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Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Parkland shooting will be different this year in guns, politics

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has seen a lot of gun massacres come and go, and, as former chair of the Democratic National Committee, a lot of gun bills come and vanish, but she told the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida Tuesday morning she’s convinced that what follows the Parkland massacre last Wednesday will be different.

“We have a generation of young voters who came of age amid an appalling number of mass shootings. And for the last decade they have been told that nothing can be done to stop this senseless slaughter,” she said.

“What I saw in Parkland after this shooting has felt different,” she said. “Listening to the powerful words of the student survivors it’s hard not to think that these kids may be ready to lead where politicians have failed to take action.”

Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, just south of Parkland in Broward County, and the ties between her family’s Cypress Bay High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, where 17 students and teachers were slain last week, are close. The schools and communities are similar and rivals, and now united, she said. On Friday she attended the funeral of one of the victims, Meadow Pollack, who was 18.

The rise of students, starting in Parkland and appearing in efforts descending on Tallahassee Tuesday and planned elsewhere in coming weeks, she said, will make the difference, if not in passing bills to tighten background checks and ban new sales of semi-automatic weapons, then in the elections that follow.

Recalling the funeral and the reactions of the family and friends brought Wasserman Schultz close to Tuesday, but the message she got was one of resolve and that they were “incredibly poised and so articulate.”

“What I saw in the faces of the students and parents last week there is an army that can literally march for these demands and they are in Tallahassee right now doing just that. And I think this is going to be a key litmus test for every race we have this fall,” she said. “It certainly is going to be huge policy difference separating [Democratic U.S. Sen.] Bill Nelson and [Republican Gov.] Rick Scott in a potential U.S. Senate race.

Wasserman Schultz, a former member of the Florida House and the Florida Senate now in her seventh term in Congress, rose to chair the Democratic National Committee. But her exit from that leadership post last year was nasty, after reports emerged alleging her heavy-handed steering of the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. But she remains a powerful figure among congressional progressive Democrats.

When asked why the Democrats did not address their biggest gun position during the period when they had control of the White House and both chambers of commerce, and Wasserman Schultz was a quickly rising power in the Democratic party, she insisted the 60 votes needed to approve most bills in the U.S. Senate made it impossible during that time.

“Enough is enough. We cannot let another day go by without demanding the common sense gun legislation come to the floor of every chamber of every body in this country. Let them vote,” she said earlier. “Whatever way it comes out. But elected officials have to be held to account by the overwhelming majority, even of NRA members, who believe that we need to take steps to make this country safer, and to rid this country of the scourge of the weapons of war that no civilians as meant to have.”

She told the Tiger Bay club she believes that other progressive causes including the Affordable Care Act preservation, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] program, and the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault all will play key roles for Democrats in the upcoming elections. But she spoke of Democrats’ desire for gun legislation to be more of a game changer following Parkland, and the impact that shooting is having on Generation Z, if not now, then eventually.

“They know that offers of just thoughts and prayers or more promises of more mental health funding mean absolutely nothing is going to change,” she said.

Report: Poll finds Donna Shalala would enter CD 27 Democrats’ field on top

Donna Shalala might not be a candidate for Florida’s 27th Congressional District but she would be leading the very-crowded field of Democrats who are formally in that South Florida race, according to a Politico report Tuesday morning about a new poll.

The survey, conducted last month by the research strategy firm Bendixen and Amandi International, finds that, as a hypothetical candidate, Shalala, a former University of Miami president who had been in President Bill Clinton‘s cabinet,  more than doubles the vote support of the other Democrats in CD 27, according to the report in Politico Tuesday morning. The survey finds Shalala drawing 24 percent, and second-place state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami managing 10 percent support.

The poll found that the vast majorities of voters don’t know any of the Democrats running in CD 27, including Rodriguez.

Bendixen and Amandi conducted the survey of 600 Democratic voters by phone on Jan. 20-24, claiming a margin of error of 4 percentage points, according to survey slides posted by Politico.

Even though the district has elected a Republican, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, every year since 1989, it has trended Democrat in voter registration and voted strongly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, making it a key prospect for a Democratic flip. Consequently, it has attracted 10 Democratic candidates, yet none of them is named Shalala yet.

Nonetheles, Shalala’s name keeps coming up, to the point that earlier this month Democratic candidate Mary Barzee Flores spoke out against her in a blog post.

Bendixen and Amandi polled favorability for the top seven Democrats and found 70 to 90 percent of the voters do not know who Rodriguez, Barzee Flores, Kristen Rosen GonzalezDavid RichardsonKen Russell,  Michael Hepburn, or Matt Haggman are yet, or have no opinions about them.

Steve Schale: The message of Sarasota

Steve Schale

2010 was like a living a broken record.

No matter what candidates said or did, or whether they ran embracing themselves with the president, or running as their own style of Democrat, it just didn’t matter. Voters were looking to send a message, and people who had Democrat on their name tag were the only vessel that existed.

My model for Sarasota going into Election Day said that if Republicans turned out between 2,000 and 2,500 more voters than Democrats during the day, Margaret Good would hold on, but it would be tight.

In terms of turnout, that’s what happened.

If you look at what happened with turnout, in 2010 or 2014, the Republican Party wins easily, in a normal election (do we have any of those) — with this electorate, the Republican Party probably would have won, or the Good would have won a real close one.

But as the margin demonstrated, this wasn’t a normal election.

Yes, Margaret was a good candidate, and yes, candidates and the campaigns they run matter. Yes, it helped that there was a national focus on the race, Vice President Joe Biden endorsing, grassroots money from everywhere — nor did it hurt that Corey Lewandowski came to town to reinforce that message.

All of these things mattered.

In 2010, a lot of fantastic candidates lost, and lost for reasons outside their own control. The lost because voters wanted to send a message, and since the president wasn’t on the ballot, they used the only proxy they could.

Not all special elections are created equal, and not all outcomes matter the same. This one probably matters more than most.

Here’s a few of my reasons why.

First, let’s go back to a little reminder about Florida. Most of Florida mirrors someplace else in America. Why did Donald Trump go to Pensacola to do rallies for Roy Moore? Well, that part of Florida is very similar to the deep south.

Go to a Jets/Dolphins game in Miami, and you might think you are at a Jets home game, or a Steelers/Jaguars game in Duuuval, and in addition to seeing Blake Bortles lead the almost-AFC Champions, you will get a good sense of where a lot of Duval comes from.

Sarasota, like much of Florida from Tampa south to Naples, has a Midwestern feel, a result of migration that came down from the parts of America accessed from I-75.

So, the voters here, in large part, have more in common with voters from suburban communities in the Midwest. In other words, these are the kinds of voters who voted for George W. Bush, voted for Barack Obama — at least in 08, and in many cases, also in 12, then voted for Trump. There are red states and blue states.

There are also Trump Republicans and Old Guard Republicans. These are Old Guard.

This district is very white and has an older average age than most. For evidence, among the voters who voted early, 94 percent were white, and 90 percent were over the age of 50 — two numbers that based on the overwhelming Republican Party advantage on Election Day will likely only rise.

In fact, out of the 27,000+ voters who have already cast a ballot, just over 900 are under 35. In other words, this is not a district where change comes from younger ethnic voters surging, as it has in many other specials around the country. Change comes here two ways: Democrats voting, and swing voters sending a message.

Personally, I’ve always been a bit obsessed with this district. Besides being a great community to visit, when I first worked for the legislature, this district was represented by a Democrat, Shirley Brown, and in 2006, when I ran the Florida House Democratic Caucus, winning this seat back was one of my personal goals.

In 2008, we laid down a real marker here during the presidential campaign, putting a real operation on the ground, sending in both Obama and Biden, and almost winning the county for the first time since FDR.

Why? Because if we are doing the things we need to do well here, we are going to do well in a lot of other places.

One other factoid about the district: The last two times the Democrats won this seat in an open seat: 1992, and 2006, both pretty good years.

Last time Republicans won it from a Democratic incumbent: 2010, not exactly a great year for my team. You get the idea.

So, here are a couple of my takeaways.

Women.

Largely the story of special elections around the country, women were the story here in Sarasota. Before Election Day, women were driving turnout, and while we don’t have Election Day data yet, I assume this pattern continued. Democratic women make up 19 percent of registered voters, but make up 26 percent of voters so far in this special election.

In fact, while district-wide turnout for the early vote was 21 percent, turnout among Democratic women is 30 percent. And these weren’t just super voters: Good was turning out a lot more Democratic women who had little or no primary voting history.

Swing voters.

I thought Good was up somewhere around 8 points going into Election Day (her pollster told me his model had her up 11, and yes Tom, I said that seemed a little “rosy”) — and that was based on her winning about 15 percent of Republicans and winning a sizable majority of NPA voters.

She ended up ahead after Early Vote by 12 points, which means she had to be winning NPA voters by a margin of close to 2:1. In addition, Republicans had roughly a 16-point advantage on Election Day in terms of voters, and for her to maintain a strong win, she needed to maintain similar margins.

If you go back to 2006 or 2010, one of the signs that the wave was coming was chunks of NPA voters began to really perform as partisans. You’d see it first in the self-ID question in polls, where polling was coming back more Democratic or more Republican than it should, and same in the early voting.

Not all NPA voters are created equal, but if older white NPAs — driven by women turning out — are performing more Democratic, that’s going to be a good sign for 2018.

I’ve argued for some time Trump fundamentally misread his own election (something Democrats have also been guilty of). Trump has been gambling he can be a 40 percent president and appeal to a small segment of hard-right voters and be sustained by them, but last night was just the next proof point that this is toxic for the Republican Party, at least among swing voters.

Republicans.

Nights like this require two things: the “Blue Wave” and the “Red Revolt.” I lived the opposite in 2010, where Republicans came out of the woodwork, and elements of the Democratic coalition either stayed home or sent a message with their vote.

Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 13,000 in this district, and by roughly 2,500 in terms of people who voted in the special election.

Two things — final partisan model will be a few points more Democratic than registration — and several more Democratic than 2016. In other words — Democrats showed up, and Republicans didn’t. But at the same point, in a seat where, again, 2,500 more Republicans voted, Good doesn’t win by winning a sizable number of Republicans.

Putting a finer point on it: On Election Day, Republican voters outnumbered Democrats by over 2,000. They only won the day by 110 votes. A bunch of Republicans chose to revolt today — both by not voting and by voting for Good.

In years like this, when swing voters are frustrated with the incumbent president, their only vehicle to express their frustration is through members of the incumbent party. And in HD 72, that revolt happened with center-right voters — which in some ways, is why this matters more than some other races.

Just as Democrats struggled in 2010 and 2014, when their base voters stayed home, as Obama proved in Florida in both 08 and 12 — and in a lot of states in the Midwest in both cycles, Republicans face real math problems if they can’t run up the score with voters like these.

So yes, this matters. It matters for confidence, but more than anything, it matters because this shows center-right moderates felt the need to send a message — and the only way they could send a message is to vote against the president’s party.

And trust me, having lived through 2010 and 2014, this is the biggest challenge Republicans will face in the coming months, figuring out how to navigate their own base, while still talking to voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the presidency.

Energy around this race was ridiculous.

Good received almost 3,000 contributions in the last month, which is pretty much unheard of in a State House race. I had Democratic friends from literally every corner of the country asking how they could make phone calls or help out.

The folks on the ground did a great job of harnessing grassroots energy. I remember in 08, sometimes it is hard just to guide the mob of supporters in the same direction, and just like in the Miami race, the party folks from House Victory, the FDP, and the rest of the progressive groups are working together, not against each other.

Terrie Rizzo, the FDP Chair; State Rep. Kionne McGhee, the incoming Democratic Leader, and Reggie Cardoza, who runs House Victory, all deserve real credit in sticking the sword in the ground here and seeing it through. In addition, congratulations to one of my best friends, pollster and strategist Tom Eldon, who I think is now 5-1 lifetime in this seat.

And to the GOP team that lost, I’ve been there. In 2010, more often than not, all you could do was never enough.

Nine months out, the win matters for what it says about politics now, but it in some ways, it matters less about Florida than it does about those parts of the country where these Florida voters come from.

But more than anything, I do think we are in this for a while.

Voters keep voting for change, but as long as Washington keeps reading their calls for change as a mandate for one way, just as we’ve seen a lot of this for the last decade, I think we will see more nights like this for some time to come.

Final poll of HD 72 special election shows an upset in the making — or not

All eyes are on Tuesday’s special election in Sarasota County’s House District 72 where Republican James Buchanan, Democrat Margaret Good and Libertarian Alison Foxall are running to replace former Rep. Alex Miller.

The latest poll indicates that an upset is in the making — if Good beating Buchanan can be viewed as an upset.

However, the race remains very close and the Republicans could pull it out with a strong turnout on Election Day.

St. Pete Polls has Good at 48 percent, Buchanan 45 percent, with Foxall taking 4 percent and “unsure” coming in at 3 percent. That’s a six-point swing for Good since January 24, when Buchanan led her 49 to 46 percent.

Diving into those numbers, it gets interesting.

Good is crushing Buchanan among those who say they have already voted, 57 to 39 percent, but the opposite is true among those who say they plan to vote, with Buchanan leading that cohort 53 to 38 percent.

Fifty-three percent of voters say they’ve already voted, while 47 percent said they still planned to vote.

As the race winds down, Good is doing very well with Democrats (more than 85 percent), while Buchanan is receiving slightly weaker support from Republicans (76 percent).

Buchanan, son of Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan, enjoys an advantage with white voters (47 to 46 percent) and voters aged 70 and up (52 to 41 percent). However, Good now leads among all other demographics — including a double-digit lead (50 to 39 percent) with voters aged 18 to 29 and a 13-point lead with voters aged 50 to 69 (54 to 41 percent).

Interestingly, Good gets about 17 percent of GOP voters, compared to only 11 percent of Democrats pulling for Buchanan. Independents are solidly breaking toward Good 56 to 33 percent.

For years, HD 72 has been a reliably Republican district, which covers a significant portion of Sarasota County and has a GOP advantage of nearly 40,000 registered voters over Democrats.

These numbers — for a relatively unknown state House special election — are earning national attention for HD 72, with many seeing a Good victory as bolstering Democratic hopes, both in Florida and nationwide, for the 2018 midterms.

Republicans worried about immigration, crime; Democrats, indies, not so much

A new poll released Monday by the University of North Florida continues to show that Florida Republicans have a different set of concerns and issues priorities than Democrats or independent voters, and that starts with immigration and crime.

In the Florida Statewide Poll conducted by Public Opinion Research Lab, a quarter of surveyed Republican registered voters (25.7 percent) listed immigration as the most important problem facing Florida today, while only one in 14 Democrats said it is, and only one of every 11 unaffiliated voters think so.

Another 19 percent of Republican voters listed crime as the most important problem, the second-most popular choice, while few Democrats or independent voters listed crime as a top problem.

Those two concerns may be summed up in the controversial sanctuary cities television commercial that Watchdog PAC has been running the past two weeks, supporting House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a probable Republican gubernatorial candidate. The ad portrays a seemingly random killing of a white woman on a suburban sidewalk, as Corcoran decries the dangers of sanctuary cities sheltering illegal immigrants.

It also may explain why Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, appear so eager to debate the matter Tuesday in Tallahassee. As both have to win tough primary battles, they’ll be speaking to distinct audiences, their Republican and Democratic primary voters, who harbor strongly different opinions about immigration and crime.

In the new poll, Democrats and independent voters both picked education as the most important problem. Democrats next two concerns were health care and the economy, while unaffiliated voters followed education with the economy and health care.

The poll also asked Florida voters specifically about their feelings regarding off-shore oil drilling, young immigrants, concealed handguns on campuses, home rule, and marijuana legalization, and found that, where members of the two major parties differed, majorities of independent voters tended to side with the Democrats’ majority positions.

The telephone poll was conducted last week of 619 registered voters from Jan. 29 through Sunday. The margin of error for full-range samples was 3.9 percent.

Also, the poll found that Florida voters still don’t know the candidates for the governor’s election this year, and that they strongly support restoring voting rights for convicted felons.

In general, Floridians are not supportive of federal overtures to lift bans on off-shore oil drilling off the Sunshine State coast, but that’s an opposition carried by Democrats and independents, and not supported by most Republican voters, according to the poll.

Overall, 55 percent of those surveyed said they opposed (14 percent) or strongly opposed (41 percent) lifting the ban on off-shore drilling. But 56 percent of Republican voters said they support(27 percent) or strongly support  (29 percent) lifting the ban. Just 19 percent of Democrats supported lifting the ban, while 36 percent of independent voters support lifting the ban.

Marijuana is another issue dividing surveyed registered voters along party lines, with unaffiliated voters lining up with Democrats. Overall, 62 percent of Florida voters think marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol, according to the poll. Independent voters are most in line with this position (74 percent,) while 64 percent of Democrats think so, with only 40 percent of Republicans agreeing.

There was little disagreement about what to do with young people in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program being debated in Congress, except by degree. Overall, 87 percent of Floridians believe the young people in that program, who arrived in the United States when they were young children and now are undocumented or illegal immigrants, should be allowed to stay. Ninety-four percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans, and 91 percent of unaffiliated voters all think so, according to the poll.

There also was cross-party agreement on proposals to allow people to carry concealed weapons on college and university campuses, and to remove “Home Rule” provisions allowing cities and counties to have varying laws.

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed support the concealed weapons on campus proposal, while 59 percent said they are opposed. The spread among parties ranged from 19 percent support among Democrats to 42 percent support among Republicans.

Thirty percent of those surveyed support removal of Home Rule, while 47 percent oppose. The spread ranged from 25 percent support among Democrats to 40 percent support among independent voters.

 

Andrew Gillum’s absence during ethics vote explained as, um, natural

For years, Tallahassee has been talking about strengthening ethics rules for City Hall; for months the city has been formally considering specific recommendations; and for weeks the City Commission has been waiting to vote on a proposed ordinance, all while FBI agents have been snooping around on an alleged municipal corruption case.

So when the moment finally came last week for the Tallahassee City Commission to vote, “Mayor Andrew Gillum had stepped out of the commission chambers,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported Saturday, with no further explanation.

Whispers began: Where was Gillum, a Democratic candidate for Governor, while his ethics ordinance was coming up for its final vote?

“It was nothing,” Mayor’s Office Communications Director Jamie Van Pelt said of Gillum’s absence. “He went to the bathroom. He had already voted once to approve that ordinance. This was the second reading.”

The ordinance, with amendments that some people at last week’s public hearing reportedly didn’t like, was approved 4-0 without Gillum. Based on recommendations from the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board, the measure defines various bans on gifts from city vendors, lobbyists and others; prohibits certain activities by city commissioners and others; requires that formal ethics complaints be made as sworn statements [although it still allows for anonymous tips on a hotline;] directs that cases be heard by an administrative judge; and puts a hold on a city ethics case if the matter at hand also is being investigated by certain outside agencies, such as the FBI.

Van Pelt said the mayor has been behind the initiative for strengthened ethics at Tallahassee City Hall, and that he had earlier offered a stronger ordinance.

In the Democratic primary, all four candidates, Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine have pushed for ethics reform in state government.

Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign communications director Geoff Burgan said Gillum’s commitment of course applies to his views of city ethics as well.

“The mayor absolutely supports the ordinance, which passed unanimously. I wouldn’t read too much into a bathroom break,’ Burgan said.

Jason Pizzo

Jason Pizzo begins campaign for SD 38

North Miami Beach attorney Jason Pizzo, technically a candidate for Senate District 38 since late 2016, announced Wednesday he is formally launching his campaign for the seat.

SD 38, in Miami, is held by state Sen. Daphne Campbell, a fellow Democrat who beat Pizzo in the 2016 primary. Pizzo finished second in a field of five Democrats. Campbell won the general election over an independent candidate, without a Republican in the race.

Pizzo filed for a rematch a few weeks after the 2016 general election, but as a placeholder for the paperwork, as he assessed the prospect. He has not done any campaign activity or raised any money since.

That changed on Wednesday, as his campaign announced he was officially launching his campaign to challenge Campbell, a former state representative from the area.

Campbell’s re-election campaign most recently reported raising about $65,000, and had about half of that left in the bank at the start of the year. No other candidates have filed for the contest.

A news release said Pizzo is focused on restoring strong ethical leadership.

“As you know, District 38 is a large and wonderfully diverse community, comprised of 15 municipalities, with so many critical issues which bring us together,” Pizzo said in the release. “We want safer streets, more efficient transportation, vibrant neighborhoods, and for working people to stop struggling to make ends meet. We want true equality and protection for both our people, and our precious environment.”

Stephanie Murphy endorses Anna Eskamani in HD 47 race

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy has endorsed fellow Democrat Anna Eskamani in the Florida House District 47 race, Eskamani’s campaign announced Monday.

Eskamani, of Orlando, is the only Democrat in the race, facing two Republicans for the seat being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who is running against Murphy for Congress rather than seeking re-election. Still, it’s a so-far rare endorsement by the incumbent congresswoman whose Florida’s 7th Congressional District overlaps HD 47 in north central Orange County. And while Eskamani is running as an unabashed progressive, Murphy has been careful to navigate a more moderate path in Washington D.C.

“I am excited and proud to support Anna in her bid to serve the people of House District 47,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by Eskamani’s campaign. “I have seen Anna in action and she is a proven effective advocate. She is a strong and empathetic leader, who is fighting to ensure the safety and security of our community and to hold our state government accountable. This community deserves a State Representative who will always put people over politics, and that’s why I will do whatever it takes to make sure we elect Anna in 2018. I look forward to working alongside Anna when she becomes the next State House Representative for District 47.”

Eskamani, an executive with Planned Parenthood, faces Republicans Stockton Reeves, a Winter Park businessman, and Mikaela Nix, an Orlando lawyer, in the HD 47 contest.

“I am humbled to have the support of Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy. As a Member of Congress, Murphy understands what it takes to be an effective leader and policymaker,” Eskamani stated in the release. “She is ethics-driven and keeps a laser focus on the needs of Central Floridians, reaching across the aisle to work on issues like small business advancement and national security. I will do the same as your State House Representative, because Floridians deserve more than partisan gridlock and one political party in charge. Democracy is the competition of ideas, and we must work together if we hope to build a better state for all.”

During AG debate, Ashley Moody, Jay Fant go after each other over ‘liberal’ attacks

Former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and state Rep. Jay Fant went after each other hard Saturday over third-party ads charging her as “liberal,” exchanging charges during an Attorney General’s forum held during the Federalist Society Conference at Walt Disney World Saturday.

Moody and Fant were among four Republicans and one Democrat debating their campaigns for this year’s election. And while much of the debate focused on who could stake out the most conservative positions on legal issues – the answer never was Democrat Ryan Torrens, by the way – toward the end, the discussion turned personal and heated.

In front of about 400 lawyers and judges who are members of the conservative legal society at the Disney Yacht Club Resort, Moody questioned Fant about attacks on her in mailers and in other forms, which she said were false. His reply was to insist they weren’t attacks, to challenger her to say what was false, and to tell her to get used to it.

“This is what we do in the big leagues,” Fant said.

Florida Politics had reported earlier that another of the candidates, state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, appeared to be behind the independent political committee attacks, and at one point Fant denied being behind the mailers that Moody cited. But while White and the fourth Republican, state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, and Torrens, a private lawyer in Tampa, mostly just listened, Moody, of Tampa, laid it on Fant Saturday. And the Jacksonville representative didn’t back down.

In a debate round in which the candidates were permitted to ask questions of each other, Moody started by saying that Fant had, in a House primary election campaign, pledged to not attack a fellow Republican, and she asked of him, “I have been repeatedly attacked in this race, and I was wondering how you reconcile that with your earlier pledge from your previous race?”

Fant, who had challenged her conservative and Republican credentials before, replied to her question by calling her a “newcomer to partisan politics,” and lecturing her that, “the issues matter, and just because the issues make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re being attacked.

“I might also add I’m not the only campaign that has discussed this contrast. There is more to this. So if you’re going to support a Bill McBride over Jeb Bush, we’re going to talk about it. If you’re going to have a history of suing Donald Trump, we’re going to talk about it. If you have alliances with liberals in the bar, we’re going to have to talk about it.”

“Misleading!” Moody interrupted.

“These are not attacks. They are contrasts,” Fant continued.

“Misleading, misleading campaign fliers from multiple campaigns are attacks. Misinformation from multiple campaigns are attacks,” Moody replied. “And I would just ask that all campaigns when disseminating informant, make sure that it is factually based.”

“I’m talking about mailers. I’m talking about attacks in this race that are unjustified, misinformed, and misleading,” she added. “I believe that we need to stick to the facts. We need to stick to what makes us conservatives. And we need to stick to keeping the debate true among Republicans, and not attacking unjustifiably in any primary.”

At some point while they bickered, the moment evolved into Moody answering Fant’s question. After all, he had the next turn, and his question essentially was, “What’s false about any of it?”

“It is important that we all remember as voters that information and facts are important. Moody said. “I was involved in litigation with Mr. Trump years ago regarding a condominium development that never camp to fruition. That has nothing to do with me being a conservative, or me supporting our president and his conservative agenda in Washington,” she said. “And to put forth information in mailers that would say otherwise, to give yourself name recognition, or a leg up in a primary, is just unworthy of the office of Attorney General,” Moody said.

That answer drew applause. In fact, she drew two rounds of applause during her responses on the matter. Otherwise, during the 90-minute forum, audience reactions had been quite rare, except for a couple of occasions when people laughed at Torrens’ sometimes provocatively-Democratic answers in previous rounds of questions.

After Moody drew her first applause, Fant replied, “I have compiled no mailers in my campaign. You may be referring to another campaign at this table, and you could direct this question to them. But I have yet to understand what is inaccurate about what has been represented by me. You have sued Donald Trump for fraud. I know you don’t like it. But it is a fact, and it is part of a campaign.”

And that’s when he told her, “Ultimately, this is what we do in the big leagues.”

For much of the rest of the debate, the four Republicans sought to boast their conservative credentials, while Torrens offered mostly dramatically different responses, though on a couple of occasions, notably on the inner workings of the attorney general’s office and its use of outside counsel on cases, he agreed with some of the Republicans.

Among the most telling rounds of responses came when the five candidates were asked if they could imagine a scenario in which they would refuse to defend a state law.

The question raised issues of whether, as attorney general of Florida, how they would respond if they were called to enforce a law they objected to ethically or morally, when they had taken an attorney general oath to defend the laws of the state.

“I would frankly have to resign,” Spano offered. “I’m a big believer in natural law. And so I do believe there is a fundamental connection between law and some sense or notion of morality…. However, if there were an issue like that, that would be my approach.”

Fant said simply “No there’s not,” such a scenario in which he would not defend the state law.

White, who earlier argued that the attorney general should push back against what he called excesses of “the administrative state,” or should help Trump fight against “the deep state” at the federal level, allowed that there might be situations where the “administrative state” pushes a law too far.

“My client as attorney general isn’t the regulator. My client as attorney general is the people,” White said.

Moody, the former judge, declared that “As the chief legal officer, if I take that oath and the Legislature passes that law, I will go into court and do my job that the voters gave me to do. And if there is authority, and we all know as legal officers, if there is authority that I believe works against my argument I would have the duty to present that to the court. I would do my job.”

Torrens took a more activist role, saying “I could see a situation where the Legislature passes a law trampling on people’s constitutional rights,” particularly involving minority rights. “I feel if it is my independent determination that the law did in fact trample on people’s constitutional rights then I can see a situation where I would decline to enforce it.”

Scott Sturgill pulling away from Mike Miller in Republican money chase in CD 7

Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill raised $102,561 in the fourth quarter of 2017, outperforming rival Republican candidate state Rep. Mike Miller in the money chase for the Republican primary race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Sturgill’s quarterly haul brought his total fundraising total to $308,956, which includes $100,250 of his own money. His campaign finished the year with about $265,674 in the bank.

Miller, the two-term state representative from Winter Park, reported raising $64,434 in the last three months of 2017, bringing his total for the campaign to $220,831. That left his campaign with $184,792 heading into the new year.

They’re both chasing Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, who brought in $351,015 in the fourth quarter, including a transfer of $25,000 from another committee, bringing her total haul to $1.36 million, and letting her campaign start the 2018 year with $973,0416 in the bank.

In the third quarter of 2017, the first one in which Sturgill and Miller had any significant campaign activity, Sturgill jumped to an early money lead in the Republican primary race because of the big donation he made to his own campaign. Not including his $100,000 loan, Sturgill had raised a respectable $106,145 in donations during that first round, while Miller raised $156,365, all in donations.

Now, Sturgill appears to have found some momentum that Miller did not in the fourth quarter, as Sturgill again brought in six-figures in donations, while Miller’s campaign fundraising fell significantly from his start.

The district covers north-central Orange County and Seminole County. Murphy surprised much of the political establishment when she flipped it in 2016 after Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica had held it for 24 years, demonstrating the district’s changing status from what had been solidly Republican red to purple.

There are two other candidates in the race. Orange County lawyer Chardo Richardson of Orlando is challenging Murphy from the left in the Democratic primary. He raised $10,275 in the fourth quarter, bringing his total haul for the year to $22,031. He had $8,700 left at year’s end.

Republican Vennia Francois of Orlando entered the race last month and has not yet filed any reports.

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