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Winners and losers emerging from St. Petersburg’s municipal elections

Tuesday’s slate of elections in St. Petersburg certainly provided a list of winners and losers, and I’m not just talking about candidates. Here’s a list of the real winners and losers emerging from the city’s general elections. Please let me know if I missed anyone.

The Biggest Winners

To the victors, go the spoils. Right, Mr. King?

Kevin King and Ben KirbyKriseman‘s top City Hall staffers earn six-figure salaries in their positions. Had Kriseman lost, it is highly doubtful these two (fathers of young children) would have found other jobs that pay nearly as well. Now they’re set for another four years. No wonder King was spotted at Kriseman’s victory party drinking champagne right out of the bottle (or is that just an interesting craft beer?). The scoreboard is the best reward.


Tampa Bay Rays — The baseball team invested heavily in Kriseman’s campaign because it knows the Mayor would be more flexible than Baker when it makes its desire to move to Tampa official. And now with Kriseman in office for four more years and a viable stadium site in Hillsborough, the Rays need to come to the plate with their plans for the future.

Rene Flowers — If there was one local pol who is all-in for Kriseman, it is Flowers, the African-American School Board member who had served with Kriseman on City Council. It’s no coincidence that when during the primary she said it was time for Kriseman to take the gloves off, the campaign began to perform better.

Vito Sheeley and Ella K. Coffee – The pair, both longtime Democratic operatives, were central figures in the Kriseman campaign outreach to St. Pete’s African-American community, a voting bloc that again proved essential to his win, as it had in every mayoral race in the past couple of decades. While Kriseman received a boost from higher turnout downtown, he also enjoyed improved margins throughout several South St. Pete neighborhoods, including Pinellas Point and Lakewood Terrace – faring much better with the city’s black community than in the primary.

Jacob Smith — When he was first hired as campaign manager, there were more than a few raised eyebrows given his W-L record (he was Hillary Clinton‘s organizing coordinator in Michigan). But in both the primary and general election phases of the mayoral race, Smith’s field program delivered for Kriseman. Smith’s phone should be ringing off the hook today with calls from Democratic candidates looking for top-notch staff.

Jeff Copeland — If there is one tried-and-true fact about St. Pete politics, it’s that Copeland — the African American community advocate and businessman — is always on the winning side.

Want to know who’s gonna win an election in St. Pete? Ask Jeff Copeland.

Tom Eldon — Served as pollster for the Kriseman campaign. Described by many as low-key but very bright. Eldon knows Tampa Bay well and provided critical strategic counsel to help Kriseman win a second term.

Omar Khan — Came in at the end of the general election campaign to guide the Kriseman campaign down the final stretch. Made critical decisions on messaging and spending. Khan is quickly becoming one of the pre-eminent political consultants working in Florida politics.

Charlie Crist and Darryl Rouson — Two of Kriseman’s most visible cheerleaders stuck by Kriseman through thick and thin, rallying volunteers and serving as surrogates on the campaign trail. Don’t think for one second Crist isn’t enjoying sticking it to his one-time friend Rick Baker.

Darden Rice — This column isn’t supposed to be about the candidates who won because, well, that’s obvious. However, Rice makes it onto the list because with Kriseman not being able to run again and her winning re-election in a landslide, Rice is — right now — the default front-runner of the 2021 mayoral race.

Susan McGrath — Had Kriseman lost in the primary or the general, the knives would have been out for the leader of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Instead of that happening, McGrath is now part of a vanguard determined to turn Pinellas blue.

Sally Boynton Brown — As she did during the primary, the executive director of the FDP worked behind the scenes to turn a local race into a statewide affair. Kriseman was able to count on Democrat volunteers from throughout the state, and it was Boynton Brown who organized much of that. With the win in SD 40 and St. Pete, Florida Democrats are excited about their prospects heading into 2018.

David Jolly — No, he doesn’t like seeing his fellow moderate Republicans lose, but with Baker’s defeat and Jack Latvala‘s currently diminished influence, the former U.S. Rep. turned MSNBC star is close to being the top dog of Pinellas politics.

Chris Steinocher — Somewhere along the way, the president of the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce got cross-wired with Rick Baker, who came to view the ‘Tampa guy’ as ineffectual. Steinocher never publicly chose sides, but he made sure there were plenty of ribbons for Kriseman to cut. Maybe now the Chamber will have a better relationship with the Kriseman administration, although I’m not sure the hiring of Matt Lettelleir will help that.

LGBTQ community — No single bloc of St. Pete voters was more fearful of Kriseman losing than the LGBTQ community. That’s why it was extremely active on social media, where it was highly critical of Baker. The whole “backwards Baker” slogan really took root with the city’s LGBTQ residents. Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith summed it up this way, “Kriseman’s stellar record stands in stark contrast to Baker who as mayor treated us with indifference and contempt. We made sure people remembered that in the primary, and we will be back in November.”

St. Pete Polls — The local polling firm was criticized after the primary election for underestimating Kriseman, but Matt Florell and Co. rebounded nicely in the general election. It’s final survey of Kriseman vs. Baker pegged the race at Kriseman +2; the final result was Kriseman +3. Such accuracy should reassure gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, who St. Pete Polls says is way ahead of the rest of the Democratic field. (By the way, my final prediction was Kriseman winning with 51.5% of the vote. I apologize for being a tenth of a percentage point off.)

Gregory Wilson — Ho-hum, another win (he was Brandi Gabbard‘s general consultant) for one of the most competent and creative operatives in Tampa Bay politics. There are flashier consultant picks, but if I were a Democrat running somewhere in Tampa Bay, Wilson would be my first choice (sorry Meagan and Tom).

Meagan Salisbury and Tom Alte — Our affinity for Wilson aside, Blue Ticket Consulting was a big winner Tuesday, consulting on the campaigns of both Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll.

Pinellas Realtors OrganizationJoe Farrell and Co. are probably still sending mail to voters on behalf of Brandi Gabbard, their preferred candidate in the District 2 race. The Realtors’ muscle was the deciding factor in that race.

Charlie Frago — During the primary, we paired the Tampa Bay Times reporter with his colleague, Mark Puente, in the winners’ column. But even Puente will tell you Frago has been a one-man army during the general election. Contra its opinion section, the Times should be proud of Frago’s comprehensive coverage. I really can’t think of an aspect of the campaign Frago didn’t cover.

The rest of the local media — In addition to Frago, several other local journalists have done a solid job covering the mayoral race. Kudos to the ex-truck driver, as well as Evan Axelbank of Fox 13, Kate Bradshaw of Creative Loafing, Gypsy Gallardo of Power Broker Magazine, Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Anne Lindberg of Tampa Bay Reporter, our own Mitch Perry, and 10 News’ Noah Pransky, who was out with a blog post discussing the implications of Kriseman’s victory minutes after the results were official.

Deborah Clark and the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office — The SOE was on her game Tuesday night, posting election results within minutes of polls closing. And with a record turnout in St. Pete — 66,872 ballots were cast — the elections supervisor’s office also deserves credit for its role in encouraging residents to vote.

Vinoy Club members (like me) — Thanks, St. Pete voters, for letting us build a new parking garage.

The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club is undergoing a $50 million redevelopment. On Tuesday, The Vinoy won approval to build a one-story parking garage as part of that project, in place of eight existing tennis courts. The tennis courts would be moved on top of the garage, which would hold 270 parking spots.

Mixed bag

Black voters — For a few months every four years, the rest of the city pays attention to the issues of black residents. Candidates visit churches. Ministers make endorsements (which is an odd phenomenon to many white voters, who would run from their church if their parish priest told them how to vote). Reporters write about how winning the black vote is critical. Blah, blah, blah. By December, the politicians will have moved on and the folks who need help the most will be mostly forgotten.

Bill Edwards — Sure, the bazillionaire was one of Baker’s biggest donors, and it’s no secret that he and the Kriseman administration don’t always see eye-to-eye, but you know what, being a bazillionaire means never having to say you’re sorry. After Edwards makes a couple of key donations to Kriseman priorities, all will be well. That said, Major League Soccer coming to the ‘burg increasingly looks like a long shot.

Ed Montanari — Undoubtedly, the soft-spoken City Councilman is hurting for his dear friend, Rick Baker, but now he’s the leader of the loyal opposition. There’s real power in that.

Jim Rimes and Nick Hansen — You were expecting to see these two Baker consultants in the losers column, but I genuinely don’t believe they belong there. These two veteran operatives were responsible for making the trains run on time for the Baker campaign and in that, they did their job. The campaign’s infrastructure was sound — more than enough money was raised, more than enough volunteers were recruited, etc. — it was the strategy (Baker made the fatal mistake of being his own general consultant), the message, and the political environment which doomed the former mayor.

Kanika Tomalin — The Deputy Mayor is still the Deputy Mayor, but the shine came off Tomalin during this campaign. We’ll never know what really happened at MISRED, but there’s no disputing that the incident was one of the ugliest moments of Kriseman vs. Baker. For some reason, Dr. Tomalin has long been regarded as above the nitty-gritty of electoral politics; this campaign has proved that’s no longer accurate. The question going forward is: does Tomalin run for Mayor in 2021?

Nick Janovsky — The hyperactive political consultant lost — badly — in the District 2 race, but the Realtor and equality activist does in such spectacular fashion, I’m hard-pressed to ding him with an L. Still, couldn’t he have told Barclay Harless to smile more.

The Biggest Loser

Tim Nickens and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — It was only four years ago that Nickens and Daniel Ruth won Pulitzer Prizes for their editorials that encouraged Pinellas County to resume adding fluoride to the drinking water. Those editorials were so effective because they were so in tune with the mood of the community as evidenced by the fact that voters ousted two county commissioners who opposed fluoride in the water. That was then; this is now. Kriseman’s victory is the first time in St. Pete’s modern history that a candidate won a mayoral election without the Times’ recommendation. But this just wasn’t a case of not picking the winner. Again and again, Nickens’ poison pen went to work for Baker, shocking many longtime readers. That Nickens left the Democratic Party over this election speaks to how needlessly dramatic the editor was throughout the campaign. One former Times editor said Nickens and Co.’s behavior is a “major embarrassment (that) reflects the diminished state of the paper.”


Adam Goodman — A Democratic elected official asked me last night when was the last time the Republican ad man won an election that wasn’t an expected win. Actually, it wasn’t that long ago (Jolly’s special election in 2014), yet there are many politicos in Tampa Bay and Tallahassee who say the game has passed him by. His work for Baker was a game-changing disaster. During the primary phase, the ads Goodman cut were only ineffectual; in the general election, the ones with the hipster motifs were cringe-worthy and counterproductive. If Baker can blame anyone other than himself for his loss, it’s Goodman.

Goliath Davis — Is it really a surprise that the controversial former police chief is no longer a gatekeeper to the black vote? Baker made a tactical mistake relying so heavily on Davis’ advice, but then again Baker has always been blind to Davis’ faults. It’s time for Go to go.

Deveron Gibbons — One of Baker’s chief surrogates in the African-American community, Gibbons was hoping for, but not banking on, Baker returning to City Hall. Fortunately for Gibbons, he’s diversified his power base since losing his own mayoral run in 2009.

Wengay Newton — Baker’s most prominent African-American elected official now has a big bright target on his back going into the 2018 elections where he’ll face Vito Sheeley, one of Kriseman’s most visible surrogates. Pinellas Democratic Party chair Susan McGrath says Sheeley received four donations Tuesday night at Kriseman’s victory party.

Brock Mikosky — I genuinely like Brock and the swagger he imbues the campaigns he works on, but he was Justin Bean’s general consultant, so he has to make it into the L column. Bean’s loss paired with Yvonne Fry’s, um, upset in the special election last month in House District 58 have made it tough Fall for Mikosky. Except him and wife recently had their first child, and that’s all that matters.

Pinellas GOP — St. Pete is a Democrat-leaning city, so of course, Donald Trump’s not going to play well in the ‘burg. But Tuesday’s results go beyond that. There’s something in the water around here, so much so that if I’m Jeff Brandes or Chris Latvala, two Republicans running for re-election in moderate districts, I start putting as much distance between me and the president as possible. Pinellas Republicans, at least the establishment wing of the party, also need to think about this: Baker’s done, and Jack Latvala is on the ropes. Those two men, along with the late C.W. Bill Young, have dominated local politics for nearly two decades. What will the scene look like without them?

Alan Suskey — As Baker’s most visible supporter in Tallahassee, my best friend will have to explain to the capital crowd why the once-inevitable Baker lost (just blame it on Goodman). Then again, part of Suskey’s brand is his loyalty, so sticking by his friend Rick Baker only reinforces the idea that Suskey’s someone you want with you in a foxhole.

Leslie Wimes — Few people in St. Petersburg know who Wimes is, but she’s something of a personality on Twitter and such, where she was one of Baker’s most visible Democrat supporters. We’re still waiting to hear from Wimes about a campaign she’s backed that ended up winning. I’m also hearing that Nikki Barnes, a member of the national DNC who backed Baker, may be removed from her posts due to her violating her loyalty oath.

Whoever designed this blatant example of cultural appropriation …

Rick Baker faults Rick Kriseman for partisan politics in St. Pete elections

Since launching his re-election bid this spring, Rick Kriseman‘s political strategy was a call to keep the city’s forward momentum by keeping him in charge, as opposed to going back to the past with Rick Baker, who served as St. Petersburg mayor during most of the aughts.

As for Baker, the former mayor made the race a referendum on Kriseman, saying that over the past four years, the city has lost its mojo, and only he can return competence to City Hall.

How do we make neighborhoods better in the city? How do we get Midtown back on course? How do we fix the Pier? These are questions that Baker says are part of his “Baker Blueprint” that he’ll start implementing in January if he wins Tuesday night.

Kicking off his campaign on the steps of City Hall almost exactly six months ago, Baker predicted the Kriseman camp would go hard on his GOP credentials because “They have no record that they can run on. They have no successes.”

Half a year later, Baker insists he’s been proven correct.

“If you look at his direct mail pieces, if you look at Rick Kriseman’s TV ads, it’s all about national partisan politics. I think that’s a mistake,” Baker told a group of reporters after he voted Tuesday morning at The Church of the Beatitudes. “I think it’s a mistake to try to import the poison of the national politics that have divided our country to St. Petersburg.

“That’s not how we move our city forward. We move it forward by focusing on what’s best for the city of St. Pete.”

Baker later added that such an emphasis on partisanship wasn’t “healthy.”

“It’s not proven to be healthy for America, and I certainly don’t think it would be healthy for St. Petersburg.”

For his part, Kriseman tried to tie Baker with GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump, who lost by a substantial amount to Hillary Clinton in the presidential election a year ago in the ‘Burg. When Kriseman ended up capturing 70 more votes than Baker in the primary on Aug. 29, several analysts said that the Trump factor was a crucial element that dragged Baker down.

GOP Florida strategist Rick Wilson has labeled Trump “the 800-pound Klansman in the room.”

Baker’s campaign went negative two weeks ago when they introduced the past legal issues of Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, into the contest. “Sunshine,” a 30-second ad, focused on King’s 2001 arrest as a then-22-year-old substitute teacher in Pinellas County School District for propositioning a teenage girl for sex.

On Tuesday, Baker said he has no regrets about the ad.

“That goes directly to the question of judgment, whether it’s who you’re hiring as your chief of staff, or closing up a sewage plant and dumping out a billion gallons of sewage, or whether it’s doing a Pier plan that everybody voted against, yet still doing it going forward,” Baker said, adding, “I’m proud of the campaign we ran. I don’t think I would change it.”

Baker’s media scrum was his last scheduled public appearance before he attends his campaign watch party Tuesday night at the 400 Beach Seafood & Taphouse.

Kriseman’s public schedule has him at a variety of spots throughout the day, including a couple of long sessions at his campaign headquarters in the Euclid-St. Paul neighborhood. He’ll be at Nova 535 for a watch party Tuesday night.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

Martin O’Malley hits the phones for Rick Kriseman in St. Pete

Rick Kriseman‘s campaign received another high-profile boost as Martin O’Malley made a trip to campaign headquarters early Monday evening.

A visit by the former Maryland Governor and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate was yet another indication of how serious the Democratic National Committee and Florida Democratic Party are in seeing Kriseman get re-elected as St. Petersburg mayor next week.

O’Malley has been making campaign appearances across the country for Democrats, and he says that a year after the county chose Donald Trump to lead the nation, Democrats have never looked better to Americans.

“People are in a much more thoughtful and reflective mood than a year ago, and so I think that people have come to appreciate that we actually have to make our government work, and I think that’s going to work toward the benefit of Mayor Kriseman in this race,” O’Malley said to reporters.

O’Malley’s appearance comes three days after another Democratic Party star, former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro, made his own trek to campaign for Kriseman. And they both came after Barack Obama and Joe Biden offered rare endorsements to Kriseman in this local race.

“They’re supporting me for what I’ve been able to do in St. Petersburg and what I’ve been talking about for the future for St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said about the endorsements from the former president and vice president, specifically referring to helping launched Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in the city and his strong vocal support for the Affordable Care Act.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing those folks and the governor being here and speaking on my behalf because we share common beliefs and values in a direction that we want to see not only the city, the but the state and country go,” said the mayor.

O’Malley was the third wheel to the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders battle for the Democratic presidential nomination last year before dropping out of the race after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucus. He had been considered a leading progressive star after serving eight years as Maryland governor and the eight previous years (1999-2007) as mayor of Baltimore.

“When I served on city council I traveled to Baltimore to see some of the innovative things that this man was doing for his community and try to learn from them to bring those back here to St. Pete,” Kriseman told the room full of supporters taking a break from phone banking to listen to the mayor and O’Malley.

As mayor, O’Malley introduced data-driven government reporting and management programs such as CitiStat and StateStat. Kriseman said that he’s tried to take the things that he learned from O’Malley and implement some of them in St. Petersburg.

Mayoral opponent Rick Baker and the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times criticized Kriseman for nationalizing the local, officially nonpartisan race, but O’Malley would have none of it.

“Mayor Kriseman believes climate change is real and he’s certainly not a supporter of Donald Trump,” he said. “Those are pretty good distinguishing features between him and his opponent here.”

Meanwhile, as the mayor was hobnobbing with a former presidential candidate, Baker quietly informed the press via a photo emailed to reporters he has been endorsed in next week’s election by all five living former mayors of St. Petersburg: Don Jones, Bob Ulrich, Dave Fischer and Bill Foster.

“I am excited and pleased that Rick Baker is offering his experience and service to again lead our city. St. Petersburg has been an important part of my life for over 60 years and Rick Baker’s years as mayor were exceptional,” said Jones, who served as mayor from 1967-1969.

“The mayors who have helped build the great city we enjoy today care deeply about our future.  Having their support means the world to me” said Baker.

Five living former mayors of St. Petersburg: Don Jones, Bob Ulrich, Dave Fischer and Bill Foster … and mayoral candidate Rick Baker.
Mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman and former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley (via: Kim DeFalco).


(O’Malley photo: Kim DeFalco).

Al Franken to fundraise for Bill Nelson at Alex Sink event

When Alex Sink throws a fundraiser, one thing is assured – it will attract some of the most prominent Democrats on the political scene.

In December 2015, the former Florida chief financial officer hosted Hillary Clinton in an event at her Hillsborough County home supporting the former Secretary of State’s presidential bid.

Sink, a 2010 Democratic candidate for Florida governor, was a  longtime Clinton supporter.

In November, Sink brings a similar star power for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election bid, this time with a luncheon fundraiser with special guest Sen. Al Franken. The event will be held Saturday, Nov. 18, at Sink’s Thonotosassa home.

Franken, who has represented Minnesota in the Senate since 2009, is also well-known as a comic actor, writer and liberal political activist.

First elected in 2008 in a tight victory over incumbent Republican Norm Coleman — with a recount that lasted months — Franken won re-election in 2014. He was a longtime writer and performer on Saturday Night Live and hosted The Al Franken Show, a nationally syndicated, political radio talk show. Franken also is the author of six books, four of which were political satires blasting conservatives.

Nelson is seeking a fourth term in 2018; while he currently faces no opposition, it is likely Florida Gov. Rick Scott will enter the Senate race.

Suggested donation to the event is $250; to co-host the reception is $1,000, $2,700 to host and $5,400 to chair the event.

To RSVP or for more information, contact Christina Diamond at christinadiamond@nelsonforsenate.com or 850 363-3424.

Julian Castro ‘absolutely not’ closing the door on 2020 plans

 A little more than a year after he didn’t become Hillary Clinton‘s running mate, Julian Castro remains a hot political entity.

The former San Antonio Mayor and Barack Obama‘s Housing and Urban Development Secretary told reporters in South St. Petersburg Friday that his only immediate political plans are helping out as many good Democrats as possible for the 2018 midterm elections.

Castro is getting a head start, though, coming to town to help St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s re-election bid.

“It’s not too often that you have a mayor who has gotten as many things done as Mayor Kriseman has and created greater opportunities for the city,” Castro said. “So, when they called I was glad to come out and help.”

“They” would be the Democratic National Committee.

DNC Chair Tom Perez said Friday that the national party cares very much about Kriseman’s battle with former two-term Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican.

“The new DNC is about electing Democrats from the school board to the Oval Office, so we are doubling-down on our commitment to re-elect Mayor Rick Kriseman and electing Democrats up and down the ticket,” Perez said.

“St. Petersburg deserves the proven leadership of Mayor Kriseman, who will continue to tackle the big challenges facing Floridians and who has worked to reduce poverty and provide [an] opportunity to every citizen of St. Pete,” Perez continued. “Unlike Rick Baker, there’s no one Mayor Kriseman won’t stand up to — including Rick Scott and Donald Trump.

Democrats in Texas had recruited him to consider a run against Ted Cruz in the Senate or Greg Abbott for governor, but Castro said he turned those opportunities down. Instead, he is focusing on writing a book and teaching at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.

“I’m going to be out there basically helping great candidates and leaders in different parts of the country, and then we’ll see after that,” Castro said, adding that he is definitely considering a 2020 White House run.

“I’ve said very clearly I’m not going to take that off the table,” he said.

With Latinos becoming a larger portion of the U.S. population, the Mexican-American Castro emerged as a serious vice presidential possibility in 2016; he also could be a contender for either side of a Democratic ticket in 2020.

Castro and Kriseman (joined by Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel) visited the offices of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC) 16th Street South, part of the Southside CRA. Afterward, he joined Congressman Charlie Crist for a private fundraiser for Kriseman.

On Saturday, Castro will appear in Orlando as the lunchtime speaker at the Florida Democratic Party statewide conference.

(Photo by Kim DeFalco).

How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Democratic chairman: Donald Trump ‘most dangerous’ president ever

Trying to quell accusations that he is ousting activists from the party’s left flank, Democratic Chairman Tom Perez told fellow Democrats on Saturday that unity is crucial in the fight against President Donald Trump, whom he lambasted as an “existential threat” to the nation.

“We have the most dangerous president in American history and one of the most reactionary Congresses in American history,” Perez said as he addressed the first Democratic National Committee gathering since his February election.

The former Obama Cabinet official blistered “a culture of corruption” that he said extends to Trump’s Cabinet, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he warned that internal ruckuses over party priorities and leadership would distract from the goal of winning more elections to upend Republicans’ domination in Washington.

The chairman’s plea comes amid a rift over his appointments to little-known but influential party committees and the 75 at-large members of the national party committee. Perez and his aides plug his choices as a way to make the DNC younger and more diverse, but the moves also mean demotions for several prominent Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries and then supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez in the postelection race for party chairman.

Perez spent time during this week’s proceedings meeting privately with frustrated DNC members, including some he did not reappoint. He apologized publicly Saturday for not reaching all of those members before he announced his appointments, but he defended his overall aim.

“If someone ever asks you which wing of the party you belong to, tell ’em you belong to the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party,” he said, “because you’re trying to get s— done. That’s what we’re trying to do here, folks. We’re trying to move the ball forward.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have exalted in the internal wrangle, painting the DNC as incompetently discordant.

“The Democratic Party’s message of doom and gloom has left them leaderless and nearly extinct in most of the country,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “If Tom Perez wants his party to stick with that same failed strategy, Republicans will gladly keep working to help the middle class by cutting their taxes and fixing our broken health care system.”

To some extent, the Democrats’ developments reflect routine party politics after an unusually contentious chairman’s race, but they also fit into the ongoing philosophical tussle on the left.

Sanders’ backers accused the DNC in 2016 of stacking the nominating process in Clinton’s favor and shutting out the Vermont independent who still seeks to pull the party toward his ideology. Those frustrations carried over into the DNC chair race between Perez, the former labor secretary, and Ellison.

Now, Perez’s appointees will hold sway over setting the primary calendar in 2020 and, perhaps most importantly, whether the party’s superdelegates, including the 75 at-large members, will continue to cast presidential nominating votes at Democratic conventions without being bound to any state primary or caucus results.

Democrats are looking next month to hold the Virginia governor’s seat and wrest the New Jersey governor’s seat from Republican control. Next year, Democrats need to flip at least 24 Republican congressional seats to regain control of the House. They face an uphill battle in gaining control of the Senate, because they must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won last November. Democrats also want to increase their gubernatorial roster from the current 15 state executives.

Separately, former Attorney General Eric Holder urged the party to play the long game necessary to overcome Republican advantages scored when GOP-run legislatures drew congressional and legislative districts around the country after the 2010 census.

Holder leads a political action group, with fundraising support for former President Barack Obama, to back candidates in states where gerrymandering gives Democrats an uphill path to majorities. He singled out Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, among other states, where Republicans “picked their voters” with districts that “are impressive in their geographic creativity but they are destructive to representative democracy.”

The Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case challenging the Wisconsin districts. Legal analysts expect Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, will decide whether the court for the first time declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pam Keith gets backing from NOW in bid for congressional seat

Pam Keith, the former Navy JAG officer who finished third in 2016 ifor the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, is getting the backing of the National Organization of Women in her bid to defeat Republican Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Florida NOW considers Pam Keith a champion for women’s rights.  She will not let women or children fall to the wayside with bad legislation on healthcare or equal opportunity for women,” said Terry Sanders, Florida NOW President.

“Pam has long been an advocate for women’s rights.  Her legal background as judge advocate in the U.S. Navy and private practice in both Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as well as her experience in diplomatic arenas around the world, make her an excellent candidate for Congress,” added Joanne Sterner, Florida NOW political action director.

Keith is one of two Democratic challengers to emerge so far against Mast, an Army veteran who took back the Treasure Coast area seat for the Republicans in 2016. It had been held the previous four years by Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Lauren Baer announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month. She served as a senior policy advisor to former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as well as to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador the United Nations under Barack Obama.

“Women are the majority of our nation, women are the future of our nation, and I am gratified that NOW believes I am the best woman to lead our nation toward that future,” said Keith in a statement. “Brian Mast and Donald Trump have fought against the interests of women, from stealing our healthcare to endorsing sexist, hateful language in the workplace. Women are being undervalued at work, the system pays us less for the same work, ignores harassment and gave us a government that doesn’t even allow women to help write the legislation that affects so many of us. I’m going to Washington to put a stop to all that, to make women’s lives better. I joined this race to take my passion and skill to unite people of all genders, orientation, and color to fight this administration’s continual assault on women’s reproductive health. I’m glad that NOW recognizes that I am a strong ally and best advocate.”

Annette Taddeo wins SD 40 special election

Democrat Annette Taddeo has won Tuesday’s state Senate District 40 special election, narrowly defeating Republican former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the hotly contested and expensive race that was closely watched by both state and national parties.

SD 40 wound up being more of a nail-biter than anyone first expected, as Republicans entered Election Day with only a slim 500 early-vote lead. But Hurricane Irma and its after-effects helped the off-year race stay a low-turnout affair.

In the end, Diaz took just 47.2 percent of the vote; Taddeo received almost 51 percent. Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, with no party affiliation, received just under 2 percent.

“This is a victory for the residents of Senate District 40. The voters wanted a champion in Tallahassee who will fight for higher paying jobs, affordable healthcare and fully funded public schools and I am honored and humbled that they have placed their faith and trust in me,” Taddeo said in an election night statement.

“I pledge to work everyday for the families of my community and not the special interests. I would like to thank my opponent for running in a hard-fought race. Our campaign saw a strong coalition come together … who unified behind a winning plan. I’m beyond thankful for all the work and their efforts and the the thousands of volunteers who committed their time, energy and resources.

“This was a community, grassroots driven effort and I am ready to continue the work in our state capitol.”

Turnout was expected to be much lower than the pre-Irma estimates of 45,000-55,000. Later, working models predicted the number to be around 32-39,000, with larger Election Day turnout seemingly favoring Taddeo. Nevertheless, preliminary turnout numbers put the final number at 47,500 or 14 percent.

The Senate seat was vacated five months ago by former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican who resigned in the midst of this spring’s Legislative Session after a profanity-laced and racially charged outburst at a private club near the Capitol.

Diaz, who resigned his state House seat to run for the Senate and is known almost universally as “Pepi,” spent much of Saturday outside an early voting site in Southwest Miami with Cuban-born retired Major League Baseball pitcher Camilo Pascual. Taddeo joined black pastors and churchgoers Sunday for a “Souls to the Polls” barbecue as a DJ blared tunes at near-deafening levels in the background.

The competitive matchup in Senate District 40, which voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential race but also elected the Republican Artiles, is viewed by many as a harbinger of how Democrats might fare in upcoming elections.

It’s also seen as a litmus test for President Donald Trump, who is lauded by many of the district’s Cuban-American voters for chilling his predecessor’s accord with Cuba but is denounced by other Hispanics for his hard-line stance on immigration, especially policies involving undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers.”

But Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Southwest Florida little more than two weeks ago, threw a monkey-wrench into the contest, temporarily putting campaign activities on hold after the massive storm knocked out power, internet, cable and mail delivery to much of the district.

Florida Democrats asked Gov. Rick Scott to postpone the election for two weeks. He refused, saying the Miami-Dade elections supervisor had decided the election should take place as scheduled.

Hispanics make up 69 percent of the district’s voting-age population, whites another 20 percent and blacks make up about 7 percent, according to the latest Census data. The swing district, redrawn as a result of a redistricting process that took effect with last year’s election, is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents, with Democrats having a slight voter-registration edge.

The race for the open seat has a whopping tab estimated at $2 million, including spending by the candidates and political committees affiliated with the Senate hopefuls.

Democrats had viewed the seat as an opportunity bolster their limited numbers in the state Legislature. The Party registration is about 36 percent Democrat, 35 percent are Republican, and 29 percent are independents or third-party voters. The district is 68 percent Hispanic, 18 percent non-Hispanic white and 8 percent black.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

SD 40 race could be Donald Trump test for Democrats

Florida Democrats are facing a test to see whether anti-President Donald Trump politics will give them a boost ahead of a critical election year and perhaps signal a turnaround after two decades of Republican dominance in the Legislature.

They’ve made Trump a focal point in a special election set for Tuesday to replace a Miami-area Republican state senator who resigned after using racial slurs in front of black colleagues. The Republican in the race, state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” helping to make that connection easier.

“Trump’s apprentice just got the GOP nomination,” said a Democratic fundraising email when Diaz won the primary in July. “Contribute now to fire Trump’s apprentice.”

If Democrat Annette Taddeo wins with less money against the stronger organization of the Republican Party, it could be a sign of better times for Democrats. It would also test an anti-Trump strategy ahead of a 2018 election when the governor’s seat and all three Cabinet positions are open and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is up for re-election.

“It’s an interesting test. Does the Trump thing translate down the ballot in a nontypical election?” said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale. “If Democrats talk about getting back to a majority, you have to win races like this at some point.”

On paper, the district southwest of Miami leans Democratic. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump last year, but Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also carried the district.

“I’m sure the Democrats are going to try to make it a referendum on Trump, but they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do it,” said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. “If Pepi wins, it will be credited largely to superior resources and organization.”

Taddeo, 50, has a television ad that begins with her clicking off a television showing a clip of Trump “attacking” professional wrestling icon Vince McMahon. And in a speech to supporters two months ago, she said, “We have a president that we need to stand up [to] and not stand on the sidelines. We need to fight him every step of the way.”

She has run for Congress twice, losing both times. She was also Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist‘s running mate in 2014 in a race barely lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

She said Diaz, 37, wasn’t shy about using his ties to Trump during the primary.

“When the president was insulting to Hispanics, instead of coming out and defending us, Representative Diaz actually joined his national Hispanic advisory council,” she said.

Diaz dismissed the attacks from Taddeo and Democrats over Trump and said that being on “The Apprentice” in 2006 was a life-changing experience — even if he was one of the first contestants to get fired.

“Having a camera on 24 hours a day changed me. It made me really think about just how important it is to make the right the decision at all times,” he said.

And while he said the race isn’t about Trump, some voters still see it that way.

“I support Diaz because I support President Trump,” said Republican Raul Musibay, 75.

Abel Lopez, a 65-year-old Democrat, agreed that the Trump factor was key.

“Anything I can do to help those against Trump,” Lopez said, “I will do it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.


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