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The Keiser Bunch - Belinda Keiser

FMA slams ‘blue wave’ Belinda Keiser in new ad

A political committee tied to the Florida Medical Association released a new ad Wednesday hammering Belinda Keiser, who is running as a Republican in the special election for Senate District 25.

FMA is backing Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell in the SD 25 race, which is opening up this year due to the early exit of Senate President Joe Negron.

“The Keiser Bunch,” as the title hints, borrows heavily from the intro to Sherwood Schwartz’s famous 1970s sitcom to cast Keiser as a faux Republican, still in league with the Democrats she’s been donating to for decades.

Keiser takes center square in the Better Florida Fund Corp ad while Democrats Hillary Clinton, Charlie Crist, Bob Graham, Al Gore, Alcee Hastings, Buddy MacKay, Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Shultz fill out the remainder of the grid.

Those eight Democrats got a spot in The Keiser Bunch because they’re among the better-known Democrats who have received campaign contributions from Keiser, but that list isn’t exhaustive.

“Here’s the story of Belinda Keiser moving from Parkland to run as a Republican for Senate. She’s donated thousands to Democrats like ‘crooked Hillary,’ Al Gore, Debbie Wasserman Shultz and not one dime to President [Donald] Trump. And she’s even run for office as a Democrat,” the ad narrator states.

The ad then pans over a spreadsheet showing dozens of donations Keiser made to Democratic politicians over the years. Federal candidates alone have received $141,667 from the Keiser University chancellor, add in state-level candidates and the Florida Democratic Party and that figure approaches nearly $200,000 without adding in the funds she used to boost her failed campaign as a Democrat for state House.

Those aren’t all old contribs, either — just six months ago she cut a $1,000 check to Plantation Sen. Lauren Book, and in July 2017 Crist, now a Congressman, received a $2,500 check.

“Blue wave Belinda has paid her dues to the left, but this Broward County Democrat won’t fool us. Vote no on ‘blue wave’ Belinda Keiser,” the ad concludes.

Keiser’s palatial Parkland home is 80 miles away from the southern border of SD 25, which covers all of St. Lucie and Martin counties, along with a small portion of Palm Beach County. Despite the long trek, she filed for the seat using the address of Keiser University’s St. Lucie campus shortly after Negron’s announcement.

Since then she’s attempted to paint herself as a loyal Trump supporter who has been a member of the Republican Party since the turn of the century, though a cursory search of her own statements shows she joined the GOP no earlier than 2007.

The ad is below.

Steve Schale: Florida, persuasion or turnout, or both?

In the never-ending quest to simplify Florida, one of the ongoing debates about winning the state is whether Florida is a state won by winning persuadable voters, or whether it is all about turning out one’s base.

I remember when I started with Barack Obama, I got a ton of advice — most of it unsolicited (much was helpful), though a significant portion went something like this:

“Steve, nothing matters but I-4 … Steve, if you don’t maximize the Jewish vote, you can’t win … Steve, the field is dumb, it is an air war state … Steve, TV is dumb, it is a field war state … Steve, you have to do better with absentees … Steve, don’t waste money trying to convince Democrats to vote by mail … Steve, you have to watch your floor in North Florida, or you can’t win … Steve, you have to take Obama to Condo X, or you won’t win … Steve, you have to pay for bus benches in Miami, or you can’t win.”

You get the point.

Here is the secret — all of it matters. Florida is neither a persuasion state or a turnout state. It is, in my honest opinion, both. It doesn’t matter if it is a presidential cycle or a midterm year, Florida is a state about managing margins, everywhere.

Avid readers of my blog (thank you to all three of you) have read me refer to Florida as a self-correcting scale. The bases of both parties do a nice job of balancing — or canceling themselves out, almost regardless of population or demographic shifts.

Before we go any further — it is important to note that this phenomenon is almost exclusively a result of my party losing vote share among non-Hispanic whites. If we were winning non-Hispanic whites at a level anywhere near Obama 2008, based on the demographic shifts in Florida, we would be a leaning to likely Democratic state.

At the same time — if Florida wasn’t experiencing demographic changes — and the Republicans weren’t losing share among voters of color — particularly Hispanics, we would be a predictably Republican state. Functionally, if either party can broaden their own coalition, Florida quickly gets less competitive.

But these two factors have largely canceled each other out — hence the self-correcting scale.

Let’s review quickly how Democrats and Republicans win Florida.

Because I am a Democrat, let’s start there. Democrats earn their votes in a handful of counties, specifically: Leon, Gadsden, Alachua, Hillsborough, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade.

Winning Democratic candidates typically do a few other things: win Pinellas, win St. Lucie, win a few North Florida counties like Jefferson, maintain reasonable margins counties like in Duval, Sarasota, Volusia, and Seminole. They also maintain a reasonable floor in North Florida, suburban/exurban counties around I-4 and the Fort Myers media market.

For Republicans, their math is a little different — they win a lot more counties but by relatively smaller counties. Their win comes from winning in places like Pinellas and St. Lucie as well as running up the score in places like Duval, the suburban and exurban counties around I-4, and in southwest Florida.

I’ve written extensively about this dynamic in presidential cycles. You can read my primer on Florida here, or my 2016 debrief here and here, but in short, I would argue there was a lot of misreading of the Obama wins in Florida.

Yes, they were driven by significantly increasing the margins in the Democratic base counties over John Kerry and growing them in 2012. But here’s the thing — that alone wouldn’t have won the state. In both 08 and 12, Obama generally kept the margins in check in the GOP counties — and he won the few battleground counties that exist in Florida.

Take Obama 12 and Hillary Clinton 16 — both races decided by a roughly 1 percent margin. For all the chatter about a “less than enthusiastic” Democratic base, Clinton won the base Democratic counties by more than Obama did.

Her problem wasn’t turnout. Her problem was Trump winning the few battleground counties and setting records in both share of the vote and actual vote margins in those places where they must run up the score to win, and where we need to keep it in check.

I can read your mind — “That’s interesting Steve, but this is a midterm cycle, and you know it is different.”

Yes, it is — and no it isn’t.

Yes, it’s different because the electorate is smaller, and at least in the last two cycles, been more Republican (a fact impacted by two consecutive midterm waves for the GOP), which was a change from 06, where turnout marginally leaned Democratic (and Dems won 2 statewide races).

But there are a lot of similarities between the presidential and midterm cycles. Both Republicans and Democrats still need to carry their margins in the same counties as they do in presidential cycles. While the vote totals are different in individual regions and counties are different, the functional roadmaps for winning isn’t.

Rick Scott won two elections by a point. However, the shape of those wins was quite different, and in those differences lies the path to how the Democrats can win in 2018.

In 2010, the Democratic struggles were a creature of three real problems: Hispanic drop-off from 2008, lower participation among white Democrats particularly in Central Florida, and a wave of GOP and GOP-leaning NPA voters who saw voting for the GOP as a way to send a message to President Obama.

From a math standpoint, this led to lower than necessary margins in South and Central Florida base counties. But here is the thing, Scott ran up some very large margins in parts of the state, Alex Sink kept him in check in many others. In fact, she kept him in check by more than enough in many GOP counties to have a winning coalition if the Democratic counties had performed well. But they didn’t.

The lesson of Sink: Florida isn’t alone a persuasion state.

Charlie Crist’s math in 2014 was quite different. Crist ran on a far more progressive platform than Sink, with a fairly robust turnout operation — certainly not the size of Obama, but the largest in midterm cycle history for Florida Democrats, and as a result succeeded to run up the score in the base Democratic counties, winning the three South Florida counties by almost 100,000 more votes than Sink. He also did well enough in the “Crist counties” — the stretch from Pasco through Sarasota, where his brand is most established, winning those counties by almost 2.5 percent, where Sink lost them by a half of a point.

But the floor fell out for him in North Florida. Despite North Florida shrinking as a percentage of the electorate from 2010 (20 percent) to 2014 (19 percent), Crist lost the region by 8 percent more than Sink did, netting Scott’s margin roughly 107,000 more votes, more than wiping out the gains Crist made in the base Democratic counties (97,000 votes).

One other way of looking at it, Crist won the base Democratic counties by 92,000 more votes than Sink did. He lost everything else by 95,000 more votes than Sink. The lesson of Crist, as was also the lesson of Clinton: Florida isn’t alone a turnout state.

If Clinton has her margins in the base counties, plus Obama’s elsewhere, she wins by a point or two.

If Sink had her math, plus Crist’s margins in the base counties, he wins by about a point. If Crist has his margins, plus Sink’s margins only in North Florida, he wins by almost a point.

2018 will be different yet.

The Democratic nominee will benefit from an electorate that is more diverse, meaning the base county margins should rise, and I think there is a lot of room for growth in the Orlando urban core. However, at the same time, they will be unlikely to be able to count on some the margins Crist won in his corner of the state and will have to contend with areas where the GOP population is growing.

The questions aren’t as simple as how do we turnout more voters, but also have to include questions like how do we keep Duval looking more like it did for Obama, Clinton, and Sink than it did for Scott in 14 or Rubio?

For Republicans, they must deal with the fact demographics are changing in a way that helps the Democrats, and that 2018, unlike 2010 and 2014, will almost surely not be a very good Republican year, as we’ve seen in each of the competitive special and off-cycle elections this year.

I believe that in Scott/Nelson, as well as in the Governor’s race, Florida starts this year somewhere around 47-47 — maybe even 48-48, and we will be fighting over the path to that remaining 150,000 votes or so that a winning candidate will need.

Some of those votes are found by increasing turnout, others won and lost in the persuasion fight. The candidate who wins in 2018 won’t find those votes by getting just one of those things right, they will succeed in building the right answer to a puzzle.

That is just how Florida works these days.

Ron DeSantis hasn’t always been a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump

If there is one thing fueling Ron DeSantis’ ambition to be Florida governor, it is this: A full-throated endorsement (on Twitter, at least) from President Donald Trump.

But when Congressman Matt Gaetz takes to Breitbart to say “Trump knows he can trust DeSantis to make tough decisions,” it seems as if DeSantis also has the president’s back.

That has not always been the case

For DeSantis tosuggest he has always been a strong Trump supporter involves some revisionist history.

Looking back over the past few years, it’s clear DeSantis began bolstering the president only when it became politically expedient.

For example, as Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith noted in Sept. 2015, DeSantis sounded as if he favored Marco Rubio over Trump: “DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach tells The Buzz he is staying out of it, but in a recent 20-minute conversation he mentioned Rubio at least three times. When we suggested that he sounded like a Rubio guy, DeSantis acknowledged he likes the idea of Rubio facing Hillary Clinton: ‘He would be a good contrast, There’s no doubt about it.’”

A few months later, DeSantis was again hesitant to weigh in on Trump.

“No response so far to multiple requests for comment,” Smith wrote about asking DeSantis his feelings on then-candidate Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

And during the Republican presidential primaries, DeSantis was still not a fan, telling “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” Feb. 25, 2016, that he was NOT endorsing Trump.

“Sir, you haven’t endorsed anyone?” host Van Susteren asked. “No.”

DeSantis campaign spokesman Brad Herold later clarified to the Times: “DeSantis has long decided to remain neutral in the presidential primary and is focused on building a broad coalition for his Senate campaign.’”

In other words, he was not a Trump devotee at the time.

Soon afterward (March 14), the National Journal reported on DeSantis’ response to being asked point-blank if he would support Trump as the Republican nominee.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said: “I don’t think I could.” DeSantis, on the other hand, “refused to answer the question altogether, saying, ‘I just don’t want to. … You can either run your own race, or you can make comments about other races.’”

By May, instead of full-fledged support, DeSantis only offered a tepid approval, mainly because Trump was “the Republican nominee.”

Again, the Miami Herald noted the congressman’s long-standing reluctance: “… DeSantis plans to vote for Trump. ‘The congressman has been clear that he will support the Republican nominee,’ campaign manager Brad Herold said. As recently as March, DeSantis would not endorse.”

While an actual endorsement wasn’t forthcoming, DeSantis’ real intent was a little clearer.

On May 6, Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote: “…While the GOP is not rallying in full support of Trump-for-president, it’s more unified in a sentiment stuck to [suntan lotion magnate Ron] Rice’s door: STOP HILLARY. That’s how a statement from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis reads. ‘Electing Hillary Clinton will continue America’s journey down the wrong track.’”

At that point, DeSantis’ only mention of Trump was anything but a ringing endorsement. In fact, it seemed more like resignation: “It is now clear that Donald Trump will accumulate the delegates necessary to be nominated by the Republican Party. If we want to defeat Hillary Clinton and have a chance to change the trajectory of our country, we need to unite behind the Republican ticket this November.”

Making matters worse for DeSantis comes by way of new reporting from POLITICO Florida.

On Monday, Matt Dixon noted the largest donation to DeSantis’ political committee in April came from Andy Khawaja, a major Democratic donor. Khawaja, a California payment processing executive and founder of Allied Wallet, gave the committee $100,000. His affiliated company, E-Payment Solutions, Inc., gave another $100,000 to DeSantis’ committee in February.

“This election cycle, he and his company have already given $1 million to Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, including Sen. Bill Nelson,” Dixon writes. “The super PAC is funding $2 million in ads supporting Nelson, calling him ‘one of America’s most independent Senators.’”

In 2016, Khawaja and his company gave nearly $6.5 million to Democrats, including more than $1 million to Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Revisionist history – and $200K Democratic backing – is not a good look for DeSantis, a candidate who claims to proudly carry the conservative banner, as well as Trump’s support.

Belinda Keiser

Belinda Keiser’s Democratic donations may trouble SD 25 Republican voters

Keiser University Vice Chancellor Belinda Keiser announced her bid for Senate District 25 Tuesday, but her past political contributions to Democrats should raise some questions about her attractiveness to Republican primary voters.

SD 25, held by exiting Senate President Joe Negron, covers St. Lucie and Martin counties as well as a piece of northern inland Palm Beach County.

Keiser University’s home base is also in Fort Lauderdale, though it has campuses all over the state, so a donation or two to Democrats in the largely blue South Florida county could be spun by Keiser as being pragmatic — in the age of Donald Trump, she may well say it’s evidence that “our system is broken” and, as a businesswoman, she had to do it.

That might serve as adequate cover for her donation to U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Keiser’s Parkland home in Congress. Ditto for her contribs to CD 20 U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, whose district includes Keiser University’s main campus, or Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who represents neighboring CD 23.

That same logic could apply to the checks she wrote former U.S. Reps. Peter Deutsch, Ron Klein and Robert Wexler, but at that point the “had-to-do-it” column is overfilled to the point of bursting.

Assuming Republican voters can look past those, which is a big ask, there’s a veritable host of candidates Keiser has supported that simply won’t be glossed over.

Keiser has cut checks to the failed presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, to St. Petersburg U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. To top it all off, she’s donated to the Democratic National Committee and former California U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Sure, Charlie was a Republican once. And yes, he’s one of the Sunshine State’s most likable pols — he could teach a masterclass in retail politics. But that kind of logic won’t play well among Rick Scott voters. Same goes for Nelson. It doesn’t matter that SD 25 voters re-elected him by 10 points in 2012 — Keiser’s task of making them remember that is doomed in an election year where Nelson is standing in the way of a Scott Senate campaign.

And those Clinton and Gore donations. Yeesh. That’s going to be a hard one to sell in a district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

Then there’s the donations to Boxer and the DNC. There is simply no way to sidestep those.

A Republican who gives to their Democratic congressman? Fine. No GOP candidate is going to take down Deutch, anyway. A Republican who prefers Clinton to Trump? Not the best look in a primary campaign, but she’s definitely not alone on that one.

But in what world is someone who cuts checks to the DNC and boosts the campaign accounts of out-of-state Democrats considered anything other than a Democratic fundraiser? Not this one.

Good luck, Belinda. You’ll need it.

Jay Fant

Email insights: Jay Fant chides Ashley Moody over trial lawyer support

Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant knocked former judge Ashley Moody in a Tuesday email for campaign contributions she’s received from trial lawyers.

Fant and Moody, along with Dover Rep. Ross Spano and Pensacola Rep. Frank White, are competing in the Republican primary to replace termed out Attorney General Pam Bondi in the fall.

“Ashley Moody, who has won the backing of trial lawyers nationally and in Florida, has now surpassed the $100,000 mark in contributions from 90 trial lawyers and firms,” the Fant campaign said in the email.

“Moody’s mentor and former President of the liberal American Bar Association, Martha Barnett, is leading the charge. Barnett, who has close ties to Hillary Clinton, was reported to be ‘rainmaking for Moody’ and the checks from liberal special interests are certainly rolling in.”

The memo, complete with a spreadsheet showing $108,000 in contributions from attorneys, asks businesses to “pay close attention to the significant support Ashley Moody has secured from lawyers who advertise on TV” before laying out a final jab on trial lawyers.

“Trial lawyers want a revolving door for class action suits against successful businesses and it’s clear their candidate in the Attorney General’s race is Ashley Moody,” the message concluded.

The $108,000 listed in the email represents a small fraction of Moody’s $1.8 million raised, with majority of those dollars coming from the business community.

The email went out after Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw filed his first report as an AG candidate, showing about half of the $240,000 in his campaign coming from trial lawyers, as well as a $15,000 check from Swope Rodante to his committee.

That sum easily bests Moody’s total from the trial bar through her nine months in the race, making the Fant camp’s email look even more like another instance of him singling out Moody in the four-way race — remember the one-man debate White and Spano didn’t get an invite for?

The attack from Fant also follows recent reports on the mysterious origins of the $750,000 loan he made to his campaign back in September.

Sitting lawmakers are required to list their assets in financial disclosures, and Fant’s disclosures don’t show where that much money could have come from if not from an outside source, such as his wife.

Personnel note: Justin Day heads to Capital City Consulting

Capital City Consulting (CCC) has hired Justin Day away from The Advocacy Group (TAG), the company has announced.

Day now will open a new office in the Tampa Bay area with CCC partner Dan Newman.

It’s the first satellite office for INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2016 Lobbying Firm of the Year, which is looking to have a greater statewide presence and will continue to grow in other local markets.

“With CCC’s strong growth over the few years, a local office in Tampa is a natural progression,” said Nick Iarossi, the firm’s founding partner. “In fact, we have an eye toward future offices in key local markets to expand the services we can provide clients.”

Added Ron LaFace Jr., another founding partner: “Local market expansion has always been a goal to enhance our client services, but finding the right people is paramount.  

“Justin is a great fit for our firm’s culture, and to enhance our capabilities,” LaFace said. “We are excited to have him and Dan representing us in the Tampa Bay market.”

Day’s departure from The Advocacy Group was an amicable one and the two firms will continue to partner on local and state work, they said.

“We wish Justin the best of luck with CCC’s new Tampa Bay Office,” The Advocacy Group’s Slater Bayliss said. “We look forward to a mutually beneficial strategic relationship with CCC to better serve current and future clients.”

Day said, “I enjoyed my time at TAG and appreciate the smooth transition the great professionals provided me. Opening CCC’s first local office in Tampa Bay with Dan is an exciting endeavor and I’m very happy to be part of such a well-established and growing organization.”

And Newman said, “With our combination of public affairs, campaign and lobbying experience, Justin and I will bring an impactful team to Tampa Bay.”

Day has over 15 years of experience in the political and governmental fields to the firm. He provides guidance to clients that perform business with state, county, and municipal governments, as well as public-private partnerships, public transit, airports, and seaports.  

He also assists clients in all aspects of government affairs and business development including: procurement, regulations, legislation, solicitations, negotiations, teaming, and strategic planning. Day’s clients have interests in the areas of transportation, construction, education, public works, technology, consulting, affordable housing, and the environment.

Prior to joining CCC, Day worked with several Tampa Bay based public entities and private businesses.  

He also worked in senior finance roles on various political campaigns in Florida including U.S. Senate, Governor, Attorney General, and various local campaigns. Day has raised over $13 million dollars for local, state, and federal candidates.  

He is active in national Democratic politics serving on Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama’s National Finance Committees, and as the Tampa Bay Regional Finance Chairman for President Obama’s re-election campaign.  

In addition, he was a National Co-Chair for the Democratic National Committee’s Gen44 program. Currently, Day is the Deputy Treasurer for the Democratic Governors Association.  

Day has an undergraduate degree in International Affairs and a Masters Degree in Applied American Politics and Policy from Florida State University.  

He is a graduate of Leadership Tallahassee, and sits on numerous community boards including, Hillsborough Community College Foundation Board of Trustees, the Greater Tampa Chamber Board of Directors, AMIkids Inc, Board of Trustees. Additionally, Day serves as an Advisor to Avant-Garde Growth Capital, LLC. He resides in Tampa with wife Elena.

Republicans go after Bill Nelson for supporting Hillary Clinton

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is releasing a new digital ad Monday morning that warns Florida Republicans that if Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson had his way, Hillary Clinton would be president.

The 30-second video replays Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” a couple different ways, and adds her recent comments, made in a speech in India, in which she dismisses the middle of the United States as supporting President Donald Trump‘s vision of “looking backwards.”

The ad then makes this pronouncement in text: “And if Bill Nelson had his way… Hillary Clinton would be president.” That is followed by a snippet from a 2016 campaign speech given by Nelson in which he declares, “Hillary will not only be commander in chief as president, but she will be the unifier in chief.”

The ad may test, among non-Republicans, whether Clinton will continue being more unpopular in Florida than Trump, making the case that Nelson opposed Trump and supported fellow-Democrat Clinton.

For now, Nelson is running for re-election without a big-name opponent, though Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to get into the race to be his Republican opponent.

“Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson and the Democratic Party share the same elitist disdain towards the needs of hardworking Floridians,” NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin stated in a news release. “Voters will be reminded that Nelson did everything he could to get Hillary Clinton elected president.”

Darryl Paulson: Can Democrats regain control of the Florida Congressional Delegation?

Since losing control of the Florida Congressional Delegation over a quarter-century ago, the Democrats have their best opportunity to regain control in 2018.

All the signs on both the national and state level favoring the Democrats.

After his first year, Donald Trump is the most unpopular president in modern history. The generic vote favors Democrats and they have clobbered Republicans in special elections. The most stunning was the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore. If Republicans cannot win in ultra-red Alabama, can they win anywhere?

In Florida, Republicans have all but abandoned the race to retain the seat held by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for a quarter century. Why waste money in a seat that is heavily Democrat and that Hillary Clinton won by 20 percent.

Neighboring District 26, held by Republican Carlos Curbelo, will also be hard to retain. District 26 is the most Democratic district in the nation held by a Republican. Curbelo has raised over $2 million, so this is not a sure pickup for the Democrats.

Republican Brian Mast, in District 18, has also raised over $2 million, but pundits have moved the seat from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.” Mast, a double amputee from the Afghan conflict, has just announced his opposition to the sale of assault weapons. Will this help or hurt his campaign?

Republican Ron DeSantis is abandoning a safe seat in District 6 to run for governor. Will Republicans be able to retain this seat against a strong challenge from Nancy Soderberg, former national security adviser for President Bill Clinton?

Republican Gus Bilirakis in District 12 has won most of his races by 20 points or more, but he faces a tough challenge from former FBI agent and federal prosecutor Chris Hunter, who has skills in attracting media attention.

Finally, Republican Vern Buchanan in District 16 faces his most difficult campaign since defeating Keith Fitzgerald by 7 percent in 2012. Shapiro is an attorney with broad name recognition and the ability to raise sufficient resources. The defeat of Buchanan’s son James in a special election for a Florida House seat has heightened concerns for Buchanan’s supporters.

Republicans still have the advantage, but Democrats need only to flip three seats to take control of the delegation.

The opportunity is there. Will the Democrats be able to take advantage of the situation?

Josie Tomkow KOs Jennifer Spath in HD 39 special primary election

In what may be shaping up as the political “Year of the Woman,” Josie Tomkow has won the Republican primary for House District 39, which opened up over Thanksgiving with the departure of Neil Combee.

Tomkow, a 22-year-old University of Florida student, took a decisive 65 percent of the vote to become her party’s nominee for the Republican-leaning seat covering Auburndale, Polk City, North Lakeland and a portion of Osceola County.

Combee had won re-election in HD 39 by more than 62 percent in 2016.

“The community, especially the agricultural community, showed up!” Tomkow said in a statement. “As I’ve said from day one, I’ll never stop fighting for the people of this district, our heritage and our way of life.”

Tomkow’s opponent, 34-year-old Jennifer Spath, was trounced with only 35 percent of the vote.

Tomkow previously worked in the office of Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, and in her parent’s business, Cattlemen’s Livestock Market in Lakeland. Throughout the race, she has led in fundraising, taking in nearly $120,000 by Feb. 15.

“Josie was one hell of a campaigner,” said Republican consultant Tom Piccolo.

Spath, a former prosecutor in the 10th Judicial Circuit, raised only $27,325 in the race, and loaned her campaign $31,500.

The race became contentious after a political-action committee supporting Tomkow sent six flyers in the last month to HD 39 Republican voters, which described Spath as a “liberal” fan of Hillary Clinton and soft on crime as a prosecutor.

“You can’t trust liberal lawyer Jennifer Spath’s judgment,” one of the mailers said, pointing out that, in 2012, she agreed to a plea deal to a man charged with battering a law enforcement officer.

“The man only spent 120 days in jail with 12 months’ probation for this crime of battery on a law enforcement officer,” the flyer stated. The flyers were paid for by the Venice-based Make America Great Again political action committee.

Another flyer showed a picture of Spath next to Clinton with a heart between them.

On Nov. 24, Combee resigned his seat to take a post as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Tomkow now faces Democrat Ricky Shirah in the May 1 special election.

Hillsborough Republicans choose new chair Tuesday

For years, the Hillsborough GOP dominated local politics.

However, over the past few years, their grip has begun to loosen.

Long known as a bellwether in presidential elections, Hillsborough went big for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while the rest of the state went for Donald Trump.

And while local Republicans won all of the county’s legislative elections, former federal prosecutor Andrew Warren defeated incumbent Mark Ober in the State Attorney’s race by running on a reform agenda, while Pat Kemp easily defeated Tim Schock in the only countywide race for commissioner.

The collective energy levels of the two local parties have been evident since the 2016 election, with the Hillsborough Democrats having signed up a record 270 precinct members in recent months, while the GOP meetings are not nearly as well attended.

On Tuesday night, members of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee will choose a new chair to succeed Deborah Tamargo, who resigned last month over what seemed to be a relatively trivial matter.

Then again, Tamargo had been constantly fending off critics ever since she defeated former chair Debbie Cox-Roush in December 2014.

In December 2016, she was challenged by Jonny Torres, who was backed by Republican state House members Jamie Grant, Dan Raulerson (since retired), and Ross Spano, in an ultimately losing effort.

“Out of respect to Chairwoman Tamargo, not everyone is willing to step forward,” Torres said in a debate regarding unhappiness some party members felt about her leadership. “What I keep hearing from the campaigns and the consultants time and time again is that they saw little to no members from the REC supporting their efforts.”

Party members will choose a replacement for Tamargo Tuesday night. GOP consultant April Schiff will be running against Jim Waurishuk, a former deputy intelligence chief of U.S. Central Command.

Waurisuk was one of four members of the party’s executive committee to file a grievance last year against Tamargo, accusing her of violating state party rules, specifically in her manner of discussion over the site of the party’s monthly meetings.

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