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Democrats take advantage of CD 10 reshaping

A former police chief, the former state Democratic Party chairman, an incumbent state senator and a political newcomer are vying to represent an Orlando-area congressional district reshaped so drastically the Republican incumbent decided to run in a new, neighboring district.

Florida’s 10th Congressional District now favors Democrats after redistricting. So Republican Rep. Daniel Webster, a Christian conservative, chose to run for an open seat in the neighboring 11th District, a more conservative, rural area west of Orlando and north of Tampa.

The newly-drawn 10th District covers western parts of the Orlando metro area. Less than half the district’s registered voters are Democratic, more than a quarter are Republican and more than a quarter have no party affiliation.

For the most part, the Democratic candidates have very few ideological differences. But the Democratic field is among the most diverse in recent memory, including two African-American women, a gay man and a woman whose family emigrated from Brazil. The winner of the Aug. 30 primary will face Republican Thuy Lowe, a Vietnamese-American who is running unopposed in the primary.

Val Demings, Orlando’s first woman police chief, is the favorite of Washington Democratic power brokers. Demings narrowly lost to Webster in 2012 when the district leaned Republican.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has held fundraisers for Demings, and Demings shared a stage with Pelosi and female lawmakers as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month. She referred to the Pulse nightclub massacre in her speech. She talked about “the tragedy that gun violence inflicts on America” and lamented Congress’ failure to take action after the fatal shooting of 49 patrons at the club.

Some of Demings’ Democratic opponents resent the help she’s getting from national party officials.

The national party “has already decided to put their thumb on the scale for their favorite candidate,” Fatima Rita Fahmy said at a recent candidates’ forum. Fahmy is an attorney and first-time political candidate.

As the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, Bob Poe has deep party ties in Florida and has the most money of all the candidates in the crowded field. If elected, he would be the first openly HIV-positive member of Congress. As of the end of June, Poe had raised just under $2 million, mostly from loans he made to his campaign. By comparison, Deming had raised nearly $1 million, state Sen. Geraldine Thompson had raised nearly $200,000 and attorney Fatima Rita Fahmy had raised nearly $20,000.

“I don’t go to Washington in debt to any special interest,” Poe said at a recent candidates’ forum. “The voters of District 10 are going to be my special interest.”

Thompson has a decade-long record as a respected state lawmaker. “I’m a workhorse, not a showhorse,” she said at the candidates’ forum.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Direct mail round-up: New Irv Slosberg mailer takes a swipe at Jeff Clemens campaign

A new mailer is hitting mailboxes this week, accusing Jeff Clemens of trying to hide his “dangerously conservative record” from voters.

The mailer, paid for and approved by Irv Slosberg, called Clemens a liar, saying he’s making things up “in order to confuse voters.”

“Clemens is even making up dates of quotes and implying quotes made about another campaign were on behalf of his campaign,” reads the mailer. “When will Clemens stop lying?”

At issue are advertisements supporting Clemens that use quotes from former Rep. Robert Wexler. Some of the ads featuring Wexler’s comments contained the wrong date.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Wexler in 2006 called Slosberg an “agent of the Republican Party.” The comments were made in the middle of a heated state Senate primary between Slosberg and Ted Deutsch.

The decade old quote has been used in television ads and mailers. While the TV ad had the right date, the Palm Beach Posted reported that a mailer from “Each Vote Counts,” a pro-Clemens committee, lists the wrong date.

The new mailer takes a swipe at Clemens while trying to highlight Slosberg’s record. The mailer says Slosberg received an “F” from the NRA, repeatedly voted against school vouchers, and voted against the redistricting plan. The mailer also notes Wexler has complimented Wexler “for being a loyal Democrat.”

The race between Slosberg is one of the most heated races this primary cycle. Slosberg jumped into the Senate District 31 race just hours before the end of qualifying, challenging Clemens who has represented the area for years.

According to an Associated Industries of Florida tracking poll released last week, the Lake Worth Democrat leads Slosberg leads the field with 33 percent support. Slosberg is in second with 29 percent, followed by Emmanuel Morel with 4 percent. The survey found 34 percent of voters were still undecided.

A similar survey back in July found Slosberg ahead of Clemens, 44 to 13 percent.

The primary is Aug. 30.

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle backs Darren Soto in CD 9 race

Democratic U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania has endorsed state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Soto’s campaign announced.

Boyle is one of the leading Democratic voices in Congress on trade, advocating for trade policy that protects American workers and promotes American industry. He has voted against legislation that promotes companies shipping jobs overseas.

“Darren Soto is exactly the kind of progressive fighter we need in Congress. He has led on jobs and labor issues in the Florida Legislature, bringing high-paying jobs to Central Florida while making sure workers are treated with the dignity they deserve,” Boyle stated in a news release issued by the Soto campaign. “I’m proud to endorse him because I know he’ll stand with me and the American people against bad trade deals.”

Soto faces Valleri Crabtree, Dena Grayson, and Susannah Randolph in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary for CD 9. The winner would face the Republican winner, either Wanda Rentas or Wayne Liebnitzky.

“The hardworking families of our district deserve a Congress that fights for high-paying jobs and an economy that works for all of us. I’m proud to earn Congressman Boyle’s endorsement,” Soto stated in the release. “I look forward to working with him to protect workers’ rights and fight for trade policies that strengthen the middle class.”

Poll: Gary Farmer leading in SD 34 Democratic primary

Consumer advocate lawyer Gary Farmer has established a seven-point lead over state Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed and former state Rep. Jim Waldman in the Democratic primary contest for Florida’s Senate District 34, a newly released poll shows.

The poll finds Farmer with 28 percent support, Clarke-Reed with 21 percent and Waldman with 13 percent. Significantly, 39 percent of those polled were still undecided in the district, which follows the Atlantic Coast from Fort Lauderdale through Boynton Beach.

The tracking poll, done for Associated Industries of Florida, reached 300 likely Democratic voters by cell phone, and has a six percent margin of error.

The winner of the Democratic primary would face Antoanet Iotova in the strongly Democrat-leaning district.

The poll also found Clarke-Reed enjoys the best favorable-unfavorable assessment by voters, with a net rating of 28 percent favorable, while Farmer’s was 16, and Waldman’s 9. Yet voters appear to know Farmer best, as he had far fewer undecided responses in that category.

Farmer’s ballot position is predominantly coming from his lead among older white voters and his surprisingly high share of the African-American electorate, AIF noted. Farmer shows leads among every key demographic including females, males, voters over 65, voters who have voted in only one of the last two primaries, and the more likely voters who have voted in both of the last two primaries, but especially among white voters. Clarke-Reed leads Farmer by 16 percent among African-Americans, who will comprise close to 20 percent of the electorate.


U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee to campaign for Stephanie Murphy in Sanford

Democratic U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California will campaign for Democrat Stephanie Murphy in Sanford for Florida’s 7th Congressional District campaign.

Murphy, of Winter Park, is taking on Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, a 12-term incumbent, in a race that national Democrats are targeting. Lee’s appearance, set for a meet-and-greet in downtown Sanford Tuesday afternoon, is another indication the Democrats are calling out some of their stars for the race, which Murphy joined only a month ago.

Lee, who is a nine-term congresswoman from the Oakland area, is a leader in both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She’s also senior Democratic whip in the House. She follows U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who appeared with Murphy last week.

The two will be appearing at Sanford’s 1st Street Lounge, starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Murphy is an executive at Sungate Capital in Winter Park and a business instructor at Rollins College.


Fatima Rita Fahmy, facing her own finance issues in CD 10, blasts Val Demings for her PAC money

Democratic congressional candidate Fatima Rita Fahmy is charging that her leading opponent in the Florida’s 10th Congressional primary, Val Demings, is taking money from organizations fighting against Democratic issues such as marijuana, Everglades restoration and renewable energy.

The latest criticism is part of Fahmy’s ongoing efforts to paint Demings, a former Orlando police chief who has dominated the only released polls in CD 10, as Washington D.C.’s choice for Orlando, not the other way around.

Fahmy’s crusade against Demings is an effort sometimes joined by other Democrats in the CD 10 race, businessman Bob Poe and state Sen. Geraldine Thompson. They’re all frustrated that national party organizations are pouring or steering money, staff, endorsements and other help into Demings’ campaign even though there is a primary with other viable Democrats.

Fahmy, a family lawyer who lacks Poe’s campaign money and Thompson’s successful election record, is the least viable of Demings’ three challengers this year. Yet Fahmy also has been the most visible and vocal critical of Demings’ Washington connections. Fahmy has even crashed or protested private Demings meetings with Washington leaders.

This time Fahmy argued that Demings’ huge amount of political action committee money seems to be indiscriminate, including money from tobacco, alcohol, Big Sugar and coal interests.

“It tells us that she’s already bought and paid for,” Fahmy charged. “And if the DNC [Democratic National Committee] succeeds in getting her elected into office, they’ve got a foot soldier lined up to do their bidding and not represent the interests of the voters. It couldn’t be more clear.”

Demings has always defended her party support as earned: In 2012 she agreed to take on entrenched Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster against long odds, and nearly beat him. Washington Democrats were impressed, and felt they owed her for agreeing to run in that race in the first place, when she had to know she was unlikely to win.

And this week her campaign defended her PAC support, noting the vast majority of it comes from organizations representing “working families.”

Fahmy, Demings’ campaign pointed out, has her own campaign finance problems, some serious, with nothing to do with anyone’s efforts to connect dots between contributors and political interests.

First, Fahmy has hardly raised any money, and no PAC money. More seriously, Fahmy failed to file her campaign finance disclosure reports in July and her latest contributions still are not available for public review.

Fahmy said that involved a software problem and “technical issues,” and that she was working with the Federal Election Commission to get the records straightened out. She said she hoped to file the reports this weekend.

Nonetheless, The FEC sent her a notification July 22 giving her until July 26 to get the reports in, or start accumulating daily fines. That deadline passed, and those fines are running into the hundreds of dollars now and could be in the thousands of dollars, depending on how much money should have been reported in that July 1 filing.

Fahmy said her latest report will show only another $13,000 in contributions, bringing her grand total to about $31,000.

“I’m not hiding anything. It’ll be the world’s most boring report. The only [thing] semi-controversial is the [U.S. Rep.] Alan Grayson contribution. I wasn’t hiding that; I even posted that on my Facebook page,” she said.

In fact, in June Fahmy proudly posted that Grayson had written her a check. That check, which still has not shown up in FEC public information, was for $2,000 she said. She said there is no other Grayson money.

But her own campaign finance issues have not stopped Fahmy from going after Demings’ campaign finances, based on connecting dots between contributors and interests and motivations.

The coal mining interests — Demings got $1,000 from the United Mine Workers PAC — can only expect support for carbon fuels, or opposition to renewable energies, since there is no coal mining in Florida, Fahmy charged. The tobacco money, $1,000 from the Altria Group Inc. PAC, comes though Florida has very little tobacco agriculture. Demings’ Big Sugar money — at least $8,000 — does represent a Florida industry, but it’s an industry Democrats blame for the environmental problems in the Everglades and off Florida’s coasts, notably this year’s huge algae blooms, Fahmy charged. And the liquor money? A lot of candidates in Florida get liquor PAC money. Fahmy said there appears to be a new reason why.

Among the national Democratic Party documents hacked in July and released earlier this week were reports indicating Democrats believe the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America appeared to be mobilizing opposition of marijuana initiatives. Demings received $2,500 from that PAC in June.

“They’re not so much contributions as they are investments,” Fahmy said.

Demings’ $291,000 in PAC money received through the Aug. 10 federal campaign finance reporting period is the most of any non-incumbent running in Florida this year.

Next is Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto, who has accepted $203,000 from PACs in his race in Florida’s 9th Congressional District. Democrat Charlie Crist has received $184,000 in the 13th. Democrat Annette Taddeo has accepted $174,000 in the 26th. Republican Neal Dunn has taken $118,000 in the 2nd. And Republican Rebecca Negron has accepted $108,000 in the 18th.

Yet, as Demings campaign said, the vast majority of Demings’ PAC money has come from organizations completely uncontroversial to Democrats’ interests, including numerous labor unions, Democrats’ leadership PACs, and liberal organizations representing groups ranging from police to feminists.

Demings also has collected $674,000 from individual donors.

“Chief Demings has been humbled to receive support from thousands of people this election, with the most common contribution to her campaign being $25,” campaign spokeswoman Caroline Rowland stated in a response to “Chief Demings has also received support from many organizations that represent thousands of working families, all across Florida and the country.

“The best indicator of future performance is past performance, and if you look at her record of service you will see the people of Central Florida have always been Chief Demings’ priority,” Rowland continued. “In Congress Chief Demings will continue to put the people of Central Florida first.”

Tiger Bay Club to host CD 9 debate

The Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida announced it will be hosting a late debate in the Orlando-based Florida’s Congressional District 9 race.

The Aug. 23 debate — one week out from the primary — will feature two of the four Democrats running, progressive activist Susannah Randolph and state Sen. Darren Soto, both of Orlando; and the two Republicans running, Kissimmee Commissioner Wanda Rentas and St. Cloud businessman Wayne Liebnitzky.

Two other Democrats in the Aug. 30 primary, Dena Grayson and Valleri Crabtree, “are unable to participate,” according to the Tiger Bay release.

Tiger Bay had been trying to arrange a CD 9 debate for months and once had one on the calendar for early June, but only Soto among the Democrats had confirmed and that event was canceled.

Grayson has rarely appeared in events also featuring her opponents. Her campaign said she had a scheduling conflict. Crabtree, who has frequented multi-candidate events, teaches business law at the Keller School of Graduate Management and said her students cannot afford for her to miss that day.

With the addition of Randolph, the debate features the two most prominent candidates, though internal polling in the campaigns has suggested the Democratic race is very close.

Republicans exceeding Democrats in Duval County early voting thus far

As of Wednesday afternoon, the majority of votes cast in Duval County have been by Republicans, despite Democrats holding a registration advantage.

Of 215,025 Republicans, 15,390 have voted as of 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, either by mail or during early voting, which started Monday. This translates to 7.15 percent voter participation.

Of the 230,529 Democrats, a mere 11,484 (or almost 5 percent) have voted so far.

Of the NPAs, 2,968 have voted thus far.

Factors that could be contributing to the turnout edge for Republicans include the closed primaries in the public defender and state attorney races, a lack of enthusiasm for turning out for Corrine Brown versus a competitive GOP primary in CD 4, and, maybe, the pension tax referendum.

In 2014, Early Voting went more slowly. Two days into that early voting period, 2,400 people had voted, with about 20,000 absentee ballots.

To compare, 23,308 votes by mail have been received thus far, with 6,533 early.

There are more meaningful turnout drivers on this ballot than two years ago, and this could suggest a more energized electorate.

In HD 47 race, Beth Tuura blasts Henry Lim for gun incident

Democratic Florida House candidate Beth Tuura blasted her primary opponent Henry Lim Wednesday following reports he had been arrested last year for carrying a loaded gun into a federal building.

On Monday Lim, an Orlando-based immigration lawyer, acknowledged to that he had forgotten he was carrying a Beretta .32-caliber handgun in his briefcase when he entered the Miami U.S. Citizenship & Immigration office on Nov. 16. He was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm [it was loaded with a bullet in the chamber and the safety off] but no charges were pursued against him. The case was dropped a few weeks later.

In a blistering statement she issued Wednesday, Tuura said Lim suffered a telling lapse in judgement that day that makes him the wrong candidate to carry gun issues into the Florida Legislature, especially from Orlando.

“Henry Lim broke federal law and put real lives at risk when he carried a loaded weapon into a federal building,” she declared. “His carelessness and poor judgment demonstrates he is not the leader we need to prevent gun violence and confront Rick Scott and the NRA.”

Like many Democrats, especially those from Orlando in light of the massacre at the popular gay nightclub Pulse, Lim has called for restrictions on guns, and increased background checks in particular. He also said he is a gun owner who had a concealed weapons permit for his own protection [the permit had expired at the time of his arrest] and is a believer in 2nd Amendment rights.

Tuura said he’s shown he’s got the wrong frame of mind.

“On June 12, 49 members of our community lost their lives at Pulse nightclub because of our state’s failure to adopt commonsense gun violence prevention measures,” she continued. “Our community needs a leader in Tallahassee with the judgment and passion to take on the entrenched gun lobby to achieve commonsense reforms. I will be that leader.”

Tuura, an independent television producer, and Lim are in a three-way Aug. 30 Democratic primary race with lawyer Clinton Curtis. The winner would face Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller in November.

“As a lesbian woman running to represent the district where the Pulse massacre took place, these 49 victims and their families affect me deeply,” Tuura said. “They are my motivation to secure universal background checks, prevent violent offenders from obtaining firearms, and ban military-style assault rifles.

“Lim’s illegal and reckless behavior demonstrates he is unable to follow the lax gun laws already in place, and that he cannot be trusted to advance the Democratic values my campaign is fighting for every day in Florida,” Tuura concluded.

Lim also has expressed strong personal connections to the Pulse victims, saying his law firm provided pro bono services.

And on Tuesday he called himself “a leading advocate for commonsense gun safety reform.”

“Gun owners like myself know that sensible gun safety policies make us all safer,” Lim stated in a news release addressing last year’s arrest. “To protect our communities, we must pass a ban on military and assault-style weapons, limit gun magazine capacities, and close the private sale loophole.

“I have witnessed firsthand the devastating impact on our community of our Legislature’s failure to act. Our Republican opponent was speaking against the need for a special session or even discussing our gun laws, while dozens of volunteer attorneys like myself were providing free legal aid to the families and victims of the Pulse massacre,” he continued. “For the sake of our families, our neighbors, and our children, I will not stop fighting until we pass commonsense gun safety policies in Florida.”

Political Salsa in Orlando: Dems tie Zika to Medicaid expansion, women’s health

Democratic candidates running in Central Florida for the Florida Legislature are making the Zika threat to Florida their next big reason to push for Medicaid expansion and protection of women’s health centers.

At the annual “Political Salsa” hobnob and debate forum in the heart of Orlando’s Puerto Rican east side, dozens of local, state and federal candidates and hundreds of mostly Hispanic people hashed out issues ranging from gun violence to school testing to the expected spread of Zika-infected mosquitos into Central Florida.

The Democrats, notably House District 48 opponents Alex Barrio and Amy Mercado, House District 30 nominee Ryan Yadav, and House District 42 Benny Valentin hammered home that, in their minds, with Zika coming, there’s no messing around with providing as much access as possible for Floridians’ health care.

Zika is the mosquito-borne disease ravaging Latin America and the Caribbean, now spreading by mosquito in South Florida, with the ultimate worst effect being massive brain deformities for children born of women infected during their pregnancies. The Democrats’ health care access comments drew some of the loudest applause of the night, which featured five panels of candidates.

“Zika is already here,” Mercado declared. “We not only need to continue to fight for health care in Florida as a whole, including Medicaid expansion … but especially, especially, for women who are going to have the most problems with this!”

The forums also saw 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton and his Democratic primary opponent Aramis Ayala argue heatedly over advertising a George Soros-funded political action committee is running on her behalf, and whether or not there are discrimination problems in that office.

Ayala maintained the state attorney can help ease tensions arising from police shootings — those by police and those of police — with consistent prosecutions and with the state attorney getting involved in community discussions. It’s a standard message of her campaign: that she’ll be the state attorney people see at community events, there to answer questions, listen, talk about policies and reassure people the office is there to help.

Ashton said he couldn’t agree more, adding that he already is doing all of that.

“What we don’t do is use racially charged, divisive advertisements,” he added, shooting back at the Soros ads.

And other candidates clashed and sometimes largely agreed on issues ranging from gun violence to state funding for charter schools to gambling.

There were a few outliers.

Republican Florida Senate 15 candidate Peter Vivaldi expressed his support for measures to get assault weapons off the street. Democratic Florida House District 49 candidate Carlos Guillermo Smith declared his intention to introduce a bill his first day in office to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana statewide, as some counties and cities, including Orlando, have done locally.

The June 12 Pulse nightclub massacre, in which madman Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 mostly Hispanic people in the popular Orlando gay nightclub, hung over many of the policy discussions like a new backdrop.

In particular, Republican House District state Rep. Mike Miller, seeking re-election, Democratic former state Rep. Linda Stewart, now seeking Florida Senate District 13’s seat, and Smith poignantly recalled their post-Pulse mind frames, and how it affected them and their politics.


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