying to replace him.

The Tracye Polson/Wyman Duggan war has been expensive and brutal.

Each week’s fundraising report has brimmed with narrative interest. This week’s story: Polson is both outraising and outspending Duggan, at least through Oct. 5 (the last day of current reporting).

Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Polson brought in $16,060 to her campaign account. Of the $319,667 in hard money deposited, Polson has $35,483 on hand.

In addition to the nearly $36,000 in the campaign account, Polson has nearly $64,000 in the committee cash box. Polson has been spending heavily on television, running a second ad this week spotlighting Republican Duggan’s career as a lobbyist. With the ability and willingness to self-finance, Polson will undoubtedly be spending until the end.

She will have to.

Over the past three weeks, Duggan has brought in $76,500 in hard money, pushing him near parity with $85,000 on hand.

Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Duggan raised $10,850 to his campaign account, bringing that total to nearly $67,000 on hand.

Duggan also has roughly $18,000 in his political committee, though with no donations in the latest reporting period.

Duggan has also benefited from over $100,000 air support from the Republican Party of Florida, which has funded attack ads, including a bristling spot associating Polson with drum circles, flag burners, and other elements of The Resistance.

Carlos in Duval

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an East Orlando Democrat representing House District 49, fundraised in Jacksonville Tuesday evening, in another sign of his increasing prominence statewide.

The event, in the tony Avondale neighborhood, was hosted by Kevin Clair, the husband of local state House hopeful Polson.

Mr. Smith (Carlos G., that is) goes to Jacksonville.

Helming Smith’s host committee is yet another state Representative, HD 13’s Tracie Davis, who was unopposed for re-election.

Smith had roughly $83,000 in his campaign account as of Oct. 5. Ben Griffin, his Republican opponent, has just under $46,000 on hand.

Mostly funding Griffin’s campaign is the Republican Party of Florida, which doled out $50,000 in June. As well, two Northeast Florida power brokers took an interest.

Sen. Travis Hutson‘s Sunshine State Conservatives and Rep. Paul Renner‘s Florida Foundation for Liberty each cut $1,000 checks.

Rep. Smith is in little danger of defeat. His district is 41 percent Democrat, 26 percent Republican, with the remaining third of voters independent or registered to a third party.

The rest of the story …

In Northeast Florida, most of the live state House races and the only state Senate race are characterized by a fundamental cash disparity.

Republicans have serious bank. And Democrats are far behind.

However, this most recently reported week saw Republicans coasting while Democrats actually won the weekly tally battle (even as cash-on-hand was less buoyant for them).

Aaron Bean extemporizes as Billee Bussard looks on.

The Democrat running for state Senate, District 4’s Billee Bussard outraised incumbent Republican Aaron Bean, bringing in $4,445. Meanwhile, between his campaign account and that of his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee, Bean brought in just $3,250 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5.

However, Bean has roughly $93,000 in hard money and nearly $86,000 more in the committee coffers. This gives him a nearly 20 to 1 cash advantage over Bussard, who has roughly $9,000 on hand.

In majority-Republican House District 11, incumbent Cord Byrd is winning the fundraising battle with Democrat Nathcelly Rohrbaugh. Byrd has $53,000 on hand; Rohrbaugh $17,000.

Clay Yarborough, running for re-election in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, had modest fundraising ($3,100 in the last week) and bigger spending ($9,043) as the election approaches. He has $98,000 on hand.

Democrat Tim Yost raised $1,258 during the same period and carries $9,000 into the final stretch of the campaign.

Similarly, HD 16 State Rep. Jason Fischer, first-term Republican, has had a consistent cash lead over Democrat Ken Organes.

Fischer did not fundraise between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5. Fischer had nearly $108,000 in his campaign account, and under $5,000 in the account of his political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville.

Organes, meanwhile, brought in $1,225 over the same period, and has just over $26,500 on hand.

Curry heats up

Curry, the best fundraiser in Northeast Florida history, delivered a statement month in September, with the second best haul of his re-election bid.

The March election may need big money.

The first-term Republican raised $789,500 for his political committee (Jacksonville on the Rise), and another $26,600 for his campaign account.

Curry, a former chair of the state GOP, is now nearing $3 million on hand and $3.5 million raised, with plenty of time to raise more before the March 2019 first election (a blanket primary).

The committee has $2,415,000 on hand of the $2,928,000 it has raised. The campaign account has over $440,000 of the $455,330 raised.

Curry currently lacks much in the way of competition. His five March opponents have raised under $3,000 between them.

When does Anna Brosche or Garrett Dennis make a move? Inquiring minds want to know.


As the first October receipts came in, Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector.

Can a Democrat win countywide? Mia Jones is about to find out.

However, it was Jones who had the best take between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, bringing in $19,375 from 59 donors, including former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund director Timothy Johnson, and Kids Hope Alliance board chair Kevin Gay.

Jones has raised $81,000 total and has nearly $31,000 on hand.

Overton, though he only raised $11,865 during the same period, still has the aggregate cash lead, with nearly $55,000 on hand of a total $162,834 raised.

UAE cuts a check

On Monday, Northside Jacksonville’s A. Philip Randolph Career Academies saw Mayor Curry receive the U.S. Ambassador from the UAE, Yousef Al-Otaiba.

Human rights concerns are less of a concern when capital is at stake.

Money was on the line. $2.775 million, to be exact (part of a $10 million grant to be divided between several cities hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.)

While local leaders appreciate revenue, there is a parallel story to the check: the UAE’s distressing and worsening human rights record.

The UAE has made a long-standing practice of storm relief, and there are those who believe it is a distraction from the regime’s human rights record, which is in keeping with the non-Democratic states of the Middle East.

In the context of an erosion of human rights backdropped against a wave of post-storm generosity, we asked the Ambassador and the Mayor if such donations were intended to gloss over a record not in accordance with the mores of liberal democracies.

“We’re here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville,” Al-Otaiba asserted. “If you want to ask me a question about what our laws are, we’re happy to address that. But that’s not why we’re here today.”

Curry spotlighted the “two-million dollars, invested in vulnerable populations in Jacksonville.”

Regarding “foreign policy,” Curry said, “there’s experts in Washington, elected leaders in Washington who handle our foreign policy,” before pivoting to thank the Ambassador once more.

Applause filled the room.

JEA against the world

The Florida Times-Union reports that Jacksonville utility JEA is becoming the “bête noire” of the public utility world.

Jacksonville is falling out of favor with rating agencies. Can the city turn it around?

At issue: the utility’s attempt to get out of a 2008 agreement to subsidize construction of Georgia’s nuclear Plant Vogtle, a “hell or high water” deal that has no exit clause.

The utility and the city are on the same side of what looks to be an ill-fated federal lawsuit to get out of the deal, and credit downgrades are becoming increasingly routine for the two parties.

Moody’s Investor Services noted last week that one way for the city to reverse the impression that it’s not willing to honor its obligations would be to drop the federal lawsuit.

JEA sale OK?

A referendum authorized earlier this year, on whether Duval County voters should have a say on the sale of 10 percent or more of JEA or not, is on the November ballot.

This week, WJCT took a look at that measure.

The JEA question will be at the end of an exceptionally long ballot.

Bill sponsor John Crescimbeni, a skeptic of the privatization push that roiled City Hall earlier this year, asserts that “any conversation or any discussion or decision about selling the JEA should be made by the shareholders, the owners of JEA, and those are the citizens of Duval County.”

“So if the JEA board were to decide to sell more than 10 percent of JEA and the council reviewed that and also decided they agreed with the JEA board of directors, this straw ballot measure is taking the temperature of the voters, asking ‘would you want the council’s decision to then come to the voters in a subsequent referendum for you to vote on?’” said Crescimbeni.

“In the event that JEA was proposed to be sold by the JEA board and the City Council agreed, then whatever those terms and conditions were would go before the voters as an up-or-down vote,” the Councilman added.

“So, the voters are going to be asked a question Nov. 6, it’s a yes-or-no question. If they’re interested in participating in the final decision, in the event that there’s discussion about a possible future sale of JEA, they would want to vote yes” Crescimbeni summarized. “If they’re OK with the city council making that final decision, then they should vote no.”

CSX posts strong Q3, continuing trend

CSX Corp. posted a strong third-quarter revenue with $894 million in earnings, or $1.05 per share. It represents a 95 percent year-over-year improvement, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal, and a third-quarter operating ratio record.

The Jacksonville-based rail carrier had $3.13 billion in revenue, a 14 percent increase. Despite increased fuel costs and higher volume, expenses dropped 2 percent.

CSX is on the right track, earnings-wise.

Operating ratio — a measure of efficiency — improved 14 percent to 58.7, compared to 58.6 percent last quarter. This metric shows how much it costs to generate a dollar of profit. The company goal is for an annual ratio of 60 percent, which it expects to reach by 2020. (In the first quarter it was 63.7, on pace for 60.3 for the year.)

“Only eight months since the investor conference, by almost any measure, we are ahead of where I thought we would be,” CSX CEO Jim Foote said in the quarter’s earnings call this week.

Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation

About a year ago, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new 10-year master plan. In the subsequent 12 months, the zoo has unveiled a major new exhibit, several new baby animals and plans for more ambitious development.

Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation includes the ambitious African Forest Exhibit.

As the Jacksonville Business Journal notes, this year was the first for the traveling Dinosauria exhibition to stay throughout the summer; and one of the few times a new exhibit premiered in the fall and not the spring.

Some of the innovations over the last year include the Zoo’s newest master plan, with dozens of enrichment items, including large sculptures at a new main entrance, new exhibits (including manatees and orangutans) and more emphasis on animal enrichment and conservation as well as improved facilities for employees. Cost of the plan — which could take as much is 20 years to complete — is estimated between $50 million to $100 million.

The previous year also saw the construction of the Zoo’s latest exhibit, the African Forest, a $9 million, 4-acre project which incorporates wellness-inspired designs and a trail system that connects with a 54-foot tall interactive kapok tree.

Zoo director Tony Vecchio tells the Journal his team feels this new plan is necessary, and a “continuation of the upswing the zoo has been on for years now.”

The first part of the new plan — a remodeled Great Apes loop into the African Forest — completed in August 2018.

Jaguars need quick turnaround

The Jacksonville Jaguars are glad to be home this weekend. Having spent two disastrous weekends on the road, TIAA Bank Stadium will be a welcome sight Sunday when they take on the Houston Texans.

During the last two games in Kansas City and Dallas, the Jags were swamped by a combined score of 70-21. The 30-14 final against the Chiefs was one thing, but Sunday’s 40-7 humiliation delivered by the Cowboys showed a highly-promising season could be slipping away unless they turn things around.

Doug Marrone and the Jags have one more shot to save the season. (Photo via Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

“We earned the right to be where we are,” head coach Doug Marrone told the media Wednesday. “We’re the ones that put us where we are.”

The Jaguars are where they are after digging themselves into deep holes early in the last two games. In Kansas City, they trailed 20-0 at halftime, while the Cowboys carried a 24-0 lead into intermission.

Going into the season, the Jacksonville defense was ranked among the best units in the National Football League. After 6 games, they are ranked 31st out of 32 teams, while the offense is ranked in the middle of the league.

Marrone has worked them hard in practice this week, hoping to inspire a better performance on both sides of the ball.

“Doug and the coaches did a good job of pushing us and making sure we’re getting the quality work that we need to get done at this point in the week to be ready to go Sunday,” quarterback Blake Bortles said after practice. “That’s all part of our weekly preparation.”

Marrone says there is no magic pill. The best cure for getting better is hard work.

“You have to work hard,” Marrone said. “You have to go back there. You have to coach better. We have to play better. I have to do a better job.”

They had better … if they want to save their season.

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