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Stephanie Murphy CHIP reauthorization bill lining up as Democrats’ offering

With the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program and other health programs expiring, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has introduced a reauthorization bill that is becoming the Democrats’ favored vehicle facing Republican alternative measures.

On Tuesday Murphy introduced House Resolution 4541, which would reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) community health centers funding, and other critical public health initiatives like the Special Diabetes program, the National Health Service Corps, and Family-to-Family Health Information Centers.

All of those programs had Sept. 30 reauthorization deadlines, which Congress missed.

The bill also provides funding to support the under-resourced Medicaid system in Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories, and to support the Medicaid system in states like Florida that enroll displaced individuals from hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The cost of the bill is fully offset by modifying the timing, but not the amount, of federal payments to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans, a move supported by numerous independent experts, according to a press release issued by Murphy’s office.

“A healthy nation is a strong and resilient nation,” Murphy said in the release. “My fiscally-responsible bill provides support for children and families, invests in the prevention and treatment of serious diseases, helps our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and other territories, and strengthens the health care systems in states like Florida that are welcoming Americans displaced by Hurricane Maria. It’s vital that we work across party lines to help the tens of millions of Americans, including millions of children, who depend on these public health initiatives.”

There are several Republican and Democratic alternatives addressing CHIP and the other health programs. Murphy’s office said her bill has become the favorite among Democrats, drawing 30 co-sponsors already, including U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando.

Murphy’s bill provides a five-year extension for CHIP, a two-year extension for community health centers funding and other expiring health care programs. It also offers equity in the Medicaid programs for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other American territories, increases the Medicaid caps for those territories, and provides increased Medicaid reimbursement funding to Florida states for providing care to individuals from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who were displaced by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Democrats seeing Michael Flynn plea deal as window to Russia collusion

Florida’s members of Congress are describing the FBI plea deal announced Friday with former White House Security Advisor Michael Flynn as the window they expect will shed light on broader and higher allegations of collusion between President Donald Trump‘s campaign team and Russia.

“Flynn’s guilty plea is another significant step in making the case that there was collusion with the Russians,” declared U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief, said the news tells her the Trump administration thinks it is above the law.

“Let us be clear about this fact: a member of President Trump’s inner circle just admitted to a felony crime. As a 27-year law enforcement officer, it is deeply offensive to me that this administration has repeatedly hidden behind cries of ‘law and order’ while breaking the law themselves,” Demings stated in the release.

“Every American should be disturbed that the Trump administration considers themselves above the law,” she continued. “Before now, the question was whether this went all the way to the top. President Trump and his inner circle will have a sleepless night.”

She pledged to “do everything in my power to allow the special prosecutor to continue his independent investigation unimpeded. The American people deserve the truth.”

Alcee Hastings of Miramar called Flynn’s deal “the latest step in uncovering the degree to which the Trump administration colluded with the Russian government.”

“Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has admitted to contacting the Russian Government, under instruction from President Trump’s transition team, and then lying about it to the FBI. Even though today’s guilty plea was not unexpected, it is still an outrageous and shameful admission of purposefully misleading the American people.”

He said it is “profoundly telling” that Flynn is the fourth Trump campaign official to be charged in the investigation.

“Congress must take every step necessary to ensure that this independent investigation proceeds without interference from the Trump White House. We need answers, not misinformation.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said Flynn’s guilty plea only raises more questions about potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“As I have repeatedly said, Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller must be allowed to continue his work unobstructed by the White House, and the House Judiciary Committee must independently examine any possible obstruction of justice,” Deutch said.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando said, “Flynn has dodged this investigation from the start, so this perjury charge is not surprising. The information he may reveal could be, though.”

Hillsborough’s Alma Gonzalez to run for FDP Chair

Alma Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a Hillsborough County committeewoman, announced Tuesday her bid for Florida Democratic Party chair.

The party is in crisis mode following the developments over the past few days. On Friday, now former Chair Stephen Bittel announced he would be resigning following a POLITICO Florida report that he had a history of making demeaning remarks toward women.

Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown later announced her resignation after she wrote a letter defending Bittel.

“This is our moment,” Gonzalez said in a phone conversation with Florida Politics. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure we don’t lose our way as a result of what I think is a cathartic moment in our society.”

Gonzalez becomes the second official candidate to announce her candidacy for FDP chair, following Palm Beach County Democratic official Terrie Rizzo‘s announcement Monday.

Gonzalez said she believes she is best-fit to respond to the crisis.

She’s been a longtime Democratic Party official, a tenure that has included a stint as treasurer of the state party. She spent 30 years in Tallahassee before moving to Hillsborough in the last decade, working as a legal counsel for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and also as the legislative director for finance and tax at the Florida Association of Counties.

“I have worked in the trenches with (Democrats), precinct canvassing to working the Legislature, to walking picket lines, to making phone calls to dealing with our friends in Washington D.C., being part of international delegations promoting democracy around the world,” Gonzalez said.

Florida Democrats had been on a roll this fall, winning a special state Senate race in Miami-Dade County and a fierce mayoral contest in St. Petersburg.

Gonzalez said the party has the “wind in our sails,” but added that sexual harassment in the country and within the party is extremely serious.

“We need to take seriously what happened here,” she said regarding the events leading to Bittel and Boynton Brown’s resignations. “It’s an opportunity to do some of our own soul-searching and to make sure that we are not just talking the talk but walking the walk and allowing people to speak truth to power without having any retribution for that, and making sure to address any deficiencies that brought us to this moment.”

The election takes place Dec. 9.

Victory Fund endorses Lauren Baer, David Richardson in CD 18, 27

Democrats Lauren Baer and David Richardson have received endorsements from the Victory Fund gay rights advocacy group in their quests to be elected to Congress in Florida’s  18th and 27th Congressional Districts.

Baer and Richardson are both openly gay, marking the second consecutive congressional election cycle in which Floridians have been presented with two opportunities to elect the state’s first openly-gay member of Congress. As in the 2016 campaign, both face tough Democratic primary challenges first. Last year Bob Poe and Valleri Crabtree both lost in their primaries, in Florida’s 10th and 9th Congressional Districts.

Baer, of Palm Beach Gardens, aims to re-flip the seat won last year by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in CD 18. She is a foreign policy expert who previously served in the Obama Administration as an official at the State Department. She faces labor lawyer Pam Keith in the quest for the 2018 Democratic primary nomination.

Richardson, of Miami Beach, is in the race to succeed outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a retiring Republican who comfortably held CD 27 for decades, though the district now has more Democratic voters. He is  the first-elected openly gay state legislator in the history of Florida. He is in a crowded 2018 primary battle with Matt Haggman, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Michael Hepburn, and Mark Anthony Person.

Baer and Richardson are two of five congressional candidates nationally to earn the Victory Funds’ support in this first round of early endorsements. The organization backs its endorsed candidates with cash and in-kind campaign support.

Victory Fund President Aisha Moodie-Mills praised Baer’s record of public service and her commitment to Victory Fund’s principles and goals, stating, in a press release issued by Baer’s campaign, “Lauren’s dedication to the values we share as Americans, first with the State Department and then at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, speaks volumes about the kind of representative we know she’ll be when she wins on Election Day. Chief among those values are acceptance and inclusion, two ideals especially important to us here at Victory Fund. We’re excited about Lauren’s candidacy and the opportunities we will have to collaborate with her campaign over the course of the next year – and beyond!”

Another press release, issued by Richardson’s campaign, cited the Victory Fund for praising Richardson’s efforts in the Florida Legislature to to remove a forty-year-old ban on gay adoption from Florida statute; secure Florida’s first-ever budget appropriation specifically earmarked to benefit the LGBT community; lead the effort to have administrative rules adopted to protect LGBT youth in the state’s foster care and Guardian ad Litem programs; pass the first ever pro-LGBT policy bill out of a legislative committee; push the state to permit the names of same-sex parents on the birth certificates of their children; and dispose of discriminatory “bathroom bills” similar to the legislation which made national headlines last year in North Carolina.

The Victory Fund has previously endorsed Richardson in his Florida House races.

“Victory Fund is excited to throw the full weight of our national grassroots network behind David’s candidacy,” Moodie-Mills stated in the release. “He has been a trailblazer on issues pertaining to LGBTQ equality in Tallahassee and now we have the chance to send him to Washington, DC. We’ll be doing everything in our power to ensure he has the resources to succeed.”

 

David Santiago leads all Central Florida House candidates in October fundraising

Note: a previous version of this story inaccurately reported the campaign finances of Lee Mangold, Democrat running in House District 29 in northern Seminole County.

Republican State Rep. David Santiago led all Central Florida candidates for the Florida House of Representatives in October fundraising drawing in $21,000 for his re-election bid in Florida’s House District 27 in Volusia County.

Santiago, of Deltona was one of five candidates region-wide who were able to attract at least $10,000, along with two other Republican incumbents, state Reps. Randy Fine of Palm Bay, and Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud; Republican hopeful Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island; and Democratic hopeful Anna Eskamani of Orlando.

The trio of Republican incumbents with five-figure October hauls got virtually all of their campaign donations in October from political action committees, lobbyists, and corporations, almost all of it coming in $500 or $1,000 checks, a common occurrence across all incumbents’ campaign finance reports for October.

Santiago raised all $21,000 of his October bounty from PACs, corporations, or lobbyists. Fine, who is unopposed, raised $20,500 in the month for his re-election bid in House District 53 in Brevard County, all of it in checks of $500 or $1,000 from PACs, lobbyists or corporations. La Rosa, $13,515 in his re-election quest for House District 42 in Osceola County, including $515 that came from individuals.

By contrast, Eskamani raised $16.892 through 221 donations from individuals. Sirois also raised much of his October revenue of $10,130 from individuals, though his 36 contributions included some from a couple of local car dealerships, a gun store, and a gambling interest.

Eskamani’s quest to succeed Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park continues to be the region’s hottest race. She now has raised $126,267, and spent about $25,000 of that. Her opponent Republican Stockton Reeves, a Winter Park businessman, reported raising $1,300 in the month. Including a $90,000 loan he made to open his campaign, Reeve’s campaign has about $93,000 in cash, not far behind Eskamani’s war chest total.

In HD 27, Santiago’s opponent, Democrat Tyran Basil of Deltona, reported raising $125 in October, giving him about $1,591 in total funds raised, and about $650 in the bank.

In House District 28, for a Seminole County seat being vacated by Republican incumbent state Rep. Jason Brodeur, Republican David Smith of Winter Springs continues to have the most dominant position in fundraising. He reported raising just $1,406 in October, but finished the month with about $113,000 in the bank. Fellow Republican Chris Anderson of Lake Mary reported raising no money in October, and finished with about $7,700 in the bank. Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry raised just $120. That left him with nearly $10,000 in the bank.

In House District 29, Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood reported raising $8,000 in October, all through PACs, corporations, and lobbyists, giving him about $37,500 in the bank. October reports have not yet been posted for his Democratic opponent, Patrick Brandt of Longwood. Brandt started October with about $100 in the bank.

In House District 30, Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who is unopposed, picked up $9,000 in October, all of it from PACs, corporations, and lobbyists. He finished the month with about $53,500 in the bank.

In House District 31, Republican incumbent state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora reported raising $500 in October, giving her about $15,700 in the bank. October reports have not yet been posted for her Democratic opponent Debra Kaplan of Eustis, who had finished September with about $1,700 in the bank.

In HD 42, La Rosa has now raised $69,432 and spent $30,018, giving him $39,416 in the bank. October reports have not yet been filed on his opponent Barbara Cady of Kissimmee, who had finished September with about $3,500 in cash.

In House District 43, Democratic incumbent state Rep. John Cortes of Kissimmee, who is unopposed, raised $2,500, all from unions and corporations, giving him $19,000 in-hand.

In House District 44, newly-sworn-in Republican incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden reported raising $6,200 in his first two weeks of a re-election campaign, which included $5,000 from various Walt Disney Co. companies. Democratic challenger Dawn Antonis‘s October reports were not yet posted Monday morning. She had finished September with $1,355. Democratic challenger Matt Matin just entered the race, and reported no financial activity yet.

In House District 45, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee, who is unopposed, reported raising $2,500 all from PACs and corporations, giving her $10,350. In neighboring House District 46, reports had not yet been posted for Democratic incumbent state Rep. Bruce Antone of Ocoee, who also is unopposed. In House District 48, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Amy Mercado, also unopposed, reported raising $3,500 in October, all from unions and corporations. She finished the month with $23,843 total raised, and about $16,000 in the bank.

In House District 49 Democratic incumbent state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith now has an opponent, Jose “Pepito” Aponte, an Orlando Republican. Smith raised $5,300 in October, with $3,000 of that coming from PACs and unions. He finished the month with about $5,800 in the bank. Aponte has not yet reported any campaign finance activity.

In House District 50, Republican incumbent state Rep. Rene Plasencia, now unopposed since his former opponent dropped out last month, collected $5,500 in October, all from PACs and corporations, giving him $76,200 raised so far, and more than $50,000 in the bank.

In HD 51, Sirois’s big October puts him solidly ahead of two Republican primary candidates who had mostly kept up with him in the money chase until recently. Sirois now has raised $56,650 and finished October with about $39,000 in the bank. Republican Thomas O’Neill of Rockledge raised no money in October and finished the moth with about $5,800. Republican Jeffrey Ramsey of Merritt Island raised $500 in October, leaving him with about $17,400 in the bank.

In House District 52, Republican incumbent state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic reported raising $4,500 in the month, most of it from PACs and lobbyists, giving him about $12,400 in the bank. Republican Matt Nye of Melbourne reported raising $550, giving him $508 in the bank.

With Matt Matin entry, three Democrats now vying for HD 44

Democrats are now lining up to run in Florida House District 44, a district that, for more than a decade, begged for Democratic candidates.

Real estate agent and former urban planner Matt Matin of Winter Garden filed in late October to run there, and businessman Eddy Dominguez of Dr. Phillips said Thursday he has sent in his paperwork to run, both joining Dawn Marie Antonis, who filed in August.

The trio are seeking a chance to take on newly-sworn-in state Rep. Bobby Olszewski, who won a brutal Republican primary in August and then beat Dominguez in a special election in October to fill what had been a seat vacated last spring by former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who left for a judicial appointment.

Republicans have owned the seat for decades. This year’s special election was the first time the Democrats have even fielded a candidate since 2010 and this year’s effort didn’t go so well for Democrats until the very end.

Paul Chandler became the Democratic nominee by default when no one with any significant experience stepped forward, and Chandler feuded with the party, alleging it wasn’t supporting him. He was then struck by a lawsuit challenging his qualification to be on the ballot in the first place. He quit, yet formally dropped off the ballot so late that the Democrats didn’t have time to get a new name on the ballot. Dominguez was recruited for a three-week campaign running under Chandler’s name.

But then something unexpected happened on election night, Oct. 10. Dominguez gave Olszewski a bit of a run. Olszewski won with 56 percent of the vote to Dominguez’s 44 percent, the closest contest that district [and its predecessor district in that area, numbered HD 41] has seen in the entire 21st century.

Olszewski will be back next year. The former Winter Garden Commissioner and longtime community volunteer filed for re-election the day after winning the special election. He’s a strong campaigner with close ties to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and he’ll have a full session under his belt.

But now Democrats see in HD 44 something they apparently haven’t seen before, something to fight for.

Antonis filed for the 2018 race even before the Oct. 10 special election, and said this week she’s still in it, intending to win.

Dominguez pledged a rematch right away after losing on Oct. 10, but didn’t file right away. “I had filled them out, and they’re in the mail,” he said of his candidate declaration papers. “It should be a matter of time.”

And now Matin has stepped in. A lifelong resident of western Orange County and a member of the Winter Garden Planning and Zoning Board, Matin said he became disillusioned with what happened in the special election. He calls himself an ideas guy with strong concerns about strengthening public education and environmental protection.

“My goal is to be a bridge-builder and work with both sides. My goal is to represent all the constituents of my district, not just those who vote for me,” Matin said. “I think that’s something that’s missing in today’s politics.”

 

Gwen Graham announces backings of three South Florida mayors

Ninety minutes before Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine planned to announce his big plans, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is sending a message that she, too, has South Florida support, announcing endorsements from three other South Florida mayors.

Graham’s campaign announced Wednesday morning she has the backing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Levine is expected to announce his Democratic candidacy for governor at a 10:30 a.m. press conference in Miami.

“After 20 years of Republican dominance in Tallahassee, too many Florida families are struggling to find good paying jobs, to make ends meet, to stay in their homes,” Muoio stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Gwen Graham understands the challenges Floridians face and has bold ideas to put our state on a progressive path forward. Gwen has a proven record of standing up for middle-class and working families. As governor, she’ll fight to create jobs, raise wages and build an economy that works for every Floridian.”

A new poll Wednesday morning showed that Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, has a solid lead on other Democrats in seeking the 2018 primary nomination to run for governor, including Levine, should he enter the race. Levine, however, has show strong fundraising abilities long before he’s even announced his intentions. The other Democrats in the race are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

“I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor willing to take on the big fights. When Rick Scott tried to cover up a sinkhole, Gwen led the fight to expose it. She’s taking on the oil industry and fighting to protect our beaches and springs from drilling and fracking,” Campbell said. “And, she’s working to hold drug companies accountable for their role in fueling the opioid crisis. I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor who will fight for Floridians — not for special interests.”

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said, “Gwen Graham believes public service is about helping people. In Congress, she made constituent services a top priority and returned more than $2.5 million to Florida veterans, seniors and families. As governor, she’ll bring that same compassion to Tallahassee.

“Gwen is working for Florida’s families — not special interests or corporations.”

New poll finds Democrats’ 6-point advantage in generic governor’s race

Without naming a specific candidate, a new poll finds Democrats have a six-point advantage in the 2018 Florida governor’s race.

Conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design, a Tampa-based firm known for Democratic polling, the poll was taken Aug. 13-17 with live callers, 30 percent cellphones, and bilingual interviewers.

“With big names lining up to run for governor on both sides, we decided to take a more legislative approach to see how the race for governor is setting up by asking which party candidate for governor was the respondent more likely to support,” SEA pollster Thomas Eldon stated in a memo announcing some of the results.

“Despite a conservative midterm model giving Republicans a plus-two turnout advantage (41 percent Republican/39 percent Democrat/20 percent no party affiliation), the results favored the Democrat by six with peak intensity separation also at six.”

The poll found the Democratic strength lays with women and Hispanics, in Central Florida and South Florida; Republicans continue to hold solid advantages among white voters and in the Florida Panhandle.

Democrats also held a five-point advantage over Republicans among independents. However, independent voters were much less likely than partisans to make a pick. Almost 45 percent did not choose a party candidate, Eldon noted.

Women voters gave the generic Democratic gubernatorial candidate a 15-point advantage over the Republican, and among working women, the lead rose to 19 points. Hispanic voters gave a Democratic choice a 16-point advantage.

“With Democrats holding a significant margin among Hispanics, Hispanic turnout in 2018 is pivotal to secure a clear path to victory,” Eldon wrote.

The poll was released through Christian Ulvert‘s Edge Communications, which is working with  Philip Levine, the Miami Beach Mayor who is posturing as a Democratic candidate for governor, though he has neither announced nor filed for candidacy. Without disclosing whom, Ulvert said the poll was commissioned by an individual, but said it was not Levine nor anyone associated with his campaign.

Leading candidates for governor include Democrats Gwen Graham, Chris King, and Andrew Gillum, and Republicans Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala. Democrat John Morgan and Republicans Richard Corcoran and Ron DeSantis also are positioning for possible runs.

Democrats eying possible takeover of Orange County in 2018

Democrats are looking ahead to the 2018 Orange County elections thinking it might be the year they finally take over county government.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners and the mayor’s office are officially nonpartisan, but the two main parties in Orange County don’t see it that way. So while voters have the chance to vote strictly by the candidate, behind those candidates the Democrats and Republicans are pushing their own, and seeking to hold onto or take control of Orange County’s agenda.

Since the 1990s the Republicans have dominated county government even though Democrats have increasingly dominated the voter registration. Linda Chapin, the last Democratic Orange County chair [now called mayor,] left office in 1998. The Democrats have not had a majority on the Orange County Board of Commissioners since 1994.

Currently Republicans hold the mayor’s office [Teresa Jacobs] and four of the six county commission districts. This time last year they held five of the six commissioner seats, or six of seven votes including the mayor’s vote.

Next year, Democrats are projecting they would take the mayor’s office and wind up with four, maybe five, of the six seats on the board of commissioners.

“That is the plan,” said Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge.

“Too soon to tell…. I think we’ll be OK, actually,” said his counterpart, Orange County Republican Chair Lew Oliver.

The Democrats have 43 percent of Orange County’s voters, and Republicans just 27 percent, with another 31 percent of voters registering as either independents or minor parties. The Democrats advantage has been steadily widening for years.

The Democrats’ prospects in 2018 are led by their candidate for mayor, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who’s got a high name recognition, three county-wide election victories, and strong community support, and who is expecting some crossover support from the business community.

The Republicans have three strong candidates in Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, and businessman Rob Panepinto, president of Orlando Inc., the greater Orlando chamber of commerce.

Yet in a nonpartisan primary next August, it’s likely Demings will emerge to face one of the Republicans in a runoff election in November — in a county which Democrats now hold a 16-point lead over Republicans in voter registration. The Democrats intend to milk that advantage.

“I have no issue with using our resources to let the voters know who our candidates are,” Hodge said.

Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin, one of only two Democrats on the board, is seeking re-election and does not have an opponent yet. It’s a safe district for the Democrats, with a big majority overall in voter registration. Sixty-three percent of all District 2 voters are registered Democrats. Just 10 percent are Republicans.

Right now the Democrats also like their chances to flip Orange County District 4, currently held by term-limited Republican Jennifer Thompson. Three Democrats are vying, Kevin Ballinger, Maribel Gomez Cordero and Nicolette Springer, in a district in which Democrats now have a 16-point advantage in voter registration. Lawyer Gina Perez-Calhoun is running for the Republicans.

With Clarke’s entry into the mayor’s race, that could open up District 3 for a special election next year, provided he doesn’t change his mind by next June. Last week, Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Chair Eric Rollings, a well-known official expected to get strong party backing, entered the Democratic race.

Democrats have a 15-point advantage in District 3.

Republicans appear to have at least a momentum advantage in keeping the District 2 seat that will be vacated by Bryan Nelson, who is running for mayor of Apopka instead of for re-election. His predecessor, Fred Brummer; Brummer’s former campaign manager, Christine Moore; and Apopka greenhouse grower Mark Byrd all are Republican candidates with established campaigns or campaign experience, and Brummer and Byrd are off to strong starts raising money. Moore just got in.

Democrat Patricia Rumph‘s campaign has not raised much in ten months. Yet she reportedly has been building a ground game. And Democrats actually have a 17-point advantage in voter registration in District 2, thanks to inclusion of much of the Pine Hills neighborhood, a largely African-American community. So Hodge and other Democrats are in no way conceding the district.

But there is a lot left to happen, Republican Chair Oliver said. And there is a reason Republicans have held control for 20-plus years: Orange County voters apparently feel comfortable with what Republicans have done.

“We’ve got a bunch of good candidates either in the wings, or in play,” Oliver said.

At least two prominent Republicans have been mentioned in political circles for Clarke’s District 3 seat, including former Orange County Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez and real estate agent Dean Asher, though each has told people he’s not interested at this time. They both have until next June to decide.

The District 2 race could change depending on what happens in the Apopka election in March 2018. Should Nelson lose, he could still file to run for re-election, though he has said he would not do so. Should Democratic Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer lose his re-election bid, he’s been mentioned as a possible Orange County Commission District 2 candidate.

There also is the potential impact of the ongoing migration of people from Puerto Rico, greatly accelerated by a flow of evacuees from the island since Hurricane Maria devastated it. So far, Puerto Ricans have largely registered as either Democrats or independents, not Republicans. The Puerto Rican migration was widely credited for flipping neighboring Osceola County to Democratic control three years ago.

How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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