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Mike Beltran gaining traction in HD 57 race

Lithia Republican Mike Beltran is starting to gain some traction in his bid to succeed Republican Rep. Jake Raburn in Hillsborough County’s House District 57.

The attorney and father of two entered the race for HD 57 a day before the end of the candidate qualifying period and has since piled on endorsements from staunch conservative groups Florida Right to Life and the Florida Family Policy Council and his pro-gun views have earned him an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.

The 34-year-old Harvard graduate, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit Court, has also found some success on the fundraising trail.

Through one month in the race, Beltran has brought in $25,207 in outside money and kicked in another $100,000 in candidate loans. As of July 20, he had more than $107,000 in the bank.

That gives him an edge over his Republican primary opponent, businessman and U.S. Army veteran Sean McCoy, who has bested him in outside fundraising with nearly $40,000 raised but has so far only put up $2,000 of his own money. As of July 20, McCoy has about $38,250 in the bank.

McCoy also recently picked an endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Both Republicans rushed to qualify for the seat after Raburn’s surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election in order to spend more time with his family and focus on his business.

The winner of the Aug. 28 primary contest will move on to face Valrico Democrat Debbie Katt, who has so far raised about $11,000 for her campaign and has $5,400 at the ready.

HD 57 covers part of southeastern Hillsborough Count and leans Republican.

The GOP has a 7-point lead in voter registrations within the district, and Raburn had no trouble holding the seat for three terms — he beat Democrat Bruce Barnett by 17 points to win his first term in 2012 and went unopposed in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

Belinda Keiser pours another $225K into SD 25 campaign

Keiser University vice chancellor Belinda Keiser inked another six-figure check for her campaign to succeed Senate President Joe Negron in Senate District 25.

During the reporting period covering July 7 through July 20, Keiser brought in just $10,600 in outside cash while boosted her campaign fund with another $225,000 in candidate loans. To date, the Broward County Republican has put up $925,000 of her own money and raised about $98,000 for a total campaign fund of more than $1 million.

The majority of that cash has been spent on consulting contracts a torrent of direct mail campaigns. Of the $215,000 in spending shown in the new report, nearly $104,000 paid for mailers from Clearwater-based Direct Mail Services, while another $70,000 was paid to Kingston Public Affairs, founded by Donald Trump-connected Karen Giorno, for consulting work.

Keiser finished the reporting period with just over $208,000 in the bank.

Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell, who is running against Keiser in the primary, showed $9,875 raised in her new report and only spent $251. Harrell has now raised $84,000 in outside money and kicked in another $100,000 in loans since entering the race last year. She had $168,000 at the ready on July 20.

While Harrell hasn’t been able to go toe-to-toe with Keiser’s checkbook, she has had more success landing endorsements. Her most recent nod came from the Florida Realtors, with prior backers including Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, former Senate President Ken Pruitt and the Florida Medical Association.

Senate District 25 wasn’t scheduled to open up until 2020, but will be open this year due to Negron’s decision to leave the chamber two years early. Following Negron’s announcement, Gov. Rick Scott called a special election for the district that will be held concurrently with regularly scheduled 2018 election.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary contest will move on to face Port St. Lucie Democrat Robert Levy in the Nov. 6 general election.

Levy showed $3,825 in fundraising in his new report, making for $19,825 in outside fundraising thus far. He’s taken a page from his rivals across the aisle, however, and brought another $150,000 in candidate loans to the table.

After spending $10,600 during the reporting period, including nearly $8,400 for communications work, he had about $75,000 left in his campaign account.

SD 25 includes the whole of Martin and St. Lucie counties, where Harrell has held elected office for 16 of the past 18 years, as well as part of Palm Beach County. The district is safely Republican — Negron was re-elected with nearly two-thirds of the vote in the 2016 cycle, while Trump carried the district by double digits.

Color of Change opens state-level political committee for ‘Stand Your Ground’ fight

National racial justice group Color of Change opened a state-level political committee Tuesday as it gears up a campaign to take on Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.

Color of Change, which bills itself as the “nation’s largest online racial justice organization,” launched its campaign to “Stop ‘Stand Your Ground’” after recent killing of Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater.

McGlockton was shot outside of a convenience store two weeks ago after intervening in an argument between his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, and Michael Drejka. McGlockton pushed Drejka to the ground and Drejka pulled out a handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. Security camera footage from the convenience store appears to show McGlockton backing away from Drejka after he drew his weapon.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced a day later that an arrest would not be made because the shooting fell within the bounds of the “Stand Your Ground” law, however, he also expressed concerns with a provision added to the law in 2017 that requires law enforcement prove someone did not feel threatened before arresting them or pressing charges.

That change, as well as the original “Stand Your Ground” law, were priorities of the National Rifle Association.

As part of Color of Change’s effort, it has filed paperwork to open a political committee, ColorOfChange PAC. The committee will allow it to accept contributions and use that money to influence state-level races. The committee is chaired by Arisha Hatch, the managing director of campaigns for Color of Change. The group’s CFO, Ismael Savadogo, is listed as treasurer, and Tallahassee attorney Jennifer Blohm is listed as the registered agent.

Color of Change has had a Florida political committee in the past. Also named ColorOfChange PAC, that committee operated from September 2016 through July 2017 and received more than $225,000 in contributions, including $200,000 from For Our Future PAC and $25,000 from MoveOn.Org.

“Now, once again a family is without a father and a community is left to question: when will Black Lives Matter?” the group’s campaign page asks.

Following the group’s account of McGlockton’s story is a petition supporters can sign to encourage Bernie McCabe, the state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco counties, to file charges against Drejka.

“We urge you to swiftly bring justice to the family and loved ones of Markeis McGlockton. The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is dangerous and should be a license to kill. Markeis was just a person protecting his family. Your office has a responsibility to not let a killer go free. Your action as State’s Attorney is important in ending this fatal and failed law, that has harmed so many families and our communities. We call on you to file charges against Michael Drejka immediately,” the petition reads.

The first finance report for the new ColorOfChange PAC is due Aug. 10, with further reports required to be filed weekly through the general election.

Free online courses teach Democrats how to run campaigns

There’s an ongoing effort to teach Democrats across the country and down the ballot how to run effective campaigns.

It’s led by the National Democratic Training Committee, which recently told media it is seeking to supplement the anticipated ‘blue wave’ Democrats are banking on this midterm by providing free online training to any Democrat in any race.

The curriculum — which covers topics like fundraising, management, messaging and field work — is widely sought after. At the end of June, course registrations exceeded 28,000, according to NDTC. In Florida, 320 Democratic candidates have made use of NDTC’s campaign resources.

So far, according to self-reported data, 268 of 369 Democratic candidates who have used the training and have had primaries have won.

But according to the NTDC founder Kelly Dietrich, winning local races may not be the best indicator of success. He told media his organization’s goals include electing Democrats to office at every level, creating a deeper bench of candidates for each election, and facilitating an up-ticket effect, which occurs when local candidates help turn out votes for Democrats running for higher offices.

The up-ticket phenomenon, Dietrich said, can come from having a dedicated force of Democrats running for local offices, essentially acting as surrogates for congressional races on up. In discussing the potential blue wave at the ballot this midterm, Dietrich said his organization could help channel the energy needed to get results favorable to Democrats this cycle and beyond. Of Missouri, he added that Democrats who are campaigning for local government positions in deep-red districts could give vulnerable Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill a boost this cycle. 

“If we can empower and reach those candidates who are already out there, talking to voters, knocking on doors, being the face of the Democratic party in their community” then it could increase Democratic turnout statewide and across the nation, Dietrich said.

The NDTC claims to be a grassroots-backed organization with over 67,000 individual contributions. The group also has found allies within the party, one being the Democratic National Committee.

Michael Blake, a New York Assembly member and DNC Vice Chair, specializes in local races, and told media that teaching candidates how to run effective campaigns tops the list of his concerns.

“Show the path to win,” Blake said. “That is how you make sure someone is successful.”

Jennifer Webb holding Gulfport fundraiser Tuesday night

Small-business woman Jennifer Webb will be at Gulfport’s Historic Peninsula Inn on Tuesday night for a fundraising reception benefitting her campaign for House District 69.

The fundraiser will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the beachside inn, located at 2937 Beach Blvd. South. Those looking to attend the event can send a message to the campaign via Jennifer@ElectJenniferWebb.com or call (305) 746-5579.

Several elected officials will be joining Webb, a Democrat, at the reception. Among those listed on the host committee are Madeira Beach Mayor Maggi Black, Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson, St. Pete Beach Mayor Al Johnson, Kenneth City Mayor Wanda Dudley, Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons, North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen and many others.

Webb was the 2016 Democratic nominee for HD 69, but lost out to current Rep. Kathleen Peters by 13 points on Election Day. In 2018, however, she won’t have to overcome an incumbent — Peters is running for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission instead of a fourth term in the Florida House.

Webb is also clear for August, having locked up the Democratic party nomination last month after no candidates qualified to challenge her in the primary. The one Democrat who did file against her, Javier Centonzio, stepped aside and said he would support Webb in early April.

Webb will face the winner of the Republican primary contest between Jeremy Bailie and Ray Blacklidge in the Nov. 6 general election.

As of July 20, Blacklidge led in overall fundraising with $194,000 in receipts between his campaign account and political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge. He has about $100,000 in the bank, including about $30,000 in self-funding.

Webb holds the cash-on-hand lead, however, with $114,500 in her campaign account off of $154,500 in total fundraising. Bailie is in third-place in both metrics with just over $71,000 raised and $31,300 in the bank.

HD 69 covers part of southern Pinellas County including coastal communities from Redington shores southward as well as a southwestern chunk of the mainland peninsula.

The district has a slim Republican advantage. Peters has held the seat since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections, and it voted plus-3 for Donald Trump two years ago.

Lindsay Cross takes over Democratic bid for SD 24 after Carrie Pilon’s departure

It has been more than three weeks since Carrie Pilon announced she was ending her bid to unseat St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes in state Senate District 24.

Now, Florida Democrats have settled on her replacement.

Lindsay Cross, an environmental scientist who works as executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, will pick up where Pilon left off. It gives her just over three months to cobble together a campaign to take on the incumbent Republican.

“I’m running for State Senate because all residents in Senate District 24 need an advocate who works for them, not for special interests,” Cross said in announcing her candidacy Monday afternoon. “As a member of the State Senate, I’ll invest in the people of our district by ensuring a quality education, affordable healthcare, protecting our drinking water and environment, and buffering our local and tourist based-businesses from the effects of pollution and climate change.”

Pilon announced her withdrawal from the SD 24 race on July 6, and Florida Democrats faced a Monday deadline to pick her replacement. As of midmorning, the party had not issued a formal news release announcing Cross as their nominee in the Pinellas County district.

According to her Florida Wildlife Corridor bio, Cross has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 2001 and spent 14 years with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program “working to protect and restore water quality and coastal and upland habitats.”

“Having led an environmental non-profit, I fully appreciate the importance of Florida’s natural resources on every aspect of our lives,” Cross said. “Moreover, I understand how to balance a budget and keep spending focused on priorities that will make a difference.”

During that time, she earned a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of South Florida and graduated from the University of Florida’s Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute and the St. Petersburg Chamber’s Leadership St. Pete program.

Polling consistently shows SD 24 as winnable for a Democratic candidate. A survey conducted by St. Pete Polls days ahead of Pilon’s exit showed her within five points of Brandes with 13 percent of voters undecided.

Despite the hopeful measures for Democrats, the truncated campaign cycle gives Cross little time to build name recognition or raise the kind of money needed to take on Brandes, who had $464,000 in hard money and another $369,000 in his political committee, Liberty Florida, as of July 20.

The past three weeks have also seen Brandes ramp up his ground operation in the district, giving him a massive head start in voter outreach.

The good news for Cross: She faces no opposition in the primary, nor are there any third-party candidates running to siphon away Democratic-leaning residents already inclined to vote blue rather than send Brandes back to Tallahassee.

She and Brandes will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.

The first inkling of Cross’ fundraising ability will come Aug. 10, in a campaign finance report covering the first few days of her candidacy. Her first full-week report is due Aug. 17.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Toby Overdorf makes provably baseless attack in HD 83 GOP primary

Palm City Toby Overdorf is accusing his opponent in the House District 83 Republican primary of accepting money from the sugar industry, but a glance at contribution records turns up no evidence of supporting the allegation.

“Did you hear Sasha Dadan took campaign money from Big Sugar? It’s all on the Florida Division of Elections website, but she’s claiming she wants to clean the lagoon,” a message from the Overdorf campaign says. “How can she do both? I’m going to ask her on her Facebook page. Will you ask her, too?”

Dadan, an attorney, responded to the attack on Facebook, calling it “fake news.” In this case, it appears that’s a fair assessment.

Looking over Dadan’s campaign contributions through July 20 shows some money from the ag industry — she has received checks from Garcia Family Farms, which operates an orange grove, and cattle rancher Clayton Humphries has pitched in as well, but there’s no sign of money from “Big Sugar.”

Additionally, industry sources confirmed that they have not made contributions to any candidate running for HD 83, though they did say Overdorf has solicited their support in the primary race.

“My opponent will say and do anything to get elected! Today Toby sent out thousands text messages lying about me and my campaign. Contrary to his #FakeNews, I have not accepted contributions from Big Sugar,” Dadan wrote.

“Toby makes Ag and Farmers the bad guys when he speaks to folks on the coast, then he insults environmentalists when he asks farmers for their support. Very sad! Toby is desperate, because he was recently exposed for lobbying to build a Biosolid plant which would place 40 million pounds of human waste next to the C-25 canal, as he was paid to do,” she continued.

The Port St. Lucie Republican then tossed out a link to a story from NBC affiliate WPTV about Sunbreak Farms seeking to “create and use a compost partially made of recycled human waste.” Overdorf is quoted as a representative of Sunbreak Farms in that article, where he says the plan includes measures to prevent the compost from getting into nearby canals that feed into the Indian River Lagoon.

Overdorf and Dadan are competing for the Republican nomination to succeed state Rep. Gayle Harrell, who is term-limited and running for state Senate. The winner of the Aug. 28 primary election will face Jensen Beach Democrat Matt Theobald in the Nov. 6 general election.

Overdorf was the first-in candidate and currently leads the money race with more than $108,000 raised and $62,700 banked in his campaign account. Dadan, who filed in late May, has raised $38,405 and has $31,700 on hand. Theobald filed just ahead of the qualifying deadline and has so far raised $6,275 and has $4,150 at the ready.

HD 83 covers parts of Martin and St. Lucie counties and has a Republican lean. In 2016, Harrell won re-election over Democratic challenger Crystal Lucas with 54 percent of the vote. She went unopposed in 2014 and faced no major-party challengers in 2012.

Aakash Patel responds to attacks by taking the high road

Tampa businessman Aakash Patel, a Republican running for Hillsborough County Commission, is out with a new ad responding to recent attacks that he’s been too chummy with Democrats in the past.

The 30-second spot, titled “Typical Politician,” comes four days after Todd Marks’ TV ad attempting to paint Patel as “betraying conservative values” due to some small donations he made to handful Democratic politicians years ago.

Rather than launch his own volley of attacks, Patel said in the ad that he plans to keep his focus on the issues that matter to the people he hopes to represent.

“Typical politician. My opponent has now resorted to attacking me with false negative ads to confuse voters and change the subject. But he doesn’t get it,” Patel says in the ad. “This election is too important to change the subject, so I won’t.

“I can promise you that I will continue to protect our conservative values as I always have and I will keep talking about the issues that matter to you. This election, I humbly ask for your vote so that we can focus on the issues that matter and begin to work towards a better Hillsborough County,” he concluded.

In a press release announcing the new ad, Patel doubled down on his message of focusing on the issues while chastising Marks without naming him for throwing out attacks.

“I am running to represent all of Hillsborough County and to work on issues important to our citizens including eliminating the term limit loophole, relieving traffic congestion and providing early education opportunities for more children,” Patel said.

“I sincerely apologize to my volunteer supporters whose images and words were taken from our campaign commercial, without their consent or permission, and misused to spread untrue information. It is unfortunate my opponent is not interested in having a civil discussion on the issues important to our community; instead, he resorts to this low form of negative campaign activity,” Patel continued.

“Unfortunately, when politicians are desperate they will say or do anything to get elected, so we expect this negative campaigning to continue as we move closer to Election Day. Our campaign will continue to talk about issues that are important to the voters of Hillsborough County,” he concluded.

Patel and Marks are the only two Republicans vying for the District 7 commission seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. The will go head to head in the Aug. 28 primary election and the winner will move on to face whomever emerges from the four-way Democratic primary for the seat.

As of July 20, Patel led the overall field with more than $500,000 in overall fundraising, including $376,000 in hard money and another $124,000 for his political committee, Elevate Tampa. He has $117,400 on hand.

Marks, through the same date, had raised about $139,000 for his campaign with much of that cash coming in via self-funding. He has $110,800 in the bank.

Patel’s ad is below.

Shawn Harrison

The ‘Voice of Florida Business’ speaks up for Shawn Harrison in HD 63

The “Voice of Florida Business” has spoken: Tampa Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison deserves another two years representing Hillsborough County’s House District 63.

That’s according to the Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), a conservative leaning pro-business group that gave Harrison high marks in its post-2018 legislative session Voting Records report.

“Associated Industries of Florida is proud to support Representative Harrison. As a small business owner and job creator, he knows the importance of getting government out of the way by cutting ‘red tape’ and reducing regulations on Florida employers,” said Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of AIF.

The AIF backing is the latest endorsement for Harrison as he faces another tough re-election battle in HD 63, a perennial swing seat that covers portions of northern Tampa and the communities of Lutz, Pebble Creek, Lake Magdalene and Carrollwood.

Other recent nods for the incumbent have come in from the Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Florida Realtors, the state’s largest professional trade association.

“I am particularly honored to have the support of Florida’s pre-eminent business association. AIF represents Florida’s employers and as a small business owner I appreciate the hard work they do in Tallahassee to make sure Florida’s job creators have a voice in the Legislature,” Harrison said.

“Having been recognized as one of Tampa’s 40 under 40 young business leaders and a four-time winner of USF’s ‘Fast 56’ award recognizing the 56 fastest growing Bull led businesses in the world, I understand how to create good paying jobs right here in District 63. I pledge to do my part in continuing to speak up for those willing to risk their own capital to create jobs for hard working Hillsborough residents.”

Harrison founded a background and asset screening firm, Medical Collection Group, in 2002. He is also a lawyer.

The Republican lawmaker hinted that more “exciting endorsements” would be revealed in the coming weeks.

Harrison faces Democratic lawyer Fentrice Driskell this go around, and thus far he has her beat when it comes to fundraising.

As of July 20, the incumbent had raised $134,500 in hard money and had more than $70,000 of that cash at the ready. His affiliated political committee, Committee for an Innovative Florida, has another $129,000 in the bank. Driskell, meanwhile, has raised more than $122,000 for her campaign fund since entering the race in February. She had about $89,000 banked at the end of last week.

Depending on whether the so-called “blue wave” hits Tampa, Harrison could still be in trouble come Election Day. Democrats make up about 39 percent of the swing seat’s electorate, while Republicans hold a 32 percent share.

Harrison served in the House from 2010 to 2012, when former Democratic Rep. Mark Danish beat him by about 700 votes to flip the newly redrawn HD 63 despite raising less than $20,000 for his campaign compared to nearly $300,000 for Harrison.

Harrison reclaimed the seat in the 2014 cycle with a 5-point win over Danish, and in 2016 he emerged victorious in another tough re-election battle against Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. His sub 2-point victory came as Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the seat by double digits.

Neither Driskel nor Harrison face a primary challenger, and no third-party candidates made the ballot. The two major-party pols will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

EMILY’s List puts Gwen Graham over $10M mark in total fundraising

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham posted a major haul in her new campaign finance reports thanks to a $400,000 cash infusion from EMILY’s List, a Democratic-leaning group that supports the campaigns of pro-choice women throughout the country.

That six-figure donation went to the former Congresswoman’s political committee, Gwen Graham for Florida, on July 17. In all, Graham’s new reports showed $732,700 in contributions for the reporting period covering July 14 through July 20 — $630,100 in committee cash with another $102,600 in hard money fundraising for her campaign account.

Other major donations in the committee report include a pair of $50,000 checks from Jacksonville law firm Pajcic & Pajcic and Wagmore Foundation President Gladys Cofrin, as well as a $25,000 contribution from Pensacola-based political committee Good Ideas for Government.

The campaign cash showed nearly 1,250 contributions with more than 1,100 of them coming in from small-dollar donors chipping in $100 or less.

The two accounts also spent nearly $1 million, with the bulk of that cash — $922,000 — paying for a media buy through Virginia-based Screen Strategies Media, likely in support of her new TV ad, titled “Lessons,” that her campaign announced earlier this month.

As of July 20, Graham has raised nearly $10.4 million between her two accounts and has $2.1 million in the bank.

The North Florida Democrat faces four opponents in the Aug. 28 primary race: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Winter Park businessman Chris King. As of Friday afternoon, none of them had filed fresh campaign finance reports.

Levine leads the Democratic field in fundraising with more than $20 million raised between his campaign and political committee, All About Florida, though more than $12 million of that sum has come from his own checking account either through candidate loans or contributions.

Greene and King have provided significant boosts to their gubernatorial bids.

As of July 13, Greene was the source of all but $150 of his $10.6 million in campaign funds, while King had raised nearly $7 million between his two accounts, including $4.5 million in self-funding. Gillum, the last-place candidate fundraising wise, had raised $4.15 million with $1.5 million banked through the same date.

The most recent poll of the primary race, published by Florida Atlantic University earlier this week, showed Graham atop the five-person field with 20 percent support among the party faithful. Levine, the heretofore frontrunner, came in 4 points behind followed by Greene at 14 percent and King and Levine in single digits.

Whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will go up against the winner of the GOP contest between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

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