Andrew Gillum – Florida Politics
Philip Levine

Philip Levine tops polls in Tampa Bay, South Florida

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine leads the four-way Democratic Primary for Governor in the state’s two largest media markets, according to a pair of new polls.

The Public Policy Polling surveys, commissioned by Levine senior adviser Christian Ulvert, show Levine with 32 percent support among Tampa Bay-area Democrats and 42 percent support among party faithful in South Florida.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham took the No. 2 spot in both regions, scoring 18 percent support among Tampa Bay voters and 15 percent in South Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King scored in the single digits.

The polls also include a hypothetical head-to-head between Graham and Levine, which Levine wins 36-23 in the Tampa Bay poll and 47-21 in the South Florida poll.

Both polls were conducted before the hour-long televised primary debate aired on Tampa Bay’s Fox 13 news station Wednesday. An April 12 statewide poll of the primary race, also commissioned by Ulvert, found Levine with 29 percent support followed by Graham at 23 percent and Gillum and King still in the single digits.

“For the first time in four cycles, although Tampa Bay doesn’t have a local candidate, new polling shows a new favorite has emerged. Voters there give Philip Levine a 14-point advantage over Gwen Graham,” the Levine campaign said in a statement accompanying the polls.

“The latest polling not only reflects Philip’s message and media campaign, but also his decision to invest heavily and early in a regional field and outreach program. With Levine for Governor being the only campaign with regional offices in the Tampa Bay area, we remain best positioned to reach voters through every medium.”

Levine’s early media buys – more than $6 million so far – are certainly being noticed in Tampa Bay, where 46 percent of Democrats said they’ve seen one of Levine’s many ads over the last several months.

To that end, the South Florida Democrat has the strongest name ID in the region at 48 percent, followed by Graham at 35 percent, Gillum at 27 percent and King at 15 percent.

Among the voters who offered their opinions on the candidates, Levine’s favorability was plus-32, Graham’s was plus-13, Gillum’s was plus-7 and King’s was minus-3.

In the South Florida poll, where 59 percent said they’d seen some Levine’s ads, his name ID score shoots up to 57, Graham’s fell to 33, Gillum’s to 20, and King’s edged up slightly to 17.

Levine scored a plus-47 in favorability on his home turf, which put Graham at plus-21, Gillum at plus-8 and King at plus-3.

After the polls were released, the Gillum campaign’s communications director, Geoff Burgan, sent out an email deriding it and Levine for being “out of touch.”

“Mayor Levine can buy all the robo-polls he wants, but nothing changes the fact that he’s out of touch with Floridians. During Wednesday’s debate, he didn’t know our House Democratic Leader or the size of our state education budget, and most glaringly said he was running for Governor because he ‘ran out of things to do,’” Burgan said.

”He’s out of touch with everyday Floridians’ reality: nearly half our households struggle to make ends meet, and they need a Governor who shares their life experiences and is prepared to tackle their challenges.”

The PPP polls also included questions on Florida Democrats views on President Donald Trump and the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Among Bay-area voters, Trump had a minus-83 favorability rating though nearly two-thirds said they Mueller to complete his investigation before Congress takes any steps toward impeaching the president. South Florida voters rate Trump at minus-80, with 56 percent saying they want the Mueller probe in the can before any talk of impeachment.

In both polls, 90 percent of respondents said they were certain to vote and 10 percent said they would probably vote.

The Tampa Bay poll was conducted by phone April 15-16 and took responses from 520 Democratic voters, two-thirds within Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the rest split between Manatee, Sarasota and Pasco.

Nearly half of respondents were over 65 years old, while 38 percent were in the 45-65 bracket and 14 percent were aged 18 to 45. Women made up 57 percent of those polled; the sample was 68 percent white, 16 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

The South Florida poll was conducted by phone April 6-7 and took responses from 641 Democratic voters. The gender split matched the Tampa Bay poll, while the race breakdown was 48 percent white, 32 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Voters over 65 made up 45 percent of those polled, followed by 45-65 at 38 percent and 18-45 at 17 percent.

#TheDaySunburnWentDark

If you were expecting to read SUNBURN as you usually do on a weekday morning, this isn’t it.

Nor will Takeaways from Tallahassee, our weekend newsletter, appear in your inbox Saturday.

Both of those products are “going dark,” as they say, today and tomorrow as a message to the four leading Democratic candidates for Florida governor, after their debate this week.

Here’s why: It’s one thing to not know that Janet Cruz is the outgoing House Democratic Leader, or what the precise amount of education spending is in the state budget.

It’s another to admit that, either as novice or career politicians, your “morning reads” don’t include SUNBURN, POLITICO Playbook, the Tampa Bay Times — the largest circulation newspaper in the state — or any state-centric news source.

As I wrote earlier this week, “ … not one of the four candidates, when asked what was the first thing they read in the morning, mentioned the state’s largest newspaper. Can you imagine Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, or Charlie Crist not mentioning the Times?”

And The Times needs all the eyeballs it can get. This same week, we learned the paper plans to lay off around 50 people “after new tariffs sent the price of newsprint skyrocketing,” according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal. (I’m still miffed The Times didn’t break its own layoffs story, instead of merely announcing two promotions that same day, but that’s for another rant.)

Here’s how The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam put it in the lede of her debate story:

“Three of the four Democrats vying to replace Rick Scott as governor of the third-largest state in the nation get their news first from The New York Times, and only one, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, relies on his hometown paper [the Tallahassee Democrat] to find out what’s going on in the world.”

Moreover, Orlando businessman Chris King said his first morning read is The Sayfie Review, which typically isn’t updated until 6 a.m. or later.

So I asked myself, “why do we bother?”

Why do me and my staff, POLITICO Florida aces Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon, and all the other scribes who labor to put out morning newsletters summing the political and other news of the day — often with exclusives — do it?

After all, three of the four top Democratic contenders to become the state’s next chief executive admit their go-to in the AM is a newspaper produced roughly 1,000 miles away from the Florida state line.

Even the Democrat, lucky to have the talent of longtime newsmen Jeff Schweers and Jeff Burlew, too often relies on News Service wire copy for politics and government news in its own front yard. (Disclosure: Don’t get me wrong, it’s good stuff; we’re a subscriber.)

But staff reporters — like our Scott Powers in Orlando, A.G. Gancarski in Jacksonville, and Jim Rosica in Tallahassee — also beat their brains to get news of local and statewide import and scoops on the competition.

I guess I just answered my own question.  

We all do it to inform and enlighten this state’s elected officials, their staff, candidates, campaign professionals, lobbyists, nonprofit groups and anyone else, anywhere, willing to give us their email address or visit, in our case, Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

Let’s not forget the Orlando Sentinel (looking at you, Mr. King), the Miami Herald (ahem, Mr. Levine) or a host of other local news sources that produce frequently-updated websites, blogs, newsletters, podcasts and other vehicles to get pertinent news to those who want to consume it.

How about crediting the hard work of veteran John Kennedy? He rose like a phoenix from his ignominious layoff at The Palm Beach Post to report for The Florida Channel and now as Tallahassee correspondent for GateHouse Media’s Florida newspapers, soon to include — oh, the irony — The Palm Beach Post.

No, that work doesn’t seem to break into the Democrats’ headspace. I won’t get into the staff members of those very candidates who pester and plead with us to get their news releases and campaign updates into SUNBURN and/or on our sites.

In fact, we were deluged with emails of post-debate spin trumpeting “bold proposals” and “debate victory,” while blasting opponents’ “poor record” and “misleading statements.” Even as I type, those campaigns are sending advisories about upcoming appearances of their candidates.

C’mon folks.

So that’s why SUNBURN, save for this editorial, and Takeaways from Tallahassee are going dark today and tomorrow.

Yes, we’re as guilty as anybody else for sometimes shedding more heat than light, to mangle T.H. White.

But all of us working in Florida’s news business collectively aspire, in our “newsman’s cart,” to “hurry from hamlet to hamlet … undertaking to purvey all that the human mind need know or the human soul craves, to that day’s date,” as Frederic Jesup Stimson said.

If only the Democratic candidates gave a damn about our wares.

Richard Corcoran hosts ‘Democrat Jeopardy!’

This… is… Politics!

Anticipated gubernatorial candidate and Republican state House Speaker Richard Corcoran works quickly.

The Speaker released a digital video Thursday afternoon creatively slamming the most cringe-worthy blooper of Wednesday’s Democratic gubernatorial debate, which saw each candidate fumble — some more than others — over how much the state spends annually on K-12 education: $21.1 billion is set to fund the Florida Education Finance program in the upcoming fiscal year, according to the budget. In Corcoran’s video, a $25.1 billion figure is used, a result of factoring in allocations for multiple programs outside the FEFP.

The bit is a play on “Jeopardy!” complete with the legacy show’s theme music, buzzer sounds and graphics. It took less than 24 hours to make, and it’s now marinating on Corcoran’s Twitter and YouTube accounts.

Fox 13‘s Craig Patrick pressed each candidate to answer how much the state dishes out to schools, and if it should spend more or less. Public education is an issue in the fore for state Democrats and was a point of hot contention during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Still, these candidates faltered. And in doing so fell into a Republican pitfall that’s sure to haunt them throughout the election. “Democrats want to spend more money without knowing any of the facts,” reads the second-to-last frame of the video.

Candidate Philip Levine, former mayor of Miami Beach, said public education spending is one of the “top numbers.” His best guess? “Right in the billions, Craig. … I think it’s in the multibillions, Craig.

“And there’s no question that we absolutely need to spend more going forth.”

Orlando businessman Chris King answered within range, though he is clipped in Corcoran’s video saying, “It’s whatever it needs to be to honor our commitment.” King estimated that it’s between “$21 and $22 billion.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came close, saying the appropriation is in “the 22-billion-dollar range.”

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham said the number is “15 percent below what it needs to be currently.”

No candidate answered right on the money. And Corcoran’s digital response is timely and likely to generate some buzz.

It’s worth noting that immediately after the across-the-panel hiccup, Florida Politics’ Publisher Peter Schorsch suggested Corcoran and his team run loose with it.

Correlation isn’t causation, but still.

A ‘Daily Double’ for the Speaker: When will you get in the race?

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include King’s estimated range of the state K-12 budget.

Democratic debate puts Gwen Graham on defense

In a Democratic gubernatorial debate Wednesday that illuminated only a handful of policy differences while all four candidates sought to define their brand themes, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham found herself often playing defense, repeatedly disputing remarks from Winter Park businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

At one point Graham, the presumed co-front runner along with former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, decried, “Oh, I seem to be the one. It’s OK. Gwen and the men.”

To which Gillum snapped, “This isn’t just about the men against the women. Records do matter.”

Those exchanges, all about votes Graham had taken or campaign money she had accepted while she served in Congress in 2015-17, illustrated the tight spaces often found between Graham, King, Gillum, and  Levine in a wide-ranging, fast-moving debate held by Fox 13 Tampa and moderated by Fox 13 Political Editor Craig Patrick.

Graham’s record as a congressional moderate Democrat – she characterized herself as an independent thinker – often belied the progressive mantle that Gillum and King in particular were wearing. King, wearing a Pulse memorial ribbon, charged that she did not support bills seeking an assault weapons ban after Pulse massacre in 2016, and for accepting campaign donations from Florida’s sugar industry, which he charged is a roadblock to Everglades restoration. Gillum criticized her for voting for the Keystone Pipeline and for a ban of Syrian refugees.

Those moments gave opportunities for Gillum and Levine to both staunchly say that have consistent records in office, and for King to maintain that he is offering a strong unconventional challenge.

Graham took strong issue with their reads on her record, especially when Gillum accused her of siding against President Barack Obama too often.

“I voted with the president the vast majority of the time. And I’ll tell you, the last time I saw the president, at the end both of our terms, President Obama, he put his hand on my shoulder, he said, ‘Gwen, I am so proud of you.’ I said, Mr. President, I am so  proud of your presidency.’ So he is an example of what we need a lot more of in politics: you don’t have to agree every single decision to support and recognize good leaders.”

On  gun laws, minimum wage, public education funding and reform, Medicaid expansion and health care, water quality and the environment, and economic development each of them sought to be the most convincing candidate in urging a different direction from the Republican leadership that has controlled Tallahassee over 20 years.

Still, they each found their marks on certain issues.

Gillum was able to espouse his plan to raise the corporate income tax rate to generate an additional $1 billion to invest in public schools.

King, who repeatedly tried to distance himself from “conventional politicians,” was able to advocate his proposal to model a free community college program after one now established in Tennessee.

All four called for increases of the minimum wage, but only Levine, who passed a $13.10 per hour minimum wage in Miami Beach, cautioned that it needs to be tied to local economies, not set at a specific, statewide minimum like $15.

And from there, Levine spelled out clearly what he thought it would take for Florida to attract companies that bring high-pay, 21st century-economy jobs, essentially arguing that the Democrats playbook is also a modern corporation’s human resources policy book.

“You have to invest in education, invest in health care, have the best transportation, have the best environmental policy, have the number one, greatest non-discrimination laws in the country, make sure you have equal  pay for equal work,” he said. “If you create these policies, which are very similar to the H.R. manual of the great companies we want to come, like Amazon, e-Bay, Apple, Lockheed, and Boeing, then they will come.”

Graham turned on her passion for public education, declaring it would be her top priority as governor.

“We are funding our public school education 15 percent less than we used to and it is way underfunded,” Graham said. “And let me tell you, as a PTA mom and as a former public school official, this is going to be my number one priority. And there is no magic number. What it is going to take is the governor, I am going to sit down with all of the school districts across the state and say what do you need, what are you getting currently, and where are the holes?”

Levine hit hard a couple of times in criticizing Republican-led programs to spend tax money on charter schools, saying that’s a program he would cut. “We should not be investing in the competition,” he said.

Graham pounced on a question from Patrick about civics education to bring up both her father, former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who has written books on civic responsibilities, and President Donald Trump.

“We are living through a civics lesson today, that it does matter who you elect into office. Donald J. Trump is the greatest civic lesson that any of us could ever have taken, that we need to get out to vote, we need to participate in our government, we need to be informed on our choices,” she said.

A handful of questions did incite differences:

Levine was the only candidate to support the proposed expansion of the homestead exemption on property taxes, arguing that it helped make make Florida’s tax system fairer to all, while the other three decried the proposal’s likely effect on local governments’ revenue streams.

Graham was the only candidate who expressed a willingness to spend state tax dollars to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida, She suggested that would be an appropriate use for Enterprise Florida money.

Gillum was the only one who explicitly supported full legalization of marijuana, arguing “We have got to put an end to this prison industrial complex that is being built all around a plant that quite frankly provides more redemptive use than it does harmful.”

Patrick threw a couple of “gotcha” questions at the quartet, quizzing them on their knowledge of details of state government, and both times left Levine stumbling, first when he was unable to give a ball-park figure for how much Florida spends on public education, and then when he was unable to name the outgoing Democratic House Minority Leader, Janet Cruz.

The first of those questions led to the debate’s most awkward moment, as Patrick repeatedly asked Levine for an estimate of state spending on education.

“What is the budget currently for K-12 schools?” Patrick asked after Levine gave a lengthy answer the first time without getting specific.

“I know the budget is about $89 billion, close to it, and I know that’s one of our top numbers, right there,” Levine replied.

“Give me your best guess: how much are we spending on K-12?” Patrick retorted.

“I know its right in the billions, Craig, OK? I can tell you that.”

“Can you narrow that down for me?

“I know its in the multi-billions, Craig, and there’s no question that we absolutely need to spend more, moving forward.”

But in both of those cases, the substances of the questions had the candidates in general agreement, that more needs to be spent on public schools, and that leaders of the minority party – Democrats for more than two decades – have tough jobs.

Takeaways from the Fox 13 Democratic gubernatorial debate

Four Democratic gubernatorial candidates squared off Wednesday during a televised debate hosted by Tampa Bay’s Fox 13 news station.

Here are some instant takeaways on the winners and losers emerging from the debate.

Winners

Adam Putnam, Ron DeSantis and the Florida GOP — If you are on #TeamPutnam or with DeSantis, you have to believe your political future will be decided in the primary because whichever Republican comes out of it should be able to dispatch any of the four candidates we saw today. Blue wave or not, Putnam’s encyclopedic knowledge of the state and its policies and DeSantis’ “training” on Fox News have both men better positioned than these candidates.

John Morgan — Is there any doubt that the Orlando trial lawyer would have mowed through this field? Hey John, qualifying is still two months away.

Andrew Gillum — I’m re-watching the debate as we speak and it’s hard to find a moment when Gillum was tripped up. I don’t want to sound like Joe Biden and extol how articulate the African-American candidate is, but damnit, he is — extraordinarily so. Gillum’s also passionate about (and perfectly attuned) to the issues of Democratic voters. He even came close to correctly answering the moderator’s question about the size of the education budget. He also went straight at Graham (like in this clip) in a way that was not condescending a la “Hillary, you’re likable enough.” He’s gonna have to do more of that to catch up in the polls.

Gwen GrahamWe set the bar high for Graham going into today’s debate, and she cleared it. She was the disproportionate target of attacks from the other candidates, but she handled it all in a way that should enamor her with her base of female voters. Graham also displayed a comprehensive understanding of state policy — from environmental issues to tangential concerns, like the size of the Department of the Lottery. Her answer on health care policy, in which she referenced her husband’s battle with cancer, was the high point of the debate. Her biggest sin of omission was not correctly answering the question about the size of the education budget. She was a school administrator, for goodness’ sake.

Craig Patrick — The Tampa Bay media market is blessed with so much on-air TV talent that a journalist like Fox 13’s political director is almost taken for granted. Patrick did an excellent job of moving the debate along, while also making time for follow-up questions.

TV stations throughout Florida — If this debate is any indication, Philip Levine is not going to be able to ad buy his way to the nomination a la what Rick Scott did in 2010. But that doesn’t mean he won’t try. Levine’s mixed-bag performance in the debate will have him breaking out his checkbook soon enough.

Mixed bag

Democratic voters — Yes, there was a gubernatorial debate. And it will be aired in the state’s largest media market. But will anyone really tune into a debate in April airing right before the local hockey team’s playoff game starts?

Philip Levine — None of these candidates is homespun the way Putnam is, but the knock on Levine is he’s too South Florida to win the middle and north parts of the state. So any time Levine can knock down this ridiculous criticism, it’s a win for him. And on this stage, Levine seemed like he was the most easygoing. He even looked like he was having fun. But maybe he’s having too much fun because he whiffed on a couple of questions he’s probably kicking himself about right now. He needs to do a little more homework before the next debate.

Losers

Geoff Burgan — In response to the Gillum communication director’s rapid responses on Twitter, one very prominent member of Florida’s media noted that he was “once again doing an amazing job of antagonizing the media.”

Janet Cruz — The Tampa Democrat is still the leader of the House Democrats and the party’s top candidate in the most important state Senate race in 2018. Her daughter is a former executive director of the party. But Levine whiffed when asked about her.

Bill Nelson — I’m sure he would have liked the four Democrats looking to replace Rick Scott to, you know, criticize Rick Scott more often. I’ll have to check the transcript but Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran came away from the debate relatively unscathed.

Tampa Bay Times — Not one of the four candidates, when asked what was the first thing they read in the morning, mentioned the state’s largest newspaper. Can you imagine Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, or Charlie Crist not mentioning the Times?

Dead to me

Chris King — The Orlando entrepreneur said the first thing he reads each day is this website’s archrival, The Sayfie Review, which typically isn’t updated until 6 a.m. or later. So we presume he’s not reading our Sunburn — the morning email of what’s hot in Florida politics — which comes out on most mornings at 4 a.m. and has included blurb after blurb about King, who, up until today, we had a soft spot for. Not anymore. You name-check our rivals during a debate and you can count on me name-checking your rivals as often as possible.

Gwen Graham

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham shows she can take what ‘the men’ dish out

For those who didn’t already know it, Gwen Graham proved Wednesday she can take whatever anyone wants to dish out.

Graham shared a stage with three other Democratic candidates, all male, to be Florida’s governor in a debate Wednesday streamed over FOX-13 in Tampa. A replay of the debate is scheduled to be shown over the air at 6:30 p.m.

Graham took more direct criticism on her positions than the other participants combined, probably because she has more of a record after serving in Congress. It didn’t throw her off her game and even opened the door for the best line of the session.

“I seem to be the one. That’s OK. Gwen and the men,” she said with a disdainful sigh about a half-hour into the hourlong exchange.

Well, politics is a rough sport, but as a former member of Congress and the daughter of Bob Graham, a former Florida governor and U.S. senator, she already knew that.

She came to play.

For me, that was the main takeaway from the debate — well, that and the fact former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stumbled all over himself while trying to avoid a direct question about how much money is in the state’s public-school budget.

Hint: It’s about $21 billion, and $12 billion of that comes directly from the state. He also couldn’t identify Janet Cruz as the outgoing minority leader of the Florida House.

Not good.

Levine will need to pick up his game going forward because at some point he will have to show he is more than a big bankroll who can pay for his own television commercials.

I thought Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum generally had a good day, but I don’t believe Orlando businessman Chris King made much of a dent, earnest as he may be.

His bright spot was when he repeated his proposal that community colleges and trade schools should be free, but he is struggling to find a voice against what right now look like stronger candidates.

Otherwise, I don’t know that we learned that much.

The candidates agreed to a lot of things Democrats typically support.

They each expressed support for tighter gun laws. Gillum had the best line when asked about assault weapons: “If you want to fire a weapon of war, you should join the military.”

They want to expand health care to cover everyone, not just those who can afford it.

They favor increasing the minimum wage.

They want more compassionate immigration rules.

They really want higher public-school teacher pay and fewer high-stakes tests. They favor more emphasis on civics in the classrooms.

Graham had the best line about that.

Donald J. Trump is the greatest civics lesson anyone could have had,” she said.

They did differ a bit when asked what they would move to eliminate when they get to Tallahassee.

Levine said he would go after charter schools, which may not be legal under state law. It makes a good sound bite anyway.

King would look at eliminating guns in schools. Gillum said he would address the rampant push for privatization generally favored by Republicans.

Graham said she would go after what she called the “behemoth” state lottery agency and redirect that money to schools.

They all love the Tampa Bay Rays, but only Graham even tiptoed to the line of helping them pay for a new stadium. She suggested some Enterprise Florida money could be used for that and to bring the film industry back to the state.

The other three: No way, no how, no, no, no.

Who won?

I think Graham scored a lot of points with the way she handled herself. Polls suggest Floridians don’t know much, if anything, about these candidates.

Given that, I imagine she made a good first impression on those who might be seeing this group for the first time.

As for the rest of it, Gillum looks like he might have staying power. King still needs a breakthrough moment.

And Levine?

Do your homework, sir.

Show us something, Gwen Graham

The primary election is still six months away, but Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates will take part today in a televised debate on Fox 13 in Tampa.

Taping of the debate is 3 p.m., broadcast is 6:30 p.m.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are all participating.

Of the four, it’s really Graham who has the most to prove, despite her position at or near the top in most polls of the primary.

Despite a looming legal cloud over his city and struggling to raise money, Gillum is … well, not on fire, but definitely on the upswing. This trajectory is due, in most part, to his outspoken leadership on gun control, which has become a significant issue in the wake of the massacre in Parkland. Just as he did in a debate against House Speaker Richard Corcoran, we’re expecting Gillum to shine during today’s panel.

For all his good intentions, King’s poll numbers are still mired in the low single-digits. That’s a shame because King is a compassionate, principled leader and, probably, the future of the Democratic Party. A televised debate gives him a platform to show off his impressive oratorical skills. And he has a timely issue to talk about (Graham’s decision Tuesday to return contributions linked to the sugar industry).

But even if King dominates the debate and doubles his standings in the polls, he still will be under 10 percent support.

If Graham is not the front-runner, Levine is — backed by millions of dollars in television ads — and so he must demonstrate to the political junkies tuning into a debate airing right before the Tampa Bay Lightning playoff game that he both represents the principles of Democratic voters AND can win in November. Primary voters want to see someone who can stand up to Ron DeSantis or Adam Putnam.

Somewhere in the middle of all this is Graham, who is currently running neither hot nor cold. She has historically underperformed at a handful of candidate forums she’s participated in since entering the gubernatorial race. Yet she can’t keep up with Levine’s ad blitz, so her path to victory will come by tacking back and forth between grassroots support and from some paid media.

But victory is a long way off for Graham. Increasingly, Gillum is capturing the imagination of the activists, while Levine is smothering his opponents in paid media (while also bringing a strong record on the issues, such as climate change, Democrats care about.)

In recent weeks, Graham has tried to bolster her campaign by attacking President Donald Trump. That strategy can only go so far as all of the candidates will be thumping Trump.

So, for today, Graham must … well, I don’t know what it is … all I know is she has to show us something!

Her performance needs to be the kind where afterward she can email a fundraising solicitation saying: “Did you see that?!” Her performance has to be strong enough that it stops the whispers among the donor class that Levine may be the better bet. Her performance has to be exciting enough that Gillum doesn’t overshadow her.

Please, Gwen Graham, show us something.

Gwen Graham ‘the mom’ addresses Parkland, guns in new digital ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has launched a new digital advertisement in which she says she thinks about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre as a mother, and about gun laws as someone who wants to be Governor

The minute, 41-second video, “It’s Time,” released Monday shows Graham getting emotional talking about how the Parkland shooting affected her. It then shows her appearing at post-Parkland memorials and rallies, and concludes with her talking about how she defeated an NRA-backed congressman.

Graham faces Winter Park businessman Chris King, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the battle for the August 28 Democratic primary to run for governor. The leading Republican candidates are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas is every parent’s worst nightmare. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a child. My heart breaks as a mom. That’s how this issue resonates with me,” she says, her voice cracking, in the video’s first section.

Then, as the visuals turn to the rallies that occurred statewide in the weeks after the Feb. 14 massacre, Graham’s says, “Time after time after time we have done nothing in the face of these horrific tragedies. This time will be different. This time must be different.”

And as the commercial fades, she declares that the gun lobby, “will lose again when I’m governor.”

Philip Levine

Philip Levine opens Kissimmee office, grabs Jose Alvarez’s endorsement

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine opened a Central Florida office in Kissimmee and announced the backing of Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who helped open the campaign center on Saturday.

“Florida needs leaders who have a bold vision for our future, who lead with compassion, and have a track record of getting things done. Philip Levine embodies all of these qualities, and I know that he will represent the needs of our community and create better opportunity for Florida’s families here in Kissimmee and throughout Florida,” Alvarez stated in a news release issued by Levine’s campaign Monday.

Levine also announced the endorsement of Osceola County School Board Member Kelvin Soto.

Levine faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in battling for the August 28 Democratic primary to run for governor. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The new Levine campaign office, at 104 Church St. in Kissimmee, is the campaign’s third, following its headquarters in Miami and Tampa Bay office in St. Petersburg.

“Our campaign is excited to open our second regional office, here in Osceola County, the second-fastest growing county in our state. I am humbled by the early support from so many, including School Board Member Soto and Mayor Alvarez. Together, we will build a state and an economy that leaves no family behind, whether they came here from Puerto Rico or from anywhere else – a Florida where we truly all rise together,” Levine stated in the release.

Andrew Gillum pledges to up corporate taxes to provide $1B more for public school

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Monday pledged he would spend an additional $1 billion on public education with a plan that would increase Florida’s corporate tax to pay for it.

“When I’m governor, we’ll invest $1 billion in our public schools, students, and teachers and put the president’s disastrous tax giveaway to work. Under my ‘Fair Share for Florida’s Future’ Plan, we’ll ask our richest corporations to invest a fraction of their windfall under this new law into our state’s education and workforce,” Gillum stated in a news release issued Monday by his campaign.

“For too long, Florida Republicans have forced working people to pay too heavy a tax burden instead of the richest corporations — meanwhile, my Democratic opponents have stood by silently. I will put an end to that as governor in 2019.”

Gillum’s plan calls for an increase in the corporate income tax rate on large corporations to 7.75 percent, contending that few of them are paying taxes now, and those that do pay only pay 5.5 percent. Given the $6.2 billion he said Florida corporations are saving through the federal tax cuts, he is calling the increase “Fair Share for Florida’s Future,” echoing the “Fair Share Tax Program” plan put forth in 1970 when then-U. S. Sen. Reubin Askew ran for governor.

Gillum’s plan would call for adding at least $100 million into the Public Education Capital Outlay Fund for public schools construction; at least $400 million to pay raises for public school teachers; at least $250 million in early childhood education programs; and at least $100 million for vocational training.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King seeking the August 28 Democratic nomination to run for governor. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In a white paper posted on Medium, Gillum, contended “our richest corporations will still pay billions less in taxes next year. We just ask that less than a fifth of that money go to work for Florida families.

“By adjusting our state corporate tax level to a modest 7.75 percent, which still allows corporations in Florida a massive tax cut and keeps our rate more than 1 percent lower than California, we will be able to recoup at least $1 billion back from the richest corporations and put it where we need it most — investing in our future,” he added. “My plan calls for rebuilding our public schools, paying teachers a minimum starting salary of $50,000, investing in early childhood education programs, and investing in SHOP 2.0 and vocational training to help get workers the training they need for higher paying jobs.”

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