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Tracye Polson, Wyman Duggan racing to raise 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.

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).

One check was of particular interest.

However, Democrats can’t rest easy: It appears the Republican Party of Florida may spend enough on Duggan’s TV buys to make up for Polson’s cash edge.

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.

Among the major donors to the campaign account: the Florida Education Association PAC (which also gave $10,000 to the political committee), Florida Fire PAC, and ABC Liquors.

Perhaps of greatest consequence: A $1,000 check from the political committee Florida Alliance for Better Government.

That committee, chaired by former Florida Democratic Party chair and current U.S. Sugar and Florida Power and Light lobbyist Screven Watson, gave to Polson as part of a round of donations to the Democratic Party and a political committee associated with Democratic CFO hopeful Jeremy Ring.

The interesting part of the donation to Polson and other Democrats was that it was delivered the same month the committee got $75,000 of seed money from Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, That committee is chaired by Ryan Tyson of the traditionally Republican-leaning Associated Industries of Florida.

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.

And she will have to spend that $100,000 to keep pace with establishment favorite Wyman Duggan, who rode a raft of endorsements and multiple ads featuring Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry to a win with 40 percent of the vote in a three-way primary.

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.

Of the new money raised, $600 came from ZIP codes in HD 15. Among the donors from outside the district: the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Realtors PAC, and Gulf Coast Health Care, a nursing home in Pensacola.

Already, Duggan has 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.

The district has a slight Democratic registration edge, and that’s reflected in the polls we have heard about.

An internal Polson poll from SEA Polling and Strategic Design a couple of weeks back showed Duggan up two points (41-39) in what Democrats see as a swing district. There are polls, we are told by Republican operatives not aligned with Duggan, that also have Polson up.

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

Fundraising slows for Jacksonville incumbent legislators

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; 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).

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.

Bussard, for those interested in helping her cause, has a funder Monday.

In majority-Republican House District 11, incumbent Cord Byrd is winning the fundraising battle with Democrat Nathcelly Rohrbaugh.

Byrd has been a relatively relaxed fundraiser, and the week between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5 was no exception.

Byrd raised $4,150 off five checks to his campaign account, bringing that north of $53,000 on hand. Additionally, the first-term Representative has nearly $10,000 in his 1845 political committee.

Rohrbaugh brought in $1,300 during the week, pushing his campaign account near $17,000 on hand.

HD 11 is closer than HD 12 and 16 in aggregate.

Clay Yarborough, running for re-election in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, likewise 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.

Turning to House District 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.

One race is an obvious outlier to this trend: the clash for an open seat in HD 15, between Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan.

These candidates will be fundraising heavily until the end.

Polson has nearly $100,000 on hand, even after heavy television buys and engaging a full campaign staff. She’s ahead of Duggan, who has just $77,000 on hand.

Each campaign is getting help from its respective state party, and both sides feel confident enough to endlessly trash talk the other side’s operation.

Polson has structural advantages, such as the ability to self-finance and to network with regional and national players in the Democratic Party, that the other Democrats running for berths to Tallahassee do not.

Her district is also plurality Democrat, and the race is tight, according to polls.

Picking up the pace: Lenny Curry raises over $800K in September

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny 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 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.

The biggest checks, by and large, came from historically reliable sources.

The Petway family and its insurance company, U.S. Assure, combined for $150,000. J.B. Coxwell invested $75,000 more into the effort. The Jacksonville Kennel Club offered $50,000, as did Frederick Sontag. Jaguars owner Shad Khan, former owner Wayne Weaver, and charter school magnate Gary Chartrand donated at the $25,000 level.

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

If no candidate finishes above 50.0001 percent, there will be a May runoff in the general election.

While Jacksonville City Councilors Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis are both mulling runs for the office, neither has floated concrete plans. Qualifying is in January, so the two have until then for further contemplation.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.12.18 — Control needing control

As poet, novelist and pop culture icon William S. Burroughs once noted: “Control needs control to control.”

That observation holds in all hierarchical structures, especially politics, and particularly after voting begins.

In a typically Republican area like Northeast Florida, recent history shows it’s been rare to see so many competitive races as we are seeing this year on the November general election ballot.

An observation by William S. Burroughs applies to today’s politics, especially as ballots are cast.

Democrats are fielding candidates — serious ones — in unlikely places. And whether they can win or not, it’s worth noting that they are competing and signaling that there are no giveaway offices. Not anymore at least.

While it’s not likely that Cord Byrd, Jason Fischer, or Clay Yarborough will be leaving office anytime soon, the fact that Democrats are playing matters.

Also crucial down the stretch: Control over narratives.

The Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign has an increasingly Jacksonville flavor. Operative Tim Baker came aboard in a senior role, joining recently hired campaign manager Susie Wiles.

Baker and Wiles (as well as the rest of the team) will win or lose based on how effective they are when it comes to defining Andrew Gillum as just another Democratic candidate in a state where most poll stories have headlines of “dead heat” or “too close to call.”

Republicans have controlled narratives in this region for generations. To maintain control of the process, they will have to continue writing the script.

Baker joins DeSantis campaign

With four weeks before the primaries, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis brought on yet another seasoned hand for his campaign’s stretch run.

Florida Politics learned Monday evening that operative Baker joined the campaign in a senior leadership role, offering strategic and political guidance.

Thumbs up: Tim Baker with Lenny Curry and Brian Hughes. (Image via News4Jax)

Baker, one of a series of staff moves in DeSantis World that included bringing on another op with a Jacksonville portfolio in campaign manager Susie Wiles, asserted that the campaign is “starting to hit stride” and “we are all working like crazy.”

Baker’s skill: targeting voters and moving them.

Recent campaigns have seen specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

One can already see evidence of such appeals in the DeSantis campaign, which smartly and in a timely fashion went up on TV last week to pillory Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for botched storm response after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine.

Such ads can be seen as part of a larger strategy to define Gillum in the “traditional major party candidate” way. Baker notes that Gillum emerged unscathed from an oppo-free Democratic primary, while DeSantis was “pounded in the primary,” as support from President Donald Trump drove a narrative that went well beyond Florida borders.

The choice, Baker believes, will come down to one of “leadership” (DeSantis) versus a “feel-good choice without substance.”

Clark backs Soderberg

No real surprise here, but former Clinton Administration alum Nancy Soderberg picked up an endorsement in her Congressional race from former 4-star general and 2004 presidential candidate Wes Clark.

Wes Clark and Nancy Soderberg have been allies since the 1990s.

“I worked closely with Nancy when she was on the National Security Council and U.N., and I’ve watched her defend American interests around the globe. She has fiercely fought for our values; building peace in the Balkans, forging a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, standing up to terrorists, and so much more,” Clark said.

The Clark endorsement was part of a raft of military endorsements for the Democrat running to replace DeSantis in Congress. The nods from two 4-Star Generals, three Lieutenant Generals, one Brigadier General, one Colonel, one Captain and three Rear Admirals “highlight the respect Nancy Soderberg earned from leaders in our military over her decades of work safeguarding our national security,” asserted a media release.

Soderberg is up against Mike Waltz in the general election in the Daytona-centric district that nonetheless has a lot of Jacksonville flavor in the campaign, with donors and interests in the 904 monitoring this swingy contest.

Bean beefs up

Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, whose Senate District 4 encompasses all of Nassau and part of Duval County, continued to pad his campaign account during the last full week of September receipts.

Aaron Bean continues to bank.

From Sept. 15-28, Bean raised $22,200 between his campaign account and that of his political committee, Florida Conservative Alliance.

Among the donors on the committee side: Florida Blue and the Florida Pharmacist Political Committee.

The campaign account donors included Southern Gardens Citrus, U.S. Sugar, and Comcast.

Bean has $89,908 in the committee account and $107,567 in the campaign account, giving him $197,475 to work with during the campaign stretch run.

Bean maintains comfortable leads over his opponents. Democrat Billee Bussard has $6,558 on hand after raising $5,760 in the same two-week period. Libertarian Joanna Tavares does not fundraise and has roughly $40 on hand.

The district is nearly half Republican. With just over 360,381 registered voters, 174,580 Republicans and 100,307 Democrats call SD 4 home. The remaining voters are either NPA or third party, including 1,466 registered Libertarians.

Bean last faced a competitive general election in 2012, when he defeated former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg 62 percent to 38 percent.

Byrd flies high

Freshman Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd continued to maintain strong cash leads over his Democratic challenger as September closed.

Cord Byrd flying high in fundraising for the home stretch.

Byrd, whose majority-Republican House District 11 includes coastal Duval and all of Nassau County, brought in $8,100 of new money between Sept. 15 and 28, pushing his campaign account over $49,000 on hand. Comcast and Duke Energy PAC were among the $1,000 donors.

Byrd also has over $10,000 in his 1845 political committee.

His general election opponent, Nathcelly Rohrbaugh, mostly kept pace with Byrd in late September receipts, bringing in $4,442 of new money, pushing his campaign account over $16,000 on hand.

Labor money, including from a Sheet Metal Workers local and the North Florida Central Labor Council, added to Rohrbaugh’s haul.

No bitter pills for Yarborough

First-term Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Yarborough continued to maintain a healthy cash lead over his Democratic challenger as September ended.

Clay Yarborough continued to amass resources as September ended.

Yarborough, running in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, brought in $6,000 between Sept. 15 and 28.

Of that haul, $4,000 came from the biggest companies in Big Pharma: Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and AstraZeneca all cut the Arlington Republican checks.

All told, he has raised $171,225, with $103,918 of that on hand.

Yarborough faces Democrat Tim Yost, who took in $610 during the same period. All told, Yost has $11,225 on hand of $17,558 raised.

Yarborough made news last week for becoming the regional head of the Yes on 3 campaign, designed to make expansions of casino gambling contingent on citizen referendums.

Polson seeks debate

The general election race to replace outgoing state Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 is beginning to heat up, with a pattern established last week.

Democrat Tracye Polson is determined to push back against what she sees as distortions of narrative and distractions from the campaign of Republican opponent Wyman Duggan.

Debate or no? Trayce Polson takes umbrage with attack ads in HD 15.

One such example: challenging Duggan to debate, in the wake of a pyrotechnic attack ad that linked Polson to Resistance protesters, with stock footage of a flag burner catching the Democrat’s ire.

The ad said Polson is “with them, not with us.”

In that context, Florida Politics has learned of the second line of attack being mulled by the Duggan campaign, one focusing on Polson being a recent arrival to House District 15, a group of deep-rooted communities ranging from Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega to the more bucolic stretches of Jacksonville’s Westside.

The contrast would be implicit, between the deeply rooted Duggan and Polson, a candidate who moved to the district much more recently, according to voter registration records.

Polson registered in HD 15 in November 2016, records show. Before that, she was a registered voter in St. Johns County.

We asked Polson about this potential issue, and she framed it as yet another distraction put forth by the Republican campaign to distract from his career as a lobbyist.

Duggan, meanwhile, is starting to rebuild his campaign war chest, raising more than $56,000 between Sept. 15 and 28 between his campaign account and that of his political committee.

All told, he has roughly $82,000 on hand, a number that is still behind the Polson campaign, which had as of its most recent campaign account and committee filings approximately $123,036 on hand after having raised and self-financed about $125,000 during the same period.

Polson is spending big on television, and her ability to finance her campaign has gotten her into the game. The next four weeks will show if her campaign can go toe to toe with a Republican machine with deep tentacles into GOP power structures in Jacksonville and Tallahassee both.

Overton builds cash edge

As September ended, a familiar narrative continued.

Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector — even though she was the choice of almost 47 percent of voters in the August blanket primary.

Jim Overton continues to lead Mia Jones in the money race.

The latest filings to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections run through Sept. 28.

Overton (a former City Councilman and Property Appraiser) now has over $43,000 on hand after raising $16,034 in the two weeks leading up to the 28th.

Among the latest donors: Peter Rummell, the Jacksonville developer closely aligned with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; Hans Tanzler; and a couple of entities associated with Jacksonville Landing developer Toney Sleiman, currently feuding with Mayor Curry.

Jones was less productive from Sept. 15 to 28, raising just $3,835 and giving her nearly $20,000 on hand. Prominent backers include the AFSCME union and local trial lawyer Wayne Hogan.

Democrats enjoy a registration advantage in Duval County. Of the just over 600,000 registered voters, 244,542 are Democrats, compared to 219,850 Republicans.

However, that advantage doesn’t translate to wins in citywide races. All constitutional officers in Duval County are currently Republicans.

DeFoor stretches cash lead

In the race to succeed Republican Jim Love on the Jacksonville City Council, Love’s fellow Republican Randy DeFoor expanded her cash on hand lead after September receipts.

Randy DeFoor keeps banking for the March election.

But in what could be a preview of a runoff election, Democrat Sunny Gettinger is keeping pace.

As of the end of September, DeFoor had roughly $157,000 on hand between her campaign account and her Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville political committee.

DeFoor brought in $10,050 of new money to the campaign account, and an additional $5,000 to her political committee.

First Coast Energy was the big donor this cycle; its CEO Aubrey Edge is a supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry, and DeFoor is aligned with that political operation.

Gettinger, meanwhile, saw declining receipts for the fourth straight month. Her September haul of $4,245 was the slowest month of her campaign, giving her over $96,000 on hand.

Her key donors last month included connected local businessman Walt Bussells and Jon Heymann, the longtime leader of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

DeFoor and Gettinger are better positioned financially than the two male candidates in the race, who have yet to report September numbers.

Republican Henry Mooneyhan had roughly $12,000 on hand at the end of August. Democrat Jimmy Peluso had approximately $36,000 at his disposal.

Jacksonville municipal races see a first election in March. If no one takes a majority in that blanket primary, the top two finishers move on, regardless of party, to the May general election.

Vogtle sparks Moody’s downgrade

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

At the root of it all: the still-under-construction Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, from which the city committed to buying power in 2008, and as of late wanted out of the deal, citing conditions ranging from flat revenue streams, escalating costs to getting cheaper power elsewhere.

JEA agreed to bankroll 41 percent of MEAG’s share for 20 years. However, the utility and the city have groused of late.

Plant Vogtle is causing Jacksonville rating headaches.

And now the credit rating agencies are taking notice.

“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.

Affected were a series of bonds, spanning a spectrum of city expenditures.

Jacksonville’s issuer rating dropped to A2 from Aa2, Special Revenue Non Ad Valorem Covenant bonds to A3 from Aa3, Better Jacksonville Sales Tax Revenue bonds to A2 from A1, Capital Projects bonds to A2 from Aa3, Excise Taxes Revenue bonds to A2 from Aa2, Capital Improvement bonds to A2 from Aa3 and Transportation bonds to A2 from A1.

At 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.”

COJ OK on ADA, says DOJ

After over five years of work by the City of Jacksonville to meet Americans with Disabilities Act goals, the city got the all-clear from the Department of Justice Friday.

The Justice Department declared the 2013 agreement fulfilled last week.

The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigation Project Civic Access agreement.

The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:

“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”

Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages and polling places.

The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.

Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services similarly had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.

JAXPORT nabs major ocean carrier

JAXPORT is adding Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier.

First reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Israel-based company will come to Jacksonville as the vessel operator for 2M, among the largest vessel-sharing alliances in the world.

The additions will bring containers from North Asia through JAXPORT, which has recently focused on Asian container imports, with an average annual growth of 21 percent over the past five years.

Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier, is heading to Jacksonville.

Zim’s entry into the Jacksonville market will further diversify JAXPORT ocean carriers and boost its growing container business. Container volumes year-to-date are up 28 percent over last year, and volumes handled by JAXPORT in July and August were the highest in the port authority’s history for the same time frame.

Existing ocean carriers also increased their average capacity at Jaxport by almost 13 percent in August, the Journal noted.

Jacksonville as a port-of-call is another new step Zim, an independent carrier facing challenges in the ocean carrier industry. Zim and other ocean carriers have often netted quarterly losses in the face of oversupply — despite increased volume and revenue increases — as well as declining rates and rising costs.

On October 3, Zim USA President George Goldman explained to the Jacksonville Propeller Club that the world’s top 11 carriers lost money 25 out of the last 42 quarters.

“That’s not really sustainable,” Goldman warned, adding that the industry has gone through several acquisitions, mergers and bankruptcies.

Goldman admitted that much of the industry’s operational challenges are self-inflicted, especially when it came to oversupply. He called the industry collectively “dumber than a bag of rocks.”

“Individually, we’re pretty smart people,” Goldman added. “The problem is when we get together … Without a doubt, we are our own worst enemies.”

Zoo celebrates endangered gorilla birth

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new addition — its 22-year-old, Western lowland gorilla Kumbuka has given birth to a healthy infant.

The 4.8-pound female was born Friday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Kumbuka’s initial maternal behavior toward the baby was perfect and healthy, Zoo officials said. However, Kumbuka was cradling and carrying the youngster improperly — similar to the way she behaved before she lost two previous offspring at another zoo.

Welcome to a baby gorilla, as yet unnamed.

Zoo staffers believe Kumbuka’s hearing disability may prevent her from detecting when her youngsters are in distress. Faced with a life-threatening situation, the staff decided to remove Kumbuka’s baby — for short-term assisted rearing by gorilla-care staff.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla SSP (Species Survival Plan) group supports the decision.

The Gorilla SSP recommended she join the Jacksonville Zoo troop to learn maternal behavior from the other mother gorillas and participate in a maternal training program.

After Kumbuca’s arrival in 2014, Jacksonville gorilla care staff began suspecting she might be hearing-impaired. By 2017, her condition was confirmed through consultation with audiologists from Nemours Children’s Specialty Care.

The diagnosis provided valuable for developing a specific birth plan to improve Kumbuka’s chances for maternal success. Throughout Kumbuka’s pregnancy, keepers worked to teach her the correct way to position an infant — as well as other essential maternal skill — while also preparing for possible intervention, if necessary.

The training will continue as keepers show the proper way to hold and carry the infant. Kumbuka is the most genetically valuable female in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), and pairing with Jacksonville’s silverback Lash, she conceived in early February 2018. Lash, 42, was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and came to the Jacksonville Zoo in Gardens in 1998.

The new infant is very important to the entire North American program, which relies upon cooperative pairings of gorillas already in human care. Wild gorillas are no longer captured for zoos.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens recently opened the newly-renovated home for the great apes, African Forest. The $9.5 million renovation features a 50-foot-tall kapok tree that animals can climb and swing on, a mixed-species exhibit, a trail system that allows the animals to roam the area as they choose, and many more wellness-inspired design elements.

The infant gorilla is not yet named.

Jaguars Job One 

As ESPN’s Michael DiRocco notes, the Jaguars defense faces a specific challenge against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday: stop Ezekiel Elliott.

After falling to the Kansas City Chiefs offense (led by Patrick Mahomes) and loaded with playmakers, the Jaguars face a Cowboys offense led by running back Elliott, which ranks near last in the NFL for passing.

That relieves the pressure just a bit. And as DiRocco writes, “It’s going to be an old-school, smash-mouth kind of game.”

Jaguars’ Job One: Stop Ezekiel Elliott.

“The New York [Giants] week got us ready for this week in the sense of saying they’re going to try to go through the running back,” Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith told ESPN. “We know the offense flows through the running back. They’re going to try to get him going. We’ve just got to go out and execute and play.”

Elliott, who coach Doug Marrone calls “probably the best running back in the league,” leads the league rushing with 480 yards and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also leads the Cowboys in receptions (22), and his 635 yards of total offense accounts for 41 percent of the Cowboys’ total yards.

That is despite turning in his worst performance of the season Sunday: 54 yards on 20 carries in the Cowboys’ 19-16 overtime loss to Houston.

“Great out of the backfield, great hands, great in space,” Marrone continued. “There’s probably not a run that he can’t do. He can run people over. He can run by them. I’ve seen him run over them. He has a great stiff arm.

“Can’t say enough good things about the guy.” The Jaguars’ run defense is ranked No. 14 (101.2 yards per game), allowing the Chiefs to rush for 126 yards. Nevertheless, the Cowboys’ pass game is not even close to what the Chiefs brought to Jacksonville. In nine of the last 13 games, QB Dak Prescott passed fewer than 200 yards, without a touchdown pass in seven of those games.

For the Jaguars, stopping the run is a top priority, but handling Prescott is not far behind, mainly due to his mobility.

Prescott is one of eight quarterbacks who rushed more than 100 yards this season (with 121).

Bottom line: The Jaguars success this week will rest on how they deal with Elliott.

Million dollar haul: Nancy Soderberg banks big in Q3

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

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

This time 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.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey, conducted Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, found the candidates locked in a 45-45 dead heat.

The money quote from the polling memo: “Waltz is failing to motivate his own base, earning just 75 percent of the vote among registered Republicans. Soderberg receives 82 percent of the vote among registered Democrats. Soderberg also leads Waltz among self-ascribed independents by 20 percentage points and voters who are undecided more closely resemble Soderberg supporters than Waltz supporters.”

More detailed numbers will be posted by both campaigns by Oct. 15. We reached out to Waltz for an indication of what we could expect, but response was not forthcoming by press time.

The district includes parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and has had a GOP lean. President Donald Trump won CD 6 by 17 points in 2016; DeSantis likewise won re-election that year by 17 points.

The pollsters and pollwatchers don’t expect a flip.

The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato both see the district as “likely Republican,” while Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of a flip at less than 25 percent. Their forecasting model currently expects Waltz to win 52-48  in November.


Al Lawson expects long recovery for Leon, Gadsden counties

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a first-term Democrat representing Florida’s 5th Congressional District, is no stranger to the counties of the district.

That holds especially true for some of the most grievously storm-impacted areas, such as Leon and Gadsden counties, areas he has known since he was born.

While Hurricane Michael made landfall in Bay County, the storm wreaked havoc well beyond the eyewall. And much of the district Lawson grew up in is slated for a “long recovery,” he said Thursday.

“This afternoon, I had an opportunity to get out and assess some of the damage in Gadsden and Leon counties. From what I could see, Gadsden seems to have been hit pretty bad, and that’s not to minimize the damage across the district and around the state,” Lawson said.

“As of now, we know that there are four storm-related deaths in Gadsden, and I suspect there will are several more.  The devastation is severe — downed trees spilt down to their base, destroyed homes and businesses. I grew up in Gadsden, and I can tell you, there were parts of the area I did not recognize because of the destruction,” Lawson added.

“Across both Leon and Gadsden, there are many families who are without power and many families without homes. Cell service is spotty so people are having a difficult time contacting their loved ones,” Lawson said.

“I’ve already begun to work with federal, state and local officials to help get the resources that we need to begin the long process of recovery. In fact, we began the process before the storm hit. We were able to anticipate some of the needs because of what we went through last year with Irma,” Lawson noted.

Lawson was on the ground in Duval County, on the eastern edge of the district, after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

He noted differences between the storms, yet similiarities in post-storm needs.

“One of the key differences between Irma and Michael is that Irma was a slow-moving storm, which caused a lot of flooding. Michael was a much more powerful windstorm. Among the similarities, everyone needs food and access to food, and I have already petitioned Gov. Scott and the USDA to activate Disaster Food Assistance benefits, as I did following Irma.  One of the many benefits of this will allow SNAP recipients to get hot meals from restaurants,” Lawson said.

“As with Irma,” Lawson added, “many families will need help accessing FEMA, insurance, and other federal programs to begin the recovery process. Having gone through this with Irma, my staff and I have the experience and we know exactly what to do.”

Lawson noted that the Major Disaster Declaration approved by the White House Thursday is a “tremendous help,” and said that he has been on the phone with FEMA.

If the post-Irma process is any indication, a lot more of those phone calls are ahead.

CD 5 includes eight North Florida counties: Duval, Leon, Gadsden, Baker, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Columbia.

Citing Plant Vogtle, Moody’s downgrades Jacksonville credit rating

Jacksonville leaders may protest. But the move is non-negotiable.

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

At the root of it all: the still-under-construction Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, which the city committed to buy power from in 2008 and has wanted out of late as conditions ranging from flat revenue streams and escalating costs to cheaper power elsewhere have become more pressing concerns.

JEA had agreed to bankroll 41 percent of MEAG’s share for 20 years. However, the utility and the city have groused of late.

And now the credit rating agencies are taking notice.

“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.

Affected were a series of bonds, spanning a spectrum of city expenditures.

Jacksonville’s issuer rating dropped to A2 from Aa2, Special Revenue Non Ad Valorem Covenant bonds to A3 from Aa3, Better Jacksonville Sales Tax Revenue bonds to A2 from A1, Capital Projects bonds to A2 from Aa3, Excise Taxes Revenue bonds to A2 from Aa2, Capital Improvement bonds to A2 from Aa3 and Transportation bonds to A2 from A1.

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.

If the city drops the lawsuit, Moody’s said that might help.

In a rare public quote, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa blasted Moody’s decision.

“The City of Jacksonville strongly rejects Moody’s downgrade of the City for its participation in an effort to protect the ratepayers and taxpayers of Jacksonville from a constitutionally unsound agreement previously entered into by JEA concerning the construction of Nuclear Power Plant Vogtle,” Mousa said.

?JEA customers are currently paying for this skyrocketing, out-of-control nuclear power plant project with no certainty in cost or completion timeline. This downgrade action is based upon wild speculation, completely without rationale or merit, and not at all indicative of the City’s commitment to pay its debt (both past and present), or of its financial strength and integrity,” Mousa added.

“Moody’s refused to acknowledge the City’s clearly stated (and historically demonstrated) commitment to make debt payments. The City cannot sit idly by while others make decisions that have significant consequences for our citizens without exploring all of our options,” Mousa contended.

Ironically, just months ago the city got from Standard and Poor’s its first AAA rating, even as JEA credit was already trending south, in light of the Plant Vogtle deal.

The AAA for excise tax revenue bonds led CFO Mike Weinstein (who has since retired from City Hall) to laud the “confirmation that the strong fiscal management you established is being recognized by the financial community at large … proof that the Jacksonville economy is vibrant and growing.”

Plant Vogtle, however, is a big deal for the city.

Jacksonville’s public utility JEA and Georgia’s Municipal Electric Authority are at loggerheads over the future of the $27 billion Plant Vogtle, with lawsuits filed by each side.

JEA wants out of the deal, and went so far as to negotiate better terms for MEAG with an alternative power vendor while also agreeing to pay “sunk costs” on the agreement.

However, the four Georgia utility companies involved in construction of the nuclear facility had budgeted for cost overruns, and have decided to move forward with the project.

The utility 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.”

Estimated completion dates of the new nuclear units remain Nov. 2021 for Unit 3, and Nov. 2022 for Unit 4.

Game over: Jacksonville mulls adult arcade moratorium

New legislation filed this week to the Jacksonville City Council would impose a six-month moratorium on adult arcades.

Ordinance 2018-680 would ban permitting for these so-called internet cafes, a bane to the existence of Jacksonville lawmakers.

These establishments are predominately located in areas of town that have socioeconomic challenges already, and Council members have sought to put the brakes on what has become a flourishing industry, albeit one of dubious moral value.

Arcades often are near churches, schools, day cares and homes, and the noise, traffic, and other associated activities concern people outside the industry.

Jacksonville’s municipal code, which often seems fragmentary, lacks “performance standards or criteria pertaining to adult arcades,” offering another potential justification for the moratorium.

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, 90 certificates of use have been issued, even as many more businesses operate without them.

The moratorium could be passed by the Council by November, should there not be interruptions in the six-week committee cycle.

Members of both political parties back the measure. Republican Al Ferraro introduced the bill; Democrats Joyce Morgan and John Crescimbeni are the first of what will be a number of co-sponsors.

No ‘rah-rah campaign rally’ for Ron DeSantis in Jacksonville with Hurricane Michael hammering Florida

As Category 4 Hurricane Michael prepared to slam the Panhandle and the Big Bend, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis implored Jacksonville supporters to offer tangible help.

DeSantis deviated from the usual format of what he called a “rah-rah campaign rally” and turned his Wednesday morning campaign stop into a plea for hurricane relief. Dozens of supporters who showed up complied, helping to load staple items into a 15-foot U-Haul with a “Florida Strong” placard affixed to the side.

The truck was a third full by the time the efforts were complete.

The supplies, said DeSantis, would go “wherever makes sense after the storm.”

Diapers were on the ask list, said DeSantis, a lesson learned since his wife, Casey, and he had a daughter after Hurricane Matthew lashed his district.

“We didn’t have Madison yet,” DeSantis quipped. “Diapers and the formula and all that … very important for people with young children.”

DeSantis noted that just a week ago, no one expected a storm. Especially in recent days, it’s “grown in ferocity.”

The candidate also noted that he has talked to Gov. Rick Scott, who is “on top of this … concerned about the storm surge.”

“A 12-foot storm surge, that’s just life-threatening, no two ways about it,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis was not interested in discussing his campaign’s ads that pillory his general election opponent, Andrew Gillum, for botched response during Hurricane Hermine. Nor did he want to discuss the future of the campaign under its new manager, Jacksonville’s own Susie Wiles.

“There will be time for us to deal with that,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who was once stationed at Naval Station Mayport, used what could be described as Adam Putnam style messaging at the event, extolling veterans both as a class and contributors to the state and the region, and discussing his own work in Congress helping veterans with post-traumatic stress.

“Not everyone is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice,” DeSantis said of the costs of war. “You’re basically writing a check to the United States of America up to and including your life.”

Fundraising freefall continues for Jacksonville City Council hopeful Bill Bishop

District 1 Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan faces a former two-term Councilman, Bill Bishop, in her re-election bid.

The binary campaign between the two is two months old, and a narrative is emerging that casts doubt on the ultimate utility of so-called “Bill-lievers.”

Morgan, a Democrat representing the Arlington area, in September stretched her cash lead over the stalled operation of Republican Bishop, who is just three years removed from drawing nearly 20 percent citywide in the Mayor’s race.

Bishop abandoned his citywide at-large Council seat run for a more localized race during the summer, but that move has not helped his cash position.

In September, Bishop raised just $300. This followed an August in which he raised $700.

Bishop, a former two-term Councilman, has just over $13,000 on hand, after a full year of campaigning.

Morgan, who filed for re-election this summer, didn’t have a particularly impressive haul. However, she did have some credible names in her donor pool, names that suggest more resources will be there should she need them, such as Florida Blue CEO Darnell Smith and Jacksonville University President Tim Cost.

Photo credit: Claire Goforth.

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