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Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham adds more than $600K in March

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham announced Thursday that she raised more than $600,000 between her campaign and political committee last month.

Graham’s campaign didn’t give exact figures, though it said the March haul brings her total fundraising past the $6.4 million mark with about $3.9 million in the bank.

The campaign account and political committee, Gwen Graham for Florida, brought in over $300,000 each during the reporting period.

“Floridians across the state are sick and tired of Donald Trump‘s bullying and they’re joining our campaign to face down his attacks,” Graham said in the announcement. “Together, we are going to stand up for our state by expanding healthcare, fighting Trump’s plans to drill off our beaches and defending Floridians from the president’s divisive attacks.”

The former congresswoman also pointed out a $50,000 contribution she received from progressive women’s group EMILY’s List in the announcement.

“Whether it’s Moms Demand Action standing up to gun violence or survivors making their voices heard in the #MeToo movement, women across the country are the driving force behind the 2018 blue wave,” Graham said. “As a mom, as a woman and as a Floridian — I will work for them in Tallahassee.”

Graham is one of four Democrats running to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits.

She faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King in the Democratic Primary.

Gillum announced Thursday that he’d brought in about $336,000 in March. Gillum has raised a total of $2.6 million since entering the race in early 2017.

Levine and King have not yet announced their new fundraising numbers, though Levine was in the top spot in the four-way race at the end of February with more than $10 million raised. King’s total was about $3.5 million.

Gwen Graham gets approval from ‘Moms Demand Action’ gun reform group

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is getting a “Gun Sense Candidate” rating from the national group Moms Demand Action, which was formed after the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre to urge gun law reforms.

“Moms never forget. Moms never give up. Every mother’s top priority is defending the safety and well-being of their children and families,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign “As governor, I will never forget. I will never give up. I will protect children across the state by passing common sense gun safety once and for all.”

Graham is the first candidate in the race to get the Moms’ seal of approval. However, the other Democrats in the race, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King have all, as has Graham, been strongly outspoken in their calls for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and for universal background checks, among other gun law reform pledges.

The quartet of Democrats’ gun reform positions are in sharp contrast with the pro-2nd Amendment positions held by the leading Republicans in the race, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is part of the larger network of gun-violence prevention organizations in the Everytown for Gun Safety network.

“After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, we saw an enormous wave of activism. The largest, strongest, and loudest group of all was the mothers coming together across America. They have been fighting for safer communities every day since then and made their voices heard after Pulse, after Parkland and after acts of daily violence in communities throughout our state,” Graham stated. “I am proud to stand by their side and it is an honor to be named a Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate today.”

Graham had the Moms Demand Action approval when she ran for Congress in 2014, defeating incumbent Republican Steve Southerland, who had strong support from the NRA.

Other Democrats in the race have attempted to challenge Graham’s gun law reform credentials, expected to be an issue among Democratic voters, while she and her campaign have insisted hers have been consistently as strong as anyone’s. The Mom’s designation should help her with that characterization.

“I beat the NRA once and with the help of Moms Demand Action and mothers across the state of Florida, we will do it again,” Graham stated. “As governor, I will pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons and give our law enforcement the tools they need to keep us safe.”

Immediately following the Parkland shooting, Graham called on Governor Rick Scott to suspend the sale of assault weapons and for the legislature to pass bold gun safety legislation. She called on Republican candidate Adam Putnam to return his National Rifle Association money. And she called on Scott, the Florida Legislature, and the State Board of Administration, which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, to divest all Florida’s state interests from gun and ammunition manufacturers.

Graham also has vowed to use use the governor’s general counsel to assist local governments fighting the preemption law passed in Florida in 2012 with strong support from the NRA.

Gwen Graham’s first digital ad vows she’ll stand up against Donald Trump

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham goes hard against President Donald Trump in her first digital video ad of the 2018 election, calling him an embarrassment, a divider, and a bully, and vowing that as Governor she would stand up against him.

As graphics play out her words, Graham begins the video by saying that she wants to be someone who bridges divisiveness, something she believes Trump deliberately promotes.

“Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Donald Trump is an example of a bully,” Graham says in the ad, as the video switches to show some of her characteristic hugs. “I see it as my job to stand up to Donald Trump. It is the Governor’s job to look out for the state of Florida. And I will look out for the state of Florida. Donald Trump is not going to be able to stand in my way of doing what’s right for the people of Florida.”

Graham’s campaign said the ad will be backed by a “significant buy” across various digital platforms, and will begin by targeting the Palm Beach area before expanding statewide.

Graham is in a battle royale for the August 28 Democratic primary, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“While our country and state face serious challenges, Donald Trump is still taking weekly vacations to Mar-a-Lago and spending much of his time on the golf course,” Graham stated in a news release announcing the ad. “I hope Trump sees this ad during one of the many occasions he is checking Twitter because I want him to know that I will always put Florida first.”

Bettina Weiss - Gwen Graham Press Secretary-01

Personnel note: Bettina Weiss in as Gwen Graham press sec’y

The Gwen Graham campaign announced that it has brought on Bettina Weiss as its new press secretary.

Campaign communications director Matt Harringer announced the hire in a Friday email.

Weiss is an alumna of Connecticut College, where she earned a bachelor’s in American studies, and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s in political communications. She moved over to campaign last month, relocating to Orlando from Washington, D.C. where she spent nearly 2 years working for Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that supports stricter gun laws, such as background checks for private sales and a ban on assault-style weapons.

ARS, also known as Giffords, was started by former Arizona Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut and Navy Captain Mark Kelly. Giffords’ political career was cut short by a 2011 assassination attempt that left her with a severe brain injury.

Weiss’ resume also includes work as a crisis counselor with the Crisis Text Line, as a prevention coordinator for sexual violence resource center healingSPACE, and as a gun violence prevention reporter for Generation Progress, the youth-centered offshoot of progressive think tank Center for American Progress.

Weiss’ addition signals the Graham campaign’s continued focus on gun violence in the four-way Democratic Primary for governor. The issue has been front and center in the gubernatorial race in the weeks since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Weiss has been with the Graham campaign for a few weeks, first as an assistant to the former Democratic congresswoman.

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the Democratic Primary to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who is termed out and likely to run for U.S. Senate in the fall.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are running in the Republican Primary, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran expected to officially join the race in the coming weeks.

Philip Levine

Philip Levine ad portrays American Dream rise, progressive mayorship

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is combining his American Dream roots and his progressive mayor tenure in a new TV ad.

The 30-second spot, “Person He Is” gets away from the topical subjects such as gun violence and off-shore drilling that have dominated his television advertising for the past couple of months, and instead focuses on his background. It’s part of the previously-announced $2 million ad buy his campaign and his independent political committee All About Florida combined to undertake.

The new ad is set to run through April, his campaign stated.

“As Floridians get to know more about Philip Levine, they will quickly see that the person he is and the mayor he was, is the governor he will be.” said senior adviser Christian Ulvert.

Levine faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the quest for the August 28 Democratic primary nomination to run for governor. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The new commercial combines a theme many Republicans run on – the American Dream story of rising from humble beginnings, working hard and making a success in business – with the themes of progressive Democrats, pushing for equality, high wages, and addressing climate change.

“Growing up in a working class neighborhood, Philip Levine believes everyone deserves the same chance he had,” the narrator begins, as black-and-white photographs show a young Levine.

Then, with more contemporary video footage of Levine at work as Miami Beach mayor, the narrator continues, “After creating a successful business in the cruise industry, Levine dedicated himself as mayor to serving others, championed climate change by turning flooded streets into dry ones, passed Florida’s first living wage, fought inequality and passed a resolution to ban assault weapons.”

Chris King releases ‘March for Our Lives’ video ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is turning his support for the “March For Our Lives” movement into his latest video ad, releasing a 40-second spot on the internet that features a speech he gave during last Saturday’s protests.

King uses the video to promote his strong positions to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks, and face down opposition from the National Rifle Association, and to demonstrate his involvement in the student-led movement started by the survivors of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

King also uses it to reinforce his theme that he’s a new candidate for a new time.

“The students of Parkland are now inspiring us to do something different, to truly change the world and end gun violence,” King narrates, as the video shows him marching with protesters in Orlando.

King is then shown giving a speech to a cheering crowd, starting, “Are we ready to honor their memories? Are we ready to follow the students of Parkland? Are we ready to change the future of Florida?”

King faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seeking the August 28 Democratic primary nomination to run for Governor this year. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Andrew Gillum slates Thursday fundraiser in Jacksonville

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is back in Northeast Florida, with media hits and fundraising pitches filling his Thursday stop in Jacksonville.

Gillum, who appears on WJCT’s First Coast Connect at 9 a.m., has a number of non-press events slated also.

Not the least of which, in terms of his campaign’s viability, a fundraiser in Downtown Jacksonville Thursday evening.

The latest First Coast Gillum fundraiser kicks off at 6 p.m. at the Jessie Ball DuPont Center downtown.

The event runs until 7:30 p.m., and ranges in contribution levels from a low number of $75 to a host committee slot at $250.

Gillum has engaged a lot of earned media, but as of the end of last month was well behind Democratic primary opponents Gwen Graham and Philip Levine in fundraising and cash on hand.

Gubernatorial primary debates set for Aug. 1 and 2 at the University of Miami

Candidates vying to succeed Rick Scott in the Governor’s Mansion will get a chance to plead their cases to Florida voters in a pair of debates set to take place a few weeks before the Aug. 28 primary elections.

The Children’s Movement of Florida and the Florida Press Association announced the debates, to be held Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 at the University of Miami, in a Wednesday news release.

“The vision and direction offered by Florida’s next governor will dramatically affect the lives of Floridians in every part of our state — from children to the elderly,” said David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement. “These debates let voters hear what the candidates think on critical issues ranging from early childhood education, health care, environmental protection, and public safety to jobs and economic development.”

Dean Ridings, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association statewide network of newspapers, agreed that the primary debates will be essential in helping voters make up their minds about which candidate wins their support and vote.

“With a long, diverse list of candidates already announced or expected to get into the race, we’re anticipating vigorous primary campaigns with thoughtful discussion of the issues in these vital debates,” said Ridings. “This is a very effective way for Florida voters to compare and contrast the candidates, side-by-side, and to see and hear their ability to present a plan that can take us all into the best possible future.”

UM President Julio Frenk added that hosting the debates — part of “The Race for Governor” project — will fulfill one of the institution’s missions by making the Coral Gables campus a center of engagement.

“The University of Miami is proud to host these debates and foster a productive dialogue among the candidates for governor,” Frenk said. “Our students, faculty, and staff will be deeply involved in helping prepare the campus for both debates and for spirited conversations about the issues that will be examined.”

Republican candidates — currently U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran likely to join shortly — will take the stage at UM’s Maurice Gusman Concert Hall on one of the evenings, while the Democratic field — currently Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — will get the other.

Each debate is scheduled to run one hour in the 7 p.m. time slot and will be broadcast on TV stations in each of Florida’s media markets.

It has not yet been determined which set of candidates will go first, though both parties have been notified of the dates and times. Also to be determined is the threshold of support candidates will need in the polls to be granted a spot behind the lectern, though organizers said those details will be hammered out in the coming weeks.

Miami-Fort Lauderdale CBS affiliate WFOR will serve as the production television station for the debates, and station VP/General Manager Adam Levy said he is confident both events will enjoy significant live viewership and an additional audience via rebroadcast of the programs on multiple platforms.

“These high-profile events will attract a significant and diverse viewership,” he said. “Our commitment is to produce an excellent exchange among the candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.”

Other stations signed on to broadcast: WPBF (ABC) in West Palm Beach, WESH (NBC) in Orlando, First Coast News in Jacksonville, WCJB (ABC) in Gainesville, WFLA (NBC) in the Tampa Bay area, WCTV (CBS) in Tallahassee, WEAR (ABC) in Pensacola and WMBB (ABC) in Panama City. The debates will air on either WBBH (NBC) or WZVN (ABC) in the Fort Myers market.

Gwen Graham: Rick Scott and Cabinet should take a page from Reubin Askew

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham said Tuesday that Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet need to bring back the voting rights restoration process implemented by Gov. Reubin Askew and used by her father, Gov. Bob Graham.

Graham’s demand came after a federal judge blocked Florida’s “fatally flawed” process of restoring voting rights and gave Scott and the Cabinet a month to put in place a different system of restoring felons’ right to vote.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the current system, whereby felons must wait five to seven years before they can apply to a board made up of Scott and the Cabinet for restoration, gives “unfettered discretion” to the board.

“Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam brought our state back to the 1950s by forcing citizens to grovel and beg for the most basic of human rights — the right to vote. Today’s court order is a win for Democracy,” Graham said.

“Governor Scott and the Cabinet should immediately implement the rights restoration process enacted by Governor Reubin Askew and used by my father,” Graham said. “Floridians believe in second chances. If you’ve served your sentence and paid your debt to society, you deserve to have your voting rights restored. We should be encouraging returning citizens to be active and involved members of society — and that begins with voting.”

Askew, who served two terms as governor in the 1970s, put in place a system to automatically restore voting rights to felons who completed their sentences. Graham continued the policy during his two terms as governor in the 1980s.

No matter the system proposed, Florida voters will have the option of voting for Amendment Four, the “Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative,” on the 2018 ballot.

A recent poll found 71 percent of registered voters said they’d vote “yes” and 22 percent said they’d vote “no” on the proposal. The amendment would require 60 percent support to pass.

“Stripping Floridians of their rights is a disgraceful policy with roots in the Jim Crow era,” Graham said. “If Rick Scott won’t act to restore voting rights, the people of Florida will do it for him this November — and, as governor, I will ensure the rights restoration amendment is fully implemented.”

Phil Levine comes to the ‘burg; here are a few first impressions

It’s a great time to be Philip Levine, the former mayor of Miami Beach who is now the for-sure front-runner for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s wide-open gubernatorial race.

The latest poll — the second in a week — shows Levine leading former congresswoman Gwen Graham and way ahead of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Entrepreneur Chris King, whose increasingly narrow path to victory is via the same centrist lane Levine occupies, is struggling to register in the surveys.

Levine has pushed his way to the top of the field, in part, by doing the same thing the current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion did to win in 2010 and again in 2014: open his personal checkbook. Kevin Cate, a media consultant to Gillum’s campaign, estimates (in a must-read analysis) that Levine has already spent $6.01 million on TV advertising. That’s half as much as what billionaire Jeff Greene spent during his entire 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate.

But it’s not money alone which has Levine atop the field. He’s positioned himself as the authentic optimist versus the dour, scolding Graham and the exciting but divisive Gillum.

Levine was in St. Petersburg over the weekend to open the first campaign outpost there of any of the gubernatorial campaigns. Having never met Levine, I asked for a few minutes before he cut the ribbon on his regional HQ. He and a couple of staffers met me for a soft taco and a Corona (the beer was mine) at Casita Taqueria in the burg’s Grand Central District.

Here are a few first impressions of Levine and his campaign.

— Levine has a great answer for the dog-whistle talk about how he might not be able to win in places north of I-4. It’s his answer to share, so I’ll let him, but needless to say, he knows that he’s a Jewish guy from South Florida. In fact, he says his favorite type of question is when people ask him how someone with the last name like Levine can win in the Panhandle.

— Authentic. That’s the word you hear a lot from Levine. He believes that’s what sets him apart from his Democratic AND Republican opponents. He insists (and seems) very comfortable in his skin. He was also interested in my opinion about who I thought was the most authentic among the Republicans.

— Levine bristles when his progressive credentials are questioned. He believes his record in the private sector and as mayor of Miami Beach speaks for itself when it comes to the issues Democratic primary voters care about.

— I get worried when wealthy politicians say things like ‘they don’t need to be governor‘ or ‘they don’t have to be in office to be successful.’ This is especially worrisome after the election of Donald Trump and Rick Scott, whose checkbooks have enabled them to eschew some of the necessary rigors of politics. It’s also a rich guy’s way of reminding you how rich they are. Levine comes close to saying stuff like that, but doesn’t go full-entitled.

— If I am playing fantasy campaign staff and I had to draft a team from the existing operatives working in the state, I’d be most satisfied with Levine’s team, especially after the hiring of Max Flugrath as press secretary. (Of course I’d draft Ashley Walker with the first pick, but she’s too busy running a slew of super PACs to direct a gubernatorial campaign.) No disrespect to Julia Woodward or Omar Khan, but Christian Ulvert as GC and Matthew Van Name as manager is the best one-two punch of any of the Democratic campaigns. Flugrath, who did miracle work with the Florida House Democratic Caucus, just adds further depth to Levine’s team. Top to bottom, I believe Levine has built the best staff. (One note: despite the campaign’s protestations to the contrary, Republican strategist Adam Goodman is involved in Levine’s bid at some level; there’s nothing official, but you know how you can tell someone’s been in a room recently even though you didn’t see them? That’s what my gut tells me about Goodman’s involvement. He’s there somewhere.)

— Levine says he and his team are having a lot of “fun” and that shows with the easygoing nature of the staff who was with Levine in St. Petersburg. Maybe Graham’s having fun at her workdays, and maybe Gillum’s having fun while barely hanging on to his position in the race. But there’s no doubt Levine is enjoying how his campaign is proceeding.

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