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Mail-in ballots continue pouring in

More than a half-million people have already voted in the Aug. 28 primary elections, with Republicans maintaining an edge over Democrats in returning vote-by-mail ballots, according to figures updated Friday morning by the Florida Division of Elections.

Nearly 2.5 million ballots have been mailed out to voters. Republicans had returned 238,051 ballots, compared to 198,631 by Democrats, according to the new figures. Another 71,507 had been completed by people without party affiliation and another 1,966 by people registered with third parties.

The Division of Elections reported that Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties have each had more than 40,000 ballots returned, with Republicans holding slight leads in each county.

The last day for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots is Aug. 22, and the last day for supervisors to send out the ballots is Aug. 24. Voters can also pick up vote-by-mail ballots from election supervisors up to the day before the election.

Andrew Gillum campaign on new pitch: ‘most progressive ad in Florida history’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is unloading the entire progressive Democrats’ playbook into a new 30-second ad that blows through issues from Medicare for all to seeking impeachment of President Donald Trump, as the Tallahassee Mayor seeks a stretch-run kick toward the primary.

The ad, which is launching on the internet but which the campaign says will likely also wind up on television, is Gillum’s firm stake in the ground to his claim to being the most progressive Democrat on the Aug. 28 primary ballot for Governor. It launches Friday with less than three weeks for him to drive that point home in a race in which he’s in need of an explosive kick finish to win.

His campaign declared the commercial “Chance” to be “the most progressive ad in Florida history,” and the content covers almost every conceivable progressive hot-button position in Florida.

“Mayor Gillum is running the most progressive campaign in Florida history — campaigning on Medicare for all, repealing “Stand Your Ground,” banning assault weapons, legalizing marijuana, a $15 minimum wage, and impeaching Donald Trump. He is the only candidate who has the biography, platform, and audacity to excite the Democratic base to finally end more than two decades of Republican control of state government,” his campaign Communication Director Geoff Burgan insisted in a news release.

He could use the commercial on TV, as his campaign has managed to afford only one spot so far, and it’s largely an introductory message.

Gillum is scrambling from behind for the top tier in a race that has Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, and Jeff Greene well ahead in most polls, and only Chris King trailing him, in the Democrats’ field.

In this new commercial, the actual video and voice-over by Gillum are a lot less stark than the commercial’s overall effect. With shots of Gillum confidently striding a corridor, sitting lovingly with his family, smiling as he meets people, and speaking at rallies, Gillum offers inspirational, but not inflammatory words:

“My mother said, the only thing in life you should ever ask for is a chance. So I want you to know that if you give me the chance to not only be your nominee but to be the next Governor of the great state of Florida, that I’m going to make you proud every single day of the week. So I want y’all to join me on this mission, alright? And together we are going to take this state back, flip Florida blue in 2018, and flip this country blue in 2020.”

But while that’s playing out, and his voice rises toward an urgent tone, background music gets more dramatic, and a series of text screens pop in and out with increasing speed until they look like the backs of playing cards in a deck being shuffled, many of the messages being repeated:

BEAT THE NRA. HEALTHCARE FOR ALL. $1 BILLION MORE FOR EDUCATION. BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS. $15 MINIMUM WAGE. RESTORE RIGHTS. ABOLISH ICE. END STAND YOUR GROUND. CLEAN UP OUR WATER. LEGALIZE MARIJUANA. IMPEACH TRUMP.

Joy Goff-Marcil endorsed by Alex Sink

Democratic Florida House of Representatives candidate Joy Goff-Marcil has received the endorsement of former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink in the House District 30 race.

“Joy has served her hometown of Maitland thoughtfully as their Vice Mayor and on the council where she had to tackle difficult decisions. She did so by asking the right questions and by making her vote about her entire community, not just a few voices. We need that call to action at the state level,” the Democrats’ 2010 gubernatorial nomineee stated in a news release issued by Goff-Marcil’s campaign.

“Joy is someone who will represent the interests of all of us, not just special interests. I applaud her passion for public education, clean waterways, sensible gun legislation and small businesses. I know with her ability to work with all sides we will take back our state and put all Floridians first again,” Sink added.

Goff-Marcil, a member of the Maitland City Council, is in an Aug. 28 Democratic primary battle with Clark Anderson of Winter Park and Brendan Ramirez of Orlando for the nomination to run in HD 30 against Republican incumbent state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs. The district straddles the countyline to include parts of south-central Seminole County and north-central Orange County.

“Joy is thrilled to have received Alex Sink’s endorsement,” her campaign stated.

‘Stand Your Ground’ session likely doomed

Florida lawmakers have until noon Friday to respond to a proposal by Democrats to call a special session to revisit the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

As of Wednesday evening, responses have largely fallen along party lines. House Republicans, expected to reject the idea of holding a session, made up 43 of the 44 recorded ‘no’ responses. Retiring Democrat Katie EdwardsWalpole also rejected the idea.

House Democrats, expected to back the idea of holding a session, made up 24 of the 25 ‘yes’ responses thus far. Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican, also supported the idea.

A total of 48 responses are still pending from the state House. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, responded ‘no.’

In the Senate, 12 Democrats have responded ‘yes’ while 11 Republicans have said ‘no’ as of Wednesday evening. Responses from 16 senators are pending.

All 16 Senate Democrats and 23 of the 41 House Democrats signed a request by Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, that triggered the state Department of State to poll the entire Legislature on holding a special session.

The proposal needs three-fifths support in each of the GOP-dominated legislative chambers, which would equate to 70 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate, according to the state department.

The request to revisit the self-defense law came in response to the July 23 shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. No charges have been filed against the shooter, with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri saying the gunman is protected under the long-controversial law.

Material from the News Service of Florida is used in this post with permission.

Chris King turns ‘Stand Your Ground’ shooting speech into ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King‘s offering the emotional speech he gave in a Clearwater Baptist Church Sunday morning to be a new digital internet ad for his campaign, presenting his call to change Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and to change hearts.

The 1-minute, 13-second video  “Change Hearts” presents the conclusion of the talk King gave in remembrance of Markeis McGlockton, the 47-year-old black man who was shot and killed in a confrontation over a parking space in Clearwater, in a case Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri decided to not pursue as a crime because the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law covered it.

“We have to change a law that is wrong and immoral and indecent,” King, himself an Evangelical Christian, says in the talk. “But the second is the harder truth because it’s easy to change laws; it’s harder to change hearts.

King’s remarks were made at the St. John Primitive Baptist Church on Sunday after he met with McGlockton’s family.

The ad will be targeted at Democratic voters on Facebook statewide as part of the King campaign’s ongoing six-figure paid online media campaign.

All five of the Democrats running for governor in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary, King, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, have called for repeal of Stand Your Ground, and denounced the Clearwater shooting, and several have made visits to Clearwater.

Gillum, the first to call for the law’s suspension or repeal following the shooting, took part in a sit-in Wednesday with faith leaders at the office of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, seeking to demand that he suspend the law.

Republican primary frontrunner U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis said he does not see the Clearwater case as an appropriate Stand Your Ground case, a position for which he was slammed by his Republican rival Florida Agriculture Adam Putnam,

Scott stands by the law and its use in Clearwater.

King’s ad seeks to place him there, before voters. He talked about how different it would be if he  – a white man – and his family members had been there instead of McGlockton and his girlfriend.

“And if someone had come up to my wife and said what they said and I had defended her and I had been shot and killed, this state would be on fire!” King declares.

Darren Soto leads opposition letter to Census question on citizenship

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and 22 other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are expressing “strong opposition” to a new citizenship question proposed for the 2020 U.S. Census.

Soto, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Taskforce on Voting and Civil Rights, sent a letter Monday — joined by other members — to the U.S. Department of Commerce Census Bureau, charging that the proposed question lacked adequate testing, appears to have been developed for political, discriminatory purposes and would instill fear among immigrant communities, potentially causing bad counts.

“We write in strong opposition to the addition of the citizenship question,” they declare.

All the caucus members are Democrats.

It’s the third time Soto and the caucus raised objections to the Census Bureau about the question.

The public comment period on the question ends Tuesday.

“We have grave concerns regarding the genesis of this question, particularly given that there is ongoing litigation as to whether this question was developed in a discriminatory manner or for a discriminatory purpose,” the members wrote, with Soto’s signature leading the letter. “We are further concerned that the addition of a citizenship question only serves to instill fear among immigrant communities, decrease participation, and negatively impact the outcome and accuracy of the 2020 Census.”

The letter lays out a narrative of involvement by politically-oriented individuals including former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in developing the question before it was formally introduced to the Census process. And the letter contends that the Census Bureau’s own chief scientist, John Abowd, warned that the question would harm the accuracy of the count.

The caucus members warned that the repercussions could include intimidating people into not participating or giving false information, leading to miscounts, which in turn could lead to improper allocations of federal funding, congressional seats and Electoral College delegates.

The other signatories include U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, of New Mexico who chairs the caucus; Joaquin Castro of Texas; Ruben Gallego of Arizona; Pete Aguilar of California; Adriano Espaillat of New York; Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois; (IL-04); Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Salud Carbajal of California; Nanette Diaz Barragán of California; Linda Sánchez of California; J. Luis Correa of California; Grace Napolitano of California; Lucille Roybal-Allard of California; Juan Vargas of California; Norma Torres of California; Tony Cárdenas of California; Jimmy Gomez of California; Filemon Vela of Texas; Nydia Velázquez of New York; Ruben Kihuen of Nevada; Congressman José Serrano of New York; and Congressman Vicente González of Texas.

Gwen Graham internal poll shows her opening big lead

The campaign of Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is circulating a new internally produced poll that shows her opening a commanding lead in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The commissioned survey from Democratic pollster ALG Research shows Graham shooting up to a 16-point lead over her nearest rival, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. That compares to a four-point lead ALG found for Graham in a July poll, and a 10-point deficit  to Levine in a June poll.

The ALG Research poll, taken July 29 through last Thursday of 800 likely Democratic primary voters, found 33 percent ready to vote for Graham; 17 percent for Levine; 13 percent for Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene; 10 percent for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and 3 percent for Winter Park businessman Chris King.

Undecided is down to 23 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, for the ALG survey. That was at 40 pecent last month.

The poll, for which ALG is claiming a 3.4 percent margin of error, is consistent with other recent polls showing Graham rising lately to become the clear Democratic front-runner, and shows her with the widest lead yet reported. The live telephone survey was taken during a week that wasn’t particularly good for Graham, with a statewide-televised debate in which she was repeatedly attacked; and when Greene and The Collective ran TV commercials attacking her.

The poll gave her the highest name identification, 74 percent; and the highest favorability rating, 65 percent. It also found her leading among men, women, white voters, black voters, in every age bracket, and in every media market.

Graham also showed improving and now strong marks among Democratic primary voters when they were asked what they thought about her chances to stand up to President Donald Trump; represent their values; experience to be governor; and leadership potential. In every case she got at least 63 percent agreeing, while last month her numbers were seven to 11 points lower on each question.

Darren Soto and Alan Grayson debate: brawling, bruising, ‘lies!’

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who wants to take his job back from Soto, may agree in principal on most Democratic positions but on Thursday that didn’t stop an almost unrelenting brawl with bruising attacks on each other ranging from how they treat women to multiple accusations of lies.

Past histories of anti-abortion votes. Congressional ethics investigations. NRA ratings. Setting up off-shore hedge fund accounts. Insensitively-timed fundraisers. Monday-morning quarterbacking rather than helping with hurricane relief. Not living in the district. Not bringing home the bacon. Investments in a Russian firm. Campaign money from special interests. Campaign money from radicals whipped up by “saying crazy things on the internet.” Claims of poor treatment of and disrespect toward women. Leaving a wife to be arrested for disorderly intoxication.

All of it was alleged or at least implied, and most of it angrily refuted, as the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida sat through 46-minute debate between the two seeking to win the Aug. 28 Democratic primary to run this fall in Florida’s 9th Congressional District by trying to make the other guy look unfit.

The Republican waiting for a survivor to challenge, Wayne Liebnitzky, would have been the gleeful winner Thursday, if he weren’t such a significant underdog to either of them in the very-blue district covering South Orange County, all of Osceola County, and east Polk County.

When the final bell rang and the two fighters left the ring, they had offered mostly similar positions on immigration, guns, abortion rights, Social Security, Medicare, tariffs, opposition to President Donald Trump, Puerto Rico, and the Internet, with the differences on many of those issues primarily being defined as who’s been more consistent, who got to the positions first, and who has been and is likely to be more effective in pushing them in the next Congress.

The discord began early when they were asked why each of them would best represent the district.

“I actually live in the district, rather than 30 miles away,” Soto said at one point. “Second, I represent the emerging demographics of the district and work every day for my constituents, not myself.”

“Darren has been a complete failure in getting money. … He doesn’t know how to fight for it,” Grayson said.

The first of many accusations of lies came when Soto accused Grayson of not overseeing what became problematic construction of Orlando’s new Veterans Administration Medical Center four years ago, allowing the problems to languish for over a year and a half. Grayson refuted that. saying he got the contractor banned from getting more federal contracts.

“Now you’re just making things up,” Grayson charged. “What a silly lie that was.”

Even when the questions involved a seemingly a uniting opponent like Trump, the two couldn’t keep their gloves off each other.

“The president has blown it ever since he came to office for cheating and colluding with the Russians. Frankly, I would have voted already to have him impeached,” Grayson said. “I would hope to see him impeached and convicted when I return to Congress. … My opponent has voted twice with the president against impeachment, and that’s the worst form of appeasement that I can imagine.”

“We have an investigation going right now, and should [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller find that President Trump committed high crimes, I’ll be the first to vote for impeachment. But we have a process to go through,” Soto responded. “And I doubt that my opponent is the best person to be trying to take on Russia, since he supported [Russia President Vladimir] Putin‘s invasion of Crimea, and he has investments over there that makes it a total conflict of interest.”

“Okay, Darren, what investments do I have in Russia? Go ahead!” Grayson challenged.

Soto mentioned one.

“Okay, I haven’t owned [that one] in 10 years. What else you got? Nothing! Okay, let’s move on,” Grayson said.

“You supported Putin invading Crimea!” Soto reminded him.

“Okay, and when did you become the great champion of self-determination?” Grayson responded.

They also battled about their dueling TV commercials. Grayson’s alleged that Soto was attending fundraisers instead of helping the district during Hurricane Irma. Soto vehemently disputed the claim, saying he was in Central Florida. “You know that… You put up a lie on TV which has no truth whatsoever,” Soto declared “This is just more of a campaign of deception, and we don’t need that in politics.”

Soto’s commercial alleged that Grayson set up off-shore hedge funds. Grayson vigoursly disputed that, saying he created an empty fund there to meet legal requirements for the American fund he set up for his family and a couple of friends. He also doubled-down on his allegations about Soto’s fundraiser, saying that if it actually took place four days earlier than the federal filings suggested, as Soto insisted, that was a lie to the Federal Election Commission. “Who’s really lying here?” Grayson demanded.

The debate tetered on becoming ugly after Soto twice made implied references to Grayson’s treatment of women, alluding to, though not explicitly mentioning, his record of discord with his ex-wife Lolita Carson-Grayson.

“If anybody on this stage is a champion of women, of protecting women, it is me, and that is not even close. I respect women in public,” Soto declared. He then accused Grayson of calling women “senile, in print, on TV. I’m the only one up here who respects women and gives them the dignity they deserve.”

Grayson swung back hard, referring to the incident in April when Soto’s wife Amanda Soto was arrested for disorderly intoxication at Walt Disney World. Reports showed he was with her at the start, but conspicously absent when she was hauled away.

“Is that why you left your wife at Disney World when she was intoxicated?” Grayson demanded.

Grayson was in his natural activity, brawling, and through most of the debate appeared to have the advantage and land the hardest blows. It’s a nature that made him a favorite and a poster child, nationally, among progressive Democratic activists.

But it’s also his weakness, for Grayson’s scortched-earth approach to politics burned a lot of bridges during his three terms, from 2008-’10, and ’12-’16. Consequently, Soto drew all the Tiger Bay applause outbursts Thursday, and Grayson none; and a lot of progressive groups have been raining endorsements on Soto in this race. Even in the issues where Grayson attacked Soto the hardest, Soto had the seals-of-approval to counter-punch.

Abortion? Soto once voted in the Florida House for a bill pushed by anti-abortion lawmakers: mandatory trans-vaginal ulrasounds for any woman contemplating an abortion, Grayson charged. Soto’s response: He’s changed, and Planned Parenthood endorsed him, not Grayson.

Guns? Soto in the Florida House backed several measures offered by the National Rifle Association, and the NRA even endorsed him in 2010, Grayson offered. Soto’s response: He’s changed, and three major national gun-control organizations, Giffords PAC the Pride Fund, and Moms Demand Action all endorsed him, not Grayson.

Social Security? Grayson accused Soto of saying in a media interview that he’s open-minded about eliminating Social Security benefits. Soto’s response? He disputed that, and noted that the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare endorsed him, not Grayson.

“Who is there working every day, and gives our district the dignity and respect that it deserves?” Soto challenged.

Soto’s strength also is the weakness Grayson went after and upended: he’s usually quite cordial. Grayson repeatedly accused him of being ineffective in Congress and repeatedly contrasted that with his own record, including having been named the most effective member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, by several publications during his tenures. In Grayson’s statements, Soto may have brought tens of millions of federal dollars home, but Grayson brought hundreds of millions.

Slate magazine named me the most effective member of Congress. I’ve demonstrated what you can do with this job. I haven’t noticed anybody saying Darren Soto is the most effective member of Congress. People talk about: ‘Is this someone you’d like to have a cup of coffee with, or a drink?'” Grayson said. “The voters take it much more seriously. The voters think: ‘What are you going to do for me?'”

There almost was an acknowledgement of agreement when Soto talked about measures he had sponsored for Social Security, and then Grayson pointed out that he’d brought those things up first. But, even then, the blows came.

“He legislates by carbon-copy,” Grayson said. “He’s really taken things that I passed through the House, and introduced them himself.”

“Why not embrace good ideas? Soto replied.

“There’s nothing like the real thing, baby,” Grayson responded.

New Florida Vision rallies minority voters around Andrew Gillum

A new political committee aims to rally black, Latino and Haitian voters around the man who would be Florida’s first black governor.

New Florida Vision PAC plans to engage more than 100,000 infrequent voters within these demographics, letting them know Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee mayor, will appear on the Democratic ballot for governor.

“People of color make up the majority of Democratic voters in Florida. We have the numbers. We have the power. And now we finally have a candidate that is motivating people to turn out,” said Andrea Cristina Mercado, director of the New Florida Vision PAC.

“Andrew Gillum has a track record of opening doors for Florida’s communities. We deserve a seat at the table and with Gillum in office, we’ll have it.”

The group plans to reach out through door-knocking, text message, social media and old-fashioned paid ads.

The committee noted Florida’s history of close elections in Governor and presidential elections, suggesting the key to Democrats winning the Governor’s Mansion this year lies in expanding the voter base.

“Black and Latino voters don’t want to miss the chance to be part of making history,” said Dwight Bullard, chairperson for the New Florida Vision PAC. “We have the opportunity to not just elect Florida’s first Black governor, but a governor who is unapologetically progressive and who will put our communities first.”

Gillum is one of five major Democrats running for the primary, along with former Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene and Orlando entrepreneur Chris King.

New Florida Vision leaders plan to stress not only Gillum’s ethnic roots — he would be the first black man to hold the title of governor if he wins the election this year — but also his working-class roots and platform.

That includes a focus on funding public education, boosting affordable housing, reforming criminal justice and protecting immigrant communities from President Donald Trump’s “deportation force,” a clear reference to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jeff Greene plows $3M more into gubernatorial bid

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene has put another $3 million into his campaign, bringing the total to $13.6 million since Greene entered the race last month, according to a newly filed finance report.

Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, loaned $3 million to the campaign on July 16.

The $13.6 million includes loans and contributions from Greene, who has almost totally self-funded his campaign.

During an interview this week with The News Service of Florida, Greene didn’t put a limit on how much he will spend as he competes with fellow Democrats Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine in the Aug. 28 primary.

“As of now, I know that I’ve probably spent a little more than Gwen Graham, less than Philip Levine,” Greene said. “There are only five weeks left, I don’t have any idea what it will take.”

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