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Gary Farmer

Gary Farmer cruises to re-election in SD 34

State Sen. Gary Farmer has prevailed in the race for Senate District 34 over write-in candidate Richard Hal Sturm.

Farmer earned 94 percent of the vote to Sturm’s 6 percent.

Farmer was widely expected to hold on to the seat in his matchup against Sturm, who appeared on the ballot as a write-in candidate.

The incumbent did face a challenge in the Democratic primary from former state Rep. Jim Waldman. It was the second time the two faced off after a previous primary battle in 2016. But Farmer defeated Waldman easily, all but securing his re-election in the SD 34 seat.

Sturm was one of several write-in candidates targeted by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg as “sham candidates.”

No Republican filed to run in SD 34, which should have made the Democratic primary open to all voters. But if a write-in candidate qualifies for the general election, that “closes” a primary to registered members of that party only.

Farmer did earn some backlash in March after he reportedly pushed back against state Sen. Lauren Book’s consideration for a Senate leadership post. Farmer seemingly implied Book’s responsibilities as a mother may get in the way of her leadership duties.

Those comments caused Farmer to lose the support of state Sen. Kevin Rader. Farmer later apologized for the comments.

While the controversy arose again in the weeks before the Aug. 28 primary, it didn’t appear to carry over to the general election campaign.

Farmer has spoken up during his time in the Senate regarding increased teacher pay and environmental protection. Both issues were at the forefront of statewide campaigns this election cycle.

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.

Lindsay Cross with Martin O’Malley, Chris King on Election Eve

Senate candidate Lindsay Cross was up before the sun Monday prepping for her final day of campaigning before Election Day. She started the day at her St. Petersburg home on the patio for a “coffee chat” with voters.

“If you have already cast your ballot, thank you,” Cross said, coffee mug in hand and cicadas chirping in the background. “If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?”

Cross’ Facebook video implored voters to support progressive ideals including gun reform, environmental protection, affordable healthcare and public education reform.

Later, Cross campaigned with Florida’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Chris King and former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley.

In another video with the two, O’Malley tells Florida voters, “win back your state.”

“All of these elections are so close. We need all of you to get to the polls. As I said earlier today, get a whole bus load,” Cross said, standing between the two men. “Go and rent a van, bring all of your friends and family. Make sure you get to the polls. There is no excuse.”

Cross is running an uphill battle against incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes for the Pinellas Senate District 24 that includes parts of St. Pete.

“What I’ve told people all across the state of Florida, don’t just elect Andrew Gillum and Chris King, but send some great state senators to Tallahassee,” King said. “Lindsay represents that kind of choice for Tampa Bay and over here in St. Pete.”

Cross has a huge funding disadvantage against Brandes. He’s raised more than $1.5 million in his campaign to keep his district red. Cross has raised about $208,000.

Republicans nationwide are typically out-raising their Democratic challengers, but Cross’ disadvantage is even deeper because she entered the race late after former candidate Carrie Pilon bowed out of the race.

Still, Cross isn’t backing down despite being the underdog. She’s been campaigning full-time, seven days a week for weeks and is using social media as a cheap campaigning arm.

Her ads have run on platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Pandora that are less costly than traditional media buys. That strategy also targets younger voters who are more likely to consume media on streaming platforms than on cable television or radio.

Cross ended her video with O’Malley and King saying she was looking forward to popping the champagne Tuesday night at her election night party at the Getaway.  

Brandes and his supporters have fired back at her campaign platform, tying it to progressive all stars like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and, now, Gillum. Those efforts included, direct mail, television ads and a website called “Liberal Lindsay Cross.”

Senate GOP committee raises more than $19 million

A political committee led by Senate Republican leaders raised — and spent — more than $19 million from Aug. 24 through Thursday, as the GOP seeks to keep its longstanding control of the Florida Senate.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is chaired by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, raised about $19.14 million during the period, according to a newly filed finance report. It spent $20.31 million and had less than $1 million in cash on hand as of Thursday.

The committee, which plays a key role in trying to elect Senate Republicans, received large chunks of money from other political committees.

For example, the committee Friends of Dana Young, which is led by Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, funneled $1.5 million to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in September and October. Young is in the middle of a tough re-election campaign against House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat.

As another example, the committee Jobs for Florida, which is lead by Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, funneled $2.4 million to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Simpson is expected to become president in 2020.

Large amounts of the money spent during the period went for advertising and consulting. For instance, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee sent about $6.33 million to the New York-based McLaughlin & Associates Inc. for media buys and polling, according to a Florida Division of Elections database.

Lauren Book among potential targets for accused mail bomber

A man accused of sending pipe bombs to liberal leaders across the country also scoured the internet for information on Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book of South Florida.

FBI agents came to Book’s home to inform her of concerns that a pipe bomb may yet be sent to her, the Plantation Democrat said.

“When I went into this, I knew politics could be messy,” Book said, “but not somebody sending you a pipe bomb filled with glass to blow you and your kids up.”

Book wasn’t home when agents arrived. She was at the airport about to fly to Tallahassee for a United Way Women’s Leadership Breakfast to hear CNN host and author Lisa Ling speak.

But husband Blair Byrnes and her two infants were at home. As she sat at an airport ready to board a plane, Book listened to FBI agents brief her from her living room while her children napped upstairs.

The agents told Book that Cesar Sayoc, the man investigators believe sent explosive materials to more than a dozen left-leaning public figures in American politics, had also done research on Book’s record of public service.

FBI Director Christopher Wray announced Oct. 26 that agents arrested Sayoc in connection to pipe bombs sent to billionaire George Soros, former President Barack Obama and individuals at CNN, among others.

But authorities told NBC News that Sayoc kept a list of more than 100 possible targets, and potential victims would be notified individually.

Authorities arrested Sayoc in Plantation, in the heart of Book’s own district, though they now say he lived in Aventura. His mother Madeline Giardello is president of an area condo association.

In searching Sayoc’s personal computer, the FBI told Book, investigators found significant research into Book’s career, including votes on various pieces of legislation in Tallahassee.

“It’s hard to believe because I had only been there two years,” Book says.

Indeed, when news of a threat to political figures first broke days earlier, police set up in Book’s office, but her husband joked no one targeting major political figures and national news personalities would care about a state senator.

He was wrong.

At the time, it did raise concerns for Book when one of the bomber’s packages was returned to the Sunrise office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Book previously used that same space for a temporary district office, which filled her thoughts as she watched news footage of authorities sweeping the office.

But while that seemed eerie, news Book actually could be the target of a local terrorist proved shocking.

FBI officials told Book she needed to take alternate routes when she drove to work, and call authorities in the event any unfamiliar packages showed up on her doorstep, even though the suspect was already in custody.

To date, it’s only been anticipated packages from Amazon and other retailers that showed up on Book’s doorstep, she jokes, but as she tries to keep the topic light, she says it’s only because of the terrifying truth of the threat to her life.

Book dealt previously with unwanted attention thanks to her politics.

Earlier this year, courts ordered a restraining order for convicted sex offender Derek Logue, who for years targeted Book over her charity Lauren’s Kids and her work on child sex abuse.

But when Book got involved fighting sex trafficking, she knew which groups would be angry and upset, she says. She could anticipate trouble from a known realm of unsavory and identified individuals.

In this case, she seems to have been targeted by a right-wing lunatic for no other reason than being a Democrat.

“This won’t stop you from doing your work,” she says, “but it does make me more aware, and it makes me want to be more protective of myself and my kids.”

Responding to Pittsburgh shooting, Lindsay Cross blasts Jeff Brandes on gun record

State Senate candidate Lindsay Cross is adding a new bullet point to her list of campaign priorities after the deadly mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday that claimed 11 lives.

A minute-long video being shared on social media shows a somber Cross sitting in a church pew wearing a black dress demanding “common sense” gun legislation aimed at reducing gun violence and mass shootings.

“It is past time that we have leaders who will stand up and fight for the safety of our communities,” Cross said.

That includes banning military-style assault weapons, eliminating the gun show loophole that allows consumers to purchase guns without a background check and ensuring felons and mentally ill individuals aren’t able to obtain firearms.

Cross blasts her opponent, Senate District 24 incumbent Jeff Brandes, for not standing up to the gun lobby.

“Jeff Brandes brags about being a lifetime member of the NRA and will never do what is truly needed to keep our community safe,” she said. “While I uphold the second amendment, I will never put the interests of the NRA over our people.”

Brandes was one of several Senate Republicans who faced a swift backlash from the National Rifle Association for supporting a gun bill that was ultimately approved earlier this year that, among other things, increased the age to buy guns from 18 to 21. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said at the time that Brandes and the other lawmakers would not receive the group’s A or A+ rating because of their support.

Cross shot the video one day after the Pittsburgh shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in which Robert Bowers used an AR-15 assault rifle to gun down members of the Jewish congregation. He told law enforcement officers after he surrendered that he wanted all Jews dead.

Bowers was a legal gun owner. He was charged with 29 different criminal violations including hate crimes. Bowers could face the death penalty.

“Our schools and places of worship should be refuges for learning and hope not the site of the next bloodbath,” Cross said.

Manny Diaz hauls in $103K, beats out David Perez in latest period

Republican candidate Manny Diaz brought in more than $103,000 between his campaign and political committee in the latest fundraising period. That was enough to edge David Perez, who earned nearly $91,000 in the pricey campaign for Senate District 36.

Representatives from the health care and insurance industries were big givers to Diaz’ bid, according to reports covering Oct. 13-19. He received more than a dozen donations of $1,000 from insurance agents or companies such as Lexington National Insurance and FedNat Insurance.

Overall, Diaz brought in $41,000 to his campaign, with another $62,500 going to his political committee, Better Florida Education. The biggest source of money for Diaz’ committee came from Florida Prosperity Fund, another committee which contributed $25,000.

Perez was no slouch himself, earning nearly $91,000 combined.

The Democrat’s campaign brought in just over $10,000. The law firm of his former boss, ex-Miami Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, donated $1,000 to Perez. The firm was joined by a handful of other PACs and interest groups. Perez also received various smaller donations from individual donors.

Floridians for Change, Perez’ political committee, earned nearly $75,000 in donations. That money came almost exclusively from other political committees. The political committee for state Sen. Gary Farmer, Floridians for Ethics, Accountability and Responsibility, contributed $15,000 to Floridians for Change.

There were also four donations of $10,000 made, from groups such as the Committee for Progress and Kelley Uustal PLC, a law firm in Broward County.

Diaz was far more active in money spent, dropping more than $120,000 between his campaign and committee, as compared with just over $60,000 for his opponent.

Of the more than $57,000 spent by Diaz’ campaign, $49,000 of that went toward a TV buy. Another $5,000 was spent on phone banking.

Diaz’ political committee chipped in another $66,000. Phone banking was responsible for more than half of that, with nearly $36,000 being spent.

Perez’ campaign spent nearly $33,000 from Oct. 13-19, including $15,000 for digital media. Another $10,000 was listed for communications services.

Floridians for Change also spent $30,000, though that was in the form of a single donation to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Overall, Diaz has earned more than $1.2 million this cycle between he and his committee.

Perez has pulled in just over $650,000. However, his operation has more cash on hand for the final stretch of the campaign. The campaign and political committee for Perez have just over $170,000, whereas Diaz is sitting on just over $60,000.

SD 40 mailer: Annette Taddeo campaign alleges dirty tactics

The campaign for state Sen. Annette Taddeo is accusing her opponent of circulating a mailer featuring Taddeo in an effort to “purposely lie” to voters in Senate District 40.

The mailer highlights a letter sent to Taddeo by Marion Hammer, a well-known lobbyist for the NRA.

In the letter, Hammer thanks Taddeo for her March vote against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.

That act was passed in response to the February shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. It contained several gun control measures opposed by the NRA.

But that’s not why Taddeo, a Democrat, voted against the bill. Instead, she opposed other language which allowed for the arming of school staff.

The mailer, featuring Hammer’s “thank you,” makes it appear Taddeo is sympathetic toward the NRA’s position. Taddeo is attempting to defend her seat against Republican challenger Marili Cancio, who is framing herself as a centrist in the race and says she would have supported the bill.

Taddeo’s camp alleges the campaign was coordinated in part between Hammer and the Republican Party of Florida. The mailer notes it was funded by “Friends of Marili Cancio,” a PAC supporting the Republican’s campaign.

“Voters in Senate District 40 were peppered with a mailer from Marili Cancio in a desperate move to save her losing campaign,” said Christian Ulvert, a Taddeo senior advisor.

“Marili Cancio launched campaign mailers from her political committee that are not only false, but an outright lie. She falsely portrays that the NRA is appreciative of Senator Taddeo knowing full-well that that NRA rated Taddeo with an F because of her record of taking them on to pass real gun safety reform.

“The bottom line is that voters in district will see right through this failed attempt by Marili Cancio to purposely lie to them.”

Ulvert says the RPOF and Hammer played a role in these mailers as well. For one, Hammer wrote the “thank you” letter featured in the ad on Sept. 21. Ulver notes that’s well after the legislative session ended, implying the letter was a political ploy.

Secondly, Taddeo’s team says her office received a public records request on Oct. 16 from the RPOF’s general counsel. The Senate replied to that request on Oct. 18.

Ulvert says voters began receiving the mailers on Oct. 22, and calls into question how such a campaign could be organized in the span of a few days. Thus, he claims the RPOF and Hammer must have coordinated outside of the bounds of the records request, in order to ready the mailers.

According to the Miami Herald, Cancio said she was aware of efforts to make the records request for the letter beforehand, but said she had never met Hammer.

Hammer also told the Herald her letter was sent in September because her first letter to Taddeo was never received.

The RPOF pushed back fully on the Taddeo campaign’s allegations in a statement to Florida Politics.

“Annette Taddeo should stop making ridiculous accusations with zero proof,” said RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

“If she paid any attention to what’s going on she would know that the person requesting the information is not an employee of the RPOF, and that Senate campaigns operate independently from us.”

The RPOF pointed out that their general counsel is Ben Gibson of Shutts & Bowen. The public records request was sent by Bucky Mitchell of Coates Law Firm.

“In addition, a quick phone call to the attorney revealed that Taddeo’s office responded to the public records request with ‘no responsive documents,'” Ingoglia added.

“So, in essence, Taddeo is accusing Republicans of collusion when there were no documents to collude with. My suggestion to Sen. Taddeo is check in with her office every once in a while to find out what’s going on in her district. Her constituents would probably appreciate it.”

In the piece by the Miami Herald, Ulvert said the first search for the Hammer letter following the records request failed because Hammer’s name did not appear in the email containing the letter. Instead, the letter was an attachment, which was not searchable.

Young Cruz 3

Dana Young trounces Janet Cruz in fundraising

State Sen. Dana Young has raised nearly $1 million for her re-election bid against Democrat Janet Cruz.

Not included in that figure is another $580,000 in in-kind contributions from the Florida Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Cruz, the outgoing House Democratic Leader, had $358,000 with $160,000 more in in-kind contributions. Her fundraising haul so far also includes $60,000 in carryover funds from her House campaign account.

That puts Young way out ahead in campaign cash in what is shaping up to be one of the state’s most competitive Senate races. Polls show the two battling it out within the margin of error, with Young holding a slight edge over Cruz.

Young’s campaign raised $56,000 from Oct. 6-12, with $41,000 of that coming through in-kind contributions. (They’re defined as “anything of value except money made for the purpose of influencing the results of an election.”)

Young brought in money from two notable local names: James Nozar, CEO of the Jeff Vinik-affiliated Strategic Property Partners that’s behind the $1 billion Water Street Tampa development, and Todd Hall, CEO of Tampa’s Talent Cloud Staffing.

Young’s political committee, Friends of Dana Young, has brought in $2 million to date with $16,000 coming in during the latest reporting period.

Those contributions came from Advancing Florida Agriculture, Health Network One and Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia’s People for Accountable Government political committee, as well as $1,000 from Rayonier Advanced Materials.

Cruz’s campaign raised $23,000 during the same period. Her committee, Building the Bay, has raised $682,000 to date with $58,000 rolling in during the latest reporting period.

Those contributions came from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which donated $25,000, and $10,000 each from Miami millionaire Christopher Findlater, the Initiative for Florida’s Future political committee and Fort Lauderdale attorney Kelley Uustal.

Tampa financial investor Bob Gries contributed $2,000 and Tampa attorney Rosemary Armstrong kicked in $1,000.

Cruz’s committee spent more than $80,000 during the latest campaign finance period with most of that going back to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

The money race: Ed Hooper double-plus over Amanda Murphy

Republican Ed Hooper continues to out-raise his Democratic opponent, Amanda Murphy, in the battle to replace former state Sen. Jack Latvala for Senate District 16 (north Pinellas County).

Hooper has raised more than $1.1 million between his campaign and affiliated political committee.

Murphy has raised just $445,000 between her campaign and Taxpayers for Responsible Government political committee.

That’s not including fundraising from Working Toward Florida’s Future, an inactive political committee whose funds were used for campaign activities benefiting Murphy and distributions to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee that support Murphy.

From Oct. 6-12, the most recent campaign reporting period, Hooper’s campaign raised $72,000 and his committee raised $6,500. Murphy’s committee out-raised Hooper’s with $30,000 in contributions. Her campaign raised just $15,000 during the most recent campaign period.

Fundraising trends among Democrats and Republicans continue to hold true in the SD 16 race with Hooper raking in cash from outside groups and special interests including from the sugar, pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Hooper’s campaign collected 57 individual contributions averaging more than $800 each. Murphy brought in 44 contributions averaging $341 each.

Hooper’s campaign spent more than $160,000 during the most recent report with most of that going to Strategic Media Placement for ads and $22,000 to Direct Mail Systems for mailers.

An outside group supporting Hooper, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, put out an ad earlier this month calling Murphy a “spoiled child.” Some Democrats criticized that ad for being sexist. Hooper declined to comment on the ad.

His campaign has spent $577,000 to date.

Murphy’s latest spending mirrors her fundraising lag compared to Hooper with $28,000 spent from her campaign coffers this report. Most of that went to Deliver Strategies for campaign mailers.

The district includes Clearwater, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor.

The race is considered competitive. A St. Pete Polls survey in June put the race at 47-45 percent with Hooper holding the advantage, though his edge falls within the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.

SD 16 is, however, a “red” district. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

Murphy lost her previously held House district by fewer than 700 votes to now-Republican Rep. Amber Mariano. The race was considered a huge loss for Democrats despite the narrow majority in a district that went against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits.

Hooper left the house to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2014. He lost to Democrat Pat Gerard who was re-elected this election cycle unopposed.

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