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Andrew Gillum to make first Pinellas appearance since primary win

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is making his first campaign stop in Pinellas County since his surprise victory in the Democratic primary for Governor.

Gillum and incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are featured speakers at the Pinellas County ‘Democrats’ Wave to Victory’ dinner this Saturday at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon.

The event is the party’s biggest fundraiser benefiting Pinellas County Democratic candidates.

While the hotel is nowhere near Pinellas beaches, red tide will likely be a topic of conversation. Gillum is considering touring some of the devastation this weekend, according to campaign sources.

The giant bacteria bloom, known as red tide for discoloring water to a rust-like color, is covering Florida’s Gulf Coast from southwest Florida all the way north to Clearwater.

Mounds of dead fish have been piling up on beaches. The foul odor and even respiratory distress caused from bacteria in the air has pushed visitors away from the beach, leaving popular spots like John’s Pass looking like ghost towns.

The issue has become a talking point, particularly in Nelson’s campaign. His opponent, term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott, was booed out of a Cuban restaurant in Venice this week by critics.

While the campaign and the Governor’s Office continue to emphasize red tide is a naturally occurring event that has been ongoing since the 1840s, Democrats and other critics fire back that his environmental policies have exacerbated the situation.

A Real Clear Politics poll released this week found 32 percent of respondents believed the state government was to blame for the outbreak.

Nelson’s race is one of the most important Senate races in the nation this year. While Democrats hope to overtake a majority in the Senate by unseating incumbent Republicans, they also must protect incumbent Democrats.

Polls show Nelson faces a credible risk of losing to Scott, and the Real Clear Politics poll put the two neck-and-neck this November.

Other guests at the Wave to Victory Dinner include Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, CFO candidate Jeremy Ring, and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried.

Congressman Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman are also attending. The event includes a cocktail hour from 6-7 p.m. and dinner and program from 7-10 p.m.

Orlando airport contract workers get Democratic support

The union organizing an effort to raise wages and benefits for thousands of contract workers at the Orlando International Airport is becoming a symbol of Democrats’ living wage push in Florida.

On Tuesday, several dozen workers, some making as little as $5.23 an hour working for airport contractors, declared the airport to be a sweatshop.

They received full-throated backing from Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Chris King, as well as U.S. Rep Darren Soto, state Sen. Victor Torres, and state Rep. Amy Mercado.

The Service Employees International Union, together with Orlando Local 32BJ, are trying to organize contractor employees at the airport, with the goal of $15 an hour wages and benefits, as has been done at other airports.

All summer long, the union highlighted the low wages paid to airport workers who carry bags, push wheelchairs, greet visitors and other jobs, while working for contract companies hired by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

The minimum wage at the airport does not include tips those employees may receive, but the employees said tips are unreliable (and frequently nonexistent).

On Wednesday, the union released findings of a study of wages at the Orlando airport; 78 percent of employees make less than $20,000 a year, with 13 percent making less than $12,000 a year. The study highlighted efforts at other airports, including at Fort Lauderdale, to raise wages universally.

“This airport that is the gateway to the ‘happiest place on Earth’ is run like a sweatshop,” declared Sheyla Ascencios, political director for the SEIU in Orlando.

“We are committed, [Tallahassee] Mayor Andrew Gillum and myself to righting this wrong and making this airport work like it should,” King declared in response, citing his running mate, gubernatorial candidate Gillum.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority put out a statement Wednesday that the airport authority itself employees only 850 of the 21,000 or so who work at the airport, and that the rest are employed by private companies or federal agencies. GOAA declared it pays its direct employees at least federal minimum wage.

At a separate news conference announcing the airport received a JD Power award as the top-ranked major airport in the country, GOAA Board Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher said he was asking for an independent review of the union’s study and would discuss it at the October board meeting.

But Kruppenbacher expressed skepticism about the report, cautioning that he had heard from “a number of employees” that they would rather have the low wages plus tips than a $15 an hour minimum wage and no tips.

King, Soto, Torres, and Mercado called for changes soon, and even suggested that if the current GOAA board won’t do it, an election of Gillum and King would bring a new board that would.

“It’s a disgrace,” Mercado said. “But I tell you what; it is a good time to come to the table and negotiate.”

Said Torres: “Guess what: You can change the board with a new government.”

For them, the Orlando airport symbolizes the Democrats’ call for mandated living wages. King and Soto cited the deal struck two weeks ago between Walt Disney World and its unions to raise the minimum wage there over time to $15 an hour.

“Orlando is not unique, but it is a microcosm of a very large problem in Florida, which, for too long, we have not cared for, we have not invested in, we have not built a fair economy that works for all of our families,” King said. “It’s why Mayor Andrew Gillum and I will be fighting for a living wage and a $15 an hour minimum wage in the state of Florida.”

The call reflects the stark difference in the economic theories on the table in the Nov. 6 election, where Gillum and King face Republican nominees U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and state Rep. Jeanette Nunez; Soto is facing Wayne Liebnitzky, and Mercado faces George Chandler, who argues that a free economy lets businesses prosper, and wages would rise naturally as a result.

Democrats say they see a thriving economy at Orlando airport, but with stagnant low wages.

“No one in this nation should work 40 hours a week or more and live in poverty,” Soto said. “It also good for the economy as well as being the right thing to do. That deal for Disney pumps another billion into our Central Florida economy over the next four years. When Central Floridians have more money than just to pay their bills, small businesses win, everybody wins.”

Jerry Demings weighing in on Orange County Commission race

Orange County Mayor-elect Jerry Demings is setting out to help shape the Orange County Commission with which he’ll work.

He’s hosting a fundraiser set for next week to support Mayra Uribe‘s quest to be elected in District 3.

Demings, currently the Orange County Sheriff, was elected Mayor of the county in the Aug. 28 election, when he bested two opponents and managed to top 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. He takes office in December.

Uribe came out of the Aug. 28 election headed for a runoff election with Pete Crotty. They finished first and second, respectively, among six candidates.

Although the Nov. 6 election is officially nonpartisan, and the positions of Orange County Mayor and Orange County Commissioner are both nonpartisan, there are major partisan ramifications. Demings is the first Democrat to be elected county mayor since Linda Chapin left office [then called Orange County Chair] in 1998. The Orange County Democratic Party now is eyeing the potential to place a majority on the commission for the first time since 1998, needing to flip one of three seats open on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Uribe is a Democrat and Crotty a Republican. The other two Orange County Commission elections feature Democrat Patricia Rumph against Republican Orange County School Board Member Christine Moore in District 2; and Democrat Maribel Gomez Cordero against Republican Susan Makowski in District 4. They also emerged from multi-candidate Aug. 28 elections, headed for runoffs.

The new Orange County Commission also will be seated in December.

The fundraiser hosted by Demings is set for Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the law office of Nelson Mullins Broad and Cassel in Orlando. Chapin is among other listed hosts for the event.

Donald Trump: Puerto Rican deaths fake news; Darren Soto: Trump dancing on graves

President Donald Trump has responded Thursday morning to mounting reports of high death tolls in Puerto Rico in the wake of last year’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, contending in tweets that 3,000 did not die as a result, and such reports are the result of Democrats trying to make him look bad.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

Democrats and Puerto Rican activists are expressing stunned disbelief of Trump’s tweets. U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Celebration whose district includes Florida’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans and who is of Puerto Rican descent himself, accused Trump of “dancing on their graves to disguise your tragic incompetence.”

Republicans scrambled to accept the 3,000 figure as a believable estimate without sounding overtly critical of the president’s tweets.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum tweeted, “No death is partisan and our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico deserve better from @realDonaldTrump before, during and after the hurricane.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Scott is challenging, called Trump’s tweets “shameful.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando called the tweets “awful” and declare that Trump “has once again made it all about him.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park found Trump’s comments “very distrurbing,” according to her chief of staff.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, running for the U.S. Senate this year, said he disagreed with Trump and declared “the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching.”

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor and a staunch Trump supporter, “doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated,” and is “committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community,” according to his campaign.

And Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio essentially defended the 3,000 estimate, and cautioned everyone to stop playing politics over it.

Said state Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat who also is of Puerto Rican descent, called Trump delusional. “This president cannot admit that he did not do all that he should have done to help those in the dire situation on the island. It’s a wonder he can still pound his chest and say he was outstanding in what he did, and not realize he failed, he failed the Puerto Ricans miserably.”

The 3,000 figure, actually 2,975, came from his own government’s estimates of people who died from lack of water, electricity, medicine, and health care on the island in the aftermath of Maria, which left most of the island without power for months, and much of the island without potable water.

A separate study by Harvard University researchers, predicted the government estimate. Released in May, the Harvard study analyzed the probabilities of Puerto Rico deaths with and without the storms concluded the range of difference would be anywhere 793 to 8,498 additional deaths, and set its estimate on 4,645, as the statistically most-probable point. That study was conducted by a collaboration of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s tweets come as the Carolinas prepare for the next monster hurricane, Hurricane Florence, bearing down for a strike tonight or tomorrow.

Soto’s full tweet, “Mr. President: we had nearly 3000 Americans die in Puerto Rico due to your slow, failed response to Hurricane Maria. And now you dance on their graves to disguise your tragic incompetence.”

Demings tweeted: It’s times like these when we need the President to lead. But once again he has made it all about him. The death count from #Maria is real. Thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico died as a direct result of the storm. When America faces a tragedy, we HAVE to come together.

Murphy put out a statement that read, “No objective observer believes the federal government’s preparation for and response to Hurricane Maria was adequate, given that nearly 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico died. However, this is a symptom of a much deeper problem. For too long, under both Republicans and Democrats, the federal government has treated Puerto Rico in an unequal and sometimes indifferent way. American citizens in Puerto Rico should have the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens in Florida or any state. Ensuring genuine equality for Puerto Rico is one of the best ways to avoid a repeat of what we saw with the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria.”

Scott’s full tweet: I disagree with @POTUS– an independent study said thousands were lost and [Puerto Rico] Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló agreed. I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I’ll continue to help PR

“These days even tragedy becomes political. 3k more Americans died in #PuertoRico after Hurricane than during comparable periods before. Both Fed & local gov made mistakes. We all need to stop the blame game & focus on recovery, helping those still hurting & fixing the mistakes,” Rubio tweeted.

Nelson’s full tweet: The president’s comments on the nearly 3,000 American lives lost in Puerto Rico are shameful. We deserve and expect more from someone who holds the highest office in our country.

The full statement from DeSantis’s Campaign Communications Director Stephen Lawson is:

“Ron DeSantis has always worked to help the Puerto Rican community, both on the Island and here in Florida. As Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, he conducted an oversight hearing earlier this year to identify deficiencies in the federal response to Hurricane Maria. He has worked alongside Rep. Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon to secure support for rebuilding efforts. In August, he visited the island to meet with elected leaders and get the latest briefing from FEMA regarding recovery efforts. Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life. He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated. Ron is focused on continuing to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover and create opportunities for those who have moved to Florida succeed.”

Progressive group’s poll cautions Bill Nelson against voting for Brett Kavanaugh

A progressive group is touting the results of a Florida poll it commissioned as a warning to Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to not vote to confirm President Donald Trump‘s U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The poll by YouGov Blue on behalf of Demand Justice suggests that politically, for the upcoming Nov. 6 election, Nelson might find little to gain and potentially some votes to lose if he votes for Kavanaugh.

In Florida, 80 percent of undecided voters answered that their vote would not be impacted if Nelson decides to oppose Kavanaugh, according to a news release issued by Demand Justice. On the other hand, the survey finds that 31 percent of Florida Democrats say they would be less likely to vote for Nelson if he votes to confirm Kavanaugh.

Influence Watch notes that Demand Justice was formed earlier this year as a non-profit social welfare organization which hosts a number of similar advocacy groups advocating for a progressive-politics agenda, and emerged as one of the leading opposition groups to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The poll of 451 likely Florida voters was conducted Aug. 24-Sept. 1, and YouGov Blue cites a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

“The numbers show that opposing Kavanaugh is not just the right thing to do, it is also the politically smart move for Nelson’s reelection,” Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, stated in a news release. “Voters in Florida are saying they do not want a judge who would overturn protections for preexisting conditions. If Senator Nelson votes for Kavanaugh, it won’t gain him any undecided voters but it could cause a lot of his core supporters to stay home in November.”

Two Democratic groups launch new anti-Rick Scott digital ads

Two Democratic political action committees, the Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA, are teaming for a new digital ad blitz against Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s U.S. Senate bid, part of a $21 million national internet advertising campaign targeting Republican U.S. Senate candidates in nine states.

One new 15-second spot set to run in Florida, “Richer” charges that, as Governor, Scott turned down funding for health care and cut funding for public education while supporting tax cuts for the rich, and got richer himself along the way.

“Scott got richer, and even bought himself a new private jet, while our families got hurt,” the narrator says, as pictures of Scott, a private jet, and a sad mother and daughter move across the screen. “Scott’s never been on our side. He never will be.”

Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA said in a news release they’re spending $18 million combined on this ad and other attack ads being launched in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. Senate Majority PAC also announced it is spending an additional $3 million on its own for new ads in Montana, Nevada, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The release did not break down how much of the $18 million is being spent on Florida, but the Sunshine State has more residents than the other four states combined. The ads will run on Facebook and video and audio streaming platforms such as YouTube, Hulu and Spotify, among other platforms, the release stated.

Last month, the same two groups spent $1.1 million on internet ads attacking Scott on health care issues. Earlier this year, Senate Majority PAC put $2.2 million behind television commercials backing Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s being challenged by Scott in the Nov. 6 election. And in May, the two groups teamed up for $600,000 in digital ads supporting Nelson.

“Across the Senate map, Republican candidates are on the wrong side of the issues most important to voters, and we are using every tool we have to hammer that point home,” J.B. Poersch, president of SMP, stated in the release. “With Priorities’ help, we are amassing a robust and efficient digital program to communicate to voters that Democrats are the ones fighting for the middle class, while Republicans continue to look out for the wealthy and the special interests.”

Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are desperate to hold on to power so they can stack the courts, weaken Medicare, and pass even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations at our expense,” Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA Action stated in the release. “Priorities USA Action is committed to closing the digital spending gap in critical races and is thrilled to work closely with SMP to talk to voters about the issues that matter most.”

National profile: Might Chris King’s Christian background emerge in campaign?

Only a few times during his unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial run did Chris King discuss his evangelical Christian faith, and almost no one paid any attention.

Now a new national profile of King appearing in New Republic magazine is exploring whether Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum might turn his running mate loose preaching Gospel from the political left.

The article “Chris King is wealthy, white, and an evangelical Christian. But will that help Gillum win the governorship?” by Orlando-based freelance writers Mark I. Pinsky and Loraine O’Connell, published Tuesday by New Republic, speculates that King’s evangelical Christian faith might be used as a campaign asset this fall if the Democrats seek to win over those Christian voters who might have more liberal political views but instinctively fear Democrats as hostile to their faith.

“Evangelicalism might have held King back in the Democratic primary, but in a statewide general election, his ties to the Christian community could be an asset, and Gillum’s decisions of late suggest he understands that,” Pinsky and O’Connell write.

King’s evangelical credentials run deep. Among other things, the article notes his membership in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Winter Park High School; with Campus Crusade for Christ at Harvard University; and in adulthood, including today, as an elder at the nondenominational, evangelical church where his family worships in Orlando.

Pinsky, who also recently published a New Republic article that all but predicted former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson’s spectacular fall from grace in the Democratic Party, has profiled King in the past, in a book exploring evangelical Christians in Central Florida. Pinsky followed King’s career since his religion became a controversial issue at Harvard in the late 1990s.

The New Republic explores the political alliances and voting blocks the Democrats and Republicans can expect to build as Gillum and King face U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and his running mate, state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez. The evangelical Christian block has been so Republican for so long that Pinsky and O’Connell don’t begin to suggest that Gillum and King could win it.

But the authors note that at times when Democrats (including Barack Obama) have seemingly picked up a few points from evangelicals, flipping a few moderate Christian voters might become a key part of the Democrats’ strategy, especially in an election that is already appearing to be a rock-hard 48-48 split of the Florida electorate.

“Gillum himself is Baptist, and in August he spoke to supporters outside the Bethel Church in Richmond Heights, the South Dade neighborhood where he grew up. Apart from his numerous visits to African-American churches and appearances with black preachers, Gillum did not explicitly raise religion, nor, for the most part, did his opponents or interviewers,” Pinsky and O’Connell write.

“Still, his choice for lieutenant governor suggests that he will lean into it in his quest to win the governorship.”

Poll: Governor’s race tied, voters support marijuana

A new poll from St. Pete Polls is finding Florida’s governor’s race in nearly a tie, with Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum just slightly ahead, and also finding that Florida voters lean toward supporting more legalization of marijuana and consider that issue in their position on the governor’s race.

The poll is part of an effort involving the St. Pete Polls, Empowering Wellness — the newly formed medical-marijuana advocacy group — and Florida Politics to examine marijuana policies and politcal leaders and candidates’ positions heading into Wellness Week, which will feature other looks at the issues.

First the governor’s election: The survey conducted Wednesday and Thursday of 2,240 likely Florida general election voters found Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, with 47.6 percent support, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee, with 47.3 percent.

Voters lean toward more full legalization, according to the poll: 49.3 percent said they support full legalaization of marijuana, while 42.3 percent said they oppose. That is not enough support to get a Florida Constitution amendment passed, which requires 60 percent approval, but may signal to lawmakers and state leaders that Florida’s populous is growing more supportive.

The support was fueled by both Democrats and independents: 62 percent of Democrats  and 54 percent of independent voters support full legalization, while just 34 percent of Republicans do so.

As for Florida’s existing medical cannabis law, approved by voters in 2016 but still not fully implemented, 73.8 percent of those surveyed said they support it, and 20.8 percent oppose.

For the governor’s race, 29.8 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to support a gubernatorial candidate who supported marijuana legalization; 25.1 percent said they would be less likely; and 45 percent said it would make no difference.

The poll was conducted through an automated phone call polling system. The results were then weighted to account for proportional differences between the respondents’ demographics and the demographics of the active general election voter population for the state of Florida. The weighting demographics used were: political party, race, age, gender and media market. The voters polled were chosen at random within the registered voter population within the state of Florida. Voters who said they were not planning to vote were excluded from the results below.

St. Pete Polls is saying the survey has a 2.1 percent margin of error.

Quinnipiac poll: Andrew Gillum starts with 3-point lead over Ron DeSantis

Democrat Andrew Gillum is opening the fall Florida Governor’s race with the leanest of leads over Republican Ron DeSantis, according to a new poll released Tuesday from Quinnipiac University.

The poll, the first Quinnipiac has conducted since last Tuesday’s primary, reflects the results of last week’s Public Policy Polling survey: Gillum has an edge built from Florida’s independent voters as partisan voters cling tightly to their nominees.

In the new poll, Gillum drew 50 percent and DeSantis 47 percent, with only 3 percent of voters saying they don’t know or are undecided at this point. The difference is within the margin of error but also marks the second time in two polls this past week in which Gillum, the surprise, upset winner of the Democratic primary, has come out on top versus the longtime Republican favorite.

The remarkably small group of undecided voters nine weeks out was further backed up by a Quinnipiac question that found that very few voters think there is any chance they’ll change their minds between now and the Nov. 6 Election Day.

“Mayor Andrew Gillum came out of his upset victory in the Florida Democratic primary with a head of steam,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, stated in a news release.

“Neither man was well-known before their primaries, but since then the race has become a center of political attention in the state,” Brown continued. “Now, 97 of 100 voters say they will vote for one of the two men, a highly unusual situation this far from the actual voting. Just as unusual, more than 90 percent of Gillum and DeSantis voters say they will not change their minds and are dead set in supporting the candidate they now favor.”

The poll was conducted last Thursday through Monday of 785 Florida likely voters with live interviews over both landline and cell phones. The margin of error is 4.3 percent, according to Quinnipiac.

Gillum received a “favorable” rating from 46 percent of those surveyed, and an “unfavorable” rating from 33 percent. DeSantis was seen favorable by 45 percent and unfavorable by 43 percent.

Gillum is overwhelmingly carrying Democratic voters, with 93 percent supporting him. Likewise for DeSantis with 92 percent of Republican voters backing him. The difference comes from independent voters leaning toward Gillum, by a spread of 55 percent to 42 percent.

Quinnipiac University Poll is reporting that it found little “Trump effect”: 22 percent of voters said their decision in the race will be more to express support for the president and 24 percent say their vote for governor will be more to express opposition. But 51 percent said Trump is not an important factor in the governor’s race.

At the same time, 47 percent of those surveyed said they approved of Trump’s job performance, while 51 percent disapproved.

The economy was cited as the most important issue by those polled, topping the list at 23 percent. Immigration and health care followed, each cited by 14 percent; gun policy, 13 percent, environment, 12 percent; and education, 10 percent.

Democrats join Andrew Gillum, vowing to ‘bring it home’

Gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum‘s rallying cry — “bring it home” — may be embraced by the entire Democratic Party as it heads into the fall elections.

Democrats — including Bill Nelson, Sean Shaw, Nikki Fried and Jeremy Ring — rallied in Orlando Friday to kick off statewide fall campaigns.

Gillum, just days removed from his surprising primary upset, repeated his oft-told tale about how his grandmother used to send him to school with the message about the education he was to receive, advising him to “bring it home.”

With those cabinet candidates and dozens of other Democratic officeholders and hopefuls — including former Gillum opponents Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, and Chris King — in the crowd of a packed union hall in Orlando, the chant thundered.

Bring it home.

The refrain highlighted a two-hour rally at the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades Local 1010 Union Hall in Orlando, as Democrats from Party Chair Terrie Rizzo down through the list of speakers declared this would be the year the party changed its losing ways in state elections. This was the year things would be different from the past twenty.

Of course, much the same was said four years ago, albeit perhaps with less sincerity, at the exact same union hall, in a near-identical post-primary party rally, which launched the failed 2014 fall campaigns of Charlie Crist, George Sheldon, Will Rankin and Thad Hamilton.

In many ways, this rally was Gillum’s coming out party after an 18-month campaign that didn’t put him up top until Tuesday’s win. However, by Friday he was clearly a party leader.

Ring entered the fall campaign for state Chief Financial Officer. Fried did so for Agriculture Commissioner. Shaw, Attorney General and Nelson for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

But they all spoke as much about Gillum as themselves. So did Graham, Levine and King.

“I asked to be here to speak before Andrew so that I could introduce Andrew and say that all those things that Rick Scott has done in the last eight years, we’re going to reverse that with Andrew Gillum!” Nelson declared, referring to his opponent in the U.S. Senate election.

In praising Gillum, Ring held nothing back.

“The amazing Andrew Gillum is the most electric, electric candidate I’ve ever said. And he’s going to bring us all to victory,” Ring said.

“Andrew Gillum is dynamic,” added King. “Andrew Gillum is the talent that our party has waited for so long.”

In the backdrop of the positivity on Friday, however, was the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee.

Gillum has maintained for months that he is not implicated in the probe, but Ron DeSantis, his Republican opponent, already is making a campaign issue out of the matter.

The DeSantis campaign, which paints Gillum as a “socialist,” on Friday released an email accusing the Democrat’s brother, Marcus, of being involved in the FBI investigation.

“Something’s up. And the voters of Florida deserve answers from Andrew Gillum, preferably before the FBI gives them to us,” DeSantis communications director Stephen Lawson said in an email.

When asked about the corruption probe by reporters Friday, Gillum reiterated that he is not the subject of the inquiry and emphasized that he is willing to provide any information sought by the federal investigators, before pointing the finger at Trump.

“I believe that the difference between Ron DeSantis as how we address the FBI is, we have said, should there be any wrongdoing, we welcome them into our government to get to the bottom of it. I believe that they are clear on what their target is, and that should come to a conclusion soon,” Gillum said Friday.

But amid investigations involving Trump’s 2016 campaign and associates, DeSantis and Trump’s response to the FBI “is to undermine them, cut them off at every turn,” Gillum said.

“Even the president has gone so far as to suggest a ‘deep state.’ That is not how we handled it. We said, you’ve got an important job to do. Nobody wants more to make sure that any actions that are taken that are inappropriate, illegal, or inconsistent with the laws of this state, that people are held fully accountable. That’s my position on it. And I’ll do whatever I can, as mayor, to ensure that they get access to whatever they need in order to bring that to a conclusion,” he said.

Some material from the News Service of Florida is used in this article, with permission.

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