Opinions Archives - Page 3 of 296 - Florida Politics

Jose Oliva: Confirm Brett Kavanaugh

If, as Justice Antonin Scalia said, “Our appointment and confirmation process has … evolved into a mini-plebiscite on the meaning of the Constitution whenever a new justice is to be seated,” then our freedoms, our Republic, and our Constitution could not be in better hands than with Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

On paper, Judge Kavanaugh is eminently qualified. You would be hard-pressed to find a more qualified individual to serve on the nation’s highest court.

But the reasons to confirm him go far beyond a stellar resume.

George Washington declared the Constitution to be the guide he would never abandon. Judge Kavanaugh’s career, both in and out of the courtroom, clearly demonstrates his commitment to embodying Washington’s reverence for the four corners of that most transformational document.

That respect and recognition of restrictions on judicial power should cause none to fear. On the contrary, such deference to the text will keep speech free, faith personal, homes secure, families protected, federal power limited, and rights divinely bestowed and inalienable.

In other words, a Justice faithful to the text of the Constitution will ensure our liberties and respect the freedoms that we all cherish.

What more can we ask of a judge or any man?

As President Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Judge Kavanaugh, as an appellate judge on the federal bench, wielded considerable power and passed the test of self-limitation with flying colors.

And one need only listen to Judge Kavanaugh himself to understand why he would make Lincoln proud when he said, “The judge’s job is to interpret the law, not to make the law or make policy. So read the words of the statute as written. Read the text of the Constitution as written, mindful of history and tradition. Don’t make up new constitutional rights that are not in the text of the Constitution. Don’t shy away from enforcing constitutional rights that are in the text of the Constitution.”

That philosophy will secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

In a time when the idea that the Constitution is a “living, breathing document” is taken seriously, a judge willing to so forthrightly declare that it is not the job of an unelected branch of government to set policy, no matter their personal feelings about the propriety of such policy, is both refreshing and consistent with the finest judicial traditions of this great country.

Justices who adhere to the plain meaning of the text of the Constitution do honor to the sacrifices of the men and women who fought to see it to fruition. President John Adams, who lamented that we would never know how much it cost his generation to preserve our freedom, would, I believe, see Judge Kavanaugh’s work as an affirmation of all they fought for. Their sacrifice for liberty was not in vain so long as we who are heirs to that toil do our part to preserve it.

And that is my hope in all I do as a Legislator and all I do in this writing. To be worthy of the sacrifices made by generations past.

I am convinced that the Constitution and the restrictions it places on all branches of government are the reasons we are still a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.

And people like Judge Kavanaugh, willing to serve, willing to abide by the Constitution as written, and willing to endure the fire of confirmation, are the reason, God willing, we always will be.


State Rep. Jose Oliva is set to become the next Speaker of the Florida House.

Joe Henderson: Voters in the middle, where is your candidate?

Maybe more than any election in a long time, voters in the middle might as well be people without a candidate.

Think about it.

Maybe your politics are center-right. You might be generally conservative but will vote for something that sounds somewhat liberal if you decide it’s a good thing.

Or, maybe you’re the opposite — center-left. You may agree with some progressive ideas, but you’ll still vote for a more conservative candidate if you believe that person is the best one.

History tells us there are more voters in the middle than on the wings.

But as last Tuesday night, there is no middle ground to be found in either Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race to be Florida’s Governor.

Both men are at the far opposite edges of the political spectrum, and there is little room for a voter looking for nuance when November arrives, and it’s time for the general population to mark their ballots.

There were about 3.5 million ballots cast last week in Florida’s primary election. That’s less than 30 percent of the state’s approximately 13 million voters, and those are the people who gave the rest of Florida voters this choice.

Even more, nearly 3.5 million Florida voters have no party affiliation at all. What do they do? They have two choices: Pick a candidate with whom they might have fewer differences of opinion or sit the election out.

I suppose this was inevitable after the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. Trump is an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and his legions are proving to be the same. So, after Hillary Clinton spun to the earth in a fireball, Democrats seem determined to be everything that Trump is not when it comes to policy.

That has trickled down to Florida politics.

DeSantis is a Trump “Mini-Me” who echoes the talking points of what his commercials call “the big man himself.”

Gillum had a major endorsement from Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a Democratic socialist. Gillum embraces Sanders’ unabashedly progressive agenda, a marked contrast from the last five Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Florida, who basically were centrists.

But where does that leave people who might like some, but not all, of a candidate’s agenda?

Maybe you support the Second Amendment but think that maybe after Parkland and other school and public massacres we ought to have tighter regulations.

Well, DeSantis has advocated for the expansion of so-called gun rights. He has favored open-carry in places like college campuses. He has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.

Gillum favors imposing strong restrictions on gun sales, including an outright ban on the sale of assault weapons. He gets an F from the NRA.

Where does that leave you, Middle Ground Voter?


Gillum wants Medicaid extended to cover an additional 1 million low-income Floridians. He favors Medicare for all. It would be expensive, and he proposes raising corporate taxes to pay the bill.

DeSantis suggested during a debate with Adam Putnam during the primary campaign that no, health care is not a fundamental right.

Um, who do you have in that one, voters in the middle?


I imagine you can guess where DeSantis stands on that one, being a follower of President Build That Wall. Gillum said ICE needs to be abolished in its current form and dreamers should have a path to citizenship.

Where’s the in-between on that issue?

An early Public Policy Polling survey, commissioned by Democrats, showed Gillum with a decisive edge in voters with no party affiliation, probably as a reaction to the Trumpian controversies. I wouldn’t read much into that, though, because the full-blown attack ads haven’t started yet from either side.

Those ads will be directly aimed at you, voters in the middle.

They will leave you feeling there is no candidate you can fully support.

Maybe there isn’t. The middle ground can be a lonely place.

Annie Betancourt: Recognize working families on Labor Day

On this Labor Day, as we squeeze in one more weekend getaway to the beach with the family, we can also give some consideration to the workers who are the backbone of the economic engine that powers our everyday life.

Florida has just surpassed a GDP of 1 trillion dollars and we currently have the 17th largest economy in the world. However, too often, workers in Florida and especially women, are not experiencing economic progress. One out of every 3 workers among us in Florida earns under $12 per hour. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers in Florida are women, earning just $8.25 per hour.

Simply put, our state government fails to ensure that hardworking families have all they need to thrive: living wages, basic protections such as sick-and-family leave, pregnancy accommodations, equal pay for women and more.

In an effort to understand the differences between states, and to rank them, anti-poverty organization Oxfam America created the Best States to Work Index, which measures labor and employment policies of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The index reflects the idea that workers fare better when they earn higher wages, have the right to organize, and enjoy protections around paid sick and family leave, among others.

According to the Best States to Work Index, Florida ranks at 37 in the nation in its treatment of workers. On the plus side, our state minimum wage, currently at $8.25, exceeds the federal minimum wage. However, it still falls far short of what the state’s working families really need. Two full-time working parents in Florida with two kids each need to make $15.79 an hour to meet basic living costs, according to the MIT living wage calculator.

Given the difference in the cost of living between South Florida and the Panhandle, the legislature has tied the hands of local governments which know the needs of citizen’s best — from establishing a minimum wage that meets the cost of living and is appropriate for their residents, although Miami Beach is challenging that shortsighted ban in the Florida Supreme Court. In addition, Florida fails to require accommodations for pregnant women at the workplace and to provide paid sick and family leave for workers.

Those policies are especially important to ensure strong and healthy families.

But there could be change afoot. There is a movement to get a $15 minimum wage on the ballot in 2020. If passed, that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2021, then up to $15 by 2026. More than 70 percent of our state’s voters supported the ballot to increase the minimum wage in 2004, and it’s time for an update, especially at a time when the cost of housing is out of reach for many Floridians. And a group of progressive organizations have come together to promote a Florida Workers’ Agenda for the next governor, detailing a slate of reforms that would go a long way toward improving the state’s environment as a place to work.

Critics of such measures claim that providing a decent work environment means killing jobs and, in the end, will mean a drop in the quality of life of our citizens. So Oxfam looked to see if the states ranked lowest on the Best States to Work Index also have a better quality of life.

In their index, states with higher scores tend to have more prosperous economies and lower infant mortality rates: California ranks No. 3 on the index, and the infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) is 4.2; in Alabama, No. 49, the infant mortality rate is 9.1. In Florida, we have an infant mortality rate of 6.1 per 1,000 births.

As we mark yet another Labor Day, let’s accept the reality that it’s up to us Floridians to demand changes that will tip the scales back toward working families.

Together, we can make a difference by standing up for workers.


Former state Rep. Annie Betancourt is an ambassador of Oxfam America Sisters on the Planet.

Blake Dowling: Primaries are over; time to buckle up

Tuesday’s primary elections are in the rear-view mirror.

So, what did we learn?

First, never count out the underdog. Our Mayor here in Tallahassee kept fighting the good fight all the way to the end … and got the W.

Andrew Gillum shrugged off a 2-year FBI investigation in his backyard, the highest crime rate in the state and fought a winning effort against a political giant. Pretty cool.

This is what makes American great. Congrats to Gillum.

We also saw President Donald Trump’s voice have bigtime influence, and I guess the jury reached a verdict on this ad … and it was genius (though several jurors thought it was ridiculous)

Congrats to Ron DeSantis for also fighting the good fight and getting the W.

It will be a great showdown between two very different leaders come November.

We also learned to not mail classified documents to the press if you have signed an NDA.

And what were the hackers up to yesterday? More on that later.

As we move into the next election cycle, some leaders think we should hack right back.

That’s right folks. It is exactly what Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is proposing, and (off topic), with a name like that, he has to run for President at some point.

Am I wrong?

Hacking has become a very overused term. Don’t get me wrong, there are serious cases of it. But when you have Sen. Bill Nelson say that our election systems were compromised, and then backs into the bushes (much like Homer Simpson) offering no proof, people really start getting panicky and crying WOLF/HACK when their printer doesn’t work.

The Feds spent a lot of money on new security protocols and services, as well as testing and training and from early reports, it looks as if the dollars were well spent. Details from Hillsborough County are here, and they look promising.

Nevertheless, there are those that say it’s too late for this year, buckle up for whatever is coming and get ready for 2020.

All scenarios are, in fact, true (minus what Nelson said, not sure what that was all about).

In reality, we do need to buckle up for anything that might be thrown at the November elections. There are people out there looking to disrupt our great nation’s electoral process. That’s a fact.

Listen to your IT experts, change those passwords, deploy features like geo-IP filtering on your security appliances which blocks all IP addresses outside the US. Period.

That will trim down a large volume of attacks.

Congrats to those who were victorious yesterday: Gillum, Scott, and the rest. Thank you to all of those with the courage to run for office and represent the people of Florida and the United States.

Sometimes, while sitting on the sidelines it is easy to forget what that effort does to those involved, as well as what that commitment looks like. Cheers to you.

Have a great weekend.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Joe Clements: Possible paths to victory for Andrew Gillum, Ron DeSantis

On July 9, I published “The ‘big picture’ predictions on Election 2018,” which shared the reasons I thought Andrew Gillum would win the Democratic primary for governor.

Throughout the summer, I tweeted about why I thought Gillum would win the primary election and the rationale behind it, which I retweeted on election night after the results flowed in.

Where do I stand now?

I think Gillum carries the advantage going into the general election, but I do not believe Ron DeSantis faces any challenges that Adam Putnam would not have faced.

First, let’s forecast the rise of Andrew Gillum.

Gillum is going to quickly become a national Democratic icon and people will start floating his name as a 2020 presidential nominee. The energy around Gillum in Democratic circles will be intense as he is a better-looking and more rhetorically-polished Bernie Sanders. Gillum may offer fringe left beliefs, but he does not look or sound fringe.

The bane of Democratic politics in Florida is voter turnout.

While Democrats outnumber Republicans, they can rarely achieve high enough turnout rates to beat Republicans statewide. Gillum, like Barack Obama, brings “once in a generation” excitement to minority communities that will be thrilled to vote for Florida’s first black governor.

Let’s call this strategy the “Barack Obama,” where a candidate can use star power and inspirational messaging to drive turnout among low-propensity voters.

The FBI investigation and corruption charges are unlikely to hold weight with voters who have low confidence in the FBI and dismiss information they don’t like as “Fake News.”

At best, Gillum’s mayoral record can be used to motivate Republican voters, but it is unlikely to deter Democrats.

Finally, Gillum is going to benefit from any attack tweets issued by Donald Trump, as this will provide him with national earned media and drive home the narrative that he is the nation’s premier anti-Trump candidate.

The DeSantis campaign should work with the White House as much as possible to focus presidential messaging about Gillum around the FBI investigation and corruption charges. By doing so, the media will begin to talk about those issues, and Gillum will be forced to answer an attack on his record and not merely respond to Trump.

To win, Gillum needs to focus on voter turnout and not make unforced errors in the media or in debates.

Now, let’s take a look at DeSantis.

As a Republican, DeSantis has two valid strategic options that will lead to a win statewide.

The “Rick Scott:” Move away from the President while also trying to build a coalition of Republicans and moderates around economic issues.

Or …

The “Donald Trump:” Keep working with the President to recreate the Trump coalition of hardcore Republicans and blue collar, white Democrats around social issues.

The issue for DeSantis with the Scott strategy is women. Generally, college-educated moderate women do not support Trump. Democrats will exploit DeSantis’s support for Trump to wedge away soft Republican and NPA women.

DeSantis’ issue with the Trump strategy is that it is successful for only one person – Donald Trump. No one can guarantee if Trump-supported candidates are able to generate the same level of support and voter turnout as the Big Man himself.

That said, I don’t believe DeSantis faces a steeper climb than, say, Putnam, or any other Republican candidate, would have against Gillum. I believe that if Putnam won, he would have ultimately pursued the Trump strategy once it was evident that support among moderate women had collapsed.

Ironically, all the attributes for which Trump praises DeSantis make it difficult for him to recreate the Trump strategy. Ivy League lawyers are typically unpopular among populist NPA and Democratic voters in Florida’s exurban and rural counties, just the where DeSantis needs to recreate the Trump coalition.

There are two actions the DeSantis campaign can take to build a Trump strategy.

First, the DeSantis campaign should seek the endorsement and active support of the one Republican who is most beloved in our rural and exurban areas: Putnam.

Putnam draws large crowds in these areas and the DeSantis campaign needs a validator to voters who will not vote for Gillum but may be at risk of simply not voting.

If DeSantis fails to win these rural and exurban voters, he will have taken the Mitt Romney strategy, which is not a winning route.

Second, the DeSantis campaign should select a moderate Republican woman (or Puerto Rican) to fill the lieutenant governor slot – and give that person a meaningful role.

Denise Grimsley and Jeanette Nunez are both choices, offering overlapping benefits. Grimsley is liked among rural voters and Nunez among Miami Cuban voters. There are also several viable options for LG in Orlando that carry deep ties to the I-4 Puerto Rican community, such as Bob Cortes and Rene Plascencia.

DeSantis would hit the jackpot if he finds a moderate, Republican, Puerto Rican woman for his ticket.

To win, DeSantis needs to duplicate the Trump coalition without the benefit of Trump on the ticket.

In the end, Republicans will be working with tight numbers, but they will ultimately have the advantage of a good economy; voters are always looking to keep things “on the right track.”

So, there we have it: Gillum needs to initiate Twitter battles with Trump and turn out low-propensity voters. DeSantis needs to offset the loss of moderate women with big wins in Trump Country.


Joe Clements is co-founder and CEO of Strategic Digital Services, a Tallahassee-based tech company. He is also co-founder of Bundl, a campaign contribution management app.

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis ‘monkey’ comment naive at best, racist at worst

If Ron DeSantis didn’t believe it would be seen as racist when he said of the state’s economy we shouldn’t “monkey it up” by electing Andrew Gillum as Florida’s next Governor, then he is incredibly naive.

However, if this Donald Trump Mini-Me was sending a signal to remind his less, um … tolerant supporters that Gillum is, indeed, one election win away from becoming Florida’s first black Governor, then he might as well have announced to the world that he is a racist.

He will deny all that vigorously, of course, but I don’t believe there is any other way to interpret the astonishing interview DeSantis gave Wednesday on Fox News. Instead of just taking a victory lap after his blowout win over Adam Putnam (what must he be feeling right now?) in the GOP Primary, DeSantis took that moment in the national spotlight to utter a phrase that is incredibly offensive to blacks.  

Good Lord, Roseanne Barr — another FOT (Friend of Trump) — lost her highly rated TV show earlier this year with a similar slur against Valerie Jarrett, a former White House aide to Barack Obama.

Didn’t something from that story sink into Ron DeSantis’ brain before he spoke?

Guess not.

Right after this story sent the Twittersphere into a tizzy, I was thinking that I have lived more than six decades on this planet and until now I had never heard the phrase “monkey it up.” I saw shortly after that St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted the same thing. 

Mess it up? Sure.

But “monkey it up” — um, no. What a coincidence that the first time I heard that combination of words was is in reference to a black man running as the Democratic nominee for Governor.

That was about the time my eldest son sent me a text, weighing in on the topic. I mentioned it sure looked like a dog whistle and sounded like a dog whistle.

Ben Henderson responded: “That’s a full-on dog airhorn.”

You hear something like that, and you start thinking about Charlottesville and how Trump defended some of the white nationalists as “very fine people.”

You start thinking of the president’s jag against the National Football League over players taking a knee during the national anthem. The overwhelming majority of players doing that are black, trying to raise social awareness about issues with police.

Trump calls the protesters “sons of bitches” and even said, “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

You remember the way Trump tried to demonize Obama — the whole issue about the birth certificate, being born in Kenya, and so on.

When you’re riding coat tails the way DeSantis rode Trump’s, and then you say something like this, what are people supposed to think?

I can’t think of a bigger gaffe occurring so soon after a gubernatorial primary win. It sent this Governor’s race straight into the swamp.

Maybe it was just an unfortunate word choice, as the DeSantis camp immediately tried to spin. If so, you would think a man hoping to lead the state for the next four years should understand by now that every word he says will be scrutinized for hidden messages.

Words matter.

When you want to be Governor of the nation’s third-largest state, you must know this.

If he doesn’t, he better learn quickly.

But Ron DeSantis will also have to understand why many people will assume he said exactly what he meant.

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum wins are nothing less than astonishing

If Florida voters wanted a contrast in the election for Governor, they have it. The differences between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis in the November election couldn’t be dramatic – and it goes far beyond the fact Gillum now stands one election win away from being the first black Governor in the state’s history.

He is a hard-left, progressive candidate who didn’t play it safe in the campaign and was continually overlooked, but he never went away. He shocked pollsters, pundits, and everyone but himself Tuesday night in winning the Democratic primary.

DeSantis is the anointed acolyte of Donald Trump who surged on the president’s endorsement and blew out Adam Putnam, the one-time heir apparent to the governor’s mansion, to secure the Republican nomination.

DeSantis had a 20-plus point lead in the polls leading to Election Day with his complete embrace of the president and his policies.

It is set up as a national referendum on the president, and maybe it was always going to be that – just not like this, though.

Gillum lagged well behind early in the polls. Even as he surged at the end behind a populist and positive message of change against the status quo, he was basically dismissed by the pundits.

DeSantis cruised in the closing days of the primary, seemingly at ease and assured.


He ran hard the entire way.

He didn’t have enough money, at least until a late infusion of cash from George Soros, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer, and Collective PAC, a group dedicated to electing African-Americans.

He didn’t have enough experience.

It wasn’t his “time” in 2018. Maybe later.

But something about his campaign connected with voters. His upbeat message, his unabashed progressive platform – it all worked and set up the November showdown against DeSantis and/or Trump, depending on how you view the race.

Yes, Florida politics rarely ceases to astonish, and we greet this morning with the news that the son of a bus driver is now the Democratic nominee for Governor.

Gillum never stopped believing, even if most others did.

Even as late polls showed Gillum was surging, he still trailed Gwen Graham by 5 points. She was trying to make history, too, by becoming the first woman to hold Florida’s top office.

So, what happened?

An endorsement by Bernie Sanders certainly helped. Gillum pushes a populist agenda – a $1 billion increased commitment to public education. Increased vocational training. A ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks, and tougher background checks.

He will actually use the words “climate change” from the Governor’s pulpit if elected.

He proposes raising corporate taxes or, as he calls it, “ask the richest corporations to pay a little more of their fair share.”

It is a reliably progressively agenda, against what is sure to be a 180-degree opposite in DeSantis.

But let’s leave the policy wonk stuff for another day and focus on what we just saw.

While Gillum might have been mayor of Florida’s capital city, he still was largely an unknown through the rest of the state. He called himself the only “non-millionaire” in the race. It’s true he was out-moneyed by billionaires Philip Levine and Jeff Greene.

Graham had a famous last name; her father, Bob Graham, served both as Governor of Florida and in the U.S. Senate.

How could the son of a bus driver overcome that?

It started with a message that resonated. His Democratic rivals stressed many of the same points, but Gillum’s progressive and “why not now?” platform seemed to connect. Voters clearly saw him as the face and voice of change they were looking for.

It’s a remarkable achievement to get this far.

The journey isn’t done, though.

To break 20 years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, Gillum will have to convince a statewide electorate that he is more than a fresh face and more than just the latest face of history. It will be his challenge to prove he has answers as well as a great story.

Tuesday was a night for Gillum and his supporters to celebrate and reflect. They have accomplished something that wasn’t supposed to happen. They proved the experts wrong. They believed when few others did.

The son of a bus driver is the Democratic nominee for Governor in Florida.

They made history. But as the primary result proved, anyone who believes Andrew Gillum is satisfied with getting that far is mistaken.

Steve Vancore: Finding the ‘blue wave’ elusive in Florida’s primary

Steve Vancore learned the political operative game at the knee of legendary practitioner Marian Johnson some 30 years ago, at Florida Lawyers Action Group.

Today, he’s one of Florida’s leading political consultants and pollsters, operating as a partner in VancoreJones Communications, and teaches media application at Florida State University.

He even made the Influence 100 list of Florida’s biggest political heavyweights. We chatted with Vancore Monday by telephone. He was in Broward County, where he was tending to clients, and talked about what he’ll look for on Tuesday. These remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

FP: What are you looking for in the primaries?

SV: I’m trying to see whether there’s any early evidence of a blue wave. We see it nationally. We’ve seen specks of it in Florida, for example with the election of Margaret Good (in HD 72).

We’re looking to see, are Democrats especially motivated? Thus far, there’s no evidence either way — for it or against it.

FP: You’re looking at early voting?

SV: What I’m looking at is a combination of early and absentee voting (now called vote-by-mail). What evidence is there that Democrats are more enthusiastic? People are pushing out data to suit their ends. But right now, there are no data to suggest one way or the other.

Let me give you an example. Somebody put out this weekend that 250,000 more Democrats have voted in this year’s primaries thus far than voted in 2014, the last midterm primaries. That’s very misleading, because of three factors.

One factor is that that there are so many more Democrats as the state continues to grow by 1,000 people a day. There are more Democrats and there are more Republicans and more independents. Comparing raw numbers to four years ago is misleading.

I can tell you that, since book closing in 2016, there have been more than 200,000 more registered Democrats. There have been more than 260,000 more registered Republicans. But the point is, it’s not evidence of a blue wave.

Two, more money has been spent in the Democratic primaries than has ever been spent in Florida history. When you have these gubernatorial races spending well over $100 million, of course there’s going to be a larger turnout. But it really isn’t that much larger.

Item three is that more people are voting with the convenience of early and absentee voting. In 2016, in the presidential general election, you saw 70 percent of people vote before Election Day. I think the number was 50 percent in 2014.

You take those three variables, I think, overall, you’re looking at 1 or 2 percent more in turnout. That’s not a blue wave.

FP: Are there any particular races you’re looking at? Let’s start with the governor’s race.

SV: I’m a pollster, so you always worry that you’re missing a major variable — something big that would cause your polling to be wrong. I’ll be looking at the margin of victory for Ron DeSantis, quite frankly.

There’s some evidence that, with the conviction and guilty plea (of, respectively, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and attorney Michael Cohen), that Trump’s numbers are eroding. But if DeSantis comes screaming out with above 60 percent of the vote, that shows serious, serious momentum.

I’m looking at the Gary Farmer race, a client of mine, (against Jim Waldman) because there’s been a lot of dark money mail coming out, tons of it, and it’s had no impact at all in the race.

FP: What are you looking for in the Democratic gubernatorial race?

SV: If Gwen Graham wins big, that would be some evidence of a number of things.

One, that she’s a tougher, better candidate than some people are giving her credit for. You have to keep in mind that about as much money has been spent negative-attacking her than she has spent on television.

Remember, a dark money PAC has been attacking her and helping Andrew Gillum. Jeff Greene has spent $6 million, $7 million, $8 million attacking her. If she comes out strong, that will show a very resilient candidate.

FP: What do you make of the dichotomy within the Democratic Party between the progressive wing — that would be Gillum — and the centrists — which is Graham? What are you looking for there?

SV: What you see a lot in Democratic primaries is two things. One, demographic alignment. That’s why Jeff Greene hurts Philip Levine. Levine was comfortably in the lead until Greene entered the race — and you have two demographically similar guys.

They’re about the same age, they’re both wealthy, they’re both Jewish, they’re both white — above-middle-age Jewish white guys from South Florida. So they divided that same swimming lane.

Gillum has done a very good job of occupying the Bernie lane — the progressive lane, we’ll call it; the younger lane. And then, he’s the black candidate. If you combine those, Andrew has a pretty good shot.

Can a centrist candidate win? Gwen did vote against Nancy Pelosi. She did vote for the Keystone XL pipeline. She occupies a little bit more toward the center — which positions her better for the general, one would think.

Here’s the dilemma for her. Let’s say she wins. Does she pick a centrist candidate — a mayor of a big city, a congressman, or something like that? Or does she pick somebody who looks like the base?

Look what happened to Hillary Clinton. Hillary picked Tim Kaine — an old white dude. Had she picked a progressive, then maybe the base would have turned out, but middle-class America would have said, “Oh, that’s not like us.” The Democratic winner, other than Andrew, would have that problem.

FP: And that’s the Democrats’ big problem — persuading people sympathetic to them to actually go vote.

SV: That’s a deep problem. Do you try to win over the middle, or do you try to win over the Bernie supporters?

FP: In the governor’s race, who has the best social media operation?

SV: Andrew Gillum, by a country mile.

The problem with social media, it’s far more limited than people want to believe. It gets negative really fast, and the next thing you know, everybody’s attacking. I looked at one poll that said Andrew Gillum was under water among millennials. Which speaks to the point that if you own social media, it may not necessarily a good thing.

It’s a great medium to reinforce voters; it’s a great medium to get your name ID out there. It’s not a very good persuasion medium. Especially when all the lunatics get on there and start screaming and yelling about you, and the next thing you know you’re in trouble.

Florida Chamber

Florida Chamber’s Marian Johnson on Trump and ‘blue waves’ on Primary Day

For a glimpse into the trends animating Tuesday’s primary elections, Florida Politics turned to the grande dame of the state’s political class — Marian Johnson, senior vice president for political operations for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson has been politically engaged since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run for President and now presides over one of the state’s most sophisticated political and demographic analytical operations.

We chatted Monday inside Johnson’s office at Chamber headquarters in Tallahassee. Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson participated briefly in the interview. These remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

FP: What will you look for on primary Election Day?

MJ: My main concern for the Chamber is getting good legislators elected over there (the Capitol). Of course, we’re very interested in what happens (with) the Cabinet — it’s not that the legislative seats are more important. But no matter who is Governor, you’ve got to have good people over there who understand that certain things have to happen to secure Florida’s future.

There are some pretty significant primaries that will make a difference. Now when we get to the general election, the Senate’s going to be the play. You’ve got five or six competitive seats in the Senate.

FP: Which races are you looking at in the House?

MJ: I think Aaron Bean will be OK. He made some of the people angry over there, and that’s how he got his primary opposition. It was something about some land holdings, and Aaron went with the opposite side from the local people.

FP: Very parochial, but people care about that.

MJ: Yes. And Ed Hooper, of course — we are interested in what comes out of that race. It’s the old Jack Latvala seat in Pinellas County. Jason Pizzo might upset Daphne Campbell in SD 38 — he’s had enough money to do it.

FP: What’s driving movement in these primaries?

MJ: It’s not just one thing. In every one of them, you can point to something that’s driving voters out, and why people are getting involved in it. It varies by area of the state.

Some of the people running believe they can actually do a better job. I don’t think I’ve met a candidate this year who’s had any kind of bad, ulterior motive. They want to serve. Some of them have no concept of what it’s going to be like when they get here, but they want to make Florida a better place.

FP: Any other noteworthy races?

MJ: You’ve got other races in Pinellas that are interesting. Jeff Brandes wound up without a primary opponent. But you’ve got some House races around Pinellas County that are really interesting. You’ve got Nick DeCeglie against Berny Jacques — that one could be closer than what people are anticipating.

One of the most fascinating is the Gayle Harrell seat in Martin County — Toby Overdorf versus Sasha Dadan. We did not endorse in that race. I understand that one had become a battleground, gotten pretty bad. Whoever wins that primary is going to win in November. I’m not sure it will change the direction of the state.

FP: What else is driving the elections?

MJ: There’s concern about the gun issue. There’s concern about immigration. Things are going pretty well in Florida right now — the economy — and they don’t want it to stop. Those issues are motivating so many candidates.

But they cannot change immigration here — it’s got to be in D.C. — and some of them are not aware of that. We’ve had a lot of shootings in Florida.

FP: Yesterday.

MJ: A lot of the candidates want to be a part of solving this. They’re very, very motivated.

FP: Are you seeing evidence that the Parkland kids are having any influence?

MJ: In that local area, yeah. Because, really, most of the Democrats who want the extreme of ‘no guns’ are in the southern part of the state. Democrats in Middle and North Florida are very different. They want it solved, too, but in their parts of the state they like to go hunting and look at the issue differently.

FP: Any evidence that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is mobilizing people?

MJ: I see that in Central Florida, especially around HD 47 and HD 30, along in there. There’s a young lady running on the Democratic side in that one (HB 47) who’s very progressive: Anna Eskamani … She cracks me up, makes me laugh, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on anything.

Some in South Florida. I don’t see it in the Tampa Bay area or on the west coast at all. Maybe around Broward, Miami-Dade.

FP: Obviously, the Democrats are going to need to turn out to prevail in November. Are you seeing any indication of whether that’s going to happen?

MJ: Not right now. They were looking for a big blue wave. A lot of it will change; a lot of it will depend on what happens tomorrow. But there’s just no indication of a gigantic blue wave. It might be a ripple effect, but I’m not seeing any major change.

Mark Wilson (dropping by Johnson’s office): … `Is there something going on or something?

MJ: Just an election.

MW: Except that the voters are changing as fast as the weather. It’s the first time I can ever remember — we just got the July numbers in — when no counties had Democrats as the No. 1 registration. Half of them were NPAs (no party affiliation) and the other half were Republican. Not one county!

MJ: I was just studying it, too. What is happening in Florida?

MW: I’m just talking about new voter registration — brand-new voters. Usually, you see some blues, you see some reds. We have a yellow color for NPAs.

MJ: The new voters are so interesting to watch. What is it, 44 percent of all new voters are NPA?

MW: We believe that Republicans will be the third-largest party by 2023 or 2024. That’s the trajectory. It’ll be Democrats, then NPA, then Republicans. One of these years, somebody’s going to do a constitutional amendment for open primaries. I think it’ll pass with flying colors.

It won’t come from the Legislature, but Tom Steyer, George Soros, or somebody will do it. (Wilson leaves.)

FP: … Is Florida sheltered from national trends?

MJ: I believe it is. Now, this is going to be an interesting election tomorrow and in the fall, because it’s the midterms. In midterm elections, Republicans supposed to lose all these seats. There’s supposed to be a blue wave coming. We don’t know.

We saw what happened to Jose “Pepi” Diaz in that special election (for SD 40). He was trying to get out of that primary and he tied himself to Trump. And then they took that same little rope and (she mimics a hanging) — skrrrk — in the general.

FP: What effect, if any, is President Trump having down-ballot — congressional and state Legislature?

MJ: If you’re in a Republican primary, you’re touting Trump.

FP: How popular is Trump in Florida?

MJ: Among Republicans, extremely popular. That little curve in Florida, where you’re coming down through Citrus County … not only Republicans but Democrats turned out for Trump. I call them my Yeti voters. That’s the people who go fishing, people who go hunting.

FP: As in Yeti coolers?

MJ: Yeah. Got the Yeti cooler with them, their Yeti hat, their Yeti on the back of their pickup trucks.

FP: And they’re turning out?

MJ: We’ll see tomorrow. And we’ll see in November.

FP: What does the early vote say?

MJ: There are more Democrats who have voted now than there were at this point in 2014.

FP: But that doesn’t tell you what it used to tell you, does it?

MJ: It doesn’t, because you’ve got more voters now. You can go on our website … and it’ll give it to you by House district, by county, by Senate district, by congressional district — all of that.

FP: Voting is not just Election Day anymore.

MJ: It’s not. When a candidate’s running, they’ve got to be able to win two weeks out. In 2016, five days out, 60-something percent of the vote was already cast. Running a campaign is not like it used to be. Digital is everywhere. It’s more expensive. It’s scary that they can pinpoint where you are and send you a message because they know your demographics.

FP: Does it work?

MJ: We did a lot of digital in 2016 and, in a couple of races, I do believe that it made a difference. People haven’t given up on direct mail and TV yet. Most people, when you ask what’s the most trusted source for information, digital has shot up, but it’s still direct mail.

FP: Who’s good on social media? Are there candidates who are smart about it and actually producing results with it?

MJ: I’ll tell you one: Phil Levine.

When he started running, every time I would turn my phone or iPad on, I’d get a Phil Levine commercial. I thought, “Why am I getting Phil Levine?” Because I’m not a registered Democrat.

He was being smart about it — he was trying to influence the political makers in the state, thinking that he was going to win the primary and that we would find him appealing for the general.

There are some in the House and the Senate. Adam Putnam has done some smart digital. I’ve seen some for Denise Grimsley. And it works. It really does work.

Whoever did the attack piece on Baxter Troutman (text messages highlighting his 2012 domestic violence arrest), that campaign was pretty successful. Baxter in the polls was ahead two weeks ago — decisively. Now he’s fighting even to make the nomination. Yup — they work.

FP: What other trends are you seeing?

MJ: If a candidate is not using door-to-door, it’s a mistake. Having a candidate walk the district. Just because digital is big, you’ve still got to have that personal touch. That makes the difference in a lot of these districts.

FP: To summarize, there’s no overarching driver for these House races you’re watching. It’s local politics.

MJ: It’s those issues applied on a local level. Some places, immigration is the No. 1 issue. You can go 100 miles north and that won’t even show up.

FP: Is Trump not playing in those primaries?

MJ: If you’re in a Republican primary, you want to love Trump more than your opponent does. You’ll be surprised by the direct mail pieces that have gone out with Trump’s picture somewhere. It may not say anything about him. But Republicans love him, in all parts of the state. He was even improving in Miami-Dade.

FP: Are the Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida following Hurricane Maria players?

MJ: They could have been. And they still have time to register for the general. But those people who came over, they were too busy trying to see about their lives, and very few of them have registered.

They could have made a tremendous impact. Kelli Stargel’s seat was considered one that could change from R to D — that Poinciana area’s mostly where those Puerto Ricans are landing, and usually, they register Democrat. But they aren’t registering.

They’ve got until Oct. 4 or 5 to register. [The actual deadline is Oct. 9.] A lot of it’s going to depend on the winners tomorrow — whether anyone makes a drive for it.

Joe Henderson: After Florida primary election, time to swing back to the middle

Whatever results from Tuesday’s Florida primary election, we can be sure of one thing — the people who decide the primary’s outcome won’t be the ones who determine the winners in November.

That’s a flaw in Florida’s primary system that becomes increasingly apparent. Voters can only cast ballots for offices like the Governor if they are registered with a major party. There are about 13 million registered voters in Florida, and of those nearly 3.5 million have expressed no party affiliation.

While that shows a refreshing independent streak, it also freezes those people out of any say who gets nominated. Oh, they can still vote on local issues in the primary, including judgeships and some nonaffiliated local offices, but not the big stuff.

A system like that forces moderate candidates to run hard to the left or right in the primary because it’s understood that only the most dedicated voters will turn out for that. They are the ones most likely to have hard-line views about what they expect from their party’s nominee, and that forces candidates to sometimes go to extremes to show those folks they have the necessary chops (see Putnam, Adam).

After the primary fun, it’s often a shift back to moderation for the nominees.

After appealing to the hard-core voters in the party well enough to secure the nomination, the battle for those 3.5 million voters who will decide the election, as well as those registered with a party but didn’t vote in the primary, forces the conversation back to the middle.

Is this really the best way to conduct business, though?

In the Democratic primary, in particular, candidates made promises to the base that will be extremely difficult to keep if they eventually are elected.

Philip Levine, for instance, promised to raise teacher pay by $10,000 — a laudable sentiment, but likely impossible to accomplish without a significant tax increase and, well, you know how that goes.

Gwen Graham vowed to ban assault-style weapons by executive order. It sounds great, and she said the Governor has the authority to that. I would imagine significant numbers of other people, including many who are lawyers, likely would disagree.

Andrew Gillum, on his platform page, pledged he would “work to rebuild Florida’s education system so that we can make sure our kids are ready for Kindergarten earlier. By third grade, 100 percent of kids in our state should be reading at grade level and as they progress, learning critical thinking skills to compete.”

Absolutely a marvelous idea. He proposed a $1 billion additional investment in public schools to help make that happen, along with raising teacher pay, rebuilding crumbling schools, and so on. That sounds like a lot of money, but it wouldn’t even pay for the teacher raises he’s talking about.

Then there is Ron DeSantis, leading the polls for the GOP nomination.

He isn’t saying much at all unless the sentence can somehow be framed to include the words “Donald Trump.” I don’t know if you heard, but Trump endorsed DeSantis. At least for the nomination, that figures to be the only platform he needs.

Well, after the primary is done we’ll hit the reset button and watch as the pendulum swings toward those voters, possibly in the millions, who haven’t made up their minds. After all, they are the ones who will decide the election, and history suggests they can be hard to please.

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