Dennis Ross Archives - Florida Politics
Ross Spano

Ross Spano wins CD 15 over Kristen Carlson

In what could have been a major upset for Republicans, Florida Rep. Ross Spano held off Democrat Kristen Carlson in the race for Congressional District 15.

With 88 percent of the vote counted, Spano led 53-47 percent.

The solidly red Congressional District 15 should have been an easy win for conservatives. It covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake, and Polk counties and voted plus-10 for President Donald Trump in 2016. Incumbent Republican Dennis Ross scored a 15-point victory over the Democratic nominee Jim Lange.

That majority saved Spano in what became an example of Democrats funneling money into districts they thought they could flip.

Buoyed by Democratic momentum, Carlson enjoyed a surge in campaign funding and a barrage of outside spending on political ads and direct mail. She outspent Spano by more than double with more than $1.2 million in contributions. The spending power gave Carlson the crucial ability to boost her name recognition and tout her experience as a lawyer working on agriculture-related cases.

Carlson lacked name recognition as a politician but was widely known in her district through high-profile work fighting orange juice manufacturers that led to stricter labeling regulations after public schools began purchasing out-of-state juice “adulterated” with additives but still labeled as 100 percent pure.

Spano’s campaign tried to stymie that momentum by firing back that an ad touting her commitment to fighting for average Floridians and ability to take on special interests was mired in hypocrisy.

After the orange juice case, Carlson took on another case asking the federal Food and Drug Administration to change the way it tested imported orange juice for banned or otherwise regulated substances. The FDA bans imported orange juice concentrate from containing the chemical carbendazim. Carlson argued the highly concentrated orange juice should be tested in its drinkable form, not its concentrated form because that’s how it’s meant to be consumed.

The Spano campaign tried to make the argument that Carlson was “speaking out of both sides of her mouth” when she claimed to protect children, but then supported a rule change to allow chemicals in juice.

Despite the heavy Republican bent in the district, Carlson and Spano polled fairly closely throughout the campaign, with Spano typically maintaining an edge. The once safe district earned a “toss-up” rating from the political posturing pros at FiveThirtyEight.

blue wave

Darryl Paulson sees possible ‘blue wave’ in Tampa Bay

Longtime Florida politics expert Darryl Paulson says voters “appear to be saying no to both Republicans and President Trump.”

Jeff Brandes seems to be the only secure candidate at this point,” said Paulson, a former Republican, in an interview. “That is due to his incumbency, his huge financial advantage and his Democratic opponent entering the race at a late date.”

Other local Republicans in the Tampa Bay area are facing credible threats in races that should be easy wins for Republicans, indicating the so-called “blue wave” that might be coming to this region.

The Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg looked at four races:

— Amanda Murphy and Ed Hooper in Senate District 16.

— Janet Cruz and Dana Young in Senate District 18.

— Gus Bilirakis and Chris Hunter in Congressional District 12.

— Ross Spano and Kristen Carlson in Congressional District 15.

In each of them, Republicans have at least one reason they should be waging easy campaigns.

Senate District 16 is a Republican-leaning district, having been in the hands of Jack Latvala for years. But without an incumbent in the race, Hooper is facing a credible challenge to keep the seat red.

Paulson (Photo: USF)

“Murphy is the more charismatic candidate and has sufficient resources to pull off an upset,” Paulson said.

In the Cruz/Young race, Paulson said Young should have an advantage and, in any other year, would be the clear favorite.

But because Cruz, as a current elected state representative, is a well-known political figure in Hillsborough politics. That throws water on Young’s incumbent status.

He also points out that, even though Young is out-raising Cruz, Cruz has raised enough financial resources to remain competitive in the race. It’s a matchup Paulson said “could go either way.”

Paulson isn’t sure if Hunter can pull off a win in his battle to unseat longtime Congressman Bilirakis in the Clearwater Congressional district, but notes it is a possibility.

“Bilirakis should be a lock to win his congressional race, but is facing strong opposition from Hunter, a former FBI agent and a model candidate,” Paulson said. “Bilirakis may have damaged his campaign with last-minute false allegations about both his and his opponent’s record.”

Paulson is referring to several of Bilirakis’ campaign missteps.

As far back as July, someone published a push poll asking leading questions about whether they would support Hunter if they knew he supported open borders and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Speaker should Democrats regain that chamber.

Hunter hasn’t said either of those things and, in fact, said he thought Democratic leadership needed to venture away from the traditional establishment vanguard.

Bilirakis also came under fire more recently for staking claim to federal legislation aimed at addressing the national opioid crisis. Not only did that effort not include Bilirakis’ fingerprints, he also co-sponsored legislation in 2016 that did the exact opposite.

Furthermore, he “claimed Hunter supported a proposal to raise energy bills $1,200 a year. Never happened,” Paulson said. “Both missteps occurred in October and made Bilirakis look scared.  

“This would be a major upset, but it may well happen.”

Paulson also sees a potential shift for Democrats in the Congressional seat currently held by Republican Dennis Ross. That district includes Brandon, Plant City and Lakeland and is heavily conservative.

Ross won re-election against a Democratic challenger in the previous election cycle handily and the district went double digits in support for President Donald Trump.

But “the longer the race goes on, the more likely it looks to be trending Democrat,” Paulson said.

“Midterms are often a referendum on the party in power and the person in the White House,” he added.

And that, it seems, might be happening.

Carlson Spano

Kristen Carlson collects $400K in final push against Ross Spano

Kristen Carlson continues to pad her campaign war chest in an unlikely toss-up election in the conservative Congressional District 15.

Carlson raised more than $400,000 from Oct. 1-17, bringing her overall fundraising total to $1.2 million.

That’s nearly triple what her Republican opponent Ross Spano raised in the same period and only $83,000 less than Spano has raised throughout his entire campaign.

“We’re proud to continue surpassing expectations in this historically red district,” said Conor Hurley, Carlson’s campaign manager. “Over the next 11 days, we will continue to do everything we can to build up the support we need to win this race.”

The latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission Friday come as Carlson continues to show gains in the polls. An internal poll showed Carlson tied with Spano. It was the third poll this week showing a close race, according to her campaign.

FiveThirtyEight and Cook Political Report both list the race as a “toss-up.”

“Between the tied polls and our big fundraising numbers, it’s clear that Kristen’s platform of fighting for families is resonating with voters and making this race more competitive than observers expected,” Hurley said.

Another conservative poll put Spano out ahead 7 points.

Carlson’s cash

Most came from individual donors. Of her October haul so far, she raised $333,000 from individuals and just $24,500 from political committees or other groups.

A huge chunk of Carlson’s overall funding is from the liberal fundraising platform ACTBlue.

She also received donations from Tampa City Council member and Tampa mayoral candidate Harry Cohen for $250, former candidate for Florida Governor Alex Sink who chipped in $1,000 and a Facebook vice president, David Fischer, who donated $2,700.

Emily’s List, a group that seeks to elect liberal women to office, has kicked in $12,000 to date.

Carlson has spent $1 million to date with most of that spending happening in the first half of October. She made three payments to Buying Time LLC, more than $60,000 for television ad buys.

Carlson has $240,000 left in the bank during the final campaign stretch leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

Despite too-close-to-call polls and a massive fundraising advantage, Carlson still will have to push through the finish line. Her conservative district covering parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties voted plus-10 for President Donald Trump in 2016. Incumbent Republican Dennis Ross scored a 15-point victory over the Democratic nominee Jim Lange.

Spano’s spending

He’s running low on cash for the final 11-days of campaigning. He raised just $148,000 during the latest reporting period and has just $68,000 left in the bank.

He spent $230,000 this reporting period with a $91,000 ad buy from Political Communications Advertising in New York City and $40,000 to Ax Media in Kansas City, Missouri.

Spano paid the Republican Party of Florida and Momentum Strategy Group $20,000 and $11,000 respectively for direct mail. He is also bogged down with $164,000 in debts compared with Carlson’s $20,000.

Spano collected nearly $100,000 of his latest fundraising haul from individual donors and about $50,000 from political committees and groups.

Some notable contributions came from Tampa lawyer Rhea Law and state Sen. Dennis BaxleyClub Growth for Action was one of Spano’s top donors. The conservative PAC has dumped $27,000 into Spano’s campaign.

He also collected high dollar contributions from U.S. Sugar, which has donated $4,500 so far, and Reclaim America. That group claims to “speak truth to the lies of the progressive liberal agenda.” It donated $10,000 to Spano’s campaign including $5,000 during the latest report.

Kristen Carlson - CD 15

Kristen Carlson piles on cash for final sprint in CD 15

Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson added another $79,000 for her campaign to Florida’s 15th Congressional District from the Republican column in November.

A pair of 48-hour finance reports uploaded to the Federal Elections Commission this week show the Democratic nominee to replace U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross reeled in dozens of donations on Sunday and Monday. The first filing showed $8,200 in new money, while the second saw her campaign disclose a long list of contribs totaling $70,800.

The reports included more than a score of checks for $2,700, the maximum allowable individual contribution for congressional campaigns.

Spano posted a quartet of 48-hour reports for his campaign, though they combined to $23,500, or about a third of Carlson’s haul for the week so far.

The reports are the first filings since Carlson, a prosecutor and General Counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus, and Republican rival Ross Spano, a state Representative from Dover, posted their finance reports for the third quarter.

Carlson’s Q3 report brought her past the $900,000 mark as of Sept. 30, with $500,000 of that cash left to spend. Spano, meanwhile, has raised a total of $440,000 and had $165,000 banked at the end of September.

CD 15 had been considered a “safe Republican” district by most political handicappers until Ross’ retirement announcement and the ensuing fracas to replace him. Ross won re-election to the Central Florida seat by 15 points two years ago as the district voted plus-10 for President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

A recent poll circulated by Spano’s campaign showed him up by a half-dozen points, though the Carlson campaign offered a rebuttal to that measure by releasing an internal poll Wednesday showing a dead heat.

According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, the race is indeed close. According to their forecasting model, the two candidates will be separated by about a point on Election Day, with Carlson given 3-in-7 odds of successfully completing the flip.

CD 15 covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Dennis Ross’ latest gig: Develop college program in civics, civility

Dennis Rossthe Republican congressman from the 15th Congressional Districtjoined Southeastern University President Kent Ingle to announce the retiring congressman’s new job during a Wednesday news conference.

The Lakeland Republican is becoming part of a major center for the teaching of government and civics both for students and the general public.

Upon his departure from the U.S. House in early January, Ross will join the SEU faculty in his hometown as Distinguished Professor of Political Science launching the American Center for Political Leadership.

University officials and Ross said the institution would be a “nonpartisan center dedicated to research, academic programs, courses, workshops and resources that will prepare the next generation of political leaders and passionate citizens who aim to promote traditional American values and individual freedoms.”

In recent years Ross had expressed concern over the lack of understanding of government and the loss of civics and history education in public schools.

In Congress, he had sponsored with then-Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham, a bipartisan resolution to encourage elementary and secondary schools to administer U.S. history and civics tests and to promote civics education among students.

His often-voiced concerns over the lack of civility in Washington and the lack of understanding of civic affairs among many Americans may have partially affected his decision not to run again.

“Over the years I have grown concerned over the lack of civics education among young people,” Ross said to the heavily attended conference for the announcement of the center.

Many adults also do not understand the history and civics of the nation.

“The Wall Street Journal noted (in a survey by The Woodrow Wilson Foundation) that only one in three Americans could pass the same test required of immigrants who must pass it to become naturalized citizens.

“Only 24 percent could identify what Ben Franklin was famous for and only one-third of citizens could identify a right guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said.

“Only half the citizens eligible to be voters are registered. And only half of those vote regularly,” Ross said. “Only 25 percent of that universe (of those eligible to register and vote) control the policies of our government. So when you say, ‘How in the world did that person get elected?’ The electors know.”

During questions from the audience Ross, a conservative Republican, said the center would indeed be nonpartisan for all to understand and promote a civil process.

Ingle said the center would empower the next generation of leaders with three primary goals: protecting individual freedom, encouraging civic engagement and advancing civility.

“The center will become a national platform for these issues,” he said.

When Ross announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to a fifth term it set off a stampede of primary candidates from both major parties.

The shape and number designation of the district have changed through the years, but the general area had had a Republican congressman since 1984 when then U.S. Rep. Andy Ireland changed his party registration from Democrat to the GOP.

The current race to replace Ross in the 15th Congressional District between attorney Kristen Carlson, a Lakeland Democrat and Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover has been termed a “toss up” by at least two groups devoted to assessing political campaigns.

Southeastern University describes itself as a Christ-centered institution of higher learning in Lakeland with 8,759 students from the 50 states and more than 33 countries offering 80 degreed programs.

Kristen Carlson releases internal polling showing tie in CD 15

The race to fill the open seat for Florida’s 15th Congressional District remains tied, according to a new internal poll by Democratic nominee Kristen Carlson.

Released Wednesday, the poll was conducted last week by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. It gives both Carlson and Republican state Rep. Ross Spano 47 percent each among likely voters, with just six percent undecided in the district.

The poll is the third recent survey showing the race to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross to be exactly tied, following Survey USA and a New York Times/Upshot polls.

According to the memo prepared by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and issued by Carlson’s campaign, she is winning solidly among independent voters in all three polls, and also has a significant lead over Spano among women and people of color, following a fairly consistent pattern favoring Democrats in other polls throughout Florida.

CD 15 stretches from eastern Hillsborough County through Polk County and into southern Lake County.

Jesse Jackson, Florida lawmakers support ‘crime victims’ bill of rights’

A new round of Florida lawmakers gave their endorsement for Amendment 6 on Tuesday, off the heels of civil-rights legend Jesse Jackson Sr. stating his support for the measure.

The amendment aims to increase rights for crime victims in the state of Florida. It was modeled after “Marsy’s Law.”

Advocates say Amendment 6 will help victims be more informed of the progression of the legal case against the defendant. For instance, victims would be able to give an impact statement during a trial, or would receive notification that an attacker was released from prison.

Critics where it is already law counter that the measure has “increased government costs beyond what they had expected, and police complained it had inhibited their ability to investigate crimes.”

Marsy’s Law for Florida, a group advocating for the amendment’s passage, announced a group of former and current representatives who are voicing their support. They are:

— Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th Congressional District

— Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida’s 26th

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Florida’s 5th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida’s 17th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 27th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida’s 15th

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Florida’s 9th

— Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida’s 3rd

— Former U.S. Rep. and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis

The list of lawmakers join previous officials who have advocated for the amendment’s approval, including state Sens. Lauren Book of Plantation and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, both Democrats, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee.

Jackson gave a shout-out to Gillum on Twitter for his work on the subject: “Crime victims and their families deserve equal rights,” Jackson wrote.

“If you believe in equal rights, join Mayor Gillum and support Amendment 6 in November!”

“We appreciate the support of these Florida Congressional members who are standing with the people of their districts who have had their lives forever altered by crime,” said Greg Ungru, state director for Marsy’s Law for Florida.

“With their advocacy, we further strengthen our efforts to communicate to voters why Florida needs clear, enforceable rights in our state’s most powerful legal document.”

The group held an early voting rally on Monday featuring state Book and former Miami Heat player Shane Battier to convince voters to support the amendment.

Carlson Spano

New poll shows Ross Spano 6 points up in CD 15 contest

The race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District has been surprisingly close, but a new poll being circulated by Dover state Rep. Ross Spano shows he’s in good position to keep the traditionally-Republican seat from flipping on Election Day.

The Remington Research Group poll found Spano, currently in his third term representing Hillsborough’s HD 59, with 47 percent support among likely CD 15 voters. Former prosecutor and General Counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus Kristen Carlson, the Democratic nominee, came in 6 percentage points behind.

Though Spano’s score comes in a point behind a generic Republican candidate, his lead falls well outside the poll’s margin of error and falls in line with other recent polls of the Central Florida district.

A Club for Growth poll published on Oct. 9 found Spano with a 46-39 percent lead over Carlson in the R+13 district, while a late-September measure from Democratic-leaning pollster Bold Blue Campaigns pegged the race at 49-46 percent, advantage Spano.

A month ago, Carlson touted her own internal poll that showed her on top by a single point.

Thus far, no major poll has shown either candidate with majority support, and with 12 percent of voters undecided RRG’s poll there’s still plenty of wiggle room left for a comfortable GOP win or a major Democratic pickup.

When it comes to political handicappers, however, the thought is most of those voters will break toward Carlson on Election Day.

The heretofore “safe Republican” seat is currently listed as a “toss up” on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. According to their model, Spano would prove victorious five out of nine times given the current lay of the land, but his projected vote share of 50.4 percent comes in just eight-tenths of a point higher than Carlson’s.

CD 15 covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties and is considered to be a heavily Republican district. U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who is giving up the seat after four terms, won his most recent re-election bid by 15 points. The district also voted plus-10 for President Donald Trump two years ago.

In addition to the lack of an incumbent, Carlson’s strong fundraising and deep ties to Polk County, home to 40 percent of district residents, have made the 2018 race quite competitive.

There was more good news for Spano further down the RRG poll: Trump’s favorability rating. More than half of the 1,369 voters polled said they had a positive view of the president while 45 percent felt otherwise, giving the first-term POTUS a plus-6 favorability rating.

The Governor race was also in his corner. Former Congressman Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee, led Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum 51-44 percent with the remaining 5 percent undecided.

Spano and Carlson each scored a plus-5, though fewer voters were familiar with the candidates. Of the 53 percent who had an opinion on Spano, 29 percent saw him favorably and 24 percent didn’t. More than three-fifths of voters had no opinion on Carlson, but those who did liked her by 22-17 percent margin.

RRG’s sample was made up of 40 percent Republicans, 36 percent Democrats and 24 percent unaffiliated voters. The polls has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.64 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Carlson Spano

Ross Spano nabs backing from incumbent Dennis Ross, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd

Republican Congressman Dennis Ross is backing Ross Spano as his successor, Spano announced Thursday. Conservative Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd also endorsed Spano.

Spano, a current Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, is running for Florida Congressional District 15 covering parts of north Hillsborough and Polk Counties including Brandon, Plant City, Bartow and Lakeland. He’s running against Democrat Kristen Carlson.

“Ross Spano is a proven leader who will hit the ground running on day one. He will continue building upon the historic economic growth we are experiencing and improve the lives and financial security of families in our community,” Ross said. “I am proud to support my friend Ross Spano who will put people over politics and thoughtful solutions over empty rhetoric.”

The news comes as the latest campaign finance reports show Carlson trouncing Spano in funding with more than double the contributions over Spano. Carlson has raised nearly $1 million as of the end of September compared to Spano’s less than $440,000.

Carlson’s campaign war chest is crucial for her to win. The Congressional district is deeply conservative. Voters there went plus-10 for President Donald Trump in 2016. Ross stomped Democratic nominee Jim Lange in the district with a 15-point margin of victory.

A poll out earlier this month showed Spano holding a slight edge over Carlson. A follow up poll conducted by a conservative pollster put Spano 7 points ahead of Carlson.

“As Polk County Sheriff, my number one priority is to keep Polk County safe. I need a partner in Congress who will help me accomplish that objective, and that partner is Ross Spano,” said Sheriff Judd. “I am confident he is the right person for the job. That is why I am endorsing Ross for Congress.”

In an announcement, Spano said he plans to build on his experience as a state Representative where he said he worked on behalf of vulnerable populations and was a champion for small businesses.

“Earning the support of these two leaders, both of whom I admire and respect greatly, is an honor,” said Spano. “I’m 100 percent committed to living up to the trust they have placed in me by putting people over politics and working hard for the residents of the 15th District, starting on day one.”

Carlson Spano

Club for Growth poll puts Ross Spano way out front in Kristen Carlson matchup

A new poll by WPA Intelligence, a Republican polling company, puts Ross Spano 7 points ahead of his Democratic challenger, Kristen Carlson, in Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Anti-big government group Club for Growth Action commissioned the poll for the district that covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties.

The poll  also showed Spano with advantages in name recognition and party affiliation.

Spano scored a 56 percent name ID from survey respondents and among those who offered their opinion on the Dover state Representative, he scored a plus-14 in favorability. Carlson scored 25 percent in the name ID portion of the survey and had a plus-6 favorability rating among the 16 percent of voters who shared their opinion.

The poll also asked respondents how they would vote in a generic election between a Republican and a Democrat and the GOP came out on top by 4 points, 48-44 percent, with 8 percent undecided.

Swapping out the generics for the head-to-head slated for the ballot saw Spano take a 46-39 percent lead over Carlson. While his lead is larger than that of a generic Republican, undecideds jumped to 15 percent in that portion of the poll, a possible ray of hope for Carlson’s chances in the R+13 district.

CD 15 covers Brandon and Polk City as well as Lakeland and Dover, where Spano lives. The district is highly conservative. It favored Donald Trump 10 percentage points in 2016, but a previous poll found Spano and Carlson polling within the margin of error with Spano only having a slight edge over his Democratic opponent.

The two are in a heated contest to replace outgoing Congressman Dennis Ross, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. Ross scored a 15 point victory over his Democratic challenger two years ago.

Carlson launched a television ad last week touting her record fighting special interests and specifically mentioned a case in which she successfully sued for better food labeling after an out-of-state orange juice manufacturer was selling its product to public schools as 100 percent pure when the juice actually contained other additives like sugar.

Spano’s campaign called her out for hypocrisy because she had also worked on behalf of local orange juice manufacturers on testing methods for a banned chemical. Carlson defends that issue, saying the products imported from Brazil were being tested in highly concentrated form and would have passed inspections if they were tested in their diluted forms, which is how consumers would drink the juice.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons