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Stephanie Murphy launches her first commercial of general election

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy is launching the first television commercial of her re-election campaign Wednesday with an ad that is largely introductory while presenting her in moderate, aisle-crossing terms.

The freshman congresswoman from Winter Park easily brushed back a Democratic primary challenge Tuesday from progressive Chardo Richardson. She now is focusing on the Republican primary winner, state Rep. Mike Miller, also of Winter Park, for the Nov. 6 election for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

In her 30-second spot, “Working”, Murphy briefly mentions her backgrounds as a former businesswoman, educator, and national security specialist, and adds that she also has, “run this place too,” as the video shows her at home with her husband and children.

“Through it all, no one cared if you were a Republican or Democrat,” she declares. “You just focused on getting the job done.”

Murphy then stresses her record in Congress, mentioning, without any specific detail, bipartisan efforts she pursued for laws for such causes as improving veterans care, making communities safer, and investing in Florida’s schools.

The Murphy campaign said it is also launching a similar 15-second digital ad.

Candidate withdrawal notices spark concerns over HD 47 primary results

Were some Republican voters put under the impression that one of the two Republicans running in Florida’s House District 47 primary Tuesday had dropped out?

And might that impression have confused some voters to the point that they didn’t vote, possibly changing the outcome of the election?

Mikaela Nix, who lost that primary to Stockton Reeves VI, is raising those concerns, and her campaign is pursuing the questions – short of any formal actions at this point – with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office.

In at least some precincts, all voters, Republican or Democrat, apparently were handed paper notices informing them, “A candidate in the race for the office of State Representative District 47 has withdrawn resulting in an unopposed candidate race. A vote cast in this race will not change the outcome as the remaining candidate is deemed to be ‘nominated’ for that race,” according to Nix’s campaign.

That initial written notice from the elections office did not say whether the candidate who dropped out was on the Democratic side, or the Republican side. In fact, the candidate who dropped out, Lou Forges, was a Democrat. That left Anna Eskamani as the unopposed Democratic nominee, though Forges’ name remained on Democratic primary ballots. Nix and Reeves still were in competition for the Republican nomination Tuesday.

Nix’s campaign consultant, John Dowless, reported the matter to Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.

On Wednesday Cowles confirmed, saying only, “We have heard from the consultant on the issue and we are going from there.”

Dowless also indicated the campaign has taken the concerns to a private election attorney.

According to a Facebook post from Nix, someone complained about the non-partisan candidate withdrawal notice on Tuesday. She writes that the elections office then began distributing a new, partisan notice clarifying that the drop-out was in the Democratic primary. But Nix wrote that was she understood that the new notices apparently did not get distributed into all precincts in the district.

There were 1,785 undervotes in the HD 47 contest, meaning that many Republicans took ballots but did not mark a vote in the HD 47 Republican primary. Undervotes are common, but the undervote counts in three other contested Orange County Florida House primaries ranged from 406 to 857, Dowless noted.

Nix lost by 1,309 votes.

“Not a sore loser or anything, but this official ‘election notice’ caused a lot of confusion at the polls. We had about 1,700 undervotes (meaning people skipped voting in my primary), which was double the number of undervotes to other House races,” Nix wrote on Facebook.

Tyler Sirois, Thad Altman win House primaries in Brevard County

Tyler Sirois easily won the Republican primary for Florida House District 51, putting him in position to try to keep a fairly safe Republican seat while state Rep. Thad Altman had a little more trouble but prevailed against a Republican primary challenge for his seat next door.

Sirois defeated Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish 62 percent to 38 percent Tuesday night.

That clears the way for Sirois to meet Democratic nominee Mike Blake, a teacher who is himself a former Cocoa Mayor, in the Nov. 6 election in a district that has a strong Republican voter base in northeast Brevard County. Incumbent Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson is leaving because of term limits.

Meanwhile, Altman defeated Matt Nye 56 percent to 44 percent to end the primary challenge in House District 52 in central Brevard County. Altman moves on to meet Democrat Seeta Durjan Begui in November.

Stockton Reeves grabs Republican nod in HD 47

In what became in the closing weeks a bruising Republican primary battle, Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI defeated Mikaela Nix to win the chance to try to hold onto the Florida House District 47 seat for Republicans.

Reeves, largely representing more traditional business interests in Winter Park and Central Florida, defeated upstart Mikaela Nix, a lawyer, 55 percent to 45 percent Tuesday after the two had battled for weeks about each other’s police records, voting records and past histories in elections.

Reeves, a longtime fixture in Central Florida politics and a former political consultant who now runs a company that helps first responder agencies plan their facilities, gets a fresh start now heading toward the November election.

The seat represents north-central Orange County, including most of Winter Park, the downtown Orlando area, and surrounding neighborhoods. The seat is held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who Tuesday won the Republican primary nomination to run for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

But the district is trending Democrat.

And up next for Reeves is Anna Eskamani, a Democrat whose fundraising prowess has been almost unmatched among first-time candidates in Central Florida, and rivaled only by the national publicity she’s been able to gain, identified as a rising star in progressive politics in cover stories in magazines like Time and Atlantic.

Teresa Jacobs moving from Orange County Mayor’s office to School Board

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs got herself elected countywide chair of the Orange County School Board Tuesday night.

For years people have been asking Jacobs what her next act was after eight years of almost unchallenged dominance of the Orange County government, with expectations that she might seek statewide office or a congressional seat. She surprised everyone but her family and closest friends by declaring in April that what she really always wanted to do is work in education.

Tuesday night she took 52 percent of the vote in a four-way contest, easily defeating Orange County School Board Member Nancy Robbinson and two educators, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Robert Prater.

Jacobs victory, coming after just five months of campaigning, means there won’t be a runoff election in November.

She becomes just the second countywide chair of the School Board since the Florida Legislature created the position, at Orange County’s request, eight years ago. She will succeed outgoing Chair Bill Sublette.

Jerry Demings elected Mayor of Orange County

From the beginning, this was Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings’ race to lose, and he did not disappoint his supporters Tuesday, sweeping to an easy win as the next Mayor of Orange County in a three-way contest.

Demings, sheriff for 10 years, easily defeated Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke and businessman Rob Panepinto.

The only hope that either of those challengers had was that Demings might not top 50 percent of the vote in the three-way field, forcing a runoff election and allowing the second-place finisher another nine weeks to mount a challenge to the longtime front-runner.

It wasn’t close. Demings captured 61 percent of the vote Tuesday. Clarke, who ran a shoestring campaign but relied on his popularity, took 22 percent. Panepinto, once seen as the darling of the business community, was able to raise credible amounts of money but it bought little, and he finished with just 16 percent.

Though the office and the election officially are nonpartisan, Demings nonetheless is a well-known Democrat, and his opponents Republicans. Thus, he became the first Democrat to take the county’s top executive post since 2000 and opened the door to a possible Democratic takeover of the county government.

Demings, the first African-American police chief in the history of Orlando, and the first African-American sheriff in the history of the county, also became the first African-American Mayor of Orange County.

From the moment he entered the race 14 months ago, Demings had advantages of experience, name recognition, fundraising prowess, and most of the meaningful endorsements. He also happens to be married to a popular congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Val Demings.

Yet a series of debates this summer led some to think the race would go into overtime.

Rene Plasencia, Geraldine Thompson among winners in Central Florida House races

State Rep. Rene Plasencia easily put away a Republican primary challenge from the right from George Collins, former State Sen. Geraldine Thompson took a step in her political comeback attempt, and Democratic nominees were sorted out for two other Republican-held seats in Central Florida Tuesday.

Plasencia, a two-term Representative seeking to hold onto House District 50 covering east Orange County and northwest Brevard County, easily dispatched Collins for the second Republican primary season in a row Tuesday.

He gets Democrat Pam Dirschka in the Nov. 6 election.

Thompson, who served in both the Florida House and the Florida Senate before giving that seat up to run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016, dispatched Margaret “Melanie” Gold in a close race for the Democratic nomination to run in House District 44, in southwest Orange County.

Thompson now gets a shot at Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski in November in a district that is slightly Republican but turning gradually purple.

Lawyer Tracey Kagan will be the Democratic nominee to run in House District 29 in Seminole County against incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon.

Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil is the Democratic nominee to run in House District 30 against Republican incumbent state Rep. Bob Cortes. That district covers south-central Seminole County and north-central Orange County.

Plasencia said he sided with his constituents interests, even when it meant bucking leadership in the Florida Legislature, and voters recognized that.

This was a rematch with Collins, who won the Brevard County portion of the district in 2016. Not this time. Plasencia took 65 percent in Brevard, and 62 percent in Orange.

“I think it was more the work that I’ve done over the last couple of years, and really listening to the voters, to my constituents, always being receptive to their needs, and just being approachable,” Plasencia said.

Thompson said of her victory Tuesday, “It tells us that people want experience. We’ve seen the candidates who come from the business world and think that legislative work is like a business. It isn’t. The voters overwhelmingly decided they want experience.”

Kagan defeated fellow lawyer Darryl Block in the HD 29 Democratic primary, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Goff-Marcil defeated two Democratic primary opponents, Clark Anderson and Brendan Ramirez, getting 52 percent of the vote in Orange County and 42 percent in Seminole County, while neither Anderson nor Ramirez topped 35 percent in either county.

Anthony Sabatini, Cynthia Brown emerge from HD 32 primary election

Three Republicans and two Democrats competed Tuesday for their party’s nomination to succeed former state Rep. Larry Metz, who gave up Lake County’s House District 32 in March to accept a judicial appointment from Gov. Rick Scott.

HD 32 has a hefty Republican lean, and the GOP fielded Shannon Elswick, Anthony Sabatini, and Monica L. Wofford to take over for Metz, who had held the district since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 election cycle.

With all precincts reporting, Sabatini led the Republican field with 47 percent of the vote, followed by Elswick at 29 percent and Wofford at 24 percent.

Sabatini, a 29-year-old Eustis City Commissioner and commissioned officer in the Florida Army National Guard, lagged substantially in fundraising, though his name recognition led to an easy win in the three-way primary.

Elswick was the fundraising leader with $92,360 in outside cash and another $10,000 in candidate loans, while Wofford, a businesswoman and author who runs her own training and consulting firm, cleared $85,512 for her bid. In the end, that didn’t matter.

All three Republicans vying for the seat had the second-from-the-top rating from the National Rifle Association, an “AQ,” and an “A” rating from anti-abortion group Florida Right to Life backing up their conservative credentials, with Sabatini’s prior experience in elected office serving as a key advantage over his primary rivals.

Sabatini is now nearly certain to succeed Metz — HD 32 is a Republican stronghold that went plus-15 for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Still, there will be an election on Nov. 6, and while a “blue wave” isn’t likely to overcome the seawall of HD 32, two Democrats competed for the chance to give Lake County’s voters an option in the general.

Cynthia Brown a Groveland rancher and the former president of the American Shipbuilding Association, ran on a “Lake County” first platform and it paid off. With all precincts reporting, she held a dominant 65-35 percent lead over her lone competitor, Sheryl Needle Cohn, a Clermont author and playwright who works as a special needs educator at Groveland Elementary School.

Unlike the Republican side, the better funded candidate took the prize in the Democratic primary, though the amounts in play were much lower. Brown collected $15,590 from donors and staked her campaign with a $32,000 candidate loan. Cohn, meanwhile, raised $3,535 including a small amount of self-funding.

With the title card set for November, what remains to be seen is whether HD 32 Republicans flex their 10,000-voter registration advantage on Election Day, or Democrats in the district over-perform to show support for their first state House candidate since HD 32 was created.

Darren Soto vanquishes Alan Grayson in CD 9

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has put himself on track for re-election with a surprisingly easy victory Tuesday night in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 9th Congressional District, stymying the comeback attempt by his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

Soto, a former Florida Senator who won a trip to Congress in 2016 after Grayson decided to run for U.S. Senate, is seeking the chance to establish himself as a full force on his own for the district, not just as the guy who stepped into Congress when Grayson stepped out. [Grayson lost the Democratic primary for Senate in August 2016.]

The election campaigns appeared close and for a long time, it appeared that Grayson, with his deep roots in the nation’s progressive community, would have the edge. But Soto’s ground game and a huge assistance from an independent political action committee, the George Soros-funded Latino Victory Fund offered a big late boost. Waves of Spanish-language advertising funded by the PAC and key endorsements from Puerto Rican leaders helped spur as big a Hispanic turnout as Soto, of Puerto RIcan heritage, could have hoped for.

But Tuesday it turned into a landslide, burying Grayson in all three counties of CD 9.

With almost all returns in, Soto was taking 67 percent of the vote in Grayson’s home county of Orange, 67 percent in Soto’s home county of Osceola, and 63 percent in Polk County. Overall, Soto had 64 percent to Grayson’s 34 percent. In those early returns, Soto was building a lead of more than 13,000 votes.

Those early results are indicating that Grayson’s political comeback attempt has been a dud.

Soto’s first two years have established him as a strong voice on immigration reform, Puerto Rican concerns, and environmental protection causes, especially those involving Florida’s water issues. He has won support from a variety of progressive groups representing causes ranging from women’s rights to gun law reforms.

Grayson is a nationally known progressive lion who had been a poster-child for the party’s left wing: someone who fashioned himself as the “Congressman with Guts.” Yet he found his strongest support, including financial support, among liberals in such places as Washington, New York, and California. Soto had locked up most of the Florida Democratic Party leaders and organizations.

The pair fought through a bruising primary campaign with several face-to-face debates and other forums. Grayson repeatedly attacked Soto, charging that he has been less effective in Congress than Grayson himself had been. Soto fought back, sometimes alluding to Grayson’s knack for the outrageous, while portraying himself as both effective and more stable.

On Tuesday Grayson found that his national reputation doesn’t mean much to the more moderate voters in his old district covering Osceola County, south Orange County, and east Polk County.

Another disappointed candidate in Tuesday’s primary might be the Republican nominee, Wayne Liebnitzky. His campaign has been quietly preferring the prospect of a Nov. 6 election against Grayson, who they felt was much more vulnerable than Soto in the fight for independent voters. Either way, Liebniytzky starts the fall campaign as a clear underdog in a district that gives Democrats a solid advantage in voter registration, and an election season in which both Democrats were raising far more money than he.

Soto-Liebnitzky will be a rematch of 2016, when Soto won 57-43.

The district also is home to Central Florida’s biggest Puerto Rican community, and Soto, a descendant of Puerto Rican migrants, counts himself as a member of that community.  That distinction played well in his 2016 election when he first defeated Grayson’s wife, Dena Grayson, and Grayson’s former aide Susannah Randolph in a Democratic primary that broke Puerto Rican voters Soto’s way, and then against Liebnitzky.

That made Soto the first Puerto Rican elected to Congress from Florida, a source of enormous pride for himself and for the community that elected him. But there always was that caveat that he didn’t have to defeat Alan Grayson to get there, for Grayson claimed his own strong connections within the Puerto Rican community.

Now Soto can claim the undisputed championship of the district.

Mike Miller wins, setting up match with Democrat Stephanie Murphy in CD 7

State Rep. Mike Miller won a tough, three-way Republican primary Tuesday in Florida’s 7th Congressional District in convincing fashion for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in an election battle over a region that Republicans owned for decades but is now trending blue.

Miller, a two-term state representative from Winter Park, had much less difficulty than even his optimistic supporters might have hoped for in dispatching Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois of Orlando for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, Murphy easily brushed aside a challenge from the left brought by progressive activist Chardo Richardson in the Democratic primary.

“It’s a validation of everything I’ve been talking about with constituents for a year and a half,” Miller said Tuesday night. “I’ve been talking about values, and the things I learned in the Florida House and learned from people like Sen. Connie Mack, who I worked with, and they are very important for the people of Central Florida.”

“I spoke from the heart and talked about the direction I see our country going in and it worked,” Miller added.

The seat, representing Seminole County and north and central Orange County, is one that national and state Republicans desperately wanted to win back after Murphy shocked many by flipping it from longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Mica in the 2016 election. The Republican organizations have kept their distances during the contested Republican primary but can be expected to step in with millions of dollars to back Miller or oppose Murphy.

With early returns and most districts already reporting, Miller has built an insurmountable lead on Sturgill with Francois far back in both counties. Miller is taking 64 percent in his home county of Orange, and 49 percent in Seminole with Sturgill taking only 33 percent of early returns in his home county, Seminole and only 20 percent in Miller’s. Francois was picking up 15 percent of the Orange vote and 17 percent of the Seminole vote.

Surprising no one, Murphy easily is dispatching Richardson, who brought a nationally-focused young progressives campaign to Central Florida but no money and very little organization to take on a well-funded, well-organized incumbent congresswoman backed by all mainstream Democrats.

But state and national Democrats, too, see this race as a priority. Democratic groups already are lining up to support Murphy and oppose Miller in big and expensive ways.

While Miller touted himself as a rock-solid conservative, Sturgill actually ran to his right, seeking to be the candidate most associated with President Donald Trump in the contest. But Seminole County, and to a greater degree the CD 7 portions of Orange County, have a more moderate view than even a few years ago when Mica, himself something of a moderate, owned the district.

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