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Scarce targets curb Dem hopes for House gains, despite Donald Trump

In a taste of ads to come, House Democrats have run national TV spots in which actors recount Donald Trump‘s derogatory remarks about immigrants, women and veterans and one asks, “How can Republican members of Congress support that?”

The commercials, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, underscore the party’s hopes for an Election Day bumper crop of new House seats, fueled by the GOP presidential candidate’s disparaging verbal assaults and poor showing in most polls.

Outnumbered by Republicans 247-188 – and with two vacancies in districts they’re certain to win – Democrats seem likely to bolster their ranks in November. Yet gaining the 30 seats needed to capture a House majority appears elusive.

DAUNTING FIGURES

Of the House’s 435 seats, only around 40 from California to Maine seem clearly up for grabs, though that could change.

Redistricting, along with Democrats’ tendency to be concentrated in urban and coastal areas, has given both parties’ incumbents such sturdy protection that on Election Day 2014, just 13 of 388 lawmakers seeking re-election lost. Of the 435 House members elected, 377 won by a decisive 10 percentage points or more or were unopposed.

Democrats would have to sweep 35 of the 40 competitive contests and lose only five for a 30-seat pickup, a significant challenge. In the 17 presidential election years since World War II, a party has gained 30 House seats just three times, most recently in 1980.

Democrats’ predictions have been tempered. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who heads House Democrats’ campaign committee, says, “Democrats are on offense and we’ll pick up seats.”

OTHER HURDLES

Democrats failed to recruit strong candidates in districts where they might have competed.

The Democratic challenger against well-financed freshman Rep. Tom MacArthur in central New Jersey, Frederick LaVergne, has reported $600 cash on hand. The party has had problems fielding candidates in the Philadelphia suburbs, eastern Ohio, central Illinois and west of Detroit.

“They haven’t put seats in play they needed to put in play,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, a top member of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Democrats want to pry Republicans out of suburban districts where TV advertising is often expensive, especially with a competitive presidential or Senate race in the state. A week of commercials can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in Denver; Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas, and can be prohibitively expensive for House candidates in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

In addition, Democrats seem certain to lose a newly redrawn district in north Florida and face challenges keeping seats around Omaha, Nebraska; Sacramento and California’s central coast; and Florida’s Palm Beach.

GOP DANGER SIGNS

Republicans hold about three in four battleground House seats, leaving them more at risk. Nevada, Maine and Minnesota are places where the GOP faces tough defensive fights.

Thanks to strong off-year elections in 2010 and 2014, the GOP’s 247 seats are its high-water mark since Herbert Hoover’s presidency 86 years ago. The party holds districts in New York, New Hampshire and Iowa that it will struggle to retain this presidential election year, when Democratic turnout should increase.

While 26 House Republicans were elected in 2014 in districts that backed President Barack Obama in 2012, just five Democrats serve in districts carried by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

That means more Republicans are at a disadvantage. Among them, Rep. Robert Dold is clinging to a Chicago-area district that gave Obama 58 percent of its vote, more than in any other Republican-held seat.

TRUMP FACTOR

Trump is unpopular among women, minorities and college-educated voters. This spells trouble for Republicans representing suburbs and districts with many Hispanic voters, and many candidates have criticized his remarks, though few have abandoned him outright.

Freshman GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo is fighting to survive in a South Florida district that is two-thirds Hispanic. He’s said he won’t support Trump and has run a Spanish-language radio ad in which former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says, “I know Carlos and I know he will continue representing us with integrity in Washington.”

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, whose suburban Denver district is one-fifth Hispanic, says of Trump in one spot, “Honestly, I don’t care for him much.”

Trump’s problems with crucial voters and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s modest but distinct advantage in most polls have emboldened Democrats to hunt for additional GOP seats.

They’ve already spent against conservative Rep. Scott Garrett in New Jersey suburbs of New York City and have hopes of grabbing seats around Minneapolis, Orlando and central New York. They envision benefiting from diminished voter turnout by Republican moderates appalled at Trump and conservatives who distrust him.

“Our biggest concern is turnout,” but it’s also a problem for Democrats, said Mike Shields, top aide for the Congressional Leadership Fund and the American Action Network, which back House GOP candidates.

COUNTER-CURRENTS

Republicans argue that Clinton poses problems, too. Polls find much dislike for her, too, and Republicans are hoping for lower turnout by young liberals who preferred Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s Democratic presidential rival, and by blacks no longer drawn to vote by Obama.

Should Trump’s defeat appear inevitable, House Republicans could cast themselves as a brake on a Clinton administration. So far they’ve used that sparingly.

One GOP fundraising email signed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says, “I worry about what will happen if Hillary Clinton is elected president.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Alan and Dena Grayson blame losses on ‘sewer money,’ don’t rule out political comebacks

Don’t expect U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson to offer any support to fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in what is likely to be a brutal U.S. Senate contest with Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“Absolutely not,” Grayson told FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday, before accusing Murphy of running “possibly the dirtiest campaign that Florida has ever seen” and bringing up his previous allegations that Murphy is no Democrat.

Murphy, of Palm Beach Gardens, thrashed Grayson, of Orlando, on Tuesday in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. Murphy took 59 percent of the vote to Grayson’s 18 percent, with Miami lawyer Pam Keith grabbing 15 percent.

The overwhelming victory puts Murphy up against Rubio, who won his own overwhelming victory Tuesday. This fall’s campaign is likely to be bloody and close. Grayson, a progressive-wing icon in the Democratic Party, might be able to inspire a few progressive voters to support Murphy. But he won’t.

Grayson blamed his fall in the Democratic primary — he once was running pretty close to Murphy in statewide polls — on what he called “sewer money”: advertising blitzes this summer by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee’s Senate Majority PAC, funded by Murphy’s father; and on the $4 million Grayson said Murphy collected from Wall Street interests and spent.

The same is true for Grayson’s wife, Dena Grayson, who lost her bid for the Democratic primary nomination to run for his seat in CD 9. In a separate interview with FloridaPolitics.com, she too blamed her loss on “sewer money,” PAC money that supported winner state Sen. Darren Soto in the closing weeks.

Soto got 36 percent, and Grayson and Susannah Randolph each got 28 percent.

Murphy’s campaign declined to comment on Alan Grayson’s statements. Soto’s did not respond to a request for comment on Dena Grayson’s statements.

Neither of the Graysons believe they are finished with politics.

First, they’re planning a honeymoon. The couple were married May 29 and a couple of days later hit the campaign trails. They’re not providing details of their honeymoon plans.

She called the honeymoon “first and foremost,” saying, “So much for marrying for political reasons; I married for love.”

After that, Alan Grayson said he plans to finish his term as representative to Florida’s 9th Congressional District by trying to get a few more amendments passed to support his causes and after that he is undecided what he will do next.

He left the door open for another possible statewide campaign in Florida in the future. He noted he carried Orange and Osceola counties and five Florida Panhandle counties — areas where his campaign ran big, late TV blitzes — and said there may be prospects from that.

He said he has no immediate plans to return to his practice as a lawyer pursuing federal whistle-blower cases.

He also said he envisions pursuing some of his political goals, such as restoring voting rights for convicted felons, as a government outsider pushing such reforms in federal, state and local venues.

And he’s not walking away from Tuesday’s primary loss with any gracious congratulations for Murphy. Grayson’s campaign centered on the message that he was a progressive Democratic warrior while Murphy was a Republican who changed parties — but not political philosophies.

“He’s denying Florida voters a true choice. He’s a Republican. We have a Republican running against a Republican,” Alan Grayson said.

He blamed his free fall among voters and ultimate 40-point loss as “very simply the $5 million of sewer money” the DSCC and Murphy’s campaign and PAC spent on advertising in July and August.

The DSCC advertising, he said, was paid for by the $1 million contribution the elder Murphy made on July 13.

Alan Grayson said his drop in the polls had nothing to do with the reports that resurfaced in late July about domestic violence reports his ex-wife Lolita Grayson had filed against him during their marriage. He called the reports a “regurgitation of the false allegations made two years ago” which he has always denied. He said they were pushed by the DSCC and Murphy’s campaign. But ultimately, he said, he doesn’t believe voters were affected by them.

Dena Grayson said the super PAC money coming to support Soto and Randolph, principally from Common Sense Leadership for America, funded by Houston hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, totaled nearly $600,000 and made the difference in the election.

“The sewer money came in. It clearly had a big effect. That’s what ended up happening. Dirty money wins, and Democracy loses,” Dena Grayson said.

She, too, would not rule out a political future. But she is a biomedical researcher and said she could be happy doing that as well.

Kamia Brown captures HD 45 seat

Kamia Brown has won easy election to the Florida House, beating four Democratic rivals in a House District 45 election that became the final contest when no one but Democrats qualified for the ballot.

Brown, a former legislative aide to state Rep. Victor Torres, drew 35 percent of the vote; compared with 20 for Gregory Jackson; 19 for Kelvin Cobaris; 13 percent for Peter Pham; and 12 for William Jusme.

In what had looked like a wide-open race created by the domino effect of political ambition, Brown worked her way to the top of the pack. She drew more endorsements and more campaign contributions than any two of her opponents combined. Jackson is a civil rights attorney, Cobaris a preacher, Jusme a businessman and Navy veteran.

The seat became open because incumbent state Rep. Randolph Bracy ran for the state Senate when state Sen. Geraldine Thompson ran for Congress.

The district covers much of west Orange County including Pine Hills, Apopka and Ocoee, with a large African-American population and an overwhelming Democratic base.

Linda Stewart walks over Mike Clelland’s bankroll to win primary in SD 13

Former state Rep. Mike Clelland’s sizable campaign bankroll proved no match for former state Rep. Linda Stewart‘s indomitable ground game in east Orange County, as Stewart captured the Senate District 11 Democratic primary.

“I walked myself so silly, I bet you we covered 6,000 doors,” Stewart said Tuesday night. “I know we called through 10,000 phone calls, twice. And all mine was behind the scenes. I don’t have all those big commercials on TV. But we went directly, directly, into the voters’ households.”

That’s been Stewart’s patented campaign plan in past elections, as she’s twice won Orange County commission races and a state representative race, though she has lost some elections too, including the 2014 race to keep her House seat.

Stewart drew 43 percent of the vote Tuesday night, with Clelland — whose campaign and independent political action committee combined to raise about $700,000 and spent much of it on television — drew 34 percent. Former Orange County School Board Member Rick Roach drew 23 percent.

That puts Stewart into a match with Republican nominee Dean Asher for a Senate seat the Democrats are targeting to flip this year. The seat had long been a safe Republican hold, and is currently occupied by retiring Senate President Andy Gardiner. But redistricting has given Democrats a sizable advantage.

Asher, a Realtor, also has a formidable campaign war chest, which he has barely opened, awaiting the general election.

Stewart, always optimistic, insisted she is not worried, and said she’ll continue campaigning on the issues that she’s always used, including environmental protection, women’s rights, and health care.

“Seven hundred fifty thousand dollars? If you think that bothers me, it doesn’t,” Stewart said.

Actually, Asher’s most recent totals are closer to $550,000. Still, Stewart raised just $30,000 going into the primary.

“I got my own plan,” she said.

Aramis Ayala unseats Jeff Ashton to win JC9 state attorney

Aramis Ayala stunned incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton Tuesday night in the Democratic primary to all but win election to the post in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties.

Ayala pummeled Ashton 57 percent to 43 percent in a race in which just a month ago she still was a relative unknown former assistant state attorney trying to unseat the nationally famous prosecutor.

That was before Democratic super PAC financier George Soros got involved, bankrolling a million-dollar independent advertising campaign to slam Ashton and offer Ayala as an answer.

Using several political action committees with the name “Safety & Justice,” Soros has set about to get black candidates elected all over the country. His “Florida Safety & Justice” PAC pushed Ayala and accused Ashton of discrimination in the way he ran prosecutions, something Ashton vehemently denied.

She must still win the general election but the only opponent left is a write-in candidate, William Voss, who qualified for the ballot because he, too, wanted Ashton out of office. Even if he does not withdraw, he will be only a road-bump in Ayala’s eventually victory.

That victory makes Ayala the first African-American ever elected to a state attorney office in the history of Florida. It’s a matter she has expressed pride about but not really pushed in her campaign.

Her campaign advocated instead for a reorganization of the State Attorney’s Office in Orlando to pay more attention to crimes such as domestic violence, and to bridge communication gaps between prosecutors and the broader Central Florida community.

She said she had never had any contact with Soros.

Ashton gained national fame five years ago as the prosecutor of Casey Anthony, an assignment that led to a movie depicting him and helped lead to his election in 2012. He was bitter about Tuesday’s defeat, blaming it what he called a false campaign by the New York billionaire who’d never met either candidate.

“The voters decided today that the price of the state attorney’s race is $1.4 million in lies. I’m deeply disappointed in this result but I stand by the good work of my office and the folks who work here,” Ashton said.

Ironically, Ashton could have expected a bitter campaign fight, but not about the issue of discrimination, which no one else has ever publicly leveled. Instead, he must have been preparing for Ayala to bring up an embarrassing episode in 2015 when his name appeared on the leaked list of people who had applied for membership to the Ashley Madison dating site for married men. Ashton publicly apologized then, saying he had never actually used the site to meet anyone and had entered it only out of curiosity.

Ayala had mentioned the incident when she first announced her candidacy last winter and said she intended to push integrity as one of her issues. But she never actually campaigned about it, and “Florida Safety & Justice” never mentioned it either.

Henry Lim calls Elizabeth Tuura mailer ‘false’ in gun charge claim

Democratic House District 47 candidate Henry Lim is crying foul over a mailer primary opponent Beth Tuura sent out this weekend declaring that Lim was arrested on a gun charge.

Lim was arrested Nov. 5, 2015, when security found a loaded handgun in his bag while he attempted to enter a federal building in Miami, but he was never formally charged.

The arrest occurred because Miami police alleged he had committed an offense under a gun charge. But the state attorney never filed a formal charge and the case went away in December. Lim once had a concealed weapons permit, but it had expired at that time. He has since reapplied for such a permit.

Lim faces Tuura and Clint Curtis in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. The winner would face Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando in the November election.

“In reality, Lim has never been charged with a crime in his life. He has no criminal record,” read a statement from Lim’s campaign. “The mailer appears timed to frighten and mislead voters just before Election Day on Tuesday.

“Tuura’s mailer is based on a November 2015 incident at a Miami immigration services building, where Lim was stopped with a handgun in his briefcase,” the statement continues. “Contrary to the mailer’s claim, no charges were filed and Lim was able to apply for a renewal of his concealed carry permit.”

Tuura’s mailer also includes the words “HENRY LIM brought a loaded gun into a federal building,” which Lim has never denied. It also notes that the safety was off and a bullet was in the chamber, which was noted in the arrest report.

“We stated the fact about Henry Lim’s gun arrest,” Tuura replied. “It’s important that the voters of House District 47 know Henry Lim’s record as a careless gun owner.”

Bob Poe rolls another $100K loan into his campaign

Heading into the final weekend before the primary, Democratic congressional candidate Bob Poe lent his campaign another $100,000 Friday, bringing his personal investment to just over $2 million in his bid for election in Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Poe vowed from the start to fund much of his campaign and so far the self-made millionaire entrepreneur has bankrolled virtually all of it.

Poe has raised $188,000 in private contributions. Through the Aug. 10 pre-primary period, he reported spending $1.9 million, mostly on TV advertising, but also through a commitment to pay all his campaign staff at least $15 an hour, as a signal of his belief in raising the minimum wage.

On Aug. 10 he had about $101,000 left, not including the $100,000 loan he made to his campaign last Friday.

Poe’s in a tough battle for the Democratic nomination with front-runner Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief with just about the full backing of the national Democratic Party. Also in the race is state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, who has been elected five times in the region, and lawyer Fatima Rita Fahmy.

Demings’ campaign contributions topped the $1 million mark this month, with $27,600 that has poured in since Aug. 10 and about $11,000 she had lent her own campaign earlier this year. She reported on that date that she had $165,000 left.

Thompson’s campaign contributions reached $119,000 by Aug. 10 and she has not filed any updates since. With $66,000 in personal loans she made to her campaign last year and $144,000 in spending, Thompson had about $40,000 left on Aug. 10.

Fahmy reported $31,000 in contributions and just $2,400 in spending, leaving her with about $28,000 left on Aug. 10.

Republican Thuy Lowe awaits the winner. She has raised and spent $49,000 so far and had virtually no money left on Aug. 10.

Victor Torres with big late push in SD 15 Democratic primary

Democratic state Rep. Victor Torres is putting some last-minute light between him and Kissimmee businessman Bob Healy in last-month advertising for the Florida Senate District 15 primary.

Torres, who has always had a commanding war chest compared with Healy, dropped $33,000 on advertising in the first couple weeks of August and still had $87,000 more cash left than Healy on Aug. 12, the last date for which campaign finance reports are posted in the race.

Torres, a retired police officer and bus driver, raised $23,000 for his campaign in the first 12 days of August, compared with $12,000 for Healy, the funeral director. That leaves Torres with $156,000 raised and $126,000 left. Healy has raised $36,000 and lent $20,000 to his campaign, leaving him with $39,000.

Republican nominee Peter Vivaldi awaits the winner of Tuesday’s primary.

Randolph Bracy with big late push in SD 11 Democratic primary

Democratic state Rep. Randolph Bracy ramped up his campaign spending, dropping $23,000 in the first two weeks of August in the push for a Tuesday primary win in Florida’s Senate District 11.

Bracy, of Oakland, has far more money than his three opponents and spent far more in the weeks heading toward the primary.

Yet environmental activist Chuck O’Neal of Apopka lent his campaign another $5,000 in early August and was sitting on more money Aug. 12 for a late push. And former state Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando had the biggest fundraising push in early August, putting him into position for a big last-week spree as well.

In the most recent campaign finance reports available for the race, Bracy had raised $143,000, including $23,000 in the first two weeks of August, leaving him with $71,000 at Aug. 12. O’Neal, who has lent his campaign $67,500, raised almost nothing in early August but had $94,000 cash-on-hand by Aug. 12. Siplin’s big first two weeks of August left him with $39,000 in the bank. And former state Rep. Bob Sindler of Orlando, also a former Orange County commissioner, raised $5,700 in August and on Aug. 25 had $21,000 for any late push.

There are no Republicans running in the district, which covers west Orange County.

Dena Grayson adds $35K loan for CD 9 campaign

Democratic congressional candidate Dena Grayson lent her campaign another $35,000 in the past week as she prepares for the final weekend of the tough primary in Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Grayson, a Windermere biomedical researcher, increased her personal investment into her campaign to $150,000 just this summer. The result has been that she heads into the primary home stretch with perhaps $182,000 to spend.

Federal campaign finance reports show she still trails two primary opponents, state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando and Orlando activist Susannah Randolph, in total money raised, but Soto has spent so much of his that Grayson is well ahead of him and not far behind Randolph in cash still available for the last push.

Through Thursday, Soto had raised $768,o0o for his campaign. He had spent at least $685,000, a number only covering expenditures through Aug. 10. That leaves him with as much as $83,000.

Randolph had raised $729,000 through Thursday. She had spent just $508,000 through Aug. 10, meaning she has as much as $221,000 to spend.

Including her personal loans, Grayson raised $579,000 for her campaign through Thursday, and had spent $397,000 through Aug. 10, so she could have $182,000 left to spend.

The fourth Democrat in the race, Kissimmee businesswoman Valleri Crabtree, has never focused much on fundraising. Like Grayson, she has contributed personally to her own account, a total of $39,000, including $20,000 this summer. With that, she reported $64,000 in contributions and $63,000 in expenses through Aug. 10. She did not need to file additional reports through Thursday.

The Republican primary opponents, St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky and Kissimmee Commissioner Wanda Rentas, are fundraising on a whole different scale.

Liebnitzky has lent his campaign $13,000, including $4,000 this month. That gives him $22,000 in total contributions and about $20,000 in expenses so far, with $1,750 in the bank, at Aug. 10.

Rentas raised about $18,000 and spent about $16,000, with about $2,000 in the bank.

The Soto-Randolph-Grayson money chase has become increasingly attractive to political action committees.

About half the $35,700 Soto raised last week came from a variety of PACs, ranging from the American Osteopathic Information Association to Friends of Israel.

Randolph gathered $13,900 in PAC money herself last week, with donations coming from two unions, the Feminist Majority PAC, and the League of Conservation Voters.

Grayson, who holds a doctor of medicine degree though she is not a practicing doctor, continues to draw donations from medical groups. They provided $4,500 last week. GUTS PAC — set up by her husband, the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson — added another $2,300 to her campaign last week.

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