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Vern Buchanan’s haul rises, posts $640K for Q2

Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan raised more than $640,000 over the last three months for his re-election campaign in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.

“Vern’s independence and effective record of achievements fighting for seniors, children, veterans and middle-class families are why so many in Southwest Florida are proud to call him their congressman,” said Max Goodman, Buchanan’s campaign manager.

Buchanan’s second-quarter report is not yet viewable on the Federal Elections Commission website, though his fundraising total beats his Q1 haul by $170,000. The campaign said it had about $2.5 million on hand at the end of the quarter.

The sixth-term congressman had the same on-hand total at the end of the first quarter, so Q2 spending totals will likely match the fundraising tally. Some of that money went toward a pair of campaign ads, the first touting Buchanan as an “independent leader” in Congress, and the second focused on his record combatting the opioid epidemic.

Challenging Buchanan this cycle are Democrats Jan Schneider and David Shapiro, neither of whom have announced their Q2 fundraising numbers. Shapiro, a Siesta Key attorney, is the frontrunner with about $500,000 banked at the end of Q1 compared to $80,000 for Schneider.

Buchanan’s fundraising announcement also saw his campaign trumpet CD 16’s Republican lean — it voted plus-11 for President Donald Trump — without ever using the word Republican. The campaign has avoided mentioning Buchanan’s political party in its messaging, including the TV ads.

While the district has been a safe Republican seat in past elections, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato‘s Crystal Ball moved CD 16 from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican” in March, calling it a “deep sleeper Democratic target.”

Florida Retail Federation endorses Ed Hooper for SD 16

The Florida Retail Federation said Tuesday they were backing former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper’s bid for Senate District 16.

“As a member of the House, Representative Hooper supported legislation that enhanced Florida’s job creation efforts, including our retail industry,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “As a Senator, we know he’ll continue this effort and work towards ways to make Florida the best state for business.”

The retail trade group’s endorsement also cited Hooper’s decades of service as a firefighter in Clearwater, for which he was named the Professional Firefighter of the Year by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet in 1999. Also highlighted was his seat on the board of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, his role in founding the Florida Firefighter Caucus and his service awards from Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Hooper, who served in Florida House from 2006 through 2014, is up against former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the fall.

Through June 22, he held a lead in the money race with $527,000 raised and $419,400 banked between his campaign and political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper. Murphy, who filed for the seat on May 9, has raised $81,090 and has $76,595 in the bank.

A recent poll shows Hooper and Murphy in a competitive race, with Hooper holding a 45-43 advantage. That edge falls within the poll’s margin error.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties. The seat has a Republican edge — it voted plus-12 for Trump in 2016 and was held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala until he resigned the seat in early January.

Wengay Newton announces July 19 re-election fundraiser

Democratic Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton is holding a fundraiser in St. Petersburg later this month in support of his re-election bid to House District 70.

Newton’s fundraiser is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on July 19 at the Parkshore Grill, 300 Beach Drive NE. Serving as the hosts are St. Pete philanthropists Bob and Susan Churuti.

Those looking to attend the event can RSVP by calling 727-619-6398 or by sending an email to the campaign via newt@newthd70.com.

Newton was elected to the Florida House in 2016, succeeding now-Sen. Darryl Rouson. He took 62 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary before cruising past a Republican challenger with 76 percent of the vote on Election Day.

Despite those landslide wins two years ago, Newton faces some opposition in his quest for a second term.

Democrat Vito Sheeley filed to challenge Newton in July 2017 and Keisha Bell made it a three-way primary race when she entered at the beginning of February.

As of June 22, he led the field with $36,716 raised and $21,376 in the bank. Sheeley has raised $15,500 and has just under $6,000 in the bank, while Bell has raised $10,302 and has $3,429 on hand.

HD 70 covers pieces of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties including chunks of St. Pete and Sarasota as well as the communities of Memphis, Samoset and Ruskin.

Since all candidates vying for the seat are Democrats, the election will be decided in the Aug. 28 primary.

Newton’s invitation is below.

Wengay Newton Flyer

Aakash Patel

Aakash Patel adds $28K for Hillsborough Commission campaign

Tampa Republican Aakash Patel posted his fifth consecutive report showing more than $25,000 raised for his Hillsborough County Commission campaign.

The District 7 candidate added $14,750 for his political committee, Elevate Tampa, and another $13,000 for his campaign account, for a total haul of $27,750 during last month. Those figures include contributions for the last week of the month in addition to money raised during the reporting period ending June 22.

Patel has now raised more than $480,000 between the two accounts, putting him far in the lead in the seven-way race to succeed retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

“We are walking neighborhoods, hosting events and constantly reaching out to voters. I continue to be honored by the support we are receiving both at the doors of voters and in our continued fundraising successes,” Patel said.

“This campaign is gaining momentum daily as we move toward the August 28th primary and I strongly thank each and every voter we have talked with and all those who have written a check to support our efforts. I truly look forward to implementing strong conservative principals as I work for all of Hillsborough County as a member of the County Commission.”

In addition to his fundraising success, Patel has also reeled in a number of high-profile endorsements, most recently from Attorney General Pam Bondi and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Patel, who runs a business consulting firm, is running against attorney Todd Marks in the Republican primary. Also running are Democrats Ray Chiaramonte, Mark Nash, Kimberly Overman and Sky White as well as Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor.

Patel and Marks were both candidates for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman before she announced she would serve out the remainder of her term instead of running for the countywide District 7 seat. Marks is the only other candidate to have raised more than $100,000 for his campaign.

The primary election is Aug. 28. The general election is Nov. 6.

janet cruz

Janet Cruz raises $61K, refunds $10K in June

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz brought in about $61,000 between her campaign and committee accounts during the first three weeks of June but had to refund nearly $10,000 in contributions she received before jumping into the Senate District 18 race.

Cruz raised just over $31,000 for her campaign account and another $30,000 for her political committee, Building the Bay PC, during the reporting period ending June 22. Those contributions were offset by about $2,500 in spending and a further $9,300 in refunded contributions.

Before Cruz filed for SD 18 in mid-April, she was a candidate for the District 1 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. She raised nearly $66,000 for the campaign before quitting and moving about $63,000 in unspent funds to her Senate campaign.

Those refunds are due to a state campaign finance law that requires candidates to offer prorated refunds to their donors if they switch from one race to another. Since filing for SD 18, 13 donors have asked Cruz for their money back, a dozen of them in June.

Donors receiving a refund include AT&T Florida, Dean Cannon, Capital Insight, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, Pressman & Associates, Southern Strategy Group, and SSG lobbyists Seth McKeel and Laura Boehmer, many of whom have donated to Republican Sen. Dana Young, the incumbent Cruz is looking to unseat in the fall.

Cruz had raised $416,000 as of June 22, with just over $390,000 in the bank. Young, who has been raising money for her re-election bid since December 2016, has $1.28 million on hand between her campaign and political committee, Friends of Dana Young. She raised about $88,000 between June 1 and June 22.

A fresh poll shows Cruz and Young in a tight race, with Cruz holding a 44-43 percent advantage. That falls well within the poll’s margin of error.

Cruz and Young are the only two candidates in the race. The election is Nov. 6.

Dana Young

Florida Retailers back Dana Young for SD 18

On Monday, the Florida Retail Federation endorsed Republican Sen. Dana Young for a second term in Tampa-based Senate District 18.

“Senator Young has supported and sponsored legislation that has helped to modernize the retail industry in Florida,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “We’re proud to support her campaign and look forward to working with her on additional ways to help Sunshine State retailers in her return to the Senate.”

The retail trade group also said Young “has worked tirelessly to pass legislation aimed at creating an exceptional business climate and a world-class quality of life for Floridians.”

This year, Young’s seat is a major target for Florida Democrats, who have recruited exiting House Minority Leader Janet Cruz to run against her. Neither Young nor Cruz faces a primary challenger in the 2018 race.

Of the half-dozen Senate districts Democrats are targeting this year, SD 18 is the only one to have voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Young was elected to the Senate in 2016 after taking 48 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for 2016 Democratic nominee and one-time 2018 candidate Bob Buesing. The remaining ballots were split between businessman Joe Redner and no-party candidate Sheldon Upthegrove.

A fresh poll shows Cruz and Young in a tight race, with Cruz holding a 44-43 percent advantage. That falls well within the poll’s margin of error.

Through June 22, Young led the money race with nearly $1.3 million on hand between her campaign and political committee, Friends of Dana Young. Through the same date, Cruz had about $390,000 on hand between her campaign and political committee, Building The Bay PC.

The election is Nov. 6.

Carrie Pilon craters in SD 24 money race

Florida Democrats say Senate District 24 is one of their top targets in the fall, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Democratic candidate Carrie Pilon narrowly outraised incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in April, but followed that up with an underwhelming performance in May. Her newest report, which covers the first three weeks of June, is more than underwhelming — it’s abysmal.

The St. Petersburg trial lawyer showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising and tacked on another $3,000 through her political committee, Moving Pinellas Forward. Her burn rate was similarly small, which would only be a good thing if the election was a year or more away. But it’s not.

As it stands, Pilon has raised about $141,000 between her campaign and committee and has about $131,000 banked.

Brandes, meanwhile, kept trucking along with another $68,000 in fundraising. That brings him near the $1.4 million mark for the 2018 cycle to date. He has $728,500 in the bank between his campaign and his political committee, Liberty Florida.

The Pilon campaign pointed to past election results when it made the case for her candidacy, and while it’s true Barack Obama carried the district in both of his presidential elections, it’s hard to see a path to victory for a candidate being outraised ten to one.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Both candidates are unopposed in their primaries. The general election is Nov. 6.

NRA endorses Jeff Mann for HD 56

The National Rifle Association on Friday endorsed Bartow Republican Jeff Mann in the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Ben Albritton in House District 56.

“I am honored to have the support and endorsement of the National Rifle Association. Since 1871, the NRA has fought to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of all Americans” Mann said.

Marion Hammer and the 6 million members of the NRA are dedicated to protecting the rights of all lawful Americans and I am proud of the work the NRA does.”

Mann is a lifetime Republican who owns and runs Mann Septic in Bartow. He has also served 15 years as government relations chairman for the Florida Onsite Waste Water Association.

He faces fellow Republican Melony Bell, also of Bartow, in the Aug. 28 primary. HD 56 is one of five contests, including three in the Tampa Bay area, to have its primary election locked down by a write-in candidate.

Bell currently leads the money race with more than $165,000 raised and more than $105,000 banked as of June 22. Mann has not yet filed his report for the first three weeks of June, but as of May 31 he had raised $51,615 and had about $45,000 on hand in his campaign account.

HD 56 includes all of DeSoto and Hardee counties as well as part of Polk County. It is a Republican stronghold that voted plus-26 for President Donald Trump two years ago.

Susan Valdes lashes out after ‘gotcha’ video

Three weeks into her campaign for House District 62, Susan Valdes is still playing defense.

A video of the 14-year Hillsborough School Board member saying she was open to campaign contributions from charter school companies made waves in education circles, and Valdes is now changing course with a pledge to reject charter school donations.

“As a Hispanic, school board member, mother and community activist, Susan Valdes stands strong for Democratic principles. These principles guide her and compel her to announce she will accept no money from charter schools,” said a news release sent directly from Valdes.

“Susan Valdes supports, as she has for 14 years, our public schools. She supports an environment where children can learn, safe from bullying and violence, where teachers feel supported and have the equipment necessary to prepare our children for the world of tomorrow.

“Susan Valdes’ leadership in our public school system is clearly evident in the results achieved in her district. Where some schools were Ds and Fs, they are now As, Bs and Cs. Graduation rates are up, and the achievement gap has shrunk. In Tallahassee, Susan Valdes will continue to fight for more school funding, higher teacher pay and less mandatory testing.“

But her pledge was accompanied by two other claims that have little standing.

The first is that the video, recorded Saturday at a meeting of the Hillsborough County Democratic Caucus, was the result of “ambush tactics” by the campaign of Democratic primary rival Mike Alvarez.

“A recent ‘gotcha’ video was created by the Michael Alvarez campaign in which Susan Valdes was ambushed in regard to whether or not she would accept money from certain entities. Susan Valdes would like to make her intentions clear and from her, not a covert video,” the release said.

Valdes also described Justin Diaz, the man who recorded the video, as someone who “hides cameras and badgers opponents.”

Diaz and the Alvarez campaign are adamant that they coordinated nothing. The Alvarez campaign simply reached out to Diaz after the video was posted on Facebook and started racking up views and reactions — as of Friday, the video has been viewed more than 10,000 times.


Diaz and Alvarez did know each other before the recording, however, as both are members of the caucus. But so is Victor DiMaio, the subject of another murky claim Valdes makes in her response.

Diaz says after he posted the video of Valdes, DiMaio called him and threatened to get him fired from his job at the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office and booted out of the Democratic Party for “speaking ill of a party member.”

Valdes doesn’t comment on those allegations other than to say DiMaio doesn’t speak for the campaign as she repeats her claim that Diaz’ video was an “ambush.”

“Additionally, any comments from Victor DiMaio to Justin Diaz, the maker of the video, came from Mr. DiMaio and not this campaign. Mr. DiMaio does not work for this campaign nor is he a spokesperson for this campaign. Only Susan Valdes is a spokesperson for the Susan Valdes campaign. Anything Mr. DiMaio has done in response to this ambush was not requested nor supported by this campaign. He is just a supporter who is incredibly passionate,” the news release said.

It is unclear whether Valdes is claiming DiMaio was never a part of her campaign or that he is simply no longer a part of her campaign, but to-date, his involvement has been far more hands-on than even the most passionate of supporters.

According to emails obtained by the Alvarez campaign, he is also the man who dropped off Valdes’ resign-to-run letter at the home address of Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. DiMaio was also listed as the media contact in a Valdes campaign news release responding to that special treatment from the supervisor’s office, though he referred all questions on the matter to a Tallahassee elections attorney.

Florida Politics called and emailed Valdes seeking clarification on her statements about the video and DiMaio but received no response.

Alvarez, Valdes and Chris Cano are running in the Democratic primary for the Tampa-based seat currently held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who has endorsed Valdes as her successor.

Tampa Electric seeks approval for solar projects

In a second phase of a plan to increase its use of solar energy, Tampa Electric Co. on Friday asked state regulators for approval to recoup money from customers to pay for five solar projects in Hillsborough and Polk counties.

The utility filed the proposal at the Florida Public Service Commission, which last month signed off on a similar request for two solar projects in the first phase of Tampa Electric’s plan.

The Public Service Commission in 2017 approved a settlement agreement that set Tampa Electric’s base electric rates until 2022. Part of that agreement allowed the utility to return to the commission to seek approval to recover money for solar projects.

The projects approved last month were a 70.3-megawatt facility in Polk County and a 74.4-megawatt facility in Hillsborough County, which are scheduled to be finished in September.

The projects proposed Friday total 260.3 megawatts, with a cost of $46 million, according to the utility’s filing with the commission. Two of the projects are slated for agricultural land and old orange groves in Hillsborough County, while three are on agricultural land and reclaimed phosphate mine in Polk County. They would be completed by Jan. 1. Tampa Electric has about 750,000 customers in Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, and Pasco counties.

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