Marco Rubio Archives - Florida Politics

Marco Rubio looks for his place in Trump’s Republican Party

After flaming out in the GOP presidential primary — and enduring rival Donald Trump’s taunts along the way — Sen. Marco Rubio is entering his next act in politics.

The once-rising star used to be criticized for being in too much of a hurry, but now he’s hunkered down in the Senate with nothing, it seems, but time.

Rubio passes his days buried in the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a leading advocate of bolstering election security and slapping sanctions on Russians if they interfere again in 2018. In the hallways of the Capitol, he brushes past reporters looking for reaction to the news of the day, focusing instead on legislative proposals or policy speeches on the Senate floor. And back in Florida, he’s involved in long-running disputes over the Everglades and toxic algae blooms.

But one thing Rubio isn’t doing, he says, is gearing up for a White House run in 2020.

“I’m not primarying the president, and no one else should either unless we want to lose the White House,” Rubio told The Associated Press. “I’m kind of approaching every day as if the U.S. Senate is the last place I’ll ever serve in public office and trying to make that meaningful.”

Like the other Capitol Hill also-rans against Trump — Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — Rubio is finding his way in the Trump-era Republican Party, testing whether there is room for his own brand of conservatism.

He says he keeps in contact with Trump, talking to him on the phone two to three times a month, including last week. But he is continuing to reshape his own political identity, separate from the president, and isn’t ruling out another White House run somewhere down the line.

“I still peek around the corner every now and then, but by and large I try to be more and more focused on what’s in front of us,” Rubio said.

He added that he remains “impatient,” but “like anyone who is alive, and is watching, listening and trying to learn, time teaches you things.”

After he ended his 2016 presidential campaign, Rubio appeared to be on his way out of Washington. He had pledged not to run for re-election, but colleagues pressed him to reconsider.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told the AP he was among the first Republicans to nudge Rubio to seek re-election to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made his own pitch as Republicans fought to keep the Senate majority. Eventually Rubio agreed.

Since then, people who have observed Rubio during his career see a more mindful, even liberated, politician who no longer carries the weight of being “The Republican Savior,” as Time magazine once called the charismatic young son of immigrants. Instead, the 47-year-old is keeping his head down and doing the grunt work of governing, answering head-on the criticism that he was more flash than substance as a candidate.

“He seems to have found his place,” said longtime ally Nick Iarossi, a Florida-based GOP lobbyist and fundraiser.

On several fronts this year, Rubio has started taking his shots to “modernize” the GOP agenda for the 21st century, as he puts it, with an emphasis on countering China abroad and helping working families at home.

In the spring, Rubio helped lead an effort to rein in the Chinese telecom giant ZTE for violating U.S. trade rules over selling goods to Iran and North Korea. He sought to impose stiffer penalties than the Trump administration wanted. The Senate approved the bipartisan effort, but Rubio ultimately lost that battle with the White House, as the legislative provision was abandoned.

Earlier this month, Rubio unveiled a family leave plan, after having successfully worked with Ivanka Trump to expand child tax credits in the 2017 GOP tax overhaul. The paid leave plan would allow young parents to take their Social Security funds early, to help pay for time off with children, rather than in retirement. Both ideas had been part of his presidential bid.

“His distance from the middle of the political firestorm,” said Rubio’s former campaign manager and top adviser Terry Sullivan, “has allowed him the space to practice his style of politics.”

But mention of Rubio still draws a collective eye roll from some critics who see just another survival strategy after the brutal presidential campaign. He’s doing what Rubio often does, they say, which is trying to chart a middle ground that often pleases no one.

Jesse Ferguson, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, said the idea that Rubio is emerging as some independent Republican voice “is indicative of the way Trump has turned Congress into a bunch of yes-men.”

“In the GOP today, showing independence from Trump is like being awarded valedictorian at summer school,” he said. “The bar is so low that any Republican that doesn’t salute, praise or genuflect any time he walks in the room is suddenly seen as a thoughtful, independent-minded leader.”

It’s also not clear that there’s space for Rubio’s brand of conservatism in the GOP’s Trump tent.

Despite his roots as a tea-party-backed candidate in 2010, Rubio always played better to suburban voters — the Starbucks moms and dads whose households look a lot like his, with kids, mortgages and college costs in the distance. It’s those same voters who are at risk of fleeing the GOP in the Trump era.

Jenny Beth Martin, of the Tea Party Patriots, surveyed several hundred members at the start of this year and found a mixed response to Rubio.

“It really went the whole spectrum from excellent to ho-hum to disappointing,” she said. “They just cannot figure out exactly what issues are driving him the most and how they align with the tea party values or President Trump’s agenda.”

Rubio, for his part, tweets Bible verses many mornings, which some see as an antidote to Twitter’s usual rants, and he is perhaps the only rank-and-file lawmaker to be guarded by a security detail after it was reported there was a possible threat on his life.

He expects the nation’s political pendulum to swing back his way eventually. Americans will one day grow exhausted of the current “outrage cycle and the constant fighting,” he says.

Or so he hopes.

“Because if it doesn’t, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Material republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Matt Caldwell’s ‘NeverTrump’ past draws fresh criticism

As Lehigh Acres Republican Matt Caldwell rallies conservatives around his Agriculture Commissioner bid, critics have raised “NeverTrump” tweets and op-eds undercutting his right-wing bona fides.

In a March 2016 column appearing in his hometown paper, The News-Press, Caldwell wrote: “I cannot in good conscience support Donald Trump for President … While I will never vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, I also cannot and will not vote for him in the general election.”

Caldwell, for what it’s worth, says he has since come to peace with Trump and did support him in the general election because the Supreme Court was in the balance.

“My initial hesitation to support President Trump during the election was over his position on abortion,” he said in a statement to Florida Politics.

“I am unequivocally pro-life and of all the issues that fall in a presidential campaign, life is chief among them because the President wields the power to protect the unborn. However, President Trump has proved me wrong. He and [Ronald] Reagan stand as the most pro-life Presidents we have ever elected.”

Caldwell said the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the pending confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh bring jurists to the bench who “recognize the sanctity of life in the Constitution.”

“He [Trump] has also taken steps to defund Planned Parenthood and ended Obamacare policies that forced religious employers to provide abortions,” Caldwell said.

The rhetoric today, as Caldwell seeks statewide office two years after Trump’s election to the White House, doesn’t ease critics’ concerns. Activist Wendy Tepp, who counts herself a supporter of Agriculture Commissioner candidate Denise Grimsley, researched old Caldwell tweets and shared them on Twitter this weekend.

Incidentally, Caldwell’s support in the Republican primary in 2016 went toward U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s unsuccessful White House run. Rubio has since endorsed Caldwell for Agriculture Commissioner.

The Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner also includes Baxter Troutman and Mike McCalister. 

But during the presidential primary, Caldwell leveled the most criticism against now-President Trump.

In his guest editorial for the News-Press, Caldwell attacked Trump for previously supporting Democrats, saying he’d order troops to commit war crimes and failing to denounce the Ku Klux Klan.

“The notion that Donald Trump needed to research the KKK before denouncing it, as he was later shamed into doing, is instantly disqualifying,” he wrote.

But today, he says Trump has proved he’s no liberal, Caldwell says, citing the president’s actions on taxes and trade and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Caldwell credited the president with 4-percent growth in the U.S. gross domestic product, and noted the administration secured $500 million for rehabilitation of the Lake Okeechobee dike.

“President Trump has earned my support,” Caldwell says now. “He can count on my loyalty, which is why one of his top supporter’s Congressman Matt Gaetz has endorsed me. His record proves that he is a man of his word and I look forward to helping him achieve his agenda and win his reelection in 2020.”

Marco Rubio wants Russian meddling investigation to run its course

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told a Fox News audience Sunday that President Donald Trump should allow Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to fully run its course.

“That’s the best thing that could happen for him, and it’s the best thing that could happen for the country,” Rubio said.

The Florida senator appeared on Fox News Sunday for an interview with anchor Chris Wallace, who for most of the interview discussed the administration’s dealings with Russia and North Korea.

Trump this week called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to bring an end to Mueller’s investigation, which he has repeatedly labeled a “rigged witch hunt.”

But Rubio said Trump has focused too much on Mueller’s investigation of his campaign on not on the big picture regarding Russian meddling in U.S. elections.

“He [Trump] says he knows for a fact obviously that he did not collude with the Russians, and he thinks this investigation that Mueller is conducting is solely about collusion,” Rubio said, “and that’s probably why he feels very strongly about that.”

Rubio said he’s personally focused right now on preventing further meddling in U.S. democracy in the 2018 election cycle. He and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, in January filed a bill threatening sanctions against foreign actors who attempt to disrupt American elections.

“What we are hoping to do is deter future activity,” Rubio told Wallace.

Specifically, Rubio wants Russian President Vladimir Putin to weigh the cost and benefits of stoking divisions in U.S. politics and decide such actions aren’t worth the risk.

“I can guarantee that if we don’t do something, he will interfere again in multiple ways,” Rubio predicted, “because right now the costs are too unpredictable and too low.”

Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill as written would let sanctions automatically go into effect based on a call by the director of national intelligence, notable considering the friction between the president and intelligence community today. But Rubio conceded that part of the bill may need to include a presidential waiver in order to pass through Congress and be signed into law by Trump.

Rubio also said during the intervie he has little faith North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will willingly denuclearize, and that instead the regime would unilaterally discontinue certain activities that won’t slow the development of further weapons, such as dismantling facilities for older missiles.

“I hope I’m wrong about, but I not believe that he [Kim] is ever going to give up his nuclear arsenal,” Rubio said.

But Rubio declined to criticize the Trump administration on negotations with Kim, saying the president is “hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.”

Rubio also discussed his recent proposal for paid family leave that could be tapped by individuals pulling from their own social security. But he acknowledged shepherding that concept through the legislative process will take time. “It’s a revolutionary idea, and it’s going to take time to pass.”

Marco Rubio leads bipartisan callout of Google’s ‘Dragonfly’ project

A letter signed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and a bipartisan group of senators questions Google’s plans for a censored search engine in China.

“This reported plan is deeply troubling and risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime,” the letter reads.

The letter came two days after The Intercept broke a story about a Google project, codenamed Dragonfly, creating a censored version of its search engine to meet the approval of Chinese authorities.

Google’s popular search engine cannot be accessed by most users in China because government firewalls deemed much of its content as inappropriate, including anything deemed anti-communist or critical of the regime such as websites documenting the Tiananmen Square massacre, mentions of George Orwell’s 1984, and access to American media including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

Rubio led a bipartisan group of senators, including Republicans Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner and Democrats Mark Warner, Ron Wyden and Bob Menendez, in sending the letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The letter notes Google in 2010 stopped censoring content on, the Chinese portal for the search engine.

“Chinese authorities, however, continue to censor a broad range of news and social media topics that they have deemed politically ‘sensitive’ due to their belief that these topics may contribute to criticism of the Chinese government and Communist Party, and possibly lead to collective action,” the letter reads.

The letter goes on to assert recent censorship of information on vaccines led to a health crisis in China.

It also questions whether Google’s recent dealings with Tencent or its $550-million investment in, two companies strongly linked to Chinese state government, played a role in the tech company’s change of heart.

“It is a coup for the Chinese government and Communist Party to force Google—the biggest search engine in the world—to comply with their onerous censorship requirements, and sets a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” the letter reads.

The letter asks Google to reveal what blacklists will be used to censor content, whether investments in Chinese companies were a requirement for the search engine being allowed through state firewalls, and whether the company will turn over personal information of users to the Chinese government.

“We appreciate your prompt reply to this inquiry,” the letter reads in closing, “including any views that you are prepared to share as to how this reported development can be reconciled with Google’s unofficial motto, ‘Don’t be evil.’”

Matt Caldwell campaign sees Marco Rubio, NRA backing as keys to victory

An internal memo obtained by Florida Politics Thursday reveals that the Matt Caldwell campaign feels it’s on the inside track to victory.

“With less than 1 month until Primary Election Day and voting underway, all signs show that Matt is the only Republican candidate in this race that can win both the primary and the general elections,” asserts campaign manager Brian Swensen.

The campaign touts an internal poll that shows Caldwell ahead, but Swensen is more encouraged by a drill down into the data, which shows that endorsements from Sen. Marco Rubio and the National Rifle Association make voters 44 percent and 53 percent more likely to vote for Caldwell.

“Just this past week,” Swensen asserts, “the NRA sent their statewide mailer and email promoting their endorsement of Caldwell. Having previously led in Cash on Hand between his campaign and committee, Matt will have the resources necessary to communicate his conservative message to voters.”

“The campaign’s own GOTV efforts – promoting Matt’s conservative record, as well as the endorsements of Senator Rubio, the NRA, and the growing list of conservative leaders and organizations – will continue to move undecided voters into Matt’s corner,” Swensen predicted.

In addition to endorsements, earned media — garnered last week after Facebook blocked a gun-thusiastic ad Caldwell had attempted to place — is in the candidate’s favor as well, Swensen asserted.

Caldwell had accused Facebook of censorship after the spot was pulled, but the company reversed course quickly.

Swensen believes that grassroots, including Caldwell’s 80,000 miles driven across the state, will help him close the deal with the 50 percent + of voters who have yet to pick a candidate.

The Caldwell campaign has prioritized straw polls: Swensen notes that Caldwell is winning a majority of them, even defeating Democrats when they are thrown into the mix.

Two of Caldwell’s opponents — Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven and state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Zolfo Springs — are on television this week, with Troutman targeting Caldwell’s House district in his buy.

More buys are imminent, to be sure. Grimsley and Caldwell have each raised more than $2 million, and have over a million each on hand. Troutman has spent $3 million of his own money on the race.

Bill Rufty and Drew Wilson contributed to this post. 

Democrats ease into standard responses in final governor’s race debate

Anyone hoping Florida’s five Democratic candidates for Governor would break new ground in the final debate Thursday night may have left disappointed.

On stage, each candidate mainly stuck to the standards, with only a couple of questions eliciting any form of surprise.

Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine, and Gwen Graham all pulled more punches than in previous debates, with just a few recycled squabbles — mostly centering on Graham’s record as a moderate member of Congress.

Graham also took a couple more shots for her family’s involvement in the development of the American Dream Miami megamall, as well as a brief flurry of jabs between Levine and Greene over the Palm Beach billionaire’s encounters with President Donald Trump.

On issues, the quintet renewed the standard commitments: Increasing public education funding; pushing for minimum wage increases; higher-paying jobs; standing up to the gun lobby; seeking repeal of the Stand Your Ground laws and fighting special interests to address the water flows creating the toxic algae blooms east and west of Lake Okeechobee.

Hosted by WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach and co-sponsored by the Florida Press Association, the debate provided the candidates a chance to restate a handful of distinctive policy ideas: Levine’s Education Security Administration to focus on school safety; King’s bullet tax and a ban on death penalties; Gillum’s Medicare-for-all style health care plan; Graham’s proposal for an executive order to ban sales of assault weapons and Greene’s commitment to spend $100 million or more of his own fortune to counter Republicans’ usual advantages in campaign money.

But this was a last-chance statewide appearance before the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and most of the debate played out as a multipart closing statement on positions Floridians already heard through the first four debates.

“This is not a drill,” warned Graham, as the latest front-runner in polling. Her pitch was that as the party’s nominee — “whoever she is” — it needs to be someone, a mom, who can appeal to everyday Floridians.

“What I bring to voters is the best of the private sector mixed with the best of the public sector,” said Levine, the former Miami Beach Mayor and businessman.

“The Democratic Party is alive and well and kicking. The problem is we’ve been outspent by Republicans over and over again,” said Greene, the self-made billionaire from Palm Beach who is self-funding his campaign. “That’s going to be different this year. I have the resources.”

“We have got to come to them with big ideas that will fix their solutions. That’s how we defeat Donald Trump, not by calling people names, but by solving problems,’ said King, the Winter Park entrepreneur.

“Florida can’t be just a cheap-date state,” said Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who argues the state’s corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes.

Some more telling moments in the debate came through cameo appearances through questions or answers: Trump, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida gun lobbyist Marion Hammer, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, currently the Republican gubernatorial front-runner

One Trump moment set Greene and Levine on each other.

Campaigning as the Democrat who can, as governor, take on Trump, Greene said he has taken on Trump, in the president’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago country club, of which Greene is a member.

“He couldn’t be worse!” Greene declared.

Hold on, hold on, Levine braked.

The former Miami Beach Mayor charged Greene with praising Trump in the past, and not publicly opposing him until after taking office, all while ignoring offensive things Trump said (or done) on the campaign trail. During that time, Levine was working hard on Democrat Clinton’s campaign.

“You said he was a great guy! I gotta tell you something. Seriously?” Levine exclaimed.

He then interrupted the next question to get to it: “It sounds like you’re more like Donald Trump! And I think one Donald Trump is enough!”

“Well, Phil,” Greene shot back, “first of all, I’m the only one who has stood up to Donald Trump. And this nonsense about your supporting Hillary Clinton? … When I was running for the United States Senate in 2010, you gave money to Marco Rubio!”

“I did what Barack Obama did, what Hillary Clinton did,” Greene explained. “The same day. I said: ‘You know, we have to stand behind our new leader.”

During the debate, Graham was tripped up by the Clintons, and badly.

Among a handful of questions directed at a single candidate, Palm Beach Post reporter George Bennett pointed out that the Clintons were bad luck to some other campaigns; he wondered if Graham, for whom Bill Clinton campaigned in 2014 for her congressional run, would welcome him back to campaign for her.

She refused to answer, even when moderator Todd McDermott, a WPBF news anchor, pressed her a second time, asking for a direct answer. Instead, Graham talked about how she fits into the #MeToo movement, and how Florida’s gubernatorial election would be a national race likely to attract many people from other states to campaign.

Levine seized on her reluctance, again interrupting another question to make his point: “If one of the greatest presidents in American history wanted to come down and campaign with me, I would welcome him with open arms. He was a great president, President Clinton, and a wonderful secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.”

Levine soon found himself on the receiving end of perhaps the toughest directed question of the night; Miami Herald reporter Nancy Ancrum pointed out that during his administration as Miami Beach Mayor Levine was known at times to be anti-media, blocking and punishing critics.

Ancrum asked what sort of governing style Levine might bring to the governor’s office.

“Did I get things done? No question about it,” he said, adding with a big smile: “Have I learned a little more patience, no question about it.”

Nary mentioned once was the other major Republican gubernatorial candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. DeSantis made an appearance only when King talked about how much DeSantis is running exclusively on his full support of Trump.

It led to one of the best lines of the night, from King: “Ron DeSantis is likely to become the Republican nominee. That should be terrifying to Floridians across this state. He is competing to be Donald Trump’s apprentice.”

King would be ready to counter that, he argued.

In an evening where most questions were asked before in four previous Democratic debates (or widely discussed in the 15-month campaign), and most of the answers had become rote, Gillum was the perhaps the only candidate who elicited even the slightest amount of emotion.

Nevertheless, the Tallahassee Mayor only did so only at the very end, in the final seconds of the debate.

As usual, Gillum did it with a personal story.

This time he talked about how his grandmother would watch him and his brother and sister early in the morning after his parents had dropped them off with her so they could go off to early-starting jobs.

Gillum recalled: “She would take her olive oil and anoint my head at the top so that no harm would come our way. And then she would have a saying, where she would say, ‘Boy, go to school. Mind your teachers. Get your lessons. And bring that education home, for your little brother, your little sister, for the neighbor down the street, for your mama and your daddy who get up every single day to work to support you, and to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back.'”

“We have forgotten that we can do good — all of us.”

‘Ridiculous’: Rick Scott campaign rejects criticism of blind trust holdings

When one’s financial disclosure has over a quarter-billion dollars of holdings, it’s perhaps understandable that some of those holdings may be more controversial than others

This is the case with Gov. Rick Scott, who has seen his investment holdings scrutinized by the media since the release of his Senate financial disclosure last week.

Revelations have been regular and the latest is that Scott has holdings in a Taiwanese company that has continually done business with Chinese telecom giant ZTE, including during a recent American trade ban.

Per the disclosure, Scott personally has an interest of $1,001 to $15,000, and Scott’s wife has an interest between $50,001 and $100,000 in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing — which, via a subsidiary, has continued to transact with ZTE … a company so controversial that concerns about it led Sen. Marco Rubio to vote against the defense bill this week.

The company, per its president, found a workaround to trade ban restrictions: “TSMC is not a direct supplier to ZTE. It’s not a direct supplier to ZTE. So indeed, some of the — they do have a subsidiary of ZTE and — but according to the rule you need to have a certain percentage of value-added from the U.S. And so for that particular subsidiary, the value-added is mostly from China and from TSMC. So that also is beyond the restriction scope.”

Rubio has been blunt about the company.

ZTE should be put out of business. There is no ‘deal’ with a state-directed company that the Chinese government and Communist Party uses to spy and steal from us where Americans come out winning. We must put American jobs and national security first, which is why I have urged NDAA conferees to ensure the bipartisan provision to reinstate penalties against ZTE is included in the final bill’,” Rubio said in July.

Ultimately, however, those penalties were not part of the final package. And the trade ban has been lifted after ZTE cut a deal. However, at least for Marco Rubio, the national security implications present an existential concern.

For Rick Scott, per his Senate campaign, the question is “ridiculous.”

“Governor Scott does not have investments in ZTE and any assertion that the Governor Scott is attempting to avoid U.S. restrictions is ridiculous,” posited Scott spox Lauren Schenone.

“Furthermore,” Schenone contended, “the Governor had no role in selecting that investment. The blind trust is managed by an independent financial professional who decides what assets are bought, sold or changed. The rules of the blind trust prevent any specific assets or the value of those assets within the trust from being disclosed to the Governor, and those requirements have always been followed.”

Scott’s ZTE stake is not the only entry in the 125 page document that has concerned Florida media. Scott’s media shop offered vigorous defenses of the Governor to us about each of them.

The Miami Herald reported Scott made over $50,000 from the sale of stock in Navigator Holdings, which does business with a Kremlin-connected energy company called Sibur. Vladimir Putin‘s son in law is among that company’s stakeholders.

This is not an issue, per Schenone: “Governor Scott no longer has an investment in Navigator Holdings. When asked recently, Governor Scott was clear he believes that Putin is not our friend or ally and should not be trusted.”

Beyond these entries and their foreign intrigue, Scott’s investments reveal controversial stateside ties as well.

Scott’s investments in Gilead Sciences, maker of Hepatitis-c medicine, have also drawn scrutiny via GateHouse.

Schenone’s defense: “The Governor has consistently fought against the national opioid crisis, including securing major state and federal funding and signed multiple pieces of legislation to combat opioid abuse and support law enforcement officers.”

And as the Florida Bulldog reports, the Scott administration doled out $200,000 of tax incentives to 21st Century Oncology, a company owned by Vestar Holdings, which Scott has between $50,001 and $100,000 of interest in.

Those, per Schenone, are coincidences, as Scott “does not unilaterally decide how state incentive projects are awarded.”

Under Scott’s watch, “the state has reformed the incentive process” rooted in “strict performance metrics, including total jobs and capital investment.”

“This highly accountable process works to recruit businesses to Florida, while at the same time protecting taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Schenone maintained.

GOP Agriculture Commissioner race heats up on the air

As primary day nears, the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner heats up on the airwaves, as two of four Republicans running are out with new campaign ads this week.

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven is launching a new ad in the district of state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who is also seeking the Republican Ag Commissioner nomination.

Meanwhile, Florida Politics reported earlier that state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Zolfo Springs is also starting to run “Get it Done,” an ad that addresses phone fraud.

Also competing in the Aug. 28 Republican primary is retired Army Colonel Mike McCalister.

Troutman’s ad is premiering in the Fort Myers-Naples area, largely in Caldwell’s state House district. The spot features segments of other ads he ran in Central Florida, featuring a scene with his wife and daughter, in the boardroom of his employment service and in hunter’s camouflage with a rifle on his shoulder.

Grimsley, who previously ran TV ads on her agricultural background, is now highlighting another responsibility for the head of Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service – addressing unwanted calls from telemarketers.

During her time in the state Senate, Grimsley helped pass legislation to allow phone companies to block “spoofed” numbers, which telemarketers use to look like a local call, but are actually from out-of-state or overseas.

Starting Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle and its heartland, the spots will appear in countries roughly south of Polk County in the center of the state, which somewhat corresponds to her state Senate District 26. They will be expanded statewide later, she said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has endorsed Caldwell, a move that perhaps is forcing the other two candidates, who have each outraised the Fort Myers Republican in campaign funds, to spend more on television ads.

Worries over China compel Marco Rubio to vote no on defense bill

Sen. Marco Rubio took an unprecedented step Wednesday, opposing the National Defense Authorization Act in protest of the NDAA’s omission of penalties against Chinese telecom giant ZTE.

“I have never opposed an NDAA, and I have supported every single one of them, despite the fact that they didn’t have everything I wanted or everything I liked — until today … We have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country and in every realm and sphere. And until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life and our place in the world,” Rubio asserted in remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The Senate voted 87-10 Wednesday to approve the measure, an annual policy bill that authorizes $716 billion in total defense spending for the coming fiscal year. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted in favor of the bill. The U.S. House of Representatives approved it last week 359-54, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

This latest decision amplifies a position established months ago when Rubio began calling attention to ZTE as a part of a larger offensive against Chinese expansionism. Rubio was willing to challenge Trump on the matter after the president cut a deal with the company imposing a $1 billion fine for flouting sanctions on Iran.

China, according to Rubio, believes itself “predestined to be the world’s most powerful country and … predestined to surpass the United States, and by mean surpass I mean surpass us geo-politically, economically and militarily.”

“It’s time we open our eyes. We are engaged in a geopolitical competition not with some poor agrarian country trying to catch up, but with a global superpower who is quickly nipping at our heels and doing so unfairly, with the intent of replacing us in the world as the most powerful country militarily, economically, geopolitically and technologically,” Rubio said.

ZTE, Rubio said, “is a part of a broader problem, and that is that we have yet to realize what a significant threat China poses to this country and in every realm and sphere. And until we do, we are going to continue to be in danger of surrendering and forfeiting our way of life and our place in the world, and if we do that, the world will be worse off for it and we will have no one to blame but ourselves for failing to act.”

In opposing the NDAA, Rubio was compelled to go against a measure larded with military spending for Florida.

“There is a lot of good in this legislation, and it makes it difficult to be an opponent of it. For Florida, it’s authorized over $200 million for military construction in the state. Littoral Combat Ship facilities at Naval Station Mayport, Air Traffic Control Towers at Whiting Field, F-35 facilities that are important at Eglin Air Force Base, KC-135 flight simulators at MacDill Air Force Base, it authorizes the Secretary of the Air Force to build a cyberspace test facility at Eglin,” Rubio asserted.

However, the issue of China — at least for the Senator — outweighs the immediate political benefit.

Marco Rubio lauds Ronald Reagan, laments Democratic socialism in speech to young conservatives

Sen. Marco Rubio, who only a few years ago was the shining star of movement conservatives in the presidential race, spent part of Wednesday morning discussing the “unique challenges and opportunities that young conservatives face in America” with Young Americans for Freedom.

The address, as pitched by his press shop, had a bittersweet quality: Rubio’s own vision for conservatism in America was ultimately derailed by President Donald Trump remodeling the Republican Party in his image. Thus, Morning in America became Morning at YAF, with Rubio reprising more than a few neo-Reaganesque tropes

Rubio invoked Ronald Reagan early and often in his remarks, using quotes like “shining city on the hill” to illustrate his belief in conservatism as a pursuit of “truths … all too often forgotten, or replaced by ideologies.”

“Truth is often replaced by outrage … tribalism,” Rubio said, seemingly describing what had happened to the right as much as on the left.

Rubio went on to describe “identity politics on college campuses” as “indicative of our challenges.”

And “the spirit of our youth,” meanwhile, is being “misdirected” in a way that impacts national “cohesion,” including a willingness to tell a pollster they are “extremely proud to be Americans.”

Social indicators, such as decreases in marriage rates, were also brought into scrutiny.

“The bedrock institutions of social life,” according to Rubio, have been undermined, with many young people “adrift.”

“What we need now is a new American courage … the same courage that Reagan had when he [told] Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’ … the same courage Reagan had when he took his message to the American people,” Rubio said, lauding Rubio for explaining “conservatism in plain terms” to the working class.

Rubio urged the audience to stand for the “dignity of work” and against the “tide of elite opinion” regarding proposals such as a universal basic income.

People think “socialism is this courageous thing we should get into,” Rubio said, but the examples of Cuba and Venezuela present evidence that runs contrary to the claim.

“Democratic socialism is not rebellious, it’s just fashionable,” Rubio said.

Rubio lauded programs like the expansion of child tax credits and family leave as potential ways forward for the conservative movement.

“President Trump was elected on the promise to Make America Great Again,” Rubio said, a promise that can only be filled through “national consensus.”

Rubio closed with an optimistic rejoinder, saying that national decline was not “destined” but “shaped by what we do and what we fail to do.”

“Our greatest challenge,” said Rubio, “is that paralyzed by fear, we will fail to act at all.”

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