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League of Conservation Voters backs Stephanie Murphy in CD 7

The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund is backing Winter Park Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy for re-election in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, her campaign announced Tuesday.

The Action Fund is the political arm of the League of Conservation Voters, which rates members of Congress on an annual environmental issues scorecard that invariably rates Democrats higher than Republicans. The League’s Action Fund endorsed Murphy for her election in 2016. Last month the league gave her a score of 91, on a scale of 100.

Murphy has a Democratic rival for the August 28 CD 7 primary nomination, lawyer Chardo Richardson of Orlando, who is running with the backing of some of the party’s more progressive groups. So a League of Conservation Voters stamp of approval could blunt any attacks Murphy might receive from the left.

“Representative Stephanie Murphy has consistently demonstrated her commitment to protecting Florida’s families and environment,” LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld stated in a news release issued by Murphy’s campaign. “She understands that Florida is ground zero for climate change, from sea level rise to extreme weather, and that we need to take immediate action to address this crisis. She’s a strong advocate for the conservation of Florida’s lands and beautiful coasts. We need voices like hers now more than ever in Congress and we are proud to endorse Representative Murphy for re-election.”

Republicans running in CD 7 are state Rep. Mike Miller, Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill, Patrick Weingart, and Vennia Francois.

“Florida families are not only living with the fear of the next extreme weather event, we are deeply worried about the quality of the air our children breathe and the water they drink,” Murphy stated in the release.  “We need to protect Florida’s environment and natural resources, so we can preserve our beautiful state and grow our economy. In Congress, I’m proud to fight for smart environmental policies that will create jobs and ensure cleaner, more affordable energy options for central Florida families.”

In the release, Murphy touted her co-sponsorship of the CLIMATE Act which seeks to nullify President Donald Trump’s anti-environmental executive orders. She also noted that, using her position on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, she has called climate change a threat to our national security and publicly denounced the Trump administration’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Accord.

She also cited work she has done seeking to make permanent tax credits for clean energy like wind and solar; her efforts to help protect lakes and wetlands that are the source waters for the Indian River Lagoon; and her consistent opposition to opposing offshore drilling that would endanger Florida’s coasts.

Gwen Graham gets Bob Butterworth’s backing in governor’s race

Bob Butterworth, Florida’s longest-serving Attorney General, has endorsed Gwen Graham for Governor, her campaign announced Monday.

Butterworth, whose tenure lasted from 1987 through 2002, cited Graham’s plan to hold drug companies accountable for fueling the opioid crisis.

“Gwen Graham is the only candidate for governor who has put forward an actionable plan to hold drug companies accountable and to end the opioid epidemic. Gwen understands Florida can’t arrest our way out of this crisis. The state must stop it at its source,” Butterworth stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Just as Florida led the nation in taking on big tobacco, Gwen isn’t afraid to take on any industry or special interests and she will lead our state in taking on the drug companies fueling addiction in Florida.”

As the state’s top cop, Butterworth led Florida’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which set a national example and resulted in an $11 billion settlement for the state. In addition to four terms as Attorney General, Butterworth also served as Broward County sheriff, a judge, and secretary of the Department of Children and Families.

Graham faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the Democratic primary contest. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Bob Butterworth has dedicated his life to protecting equal justice and Florida families. I’m honored to have his endorsement,” Graham stated. “As governor, I will stand up to the corporations and special interests harming our state. I will sue the drug companies, protect Florida’s children and take on the NRA to pass common-sense gun regulations.”

As HD 81 becomes Democratic contest, Tina Polsky announces new backer

The election for the open seat in Florida House District 81 has become a contest with the entry of a new Democrat, Mindy Koch, and Democratic candidate Tina Polsky announced she has picked up a couple of potentially influential endorsements.

Koch, of Boca Raton, is president of the Democratic Club of Boca Raton and Delray Beach. She filed Monday to run in HD 81, joining Polsky as the only active candidates in the race so far. Koch previously ran in 2016 against now state Sen. Kevin Rader, losing 58-42 to him in the Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, Polsky on Wednesday announced her second major Democratic endorsement of the week, this one from House Minority Floor Leader Lori Berman. That follows the announcement Monday of an endorsement from Rader.

Polsky and Koch intend to succeed state Rep. Joe Abruzzo in the district covering much of west and south Palm Beach County. Polsky, a mediator and elder care advocate, had initially filed to run in House District 89, and then switched to HD 81 at the start of March.

Announcing her support for Polsky, Berman stated: “I’m standing with Tina because I know that she will be a fierce advocate for the people of Palm Beach County. On women’s issues in particular, we can count on her to continue moving the ball forward. As a working mother and a strong progressive, Tina embodies the change that we so desperately need in Tallahassee.”

Ron DeSantis’ campaign touts poll showing him on top

The Republican gubernatorial campaign for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is touting new poll results from Gravis Marketing Tuesday morning that show he has taken the lead.

The same poll also is being cited by the Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum as it shows him moving up into second place on the Democrats’ side.

Both party races are tight and the vast majority of likely voters are still undecided, according to the poll.

“What’s clear from every poll we’ve seen since the president endorsed Ron DeSantis for governor, is that Ron is trending up and Adam Putnam is trending down,” DeSantis’ Campaign Press Secretary David Vasquez said in a news release issued by the campaign. “It’s clear Florida conservatives want a proven leader who has the support of the President and not a career politician who’s beholden to special interests.”

The survey was conducted from Feb. 26 through March 19 of a random selection of 2,212 likely voters across Florida. Gravis is reporting a margin of error of 2.1 percent.

The poll put DeSantis in the lead on the Republican side with 19 percent, followed by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Putnam at 17 percent and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has not entered the Governor’s race but is expected to, at just 3 percent. Sixty percent of Republican voters said they were uncertain whom they would vote for.

On the Democratic side, the poll put former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine atop the Democratic field with 13 percent support, followed by Gillum with 11 percent, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee with 9 percent, and Winter Park businessman Chris King with just 2 percent. Another 64 percent of Democratic voters were uncertain whom to vote for.

DeSantis’ camp notes that Gravis Marketing Managing Partner Doug Kaplan said that on the GOP side “DeSantis has gained in each poll.”

Darren Soto endorsed by 10 other members of Fla. congressional district

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto has received endorsements from all ten of the other Democratic members of Congress from Florida, his re-election campaign announced Friday.

The announced endorsements would come as no surprise and seemingly fill no particularly-urgent campaign purpose, since Soto’s only opponent thus far in Florida’s 9th Congressional District is a Republican, St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky. However, the announcement may send a discouraging signal toward any potential Democratic primary challengers, notably former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who’s been mulling a comeback run, possibly against Soto for his old CD 9 seat.

Six of those who endorsed Soto in Friday’s announcement, U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson, all served with Grayson in the 114th Congress, and before. U.S. Reps. Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings, and Charlie Crist all were first elected with Soto in 2016 to the 115th Congress.

Said Frankel, from West Palm Beach, “Darren Soto is one of the finest new leaders of his generation. He is all that women hope for in a male ally. He supports equal rights for women across the board. He fights for a woman’s right to choose 100 percent of the time. He demands health care for women and families. And he practices what he preaches – he hires women equally, promotes women equally, and pays women equally. And he has the stats to prove it.”

“Darren is not afraid to stand for what’s right. Before Parkland, his community was torn apart by gun violence. And he stood up, he took on the NRA. He will not forget the victims of gun violence when the media moves on. Soto will work day and night until our children our protected from guns,” Frankel added. “Darren succeeds the old fashioned way — through hard work. Darren is a new-generation leader who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the work you need to do to succeed. He’s pragmatic, he’s in public service to get stuff done for Florida. He served in the trenches in Tallahassee like I did. He’s seen every dirty trick the Republicans pull, and he has fought them all — without the name-calling and childishness that often consumes Washington.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidates slam Rick Scott for education budget

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gwen GrahamAndrew GillumPhilip Levine, and Chris King took aim at Florida Gov. Rick Scott Friday afternoon, charging that the state budget he signed fails to adequately fund public education, with Graham declaring, “This will be the last budget… that underfunds Florida’s students.”

“Rick Scott’s education budget includes a measly 47-cent increase for education — it fails to even cover the rate of inflation,” Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahassee, declared in a statement issue by her gubernatorial campaign Friday. “The governor is so out of touch with Florida families he may actually think that’s enough to fund our schools, but 47 cents won’t even buy Rick Scott a gum ball.

On Friday Scott signed the 2018-’19 state budget with $88.7 billion in spending, and also vetoed $64 million worth of line items. Scott’s office maintains the budget offers a record amount of spending on public schools, but Graham contends it falls far short of what is needed. Earlier, Graham had called for Scott to veto the budget, call the Florida Legislature back to a special session, and demand more money for public schools.

“When Rick Scott leaves the Governor’s Mansion this year, he’ll leave behind a legacy of cutting and underfunding public schools in Florida. This hasn’t just hurt our students — it hurts our economy and the entire state,” she continued. “Budgets, whether they’re made over a kitchen table or in the Capitol, are about priorities. For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have failed to make public education a priority, and, in 2018, voters will hold them accountable for their failures.”

She added this pledge: “As governor, I will pick apart the Republicans’ budget piece by piece to eliminate their wasteful spending and use those tax dollars where families will benefit — in our schools. Mark my words. This will be the last budget for next eight years that underfunds Florida’s students and schools.”

Gillum’s response took a similar tact he posted on Twitter Friday afternoon.

“A failure to properly fund our students education & not just a response to Parkland, is no surprise from @FLGovScott. Teachers & schools do some of the most important work on Earth: educating our kids. This budget falls well short of what our students need to learn and be safe,” Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, tweeted.

 Levine, a businessman and former mayor of Miami Beach, also ripped into Scott over the schools spending, and also criticized the state’s spending for health care.

“Governor Rick Scott is ending his tenure as Governor the same way he started it––short-changing our schools, our teachers and our students,” Levine said in a statement issued by his campaign. As governor, I would never sign this out-of-touch budget. This budget does nothing to improve our state’s back-of-the-pack status in teacher pay, and continues to leave too many Floridians without access to health care. We need leaders that will invest in our education and healthcare, not leave them with pennies on the dollar.”

King, a Winter Park developer of affordable housing and senior housing, noted that any budget is a statement of priorities.

“Rick Scott’s [priorities] are dead wrong,” King said. “Our students and teachers deserve better than a paltry 47-cent increase, but nothing will change in Tallahassee until we change the types of leaders we send there.”

The leading Republican candidates are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam.

All four Democratic gubernatorial candidates commit to Tampa debate

The Tampa debate is on for all four major Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

The campaigns for Andrew Gillum and Philip Levine joined those of Chris King and Gwen Graham Thursday in announcing they have committed to a debate being planned in Tampa on April 18.

After Gillum challenged his rivals to agree to a series of debates Thursday, in quick succession King’s and Graham’s campaigns, and then Gillum’s and Levine’s all announced they have committed to one at WTVT-TV, the Fox affiliate in Tampa.

Gillum’s campaign said they were the first to pledge to that debate but kept quiet about it, waiting for the station to firm everything up and announce.

“We’re pleased two of the other campaigns [King and Graham] have agreed to debate on stage there, and we look forward to adding more debates. Democrats deserve to hear from all of the campaigns all over the state,” said Gillum’s Campaign Communications Director Geoff Burgan.

Around the same time he was issuing that statement, Levine’s campaign also announced his commitment.

“Mayor Levine looks forward to participating in the April 18th debate in the Tampa Bay area, and share his vision for Florida, coupled with his record of progressive accomplishments as a successful two-term Mayor,” said his consultant Christian Ulvert.

The station has not announced any details about time or format.

Andrew Gillum issues debate challenge; Chris King, Gwen Graham say they’ve confirmed

Is a debate between Democratic gubernatorial candidates at a Tampa TV station on April 18 in the works? The campaigns for Chris King and Gwen Graham say yes, while the campaign for Andrew Gillum, who’s been challenging his rivals to debates, and the campaign for Philip Levine are mum.

On Thursday afternoon, Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, renewed his call for a series of debates between Democratic gubernatorial candidates. King’s campaign quickly responded by not only saying he agrees with the call for debates, but that he has committed to one on April 18 in Tampa.

Graham’s campaign then confirmed that she, too, has agreed to a proposed debate at WTVT-TV, the Fox affiliate in Tampa.

Since those responses raising the prospect of the Tampa debate came in, there has been no reaction from Gillum’s campaign, nor any response from the campaign of Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor.

Officials at WTVT-TV were not immediately available Wednesday to confirm their plans, or those of any candidates.

“Last October, we challenged our fellow Democratic campaigns to at least six debates in red and blue counties across our state. We are now less than six months from primary election day, but unfortunately we’ve been met with silence,” Gillum’s campaign Communications Director Geoff Burgan said in a news release. “As the policy differences between the candidates have become clear recently, we know it’s time to take this discussion directly to voters. Floridians deserve to know where we stand on expanding health care to every Floridian, transforming the economy for working people, consistently fighting for gun safety, standing up for public schools, and protecting our environment. We hope our fellow candidates will stop avoiding these debates and give our voters a chance to kick the tires.”

We’re in, responded King’s campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe.

“Our campaign has already accepted a televised debate invitation from WTVT-TV in Tampa and we hope the other candidates will join Chris at their studios on April 18,” Jaffe said in a written response issued by King’s campaign.

When advised of King’s campaign statement, Graham’s campaign said that she also has agreed to be in the WTVT-TV debate, and that she has received a confirmation from the station.

In the statement released by his campaign, King said, “Voters deserve to hear where the candidates stand and I’m ready to offer Floridians my vision for new leadership and fresh ideas. If Florida Democrats want to win, we should face the voters and offer them real solutions in a debate, not stale talking points. We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish-language, African American, Haitian, Caribbean, LGBT and other diverse media outlets are included in these debates.”

A couple of cracks in the Gwen Graham facade

Take a good look at the picture below of Democratic candidate for Governor Gwen Graham participating in her latest “workday.”

On Tuesday, the former U.S. Representative was at the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) in Immokalee. Graham spent a shift helping out at an early childhood education center to learn more about their pre-K and Head Start programs, and the needs of migrant families.

Of note: Bob Graham performed a workday with the RCMA as Governor in 1983.

What you see in the picture (and the other five or six that Graham’s campaign sent to me) is the very essence of compassion and empathy. It’s Clintonian “I feel your pain.”

I see a mother who knows the value of being patient with a child.

I see a wife who had the strength to help her husband through a battle with cancer.

Burnishing her sympathy cred: Democratic candidate for Governor Gwen Graham spent Tuesday working at an early childhood education center in Immokalee to learn about “the needs of the migrant families” there.

I see the gentle wrinkles of time underneath a face beaming with hope.

I know this is cheesy to say, but I got emotional when I first saw these pictures of Graham, who admittedly is probably my first or second choice to be the next Governor of Florida.

If nothing else, what I see here is the exact opposite of the awkward (albeit effective) current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion.

I see the opposite of the wannabe Fox News studio host who is also running for Governor (Ron DeSantis).

I see the opposite of the less-than-genuine Republican who is most likely to face Graham in November (Adam Putnam).

Yet, as I look at the earnestness of this woman, with whom I have connected but really don’t know, I can’t help but wonder:

Why isn’t her campaign doing better?

Why is she struggling to raise real money?

Why do so many Democrats say that she is “boring” on the campaign trail?

Why do I have this bad feeling in my stomach about where Graham’s campaign will end?

Graham is in a difficult position right now as the politics of Parkland reshape the Democratic primary and the gubernatorial race.

On her left, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is winning the competition for earned media. He’s on MSNBC. He’s being written up in The Washington Post. Kevin Cate, one of his media advisers, can show you stats about clicks and likes and retweets that indicate Gillum is the candidate most in sync with Democratic primary voters.

On Graham’s other flank is former Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine. Where Gillum’s campaign is being infused with the oxygen of earned media, Levine’s effort is being propelled by a seemingly unending number of personal checks to pay for a stream of television ads.

Also in the mix is Orlando businessman Chris King, who has yet to register with most voters, but whose presence in the race is just another indication that the primary is a wide-open affair.

The polls indicate that Graham is the nominal front-runner. And it’s a mistake to label Graham, as POLITICO Florida’s Marc Caputo does, a “weak” front-runner.

To the contrary, she’s a good candidate running against three other good candidates. This primary will be won with the four candidates separated by no more than a dozen or so points.

Yet there are too-frequent reminders that Graham’s position atop the polls is precarious.

Gillum recently announced that he has the support of top Democratic fundraiser Bob Poe.

On Wednesday, Levine scored the endorsement of former state lawmaker Keith Fitzgerald, who will serve as a policy adviser to the campaign. Why is this significant? Because Fitz — so respected by the Steve Schales of the party — is the kind of center-left Democrat Graham needs to win the primary.

Had Graham won the backing of Poe and/or Fitzgerald, it probably would not have registered. It would have just been another indication of Graham sewing up the establishment’s support.

Instead, there are now two more cracks in Gwen Graham’s facade.

It’s becoming hard to look at.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball pushes assessments of CD 7, CD 16 in Democrats’ direction

Concluding that all the recent special elections and other factors are putting Democrats in a good position, the political assessment service Sabato’s Crystal Ball is pushing its views of the congressional races involving Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the direction of improving chances for Democrats.

In updates of congressional race assessments announced Thursday morning, Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating of Murphy’s Florida’s 7th Congressional District from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic,” and changed Buchanan’s Florida’s 16th Congressional District from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican.”

Sabato’s Crystal Ball made such changes up and down the board nationally in anticipation of a “Blue Wave” this fall, nudging the assessments of 26 races all in the Democrats’ direction, starting with a special election coming up next week in western Pennsylvania, which is being changed from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up.”

Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball is run out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, assessing federal elections. In the new report update, Murphy, of Winter Park, and Buchanan’s chief Democratic opponent, Sarasota attorney David Shapiro, have improved chances based on what’s been happening since the 2016 general election and the consequential anticipated trend into the fall, according to the report issued Thursday.

“Democrats have been consistently overperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential performance in special elections held since Donald Trump’s election,” Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor, said in a news release issued Thursday morning. “My colleague Geoffrey Skelley has been tracking these elections, which are mostly for state legislative seats but also include a handful of congressional specials, and he calculates that Democrats have been running on average 13 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin in the nearly 90 races held so far featuring a Democrat and a Republican.

“That speaks to the overall political environment, which clearly favors Democrats right now,” Kondik added.

Murphy has a primary opponent, Orlando lawyer Chardo Richarson, but the matchup for the seat representing Seminole County and north-central Orange County is likely to be her re-election effort versus a Republican challenge from either Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill, or Winter Park state Rep. Mike Miller. CD 16 has several other candidates, but the match expected there is Buchanan and Shapiro.

In discussing the chances for Murphy and other Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, Sabato’ Crystal Ball stated, “We’re upgrading every single Democratic incumbent to at least the ‘Likely Democratic’ category, and moving several Democratic incumbents off the competitive board altogether. That’s not to say one or more won’t fall back into a more competitive category later this year — certainly someone very well could in the event of a strong, late-breaking Republican candidacy or a major gaffe or scandal — but for now every single Democratic incumbent seems like at least a decent favorite in the fall.”

As for Buchanan’s chances, the report called CD 16, stretching from south Hillsborough County through Sarasota County, a “deep sleeper Democratic target.”

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