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Ruth's List

Ruth’s List Florida dubs run-of-the-mill results “historic victories”

Most Florida Democrats woke up consumed by what went wrong on Election Day. Another nil for five performance in statewide races, and a one for six performance in the state Senate, assuming current margins hold.

But Ruth’s List Florida was more than a little cheery with an email celebrating its “historic victories” on Tuesday.

Their reasoning, in their own words: “Of the 42 women endorsed this election cycle by Ruth’s List Florida, the only organization in the state that recruits, trains and supports progressive women in their runs for office, 28 won their races. Of the 28 victories, 19 were red-to-blue flipped seats.”

So, 28 out of 42, or two out of three, or, if preferred, a D minus.

There is that ubiquitous song about how “two out of three ain’t bad.” Historic, though? Meh.

Don’t tell Pamela Goodman that, though.

“Ruth’s List is thrilled with these results,” she said. “Floridians are clearly ready to fight for a clean environment, a fully funded public education system and the health care we all deserve. And our wins in the down ballot races show that we are building a strong bench for the future of Florida.”

The two state Senate winners: House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in SD 18 (maybe) and current Sen. Annette Taddeo in SD 40 (a push).

The state House winners: Incumbent Democratic Reps. Amy Mercado (73-17, yawn) and Margaret Good (getting warmer) and Delores Johnson (okay) and Dotie Joseph (92-8, yawn), who took over Democratic held seats.

The flippers: Geraldine Thompson, Joy Goff Marcil, Anna Eskamani, Fentrice Driskell, Jennifer Webb and Cindy Polo. Those six wins are indeed something to celebrate. Ruth’s List deserves a pat on the back for those.

“Ruth’s List has invested years recruiting and training Democratic pro-choice women to seek and serve in local office,” Goodman said. “Tonight, we helped to elect a record number of women up and down the ballot all across the state. We are building the bench of the next generation of leaders in Florida.”

But what about the L-O-S-E-R-S?

The org went two for five in the state Senate and 10 for 17 in the state House, and its doing some Russell Westbrook-level stats padding by counting wins on the Mt. Dora City Commission — no offence, Commissioner Elect Crissy Stile, you earned it.

And then there’s Democratic Ag Commissioner nominee Niki Fried, the first woman candidate the Democratic party has fielded in a statewide race since former CFO Alex Sink, a co-founder of Ruth’s List. They were all about celebrating her easy primary election win, and If the org had carried the first Democratic member of the Cabinet in 8 years across the finish line, that would be a “historic victory.”

There’s still a chance that could happen. Fried is headed toward a recount in the Cabinet contest between her and Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell, and as of Wednesday night only 8,139 votes (0.10 percent) separate them out of more than 8 million cast.

If she pulls it off, that would be the time to blast out the internal brag board.

Democrat Margaret Good holds onto District 72 seat

State Rep. Margaret Good won her first full term in the Florida House on Tuesday after defeating Republican challenger Ray Pilon, but by a closer margin than expected.

With all votes counted, Good led Pilon 51 percent-49 percent, or 41,278 votes to 40,134.

The Sarasota Democrat made national headlines after her special election victory in Florida House District 72 in February. Then, she defeated James Buchanan, a political newcomer and the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Of course, with Pilon, Good faced a more seasoned politician who had a state House seat here three terms in the past eight years.

But James Buchanan got reason to celebrate this evening when he defeated Democrat Tony Mowry in the fight to represent District 73.

With all precincts in, and with all vote-by-mail and early voting already compiled, Buchanan led Mowry with 57 percent of the vote to the Democrat’s 41 percent. Independent Robert Samuel Kaplan pulled in around 3 percent of the vote himself.

The district is the third Buchanan ran in this election cycle but the one where he grew up. He defeated North Port Commissioner Linda Yates in the Republican primary and now looks to be joining Good in the state House after all.

In other races in the Sarasota area, Republican Tommy Gregory led Democrat Liv Coleman with strong margins in both counties in District 73.

Coleman, a University of Tampa professor, had posed a greater financial challenge than expected, but ultimately couldn’t beat the demographics of the deep red district.

In Manatee County, the bulk of the district, the Sarasota attorney took nearly 62 percent of the vote to Coleman’s 38 percent. In Sarasota, he did almost as well, winning more than 64 percent to the Democrat’s 36 percent. With about a 25,000-vote lead, Gregory comfortably claimed victory.

Republican Will Robinson also won District 71 over Democrat Tracy Pratt.

With most Manatee County precincts counted, Robinson led Pratt by 16 percent there, while Pratt led in Sarasota County precincts by a 53-47 percent margin. But the Democrat leads in Sarasota by about 1,100, not enough to close the nearly 11,000-vote gap in Manatee.

Democrats had high hopes for District 71 only because its demographics closely matched those in Good’s District 72.

Red Tide Politics: It’s the environment, stupid.

Candidates in Southwest Florida anticipated lengthy debates about Medicaid expansions, gun rights and maybe charter school funding to dominate political discourse this election.

So it seemed illustrative to state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo when a Naples candidate informed contained not one question about health care came up.

“This year,” she said, “it’s all about the water and our quality of life.”

Welcome to red tide politics.

First blue-green algae coursed along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers following unpopular discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Then red tide struck beaches on Florida’s east and west coasts.

Republican leaders, most especially Gov. Rick Scott, suddenly faced questions over deregulation and the appointment of business leaders instead of scientists on water management district boards in South Florida. The smell of dead fish and the issuance of no-swim advisories turned harmful algal blooms from an academic term to a hot-button issue.

Candidates knocking on doors along both coasts reported the top question, whether politicians ran for the Florida Legislature, county commission or local mosquito board, pertained to red tide.

It seemed quite the shift in conversation after a decade of Tea Party politics in which environmental regulation became anathema to conservative ideology.

Scott’s reported ban on the terms “climate change” and “global warming” seemed suddenly counter-productive. Sen. Marco Rubio, a one-time Tea Party hero, lobbied President Donald Trump’s administration to adjust discharge schedules.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham returned donations from the sugar industry, making Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam the only major candidate running for Florida’s highest office this year to keep money from the environmental boogeyman.

Neither Graham nor Putnam made it out of primary season.

In the general election season, Republicans in once safe seats suddenly faced well-funded opponents. Even when a hurricane seemed to draw red tide back out to sea, Democrats like District 73 House candidate Liv Coleman continued to batter the message home running footage of dead fish just in case voters forgot the sight.

At a Tiger Bay debate in Sarasota, Democrats Tracy Pratt and Tony Mowry hammered Republican opponents Will Robinson and James Buchanan for environmental deregulation under the GOP, even though neither of the conservatives had served in the Legislature and both promised to get tough on polluters.

Republican state Rep. Joe Gruters, a state Senate hopeful this year, held a joint town hall with Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good as both candidates showed their commitment to bipartisan solutions to fixing the environment.

And even in major Republican strongholds like Lee County, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum packed a venue with the promise of taking questions on environmental preservation.

John Capese, Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida’s Southwest Chapter, could be found on the sidelines of that event, excited at the sense of urgency green issues gained during the election cycle.

He wondered if the environment could give life even to longshot Democrats like David Holden, the Democratic challenging U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

It’s unclear whether Rooney lost much sleep at that prospect, and no major political prognosticators paid any heed to the race. But a couple days after the Gillum town hall, Rooney took the stage at a Trump rally, and the message he sent to voters was about recent funding approval for a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Scott raised the same matter at Trump rallies in Pensacola and Fort Myers. But Sen. Bill Nelson barraged airwaves with ads that put the onus on “Red Tide Rick.”

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, though, avoided such attacks by making enemies with Big Sugar years ago. One of his strongest days of the general election season, and one that sent Democrats into convulsions, came as he secured the endorsement of the Everglades Trust.

Seeing an environmental group back the GOP candidate certainly seemed off, but only through the prism of politics in the year 2018.

In the not-so-distant past, GOP leaders like Gov. Jeb Bush championed Florida Forever funding. Gov. Claude Kirk campaigned during and after his political career on the promise of saving and restoring Florida’s waterways.

It used to be a given that Florida politicians, regardless of party, would always champion the environment. That seemed to chip away a decade ago when even Bush entertained opening Florida’s shores to oil drilling, once a third rail of Florida politics.

That didn’t last long. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster turned once-softening public opinion on petroleum exploration into severe backlash on the idea.

Red tide may once again turn a green platform into a regional requirement for political success in Florida, regardless of hostility between national conservatives and the environmental community.

And in some ways how could that not happen eventually? The Everglades remain a crucial part of Florida’s identity, and beach tourism a critical piece of the state economy.

For all the efforts toward diversification in the economy, manufacturing always faces challenges in the Sunshine State thanks to its limited ground access to most of the continental U.S. In a state surrounded by water on three sides, how long could water quality stay out of headlines and political debates?

Algae just helps twist a famous James Carville truism. He helped President Bill Clinton win the White House asking citizens to make a gut check on whether the economy seemed better than when President George W. Bush took office.

It may take more than pictures of dead fish to lead to many Democratic upsets this evening in safe Republican seats. For many GOP candidates who once expected few questions on the environment had to develop a platform darn quick this year.

In Florida, it’s always the environment stupid.

Big legislative races scattered throughout state

When it comes to Florida legislative races, as with most things in politics, follow the money.

Dozens of House and Senate seats are on Tuesday’s ballot, but many — maybe even most — are not competitive because of factors such as incumbency and the makeup of districts.

One way to find the big races, however, is to look at where campaign cash is flowing. Donors, party leaders and political operatives don’t like to toss away money on lost causes. With that in mind, here are some of the races to watch Tuesday in various regions of the state:

Tampa Bay 

The Tampa Bay area features two of the most closely watched Senate races, including in Hillsborough County’s District 18, where Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young is trying to fend off a challenge from Tampa Democratic House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. The pair combined to raise nearly $1.5 million for their campaign accounts — and that doesn’t factor in boatloads of outside money.

The other high-profile Senate race pits former Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican, and former Rep. Amanda Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, who are competing for an open seat in Senate District 16 in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

House races to watch in the region include Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican, trying to hold onto his seat against well-funded Democrat Fentrice Driskell in Hillsborough’s House District 63 and Republican Ray Blacklidge and Democrat Jennifer Webb battling for an open seat in Pinellas County’s House District 69.

Sarasota County

Because of a combination of term limits and lawmakers seeking different offices, Sarasota County has four open House and Senate seats that will be filled Tuesday.

But the big-money race in Sarasota County pits two familiar figures: state Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, and former Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, also of Sarasota. Good, who drew national attention last year when she won a special election in Republican-leaning House District 72, raised a whopping $542,000 for her re-election campaign. Pilon raised nearly $173,000 for his comeback bid.

Miami-Dade County

For Democrats and Republicans, two Senate races in Miami-Dade are about holding on to seats. Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, won a fierce special election for Democrats last year in Senate District 40 and now faces a challenge from well-funded Republican Marili Cancio.

Meanwhile, with Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, leaving office because of term limits, the GOP has poured money into efforts to elect Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., also of Hialeah, in Senate District 36. Diaz raised nearly $689,000 for his campaign and received $468,000 in in-kind contributions. Democrat David Perez, by comparison, raised $164,000 and received $103,000 in in-kind contributions.

Miami-Dade also has numerous House races, including Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio facing a challenge from Republican Anthony Rodriguez in District 118. Also, Republican Rep. Holly Raschein, of Key Largo, raised $413,000 as she tries to win another term against Democrat Steve Friedman in District 120, which includes part of Miami-Dade and all of Monroe County.

Broward and Palm Beach

While Broward County is a Democratic stronghold, Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, managed to keep his House seat for the past eight years. Now, with Moraitis facing term limits, Republican Chip LaMarca raised nearly $591,000 as he tries to maintain the GOP’s hold on House District 93. Democrat Emma Collum raised about $188,000.

Up the coast, Republicans also are trying to keep control of Palm Beach County’s House District 89, which is open because Republican Rep. Bill Hager faces term limits. Republican Mike Caruso raised nearly $225,000 and loaned $204,000 to his campaign as he won a primary and ran in the general election. Democrat Jim Bonfiglio raised $75,000 and loaned $296,000 to his campaign — including $106,000 in loans in October.

Central Florida

Democrats have made steady gains in the Orlando area in recent years, and they are pinning their hopes on House candidate Anna Eskamani picking up a seat Tuesday. Eskamani raised about $451,000 for her campaign in House District 47 to replace Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican who is running for Congress. Eskamani’s opponent, Republican Stockton Reeves, raised $170,000.

Democrats this year have also made noise about trying to knock off Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, in Senate District 22 in Lake and Polk counties. Stargel raised nearly $563,000 for the race, while Democrat Bob Doyel raised about $271,000.

Another Central Florida Senate race to watch Tuesday is in District 14 in Volusia and Brevard counties. The district is Republican-friendly territory, but Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, died last month of cancer. That led to the late entry of Republican Tommy Wright to run against Democrat Melissa Martin.

North Florida

From the Panhandle to the Atlantic Coast, North Florida has relatively few high-profile legislative races. But the biggest-ticket race has been in Senate District 8, where Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, is trying to hold off a challenge from Democrat Kayser Enneking. The pair combined to raise nearly $1.5 million for their campaign accounts in a race that also has drawn large amounts of outside money. The district includes Democrat-heavy Gainesville but also is made up of conservative rural areas in Alachua, Putnam and Marion counties.

Perhaps the most-competitive House race in North Florida is in Jacksonville, where Republican Wyman Duggan and Democrat Tracye Ann Polson are battling in House District 15, which became open when Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, decided against seeking re-election. Duggan and Polson have combined to raise more than $600,000, with Polson also loaning $180,000 to the campaign.

Voter registration shows 10 House seats most flippable, mostly toward Democrats

At least eight Republican-held Florida House seats should be in Democrats’ grasps — that is if voters vote their colors — while Republicans have two Democratic seats that ought to be flippable.

And another 14 districts, all but one of which are held by Republicans, the voter registrations between Republicans and Democrats are air-tight, within two percentage points.

That’s according to a Florida Politics analysis of voter registration trends that has Republicans picking up strength in rural, small-city, and exurban areas. Democrats meanwhile have improved in cities and inner suburbs.

A look at the latest voter registration numbers, broken down by Florida House District, shows registration trends turning the Orlando urban core more blue are also making Central Florida Republicans among the most vulnerable going into next Tuesday’s election. And that brings eight Republican seats into play, where Democrats actually have more voters in the districts, while just two Democratic-held seats are in districts with more Republican voters.

Many of the most pronounced are in Central Florida.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes‘ House District 30, including parts of south-central Seminole and north-central Orange counties, has moved three points toward Democrats, and now Democrats have a five-point advantage in voter registration there. Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, faces Democratic Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil.

Just to the south, House District 47 including much of north and central Orange County, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, has trended three points toward Democrats. Now that party has a four-point advantage in voter registration. Democrat Anna Eskamani and Republican Stockton Reeves are battling in that one.

Farther to the south, Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa‘s House District 42’s voter base remains unchanged, yet Democrats have a six-point advantage in voter registrations. La Rosa, of Saint Cloud, is being challenged by Democrat Barbara Cady.

In Jacksonville, the House District 15 seat being vacated by Republican state Rep. Jay Fant has trended two points toward Democrats, flipping the voter registration one point in Democrats’ favor. Republican Wyman Duggan and Democrat Tracye Polson are competing there.

In Tampa, House District 59 in eastern Hillsborough County, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, has lost a point of Republican voter registration and now Democrats have a four-point advantage. Republican Joe Wicker faces Democrat Adam Hattersley there.

Just to the north, House District 58 in eastern Hillsborough has trended back Republicans’ way by two points since 2016. Yet Democrats still hold a two-point advantage in voter registration. There, Republican State Rep. Lawrence McClure of Dover seeks re-election against Democrat Phil Hornback.

Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah is running for the Senate so his seat is coming open in House District 103, where Republican Frank Mingo will be facing a four-point Democratic advantage in voter registration favoring Democrat Cindy Polo. There has been no change in the party voter registration balance since 2016.

And in House District 120, Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein of Key Largo faces a one-point Democratic advantage as she seeks re-election against Democrat Steve Friedman. There has been no change in that district’s party proportions since 2016 either.

Republicans saw none of the districts now controlled by Democrats trend more into Republican voter control, but they do have two seats where incumbent Democrats face Republican-dominated voter rolls.

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good in House District 72 saw her district trend two points Democrats’ way since the 2016 election [she was elected in a special 2017 election], yet Republicans still have 42 percent of the electorate, compared with Democrats’ 33 percent. Good, of Sarasota, will be swimming against that still-strong tide again in seeking re-election against Republican Ray Pilon.

Democratic state Rep. Robert Asencio‘s House District 118 is essentially unchanged in party balance, yet it still leans Republican by three points. Asencio will have to buck that voter registration disadvantage as he seeks re-election against Republican Anthony Rodriguez.

In 14 other House districts the differences between Republican and Democratic voter rolls are close to negligible, and in all but one of those districts Republicans currently hold or most recently held the seats.

In three districts the numbers of Democratic and Republican voters are essentially even: House District 27, where Republican state Rep. David Santiago faces Democrat Carol Lawrence; House District 67, where Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala faces Democrat Dawn Douglas; and House District 114, where Democratic state Rep. Javier Fernandez faces Republican Javier Enriquez.

In five other districts the voter registration percentages for Republicans and Democrats are within two points of each other: House District 36, where Republican state Rep. Amber Mariano faces Democrat Linda Jack; House District 40, where Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton faces Democrat Shandale Terrell; House District 44, where Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski faces Geraldine Thompson; House District 50, where Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia faces Democrat Pam Dirschka; and in House District 53, where Republican state Rep. Randy Fine faces Democrat Phil Moore.

In five other districts, all held or most recently held by Republicans, the voter registrations are within two points of even while the seats are open: House District 69, where Republican Ray Blacklidge faces Democrat Jennifer Webb; House District 89, where Republican Mike Caruso faces Democrat Jim Bonfiglio; House District 93, where Republican Chip LaMarca faces Democrat Emma Collum; and House District 115, where Republican Vance Aloupis faces Democrat Jeffrey Solomon. In House District 105 there is no incumbent, as Republican state Rep. Carlos Trujillo stepped down last spring to take a federal appointment as an ambassador. Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez faces Democrat Javier Estevez.

In 53 of Florida’s 120 House districts, one party or the other has an advantage of more than 15 percentage points in the voter registrations. In none of those districts is that party out of office, and any swings there next Tuesday would be historic upsets.

The most extreme cases:

— House District 108, Democratic state Rep. Roy Hardemon is running for re-election with a voter roll that is 69 percent Democrat and 8 percent Republican.

— In House District 3, Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson is seeking re-election in a district where the voters are 59 percent Republican and 19 percent Democrat.

Republicans didn’t bother challenging Hardemon; Democrats didn’t bother fielding anyone against Williamson. There are 21 other districts where one party or the other has a 30-point advantage in voter registrations.

Margaret Good spends nearly half a million — again

Democratic State Rep. Margaret Good has spent nearly a half million dollars in the hope of remaining in office, a feat all the more remarkable because it’s the second time that has happened this calendar year.

The final financial reports before the Nov. 6 general election show Good through Nov. 1 raised a total of $542,192, and that she spent $487,292. The bulk of that money has gone into advertising blasting airwaves and mailboxes in Florida House District 72. Good spent $62,160 between Oct. 20 and Nov. 1, mostly on advertising with 76 Words in Washington, D.C.  and with GPS Impact in Iowa.

While boosting name recognition never hurts, it’s worth noting Good already won an election in the district earlier this year.

Good spent $486,269 leading into a Feb. 13 special election when she defeated Republican James Buchanan in a race that drew national attention as a harbinger of a “blue wave forming.”

That special election spending includes money Good forked out leading into a Democratic primary in December. But the bulk of her contributions came in after securing the party nomination, as did her spending.

It’s quite likely Good, a Democrat representing a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, will spend more than $1 million this year before the close of the general election.

In comparison, Republican opponent Ray Pilon through Nov. 1 spent $139,182 of the $173,742 raised over the course of the campaign. That fundraising total includes a $1,000 candidate loan, whereas Good did not have to chip in any of her own money this time around.

Of course, raking in more than $172,000 in monetary contributions from March through November is no small feat. Notably, Pilon has represented this district before, winning twice in this district under its current lines, and before that defeating an incumbent in a district with a slightly more Democratic make-up.

Pilon in 2014 raised and spent $160,590, and in 2012 raised and spent $235,665.

And he only needed to raise $143,932 in 2010 when he unseated Democratic state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald.

So Pilon’s fundraising this cycle hasn’t been out of whack with normal elections in the district. Good’s fundraising and subsequent spending, though, continues to look nothing like anything District 72 has previously seen.


Joe Gruters shifts into overdrive for himself, fellow Republicans

Republican state Senate candidate Joe Gruters knows his success this year relies on the strength of the GOP ticket as a whole.

“We’re trying to drive turnout for the entire team,” he said.

As the 10-year chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota, Gruters knows the importance of lifting the entire slate more acutely than most politicians. This year, he says, base turnout will make or break certain campaigns.

“You used to be able to identify voters that cared about education. You could send them something about what you would do to increase teacher pay, and maybe you could turn them,” he said.

“In today’s environment, it’s ‘Do you support Trump or not’ ”

Raising all boats

Gruters spent part of Saturday afternoon doing joint phone banking with Republican state House candidate Ray Pilon, who is seeking to unseat Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good in House District 72. That district lies entirely within Senate District 23, so if every Pilon voter backs Gruters and vice versa, both Republicans should get a lift.

Gruters will take it. He feels good about his standing against Democrat Faith Olivia Babis.

His own internal polling shows him ahead by 9 points, but that’s a little close for comfort considering the district went to Republican Greg Steube two years ago by nearly 18 points. Still, he’s on track to win and that’s good enough in a year like this.

As party chairman, Gruters developed a sterling reputation for GOTV. He won the chairmanship in Sarasota County a month after the 2008 presidential election, when Republican nominee John McCain won the county by just 211 votes and lost statewide to Democrat Barack Obama.

But four years into Gruters’ tenure, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney won the county by more than 15,000 votes. In 2016, now-President Donald Trump won the county by nearly 27,000 votes and secured Florida’s electoral votes.

Gruters played an outsized role in that last one. Though normally allergic to primary endorsements, he backed Trump early in the campaign cycle, back when most party leaders lined up behind Sen. Marco Rubio or former Gov. Jeb Bush. Trump ended up kicking off his Florida campaign at Robarts Arena in Sarasota.

After Trump won the Republican nomination, Gruters became co-chair of the Florida campaign. Trump’s final rally the day before the election once again took place in Robarts.

A record to run on

That was 2016, and two years later, Democrats bring up Gruters’ ties to the White House as often as he does. But Gruters in 2016 also enjoyed a personal political success, winning House District 73.

In other words, he’s got his own record to run upon.

He likes to note how often he’s bucked House leadership — on business incentives and on VISIT Florida. And he proudly defends his vote in favor of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

Back home, it’s been a year of ups and downs.

Remember that District 72 race? In February, Good won that seat in a nationally watched special election. Just for fun, Good ran against James Buchanan, the son of sitting U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, who happens to be a personal mentor to Gruters.

But heading into the election in Sarasota, Gruters feels much better than he did in February. As of Saturday morning, 15,492 Republican voters in the county had already voted early or by mail, compared to 13,088 Democrats and 7,868 no-party affiliation voters.

And Sarasota differs from the state as a whole in that Democrats usually perform better in absentee voting while Republicans typically outnumber Democrats on election day two-to-one. Call it a side effect to serving as home to so many wealthy retirees.

“I expect a surge to the finish,” he said. “We’re going to have a phenomenal night as a party and for our candidates locally.”

That’s important to Gruters, who announced this month that this would be his last term as chairman of the party. If he could sweep one more election cycle, it would be a good way to go out, especially considering that would guarantee his ascent to the state Senate.

Regardless, he’s left the party stronger than he found it. In nine of 10 years of his chairmanship, Republicans registered more new voters than Democrats. That includes the last two years even in the face of an increasingly fractious and anti-Trump national dialogue.

“I’ve loved being party chairman,” Gruters said. But it’s also grueling work, and he says it’s time to move on. Assuming he wins the Senate seat, he’s about to triple his constituents as a lawmaker. Not to mention he’s got three small kids at home and his own accounting firm.

For now, he remains focused on electoral success, for the party’s statewide like U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, all the way down to Republicans running for the Venice and North Port City Councils.

And oh yeah, also for himself.

Will Robinson keeps outraising, outspending Tracy Pratt

Republican Will Robinson raised more in a week in mid-October than many non-incumbents pulled in all year in the contest for Florida House District 71.

He continues to out-raise and outspend Democrat Tracy Pratt in the open Bradenton-area race.

In the fundraising period from Oct. 13 through 19, he pulled in $18,900 in monetary contributions. Over that time period, he spent $38,353, mostly on campaign materials through Political Ink in Washington, D.C.

Just between Sept. 29 and Oct. 19, the Republican has spent north of $120,000, more than his opponent has pulled together for the race.

Which isn’t to say Pratt sits idly by. The Democrat raised $8,299 in the weeklong Oct. 13-Oct. 19 period herself. She has spent $7,986 in October. But she continues to get drastically out-resourced in the race.

Robinson and Pratt look to succeed state Rep. Jim Boyd, who could not seek re-election because of term limits.

Both Bradenton area attorneys, Gulf Coast Democrats have looked to make this contest something akin to the shock upset in neighboring District 72, when now-state Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, beat Republican James Buchanan.

The two districts share similar partisan make-ups and can draw from the same local base of supporters.

But while Good in the special election saw a flood of outside dollars come in to help offset the Republican edge in voter registration, Pratt has not.

That means Pratt can claim strong grassroots support, pulling in $67,883 in donations mostly from individual small donors, and he’s also put $20,000 of her own skin in the game.

But Robinson put in $100,000 of his own dollars when he launched his raise in March of 2017, and he’s raised $332,700 in contributions since then. Much of that comes from local business interests.

While different candidates, including Buchanan, wondered in and out of this race over the past 19 months, neither Robinson now Pratt faced a primary opponent in the end.

Heading into the final stretch of the campaign, that leaves Robinson with a cash-in-hand advantage of $184,978 to Pratt’s $54,376. That’s still a lot of money floating around on both sides to fuel a big push to Nov. 6.

Margaret Good says hey, hey, don’t vote for NRA-owned Ray Pilon

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good plans to stand her ground on gun safety, and said her Republican challenger Ray Pilon, a lifetime National Rifle Association member, shouldn’t attack her on her Parkland vote.

Pilon, who previously held Good’s Florida House District 72 seat, released a new attack ad featuring Andrew Pollock calling into question Good’s vote against the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

“Even though parents like me asked for her vote, Margaret Good said no,” Pollack said.

Good stands by her vote. She voiced from the start the bill did not go far enough to implement background checks and contained a poison pill provision allowing more school personnel to carry guns on campus.

“We deserve so much better,” Good recently told the Herald-Tribune. “Florida deserves so much better than the Marjory Stoneman Douglas bill. After a tragedy like that to provide this bill — how could anybody vote for it?”

A new press release says she did the right thing in pushing for more restrictions on gun purchases.

“Rep. Good stood up to special interests and the NRA by voting against arming educators and janitors,” reads a news release from her campaign. “She fought for a bill that would have provided funding for trained law enforcement officers to protect our children, required universal background checks for anyone trying to purchase a gun, and banned AR-15 style assault rifles like the kind used in the Parkland massacre.”

Further, she attacks Pilon for his lifetime NRA membership and for cozying up in the past to leaders of the pro-gun group.

She noted Pilon in 2015 voted in subcommittee to allow concealed weapons on college campuses, in 2014 voted to allows more guns on school grounds and in 2011 supported legislation prohibiting doctors from asking patients if they own guns. That last law later was ruled unconstitutuional.

She also linked to a notorious New Yorker profile on NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. The piece quotes Pilon saying he called Hammer begging her to let him keep an A-rating even after he missed a vote on Stand Your Ground legislation.

Incidentally, Pilon doesn’t flatter Hammer in the piece, who told the magazine “Marion crucified me” over missing the vote.

And in response to Pollock weighing in, Good touted the endorsement of another vocal Parkland father, Fred Guttenberg. Yesterday, Guttenberg tweeted: “The NRA is viciously attacking her. They know she will fight for stronger legislation than previously passed in Florida as she has consistently expressed how limited that bill was.”

Pilon for his part suggests the defensive on the part of Democrats shows the ad hits a soft spot of Good’s record.

“You might of noticed the Dems don’t like our ad. Guess they either don’t like the truth or don’t understand he vote if prevailed would have meant 0 dollars for school safety,” Pilon wrote yesterday on Facebook. “There is more to be done. However doing nothing would have put our students at risk. I will stick by the ad because it is the truth. I will never compromise my beliefs.”


Florida Retailers recommend bundle of new state representatives

The Florida Retail Federation PAC, the political arm of the state’s retail trade organization, endorsed more than two dozen candidates seeking to earn their first terms in the state House next month.

The bulk of the 26 candidates getting FRF’s seal of approval are seeking open seats in the state House, but a handful of the recommendations went to would-be state Reps. looking to oust incumbents.

“The diversity of these candidates includes some with a direct connection to retail, small business owners, and those new to holding public office, but all are focused on making Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation,” said FRF president and CEO R. Scott Shalley. “Meeting each of these candidates in person has us excited about working with them as members of the Florida House in support of the state’s retail industry.”

Challengers getting the nod: DeLand Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff, who is seeking the HD 26 seat held by Democratic Rep. Patrick Henry; Orlando Republican Ben Griffin, who is challenging progressive Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith in HD 49; former Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, who is attempting to win back his old seat from Democratic Rep. Margaret Good; Miami Republican Rosy Palomino, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Nick Duran in HD 105; and Miami Republican Anthony Rodriguez, who is looking to send Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio packing in HD 118.

The other 21 endorsements went to candidates running against fellow fresh faces, and some of the races getting FRF’s attention are among the most hotly contested slated for the general election ballot.

In Orange County’s HD 47, the trade group recommended Winter Haven Republican Stockton Reeves over Anna Eskamani, one of the most promising Democratic state House recruits of the cycle. The pair are competing for the swing seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Mike Miller, who is running for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

In South Florida, Florida Retailers are putting their weight behind Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca’s bid to keep HD 93 in GOP control. He faces a well-funded challenger in Democratic nominee Emma Collum. Additionally, the PAC is supporting Delray Beach accountant Mike Caruso, also a Republican, in HD 89. He faces Ocean Ridge Mayor Jim Bonfiglio.

The rest of the candidates earning a nod for the Nov. 6 general:

—HD 15: Republican Wyman Duggan

—HD 28: Republican David Smith

—HD 32: Republican Anthony Sabatini

—HD 33: Republican Brett Hage

—HD 37: Republican Adrian Zika

—HD 51: Republican Tyler Sirois

—HD 59: Republican Joe Wicker

—HD 61: Democrat Dianne Hart

—HD 66: Republican Nick DiCeglie

—HD 69: Republican Ray Blacklidge

—HD 71: Republican Will Robinson

—HD 73: Republican Tommy Gregory

—HD 79: Republican Spencer Roach

—HD 81: Democrat Tina Polsky

—HD83: Republican Toby Overdorf

—HD 103: Republican Frank Mingo

—HD 105: Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez

—HD 115: Republican Vance Aloupis

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