Thirteen Russian nationals who posed as Americans in social media and courted pro-Trump political groups in Florida are accused of criminally interfering with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.
The indictment does not charge that Russian succeeded in swaying any votes, but it says Russians played a role in promoting President Donald Trump and making “derogatory” comments against Hillary Clinton. Their method was to use false U.S. personas to communicate with Trump campaign staff in local communities, including in Florida.
“The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities from both political campaigns and staged political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists,” prosecutors said.
Americans, however, did not know they were communicating with Russians, prosecutors add.
When the election was at its peak, there were a few instances in which Russians messed with pro-Trump groups in Florida and came into contact with Trump campaign officials in the state.
The indictment also charges that Russians used social media accounts last November to promote a false voter fraud conspiracy theory in Broward County, alleging that tens of thousands of ineligible mail-in Clinton voter were being reported.
Prosecutors also said Russians paid two Americans at Florida pro-Trump rallies to “build a cage on a flatbed truck and wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform.”
Last August, Russians used the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” on Facebook to contact a Florida-based Trump supporter group, pushing for the group to organize a “YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town.”
“Florida is a purple state and we need to paint it red,” the Russians wrote, “If we lose Florida, we lose America.”
For Sarasota-area Democrats, hope springs eternal.
Tuesday night, Margaret Good won a decisive seven-point victory over Republican James Buchanan in the House District 72 special election.
Now Democrats are eyeing much bigger prey — Florida’s 16th Congressional District held by Vern Buchanan,who made millions owning car dealership before turning to politics in 2006, winning a hugely controversial victory over Democrat Christine Jennings.
Since then, Buchanan has never faced a serious threat.
Sarasota Republicans openly mocked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last spring when they added CD 16 to the list of seats that they were targeting for recruiting and potential investment.
“The Democrats have zero chance at winning this seat,” quipped Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters after that announcement was made. And while not sounding so bravado immediately after Good was declared the victor on Tuesday night, still vowed that he was “confident” that the GOP will win the seat back in November.
Democrats have found the man they believe can topple Buchanan in the fall in attorney David Shapiro, whoin the last quarter of 2017 received more than 500 contributors totaling more than $250,000.
Shortly after Good’s victory Tuesday night, Shapiro’s campaign team fired off a memo to reporters (available on his campaign website) laying out the predicate on how they believe Buchanan is now very vulnerable.
However, it appeared that some of the data employed in the original memo to reporters was inaccurate.
The memo begins by asserting, HD 72 makes up 21.6 percent of the 16th Congressional District and is “a full 10-points more Republican by party registration” than CD 16 as a whole.
Where HD 72 saw a 12-point swing between 2016 and 2018, the memo asserts CD 16 will put Shapiro in “a strong position to win in November.”
According to a graph in Shapiro’s memo, HD 72 party registration is 50 percent Republican, 29 percent Democrat and 20 percent independent. Comparing it to the CD 16 political party breakdown, the memo claims HD 72 is a “full 10 points” more Republican.
Not exactly. A check of the closing book on party registration on HD 72 as of last month shows — courtesy of the Division of Elections website — that is in fact, 42 percent Republican, 33 percent Democratic, and 25 percent NPA. That breakdown is extremely close to the CD 16 demographics of 41 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat and 27 percent independent (HD 72 makes up 21.6 percent of CD 16).
When contacted, Shapiro campaign manager Jason Ascher acknowledged the error and has subsequently corrected it on the website.
The highest-profile Democratic candidate on the ballot in 2016 and 2014 also fared much better in HD 72 than in CD 16.
In 2016, Donald Trump won HD 72 by 4.8 percent over Hillary Clinton but took CD 16 by 10.8 percent (Buchanan also defeated Democrat Jan Schneider by 19.6 percent).
In 2014, Charlie Crist won HD 72 by 1 percent over Rick Scott. Nevertheless, Scott took CD 16 by 6 percent.
So recent elections bear out the assumption that, statistically, CD 16 will be a harder road to hoe for Democrats than HD 72 was.
Not that it can’t (or won’t) be done in 2018.
The Sarasota GOP establishment still believes Buchanan’s hegemony in the district can’t be broken.
“I don’t think there’s any chance that the Democrats can beat him, just because he’s done such a great job,” says Sarasota Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, a former longtime aide to Buchanan. “When you look at his record, he’s right in line with the district, and if you look at his hustle, I don’t think know if there’s a congressman that works more aggressively and does more outreach to the community than Vern.”
“Our argument still holds,” counters Ascher. “These two districts are very similar and what happened Tuesday night bodes very well for David’s campaign heading into November.”
For the closing moments of the House District 72 special election, Republican James Buchanan ripped a page from the Donald Trump campaign playbook – holding a Trump-like rally, complete with a chorus of “lock her up.”
While intended to excite supporters, the demonstration also set Democrats on fire.
The hourlong rally in Sarasota County – featuring a visit from Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski – sent a familiar message to many of the president’s supporters.
But the highlight of the event – and one that riled Democrats the most – came courtesy of state Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican in the race for attorney general, who asked the crowd of about 200, “Are we Trumpers?”
That applause line was quickly followed by another, more familiar chorus, where Fant compared Buchanan’s opponent, Democrat Margaret Good, with Hillary Clinton – chanting the popular Trump refrain “lock her up.”
Predictably, Democrats sprang into defense mode, with a call to supporters on the day before voters go to the polls in HD 72.
“The tone of the rally and the visit is on par with the campaign that Buchanan has ran, tying himself to Trump, and his father, Congressman Vern Buchanan, not to his own merits,” says an email from Florida Democratic Party representative Caroline Rowland.
Rowland continued: “This kind of rhetoric has no place in Southwest Florida in 2018 … Republicans continue to make defending Trump and his priorities their top issue, ignoring the fact that half of our state is in a recession … James Buchanan has made it very clear who he stands for, and it’s not the people of Sarasota.”
It should come as no surprise that tying a Republican candidate to Trump, one of the most of unpopular figures in politics, is a strategy many Democrats across the country will embrace in 2018. Then again, Republicans are increasingly using Trump cohorts (like Lewandowski and state Rep. Joe Gruters, who served as the candidate’s top man in Florida) to motivate supporters and boost turnout in special elections like HD 72 and the upcoming midterms.
It’s a battle we will see play out nationwide in the coming months. And Tuesday could show ultimately which narrative is more effective.
As “the best Democratic pickup opportunity in the country” — dubbed such by New York Times Upshot columnist Nate Cohn last summer — Florida’s 27th Congressional District is among the most competitive in 2018, at least with Democrats.
Since entering the CD 27 race in August, former Knight Foundation Director and Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman has raised more than $917,000, which his campaign claims is better than any other Democratic challenger running for Congress in Florida this year.
Furthermore, they maintain that his $404,000 haul in the fourth quarter alone was more than any other Florida Democratic incumbent (besides St. Petersburg’s Charlie Crist) and second among all Congressional Democratic challengers in the entire Southeast.
“I’m overwhelmed to have such strong support from the community, and I am proud to be running a campaign powered entirely by people, not PACs,” said Haggman in a statement.
“When voters send me to D.C., they will never have to wonder whether I am casting votes for them or the special interests. Every time, my vote will be cast for the residents of Florida’s 27th Congressional District,” he added.
At this point, note that state Rep. David Richardson began the year with the most money of any Democrat running in CD 27. The Miami Beach Democrat’s campaign coffers had over one million dollars, as well as the most cash on hand with more than $857,000.
However, Richardson’s totals also include a $500,000 campaign loan.
“My campaign’s financial support comes from more than 11,000 individuals who have made 18,000 donations,” Richardson responded. “That is more individual contributions than any candidate in this race, and we have the lowest average contribution of just $27 dollars. That’s $173,000 in low-dollar donations, 4 times as much as Haggman. We can’t have a campaign finance system that is dominated by Wall Street, and the millionaire class. Haggman’s campaign has raised 59% of their total donations, from 140 maxed out donors. That’s a campaign that is funded by the 1%, I’m committed to running a campaign funded by the people.”
Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held CD 27 for the past 29 years; she announced last year she would not run for re-election in 2018. That led to an explosion of Democrats competing in a district where Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 points in 2016.
In addition to Haggman and Richardson, other Democrats in the race include federal judge nominee Mary Barzee Flores, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn andMiami City Commissioners Ken Russell and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez,
In eight days, there will be a special election in Sarasota. It is a race that probably shouldn’t look interesting, but alas, it is turning into one heck of a fight.
For those of you not from Florida, the corners of this state take on the characteristics of the part of the country where people migrate from.
Sarasota, like much of Florida from Tampa south to Naples, has a Midwestern feel, a result of migration that came down from the parts of America accessed from I-75.
So, the voters here, in large part, have more in common with voters from the northern suburbs of Chicago (the district used to be spring training home to the real Chicago baseball team, the White Sox) than they do with voters who live just 20 miles to the east, in the more rural parts of Sarasota County.
The seat became open when the incumbent, Republican Alex Miller, resigned due to a change in her business. The Republicans have nominated James Buchanan, the son of the area’s incumbent Congressman, Vern Buchanan. The Democratic candidate is Margaret Good, a local attorney.
House District 72 is a lean-Republican district. Mitt Romney won it by 4, and Donald Trump won it by 5. Overall, Republicans have a ten-point advantage in voter registration.
However, despite these numbers, this is a place where Democrats have won: from 2006-2010, this seat was held by a Democrat, Keith Fitzgerald. In 2014, Charlie Crist beat Rick Scott by about 1.5 percent, and in 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain played to a draw.
Nonetheless, conventional wisdom would say this seat should be a little more Republican in a special election, due to their super voter turnout advantage, but alas, this isn’t a conventional wisdom year.
With a week to go before the Election, Democrats are turning out their voters at a higher rate than Republicans, and the race appears to be headed to a very tight finish.
Just how close?
Well as of this morning, some 20,621 voters have cast a ballot either by returning an absentee ballot or by voting in person at an early voting site, with Republicans holding a 199-ballot advantage.
So far, just under 17 percent of District 72 voters have voted. Democratic voter turnout is at 22.5 percent, while 17.5 percent of the district’s GOP voters have cast a ballot.
So how does this district typically perform?
In the last three top of the ticket races: the 2012 presidential, the 2014 governor’s race, and the 2016 presidentials, there is a distinct pattern: Democrats have won the votes cast before Election Day, and Republicans have won Election Day.
In 2012 and 2016, Obama and Hillary Clinton went into Election Day with a 3.5 and 5-point lead respectively. In 2012, Romney won Election Day by 15 percent, and in 2016, Trump won by 26 percent.
But 2014 looked a bit different, and in it, the path for how Democrats win here: Crist went into Election Day with a 7-point lead, but this time, Republicans only won Election Day by 6, leading to the Crist win in the district.
But since 2016 was more recent, let’s take a closer look at that race.
Overall, Republicans had about an 11.5 percent advantage in the share of the electorate. The way this broke down: Republicans held a 5.5 percent advantage in the share of voters who voted before Election Day, and about a 23 percent advantage on Election Day. Just as in this race, Democrats had a higher turnout rate before Election Day than Republicans, but on Election Day, Democratic turnout cratered and GOP turnout spiked.
This translated to Clinton 5-point advantage among the 68 percent of the HD 72 voters who voted before Election Day, and Trump winning the remaining voters on Election Day by 26, for an overall Trump 5 percent win.
If you compare where Good is today compared to Clinton, in terms of turnout, the district is definitely more Democratic than it was going into Election Day in 2016.
By any fair assumption, given the district’s current turnout, and historical performance, she should be ahead by at least as much as Clinton was going into Election Day.
The unknown question, can she hold on — and just how much of a lead does she need to pull off the upset?
Eight days out, there are two big questions.
Republicans have more outstanding vote-by-mail ballots, so they see their numbers improve — though, over the last week, the delta between the two parties hasn’t changed much (remember Democrats in 2016 statewide left a lot more ballots on kitchen tables than did Republicans).
Right now, Democrats have returned 68 percent of their ballots, and Republicans have returned 65 percent, so I will be curious over the next week if the GOP can close that gap. What the final margin going into Election Day looks like will say a lot about the next point.
How much can Good lose Election Day by and still win?
If Election Day looks like Crist ‘14, she wins. If it looks like Trump ‘16, she loses.
Almost surely, it will land somewhere between the two.
Turnout can be hard to predict in these races. With more than a week to go, the turnout rate is already higher than the entire state Senate special election in Miami last fall.
In the recent St. Petersburg mayor’s race, 37 percent of the total vote came on Election Day. In the Miami State Senate race, it was around 27 percent. By the end of the week, this picture will be much more clear.
But one thing is for certain, this race is headed to the wire. Again, in a conventional special election, in a conventional year, this is a race we would not be talking about. But it isn’t, thus we are.
And at this point, a Democratic win here is far from improbable.
Democratic state Rep. David Richardson, who is running for Congress, introduced a resolution Wednesday morning calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The state House has no say in the impeachment of a president, though Richardson’s resolution aims to urge Florida’s state and federal elected officials to support the articles of impeachment filed last year by Tennessee Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.
“The evidence is strong that President Trump committed obstruction of justice,” Richardson said. “Last night’s State of the Union further demonstrates that this president is fundamentally unfit for office and Americans across the country must stand together in order to hold Trump accountable. I am even more convinced today than when I first called for Trump’s impeachment last November that this President must be removed from office. I hope others will join me.”
The Miami Beach Democrat is one of several candidates vying to flip the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring at the end of her term. Hillary Clinton carried CD 27 by 20 points in 2016.
Richardson filed the impeachment resolution at the start of the 2018 Legislative Session and has publicly called for Trump’s impeachment as far back as November.
At the beginning of his congressional campaign, he sent an email to supporters asking what they thought about impeaching the president.
“We were getting more replies on that topic than anything else we were messaging,” he recently told Florida Politics; more than health care, gun violence prevention or climate change issues, specifically.
Democrats Mary Barzee Flores, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, former Knight Foundation director and Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman, Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell and University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn are all in favor, as is Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, though she was more measured in her take, saying that it’s “a serious process, and not one to be taken lightly, and if once all the facts are in, and impeachment is warranted, then absolutely.”
Monday saw a victory for the Donald Trump administration and its Congressional defenders when FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down.
As CNN pithily described it, “McCabe had become a central target of President Donald Trump’s ire toward the FBI over its involvement in the investigation into potential collusion between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.”
McCabe, slated to step down in March, has been said to be using accumulated leave. Members of the Florida Congressional Delegation have been among the staunchest Trump White House defenders, and the first to respond was Pensacola Rep. Matt Gaetz.
“The news that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down is a step forward. The past several weeks and months have seen worrisome evidence of bias and wrongdoing at the FBI come to light, including Peter Strzok’s ‘insurance policy’ that was discussed in ‘Andy’s office.’ This behavior is not befitting of America’s premiere law enforcement agency, which, like Justice itself, must be impartial,” Gaetz asserted via statement from his Congressional office.
“The FBI must do what it can to move forward with a clean slate. McCabe’s resignation was the right choice, and a step in the right direction. I will continue fighting on behalf of the American people to expose and eradicate corruption within the FBI and Department of Justice — equal and fair treatment under the law is the cornerstone of American values, and must be upheld at all times,” Gaetz added.
Gaetz has scrutinized what he and other Republicans perceive to be a tilt toward Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign from the FBI and the Department of Justice, and McCabe stepping down will allow the White House to select someone more attuned with Republican views on these organizations.
In December, Gaetz called attention to “extreme pro-Hillary Clinton bias” in the FBI, spotlighting on Fox News a McCabe email that denoted a “headquarters special.”
Per the Pensacola News-Journal, the “headquarter special” was an indication that “the normal processes at the Washington field office weren’t followed and he had a very small group of people that had a pro-Hillary Clinton bias who had a direct role in changing the outcome of that investigation from one that likely should have been criminal to one where she was able to walk.”
A national organization aimed at supporting progressive, millennial Democrats featured Florida House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani among four endorsed candidates introduced in a national press call Thursday.
Eskamani was joined by candidates running for a city council seat in Costa Mesa, Calif., a district judge’s bench in Austin, Texas, and a county judge’s office in Houston, Texas, during a Run For Something conference call. In the days after the national Women’s Marches, the group touted the four as promising, young women candidates, for support from its allied networks of other progressive-politics organizations, political donors, and political professionals and volunteers.
Eskamani, 27, of Orlando, described her background as an Orlando native and daughter of working-class Iranian immigrants, who followed her mother’s inspiration to obtain four college degrees, and become a political organizer and senior director of public affairs and communications for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
An organizer of the women’s marches in Orlando last year and last Sunday, Eskamani declared, “This is not just a moment in time, this is a movement in our history.”
She is running for HD 47 against Republican Stockton Reeves of Winter Park, both seeking to succeed Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park.
“It became quite clear from the [now-President Donald] Trump campaign that there is a desperate need for women in office,” said Eskamani, who also was featured last week on the cover of TIME magazine for an article on women who emerged from the marches to run for office.
She also noted that HD 47 is the home to Pulse, the gay nightclub that was the site of the horrible June 12, 2016 mass murder that took the lives of 49 people, and left 53 others wounded. “And so the issues of LGBTQ equality and gun safety are priorities for the district, and for me,” Eskamani said.
She also reminded listeners that HD 47 is in the heart of the I-4 corridor, arguably not only one of the most important places in the state but in the country when it comes to determining our political future,” she said.
Run For Something, founded by former members of HillaryClinton‘s presidential campaign and other Democratic campaigns and organizations, is dedicated to encouraging political runs by progressive candidates under the age of 35. Last week it announced endorsements of 51 candidates, including Eskamani and the others on Thursday’s call: Andrea Marr of Costa Mesa, Aurora Martinez Jones of Austin, and Lina Hidalgo of Houston. The organization has endorsed 89 candidatesfor the 2018 elections.
Both the Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida are reporting this morning on a poll being conducted in Miami over recent days, apparently testing the viability of a late-entry to the CD 27 Democratic Congressional primary by Donna Shalala.
Shalala certainly has some things going in her favor that could give her the veneer of “800 lbs. gorilla”-status in Florida’s 27th — particularly a Democratic primary — but there’s an extremely strong case to be made for why she shouldn’t run, and why she might actually lose if she does.
First, let’s dispense with the logical upside of a possible Shalala candidacy: Her name I.D. is likely near-universal in the wealthy, coastal 27th District that includes UM, where she reigned for over a decade and still holds major sway; one must assume her fundraising capabilities are gargantuan; and she’s an obscenely accomplished woman — in a Democratic primary electorate that’s nearly 60 percent female — in what virtually everyone has agreed is the #YearOfTheWoman.
But peel off a layer of the Shalala onion and (surprise, surprise!) it stinks — starting with her tenure at UM.
Shalala left “The U” in 2015 to all manner of acclaim and reverence, but her nearly 15-year term was marked by a number of scandals that will surely be relitigated in an electoral fight.
The big one, of course, is the case of Nevin Shapiro.
Shapiro, now sitting in prison for his role in a $900 million Ponzi scheme, spent most of the aughts as an active booster of the UM basketball team, and major donor to the University. And by “active booster,” I mean he bought hookers (among other things) for student-athletes. Shalala weathered the controversy, despite calls for her resignation at the time, but bet on this to dog a congressional run — and bet on previously unreported details to emerge.
She also went to war with organized labor at “The U,” not an insignificant player in a Democratic primary. In 2006, UM janitors went on, not just a strike, but a hunger strike to protest their low wages and lack of health care. At the time, their wages ranked 194th of 195 in a national survey of what universities paid their cleaning crews. At the time, Shalala was living in a nearly 10,000 square foot UM-owned mansion in tawny Coral Gables, while driving not one, but two UM-leased luxury vehicles.
Oh, and when she finally caved on wages she still refused to offer health care to those workers. That seems like a winner on every level in a liberal, Democratic primary, no?
Perhaps most salient at this particular moment in time is Shalala’s record on-campus rape, assault and where she might fit into the current #MeToo zeitgeist. That record is decidedly mixed — even before you add in her pre- and post-UM fealty to former President Clinton. Much has been made recently of the conflicted, sidelined position that Hillary Clinton has had to take with respect to #MeToo, despite the fact that her defeat to Donald Trump was arguably the catalyst for the whole deal.
Shalala will undeniably have to face tough questions on the issue as a loyal Clintonite, but their toughness will be compounded by her own mixed record on harassment and assault as a university president*, which includes controversies with both assault victims and accusers (separately), accusations of sweeping workplace harassment under the rug, a far too cozy relationship with the Coral Gables police chief that recently retired in semi-disgrace, and of course, her complicity/blind eye when it came to Shapiro supplying hookers to the UM basketball team.
(*It’s also worth noting that one of her potential opponents, former circuit judge, Mary Barzee Flores, has made #MeToo a centerpiece of her campaign, even releasing an ad on the subject.)
But her Clinton problem extends beyond Bill’s Willy — and may be the most compelling argument against her running in the first place. Voters — Democrats, Republicans, NPAs — are sick of the Clintons.
“Clinton Fatigue” has been a diagnosable electoral ailment since at least 1999. It arguably cost Al Gore the 2000 election (yes, Supreme Court, I’m aware). It arguably cost Hillary the 2008 and 2016 elections. And I don’t think you can argue, at this point, that voters are just done with these people.
What is further, unarguable, the fact is that Donna Shalala is one of “these people.”
There are lots of strong, Democratic candidates in FL-27: the aforementioned former judge, Barzee Flores; a young, Hispanic state senator, José Javier Rodriguez; the first openly-gay elected member of the Florida House, David Richardson; two city commissioners, Ken Russell and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez; and a first-time candidate and former Miami Herald reporter, Matt Haggman.
Democrats aren’t lacking a good option here. Exactly no one is clamoring for more Clintonia in the electorate.
Donna Shalala should say “thanks but no thanks” to this ill-conceived idea or risk having the voters tell her the same.
Kay Akins is still “pissed off” about Donald Trump‘s election more than a year ago. “It gets worse every day.”
The Naperville, Illinois resident joined thousands of protesters Sunday in what felt like a seismic level of antipathy for the President of the United States, felt in both St. Petersburg and many parts of the country.
A year ago, Akins participated in the massive Women’s March in Washington D.C. She never felt more solidarity with so many like-minded people in her life, she said.
This time around, Akins found herself in the Tampa Bay area; she drove by herself Sunday to the Women’s March in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park, joined by thousands of similarly like-minded people. Organizers called on them to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm elections.
Unlike last year, when the marches were all held on the day after the president’s inauguration, protestors held rallies over both weekend days this year, with gatherings Sunday in Las Vegas, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix and many other cities around the country.
On Saturday, a reported 120,000 crowded streets in Manhattan for a women’s march, with massive rallies in Chicago, D.C., the San Francisco area and many other locations.
Among organizers, the theme was “Power to the Polls,” featuring a call to have more women participate in elections this November.
But among those in the crowd, the focus was squarely on Trump.
“He awakened the sleeping giant,” said Patti Michaud, who served asco-captain of the Central Gulf Coast Women’s March.
An activist in the 1960s, Michaud said that while things may have become better for women, following Trump’s election, they were now “fighting for the rights we fought for fifty years ago.”
As a result, record numbers of women are running for office this year. At least 79 female candidates are exploring runs for governor, according to the Rutgers UniversityCenter for American Women and Politics.
Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, announced last month that over 25,000 women had contacted the organization about running for office since the 2016 election. Additionally, over 8,000 people have signed up to help women run for office.
Among those locally who are pursuing a run for office for the first time is Tampa resident Kimberly Overman, a Democrat running for the Hillsborough County Commission\. Overman attended last year’s march in Washington, which she called “inspirational” and said it demonstrated the power of women working together to get something done.
“I think that’s one of the values of having women in the process,” she said, “whether it be on the corporate side and corporate boards, whether it be on the government side in terms of serving for office, whether it be in the lobbying world, where women actually can help people find a consensus and find some good solutions.”
Other female candidates in attendance included Democrat Jennifer Webb, who is taking a second shot at the House District 69 seat this year.
Trump’s election was a shock, one that took awhile to get over, said Palm Harbor resident Kim Nymeyer. Like others at the event Sunday, she called her participation in last year’s march a cathartic experience.
It’s different this time around, Nymeyer added. “People are asking: What is the action now?”
Joining Nymeyer was her friend Marlene Witherspoon, who made the trek from Fort Myers to St. Pete. The two sat with beach chairs directly in front of the stage at Williams Park.
Reflecting on the 2016 election, Witherspoon admitted she was restrained in her support for Hillary Clinton, the reason she didn’t campaign for her in the conservative hometown, as she had for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
“I wasn’t on board with her,” she recounts. “She was too polarizing for me to risk knocking on doors to people [who] I know are Republicans.”
While Trump’s candidacy brought out conservative voters disaffected from the political process for years, his subsequent election has energized progressives who had been indifferent in the past, such as Lakeland resident Michelle Ploughman.
Wearing an “Elizabeth Warren in 2020″ T-shirt, Ploughman said the opportunity to empower female voices is part of the movement in which she’s taking part. She cited the power of black women in particular for Democrat Doug Jones’ victory over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election last month.
“That’s what this is all about for me. It’s really just promoting the idea that we all have the chance to make change in whatever area we choose and the best choice at this point is to vote.”
There were dozens (if not hundreds) of signs held up by those in the crowd: “The future is female,” “Vote like a Girl,” “Stop tweeting and read a book,” to name a few.
Scheduled to appear was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, but events with the government shutdown in Washington precluded his appearance.
As was the case last year, Mayor Rick Kriseman made an appearance, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine.
“Are you all ready to get expelled from Trump University?” Levine asked to a roar of approval.
Levine then awkwardly posited that it was time to enroll in a new university: “The university of doing the right thing.”
That’s a mantra heard in his often-aired television commercials touting his candidacy. In a creative bit of outreach, Levine also paid to co-sponsor the event.
In a four-and-a-half minute speech, Levine touted campaign pledges: raising the minimum wage, investing in public education and keeping a strong environment. And he excitedly told the crowd that November’s election in Florida was the most important “in the world.”
“Because so goes this governorship this year, so goes the presidency in 2020,” he said. “Women of Florida, you must vote. We must change our state. We will change our country. We will change the world. It begins right here in St Petersburg. It begins right here in Florida.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King spoke later in the afternoon as well.
In the audience, St. Petersburg resident Joan Thurmond was wearing a T-shirt touting the candidacy of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, yet another one of Levine’s opponents in the Democratic race (Gillum and Gwen Graham, the other major Democratic candidate for governor, spoke in Miami on Sunday).
“I think he’s a racist,” Thurmond said of Trump. “A bigot. And I really think that he does not know what running the most powerful country in the world is all about. ”
Thurmond added that she didn’t appreciate his recent comment reportedly disparaging African nations.
“Being African-American, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against.”
Although overwhelmingly female in number, the crowd was diverse regarding race and especially in age, where toddlers to seniors were well represented.
Whether 2018 will be “The Year of the Women” at the ballot box won’t be known until after the November 6 midterms. But to women like Akins, their outlook on politics has been forever changed, no matter what happens this fall.
“My husband always says, ‘you can’t do anything,'” she recounted. “I said, ‘I can be there and give my voice.'”