neil combee Archives - Florida Politics

Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Al Lawson among congressional winners

Donna Shalala, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will take on Cuban-American broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in the November general election after both survived crowded primary races Tuesday in a major congressional battleground.

Democrats are expected to bank heavily on Shalala picking up the Miami-Dade County seat of retiring Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as the Democratic Party seeks to retake control of the U.S. House.

Shalala, also a former University of Miami president, got 32 percent of the vote in a five-way field in Congressional District 27. In the Republican primary, Salazar picked up 41 percent of the vote in a field of nine.

Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents were successful Tuesday, with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto crushing the hopes of former Congressman Alan Grayson, who was trying to recapture the District 9 seat in Central Florida. Also, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson fended off a challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the Democratic primary in Congressional District 5 in North Florida.

The party also again secured three of the state’s 27 seats, with U.S. Rep. Val Demings and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson both winning primaries and facing no general-election opposition. Congressman Alcee Hastings defeated a primary opponent and now goes up against a write-in candidate in November.

Democrats Lois Frankel and Kathy Castor were the state’s only congressional incumbents who had no opposition this year.

On the Republican side Tuesday, retirements and political aspirations created crowded fields for open seats.

In the District 6 GOP primary to replace Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis in Northeast Florida, Michael Waltz, a businessman and former Army Green Beret from St. Augustine, received 42 percent of the vote to hold off former state Rep. Fred Costello and Palm Coast businessman John Ward.

Waltz now will face former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, who handily defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary.

In Congressional District 15, state Rep. Ross Spano defeated four other Republicans seeking to replace retiring Congressman Dennis Ross. Spano received 44 percent of the field to top a field that included former state Rep. Neil Combee of Auburndale.

Spano will face Kristen Carlson, who defeated two Democratic primary opponents in the Republican-leaning district.

Also, state Sen. Greg Steube easily won the Congressional District 17 primary over state Rep. Julio Gonzalez and Bill Akins of Port Charlotte. Steube will now face April Freeman, who received 77 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary in a district that leans heavily Republican.

Two other races that are expected to draw national attention in November were set up as expected Tuesday.

On the Treasure Coast, freshman Congressman Brian Mast had little problem dispatching two Republican primary challengers in District 18. Meanwhile, Lauren Baer, a foreign policy official in the Obama administration whose family owns Baer’s Furniture, won by 20 percentage points over Pam Keith, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

In Central Florida, freshman Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy got 86 percent of the vote to defeat a Democratic primary challenger and will face state Rep. Mike Miller in November. Miller, R-Winter Park, defeated two primary opponents, scoring 54 percent of the vote.

Poll: Neil Combee holds slim lead in CD 15 Republican primary

A new poll of the Republican primary battle for Florida’s 15th Congressional District shows former state Rep. Neil Combee with a 3-point lead over top rival, Dover state Rep. Ross Spano, a few days out from primary Election Day.

The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Aug. 24, shows Combee with 32 percent support among likely Republican primary voters, followed closely by Spano with 29 percent support. The gap between the top-two candidates falls well within the poll’s margin of error.

The other three Republicans vying for the seat — Sean HarperDanny Kushmer and Ed Shoemaker — are all in the single digits, while nearly 20 percent of respondents said they were still undecided in the final hours of the race.

Combee’s lead has been cut in half compared to the last measure from the same pollster, released less than two weeks ago. He was up 36-30 percent with 22 percent unsure in that poll. The pendulum swings back toward Spano comes after prior measures from St. Pete Polls, released in late May and early July, that showed Spano with a clear lead but Combee closing the gap.

Further down in the new poll: Early voters, 45 percent of the sample, prefer Combee over Spano by a margin of 37-30 percent. The only other candidate to hit double digits in that measure was Shoemaker, who scored an even 10 percent among early voters — still, 11 percent of those who said they cast a ballot said they were undecided.

The bright spot for Spano: He holds a razor-thin lead over Combee among the 55 percent of district Republicans who said they plan to vote but haven’t done so yet. The one-time Attorney General candidate who has the backing of Pam Bondi leads among those voters with 29 percent support compared to 28.6 percent for Combee.

That subset of voters is also rife with undecideds — 26 percent of those who hadn’t ticked a box yet were still unsure on Friday.

Broken down by gender, men were much less likely to consider casting a ballot for one of the second-tier candidates, save Shoemaker. Combee held the lead among men with 35 percent support, while Spano came in 3 percentage points behind. Among women, Combee still led Spano by three points, 30-27 percent, with the difference spreading among the other three Republican options.

Broken down by age, the top-two Republicans tied down to the tenth of a percent among young voters, with Gen-Xers breaking toward Combee by 4 points and Baby Boomers preferring Spano by a 5-point margin. The 70-plus crowd, however, favored Combee by a 14-point margin. They made up a third of those polled.

Much has happened in the race brought about by U.S. Rep. Dennis Rossretirement over the past several weeks.

Spano suffered a mild cardiac event that kept him off the campaign trail for a few days. Combee firmly staked out the Trump lane with an ad that doesn’t appear to have hit TV according to FCC filings.

Spano started hitting the airwaves with an ad that invoked some disliked liberal public figures and painted them as threats to the “American Dream.”

The latest event: Combee accused Spano of buying votes. The accusation is a bit misleading. Spano’s campaign offered a free concealed weapons training course in the district, and weeks later held another event where he handed out a “nickel rebate” to people buying gas to poke at Combee for raising the gas tax during his time as a Polk County Commissioner in the 1990s. The most significant amount any single individual received during that event was $1.65 — 33 nickels for 33 gallons of gas.

What could be a factor come Tuesday is whether voters believe that accusation or they see it as a last-minute smear.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 24 and polled 404 registered Republicans who said they planned to vote in the CD 15 primary election. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Hear Sheriff Grady Judd set record straight about whether he backs Ross Spano

He doesn’t.

Despite a glowing quote on a Ross Spano for Congress mailer, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd hasn’t backed anybody in the open House race in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. And he’s pissed anyone thinks he’s on Spano’s side.

In audio released to Florida Politics, Judd makes clear he never endorsed a candidate in the Republican Congressional primary, but he sure doesn’t favor Spano.

“Hello. I’m Sheriff Grady Judd, and I’m angry,” the audio starts. “Ross Spano is trying to trick you.

“He used my picture and a quote from a press conference, then mailed it to thousands of people, giving the false impression I’m supporting him. I’m not supporting Ross Spano.”

He goes on to reference the District 59 representatives ‘no’ vote on the bill, legislation opposed by the National Rifle Association. His strong critique comes because the Riverview state representative voted against the school safety bill passed in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

“He [Spano] voted against protecting our children this year, and he is misleading you,” Judd says in the audio. “I have not endorsed anyone—yet. Now you know the truth.”

So what prompted the angry missive? Spano’s campaign recently sent out a mailer with a picture of himself and the sheriff with a pull quote reading “Ross Spano is a hero in my eyes.”

The content of the mailer comes from an event in which Judd and Spano proposed an alternative set of measures.

But support for this separate proposal from Judd did not translate into opposition to a broader bill ultimately passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Spano, in contrast, voted against the bill that ultimately passed.

“There was something in that bill for everyone not to like, but at the end of the day I supported it for the sake of the children,” Judd told The Tampa Bay Times.

“I told him [Spano], ‘You cast a political vote.’ You’re saying, ‘My political future’s more important than keeping the children safe.’ “

The header on Ross Spano’s Twitter page at the moment is a picture of Judd and Spano together.

While Judd makes clear he has yet to pick sides in a competitive four-way primary, the audio comes from former state Rep. Neil Combee’s Congressional campaign, a decent indication of Judd’s much friendlier relationship with the Lakeland native.

Construction company owner Sean Harper, Ruskin Chamber leader Danny Kushmer and conservative activist Ed Shoemaker also seek the Republican nomination, which will be decided in a primary on Tuesday. The seat opened up this year after Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross announced his retirement.

Paula Dockery endorses Danny Kushmer in CD15

Former state Sen. Paula Dockery has made an endorsement for Congress, backing Brandon businessman Danny Kushmer in the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Dockery, a lawmaker-turned-syndicated columnist, said Kushmer was the strongest Republican in a five-candidate primary field.

“I would encourage all of my Republican friends in FL Congressional District 15 to vote for Danny Kushmer,” Dockery said in a statement released by the Kushmer campaign.

Dockery served in the Florida House from 1996 through 2002 before moving to the Florida Senate, where she served for another decade.

Kushmer right now is in a five-way primary to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

Kushmer has served as the executive director of the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce and of the International Responsible Farming Council, boosting his bona fides with the business and agriculture community of the Central Florida district. He and his wife Cally own Florida’s Horizon.

“I am honored to have the support of Paula Dockery, she was a stable force in Tallahassee as a conservative and it is my honor for her to get behind my campaign for Congressional District 15,” he said.

While a Republican throughout her legislative career, Dockery has built up a reputation as a moderate voice and a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, cheering Robert Mueller’s investigations of Trump cohorts, and she’s asserted in the past feelings that the modern GOP deserted members in the middle of the spectrum like herself. Voter records as of May 2018 listed she was now registered as a Democrat.

But Kushmer in the press release announcing Dockery’s support stressed his support of key parts of the Trump agenda, including building a border wall and eliminating “Sanctuary Cities.” He also promoted his support of the Second Amendment and backed term limits for members of Congress.

The Congressional race has one of the most crowded fields in Florida right now, with Kushmer battling state Rep. Ross Spano, former state Rep. Neil Combee, construction company owner Sean Harper and conservative activist Ed Shoemaker.

A primary on Tuesday will determine the Republican nominee.

Neil Combee accuses Ross Spano of buying votes in CD 15 primary

In the twilight hours of the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, former state Rep. Neil Combee has accused his chief rival in the five-way race of a serious crime: Buying votes.

In a press release issued by Combee’s campaign Friday, the Auburndale Republican condemned the campaign of Dover state Rep. Ross Spano for “their blatantly illegal attempt to bribe voters,” further alleging that Spano and his campaign paid cash to customers at a Lakeland gas station and urged them to support Spano.

“I fully condemn today’s blatantly illegal vote buying scheme by Ross Spano. Giving voters cash in exchange for their support is the opposite of free and fair elections. Today’s illegal vote buying attempt does our party a disservice and reminds people more of Venezuela than Valrico,” Combee said.

“As a lawyer, Spano should know better. As Floridians, when it comes to Ross Spano, we can do better,” he concluded.

The campaign also said law enforcement had been notified and an investigation is anticipated.

The Spano campaign issued a statement via campaign spokeswoman Sandi Poreda saying the accusations were false.

“This afternoon, we became aware of statements made by the Neil Combee campaign claiming our campaign had engaged in illegal activity. We also became aware of at least one lawsuit filed today against Neil Combee’s campaign manager alleging defamation,” she said.

“We are currently evaluating whether today’s statements rise to the level of defamation or merely show a stunning ignorance of election law; if they are defamatory, we too may file a lawsuit to protect ourselves from these outrageous and inflammatory accusations,” she concluded.

Florida Politics also received a message from Melissa Nichols, who said she was the individual who witnessed the illegal activity on two occasions. The first, Nichols said, was an official campaign event that offered a free concealed weapons training course to those in the district.

“The [Federal Elections Commission] has clearly articulated that such events are ‘problematic’ because they confer ‘significant personal benefit’ to non-campaign related beneficiaries. The cash value of such a benefit like a concealed weapons permitting class is $100 or higher in Florida. To residents of CD 15, $100-plus is significant,” she wrote.

The second alleged violation was the aforementioned gas station grift.

Nichols said “Spano held an event at a local gas station in which he paid potential voters a ‘rebate’ on their gas purchase — in cash. Spano campaign manager Brock Mikosky admitted in the press that the campaign gave over $145 in cash to voters. This action, if permitted to continue, amounts to bribery or vote buying or both. This action clearly implicates 18 USC 597 — ‘Expenditures to Influence Voting.’”

That federal law reads as follows: “Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate; and whoever solicits, accepts, or receives any such expenditure in consideration of his vote or the withholding of his vote — Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both;  and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

The event Nichols is referencing saw Spano give a nickel “rebate” per gallon of gas purchased at Nick and Moe’s convenience store in Kathleen for the purpose of highlighting a gas tax increase Combee voted for during his time as a Polk County Commissioner.

The largest amount any one individual received was $1.65 — 33 nickels for gallons of gas.

Nichols told Florida Politics that she was not affiliated with either Combee’s or Spano’s campaigns, however, public posts made on her Facebook page paint a different picture.

Despite being a firm Combee supporter for weeks, Nichols said “I am not affiliated with any one politician, but can not stand illegal activity and people persuading votes based on vote buying.” She added that she has reported the alleged violations to the Florida Elections Commission, the Federal Elections Commission, the Department of Defense, the State Attorney’s office, the US State Attorney office and the FBI.

Spano and Combee are running alongside Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the Aug. 28 primary election for the open seat currently held by retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

CD 15 covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties and is considered a likely Republican win in November.

Neil Combee takes lead in CD 15 Republican primary, poll shows

Former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee isn’t leading by double digits, as indicated by a recent poll commissioned by his campaign, but he does have an outside the margins lead in the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Combee has the support of nearly 36 percent of likely primary voters followed by Dover state Rep. Ross Spano at 30 percent. Another 22 percent of those polled are undecided, while the other three candidates vying for the GOP nom — Sean Harper, Danny Kushmer and Ed Shoemaker — poll in the low single digits.

The new results are the first time Combee has led in a public poll of the race. The last measure from St. Pete Polls, released July 9, showed Spano with a 32-20 percent lead over Combee, which itself was a breakaway for the one-time Attorney General candidate compared to a late May survey from the same pollster, when he led 29-23 percent.

Combee’s current 6-point lead mainly comes from running up the score among the two-thirds of Republicans who said they plan to vote in the primary but haven’t cast their ballot yet. Among the third who have already sent in their mail ballots, his lead over Spano tightens to 36-35 percent followed by Shoemaker at 9 percent, Kushmer at 7 percent and Harper at 3 percent.

Among the other subset, where there’s still two weeks left to duke it out, Combee leads Spano 37-26 with 28 percent undecided and none of the other three breaching 5 percent support.

Standouts in the date include Combee’s large lead among women, who prefer him over Spano by a margin of 36-27 percent. Among men, however, that 9-point gap is halved. Similarly, Combee holds a large lead among voters over 70, while Spano leads by 8 points among middle-aged voters and ties with Combee in the 30-49 crowd. Young Republicans, a very small subset in the poll, prefer Spano by a margin of 3-to-1.

Spano’s slippage in the polls can likely be partially attributed to the “mild cardiac event” he suffered late last month — the health scare followed an intense workout and the campaign said at the time that the 52-year-old lawmaker was “expected to make a full and complete recovery.”

Still, that kept him grounded from campaigning for at least a week during the critical leadup to primary Election Day, and but according to a new interview with Florida Daily, Spano is back on the campaign trail. He also had some positive words for President Donald Trump, who carried CD 15 by 10 points two years ago, saying the Commander in Chief has exceeded his expectations since taking over as President and expressing support for some of Trump’s cornerstone politicies.

“People want a wall built,” Spano said. “They want to be safe in their communities. They want to know that certainly criminal illegal aliens that they are picked up by local authorities that they are turned over to the federal government to be deported. That is an important thing.”

Combee’s lead appears to have grown during Spano’s downtime, which came just a few days after Combee released his first TV ad touting his connections to Trump — he resigned from House District 39 last year to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA.

But, as of Monday, Federal Communications Commission filings don’t list any media buys to back up Combee’s ad and it’s unclear when or if he plans to get it on the air. Spano, the fundraising leader on the Republican side, announced his first 30-second spot on Friday and already has media buys in place throughout the district, making him the first of the five GOP contenders to truly hit the airwaves.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County.

Though the seat had been considered a Republican lock, the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross combined with strong fundraising from Democratic candidates caused the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment from of the seat from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

CD 15 is still rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

The winner of the Republican primary will face whomever emerges from the three-way contest for the Democratic nomination between former Citrus Commission general counsel Kristin Carlson of Lakeland, Navy veteran Andrew Learned of Valrico and aviation instructor and retired police detective Ray Pena of Lakeland.

Carlson leads the overall field in fundraising and started hitting TV on July 26. Learned has nearly matched her in fundraising, though he’s been in the race a good deal longer. He announced a TV ad on Aug. 6, though no media buy has been made by his campaign according to FCC records.

Both primary elections are Aug. 28. The general election is Nov. 6.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 and polled 360 registered Republicans who said they planned to vote in the CD 15 primary election. The results has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Ross Spano vows to protect ‘American Dream’ in first CD 15 ad

Dover state Rep. Ross Spano has started running his first TV ad in the race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, pitching himself as a candidate who will fight to keep the American Dream “alive and well.”

The ad, titled “American Dream,” sees the Hillsborough County Republican touch on that concept before rattling off a litany of outside attacks against it.

“My dad taught me that if you work hard, honor God and treat people right, you can succeed. That’s our American Dream,” Spano says in the ad.

Then a record scratch hits and the ad flashes between images of some of the most disliked politicians, pundits and groups among Republican circles: U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a man who appears to be a member of the “Antifa” movement and comedian Kathy Griffin.

“But now career politicians, special interests and liberals are working to kill that dream, attacking our rights and increasingly our values. I’ll fight back for you in Congress, so the American Dream is alive and well for the next generation,” Spano says.

The Spano campaign said the ad launch is backed up by a digital buy and a TV buy that’ll put it on the airwaves throughout CD 15, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Lake and Polk counties. Federal Communications Commission filings indicate the initial media buy runs through Aug. 19.

Spano is one of five Republicans running for CD 15, which is open this cycle due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

He faces former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee, Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the Aug. 28 primary election.

A new poll from SCG shows Combee with a double-digit lead among primary voters, however a St. Pete Polls survey released early last month showed Spano, the fundraising leader on the GOP side, up big in the five-way race.

Spano’s campaign mentioned his polling position in the ad announcement, saying “as early voting begins in most of the District next week, a succession of three publicly commissioned polls all show Spano with a lead over the rest of the Republican candidates in the field.”

The winner of the Republican nomination will go up against one of three Democrats: Kristen Carlson, Andrew Learned or Ray Pena.

CD 15 voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a safe Republican seat until Ross’ retirement announcement and the subsequent fundraising successes of the Democratic candidates in the race.

That led the political handicappers of at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, still lists the district as “likely Republican.”

Spano’s ad is below:

Poll puts Neil Combee up big in CD 15 primary

A new poll shows former state Rep. Neil Combee has a monster lead in the primary contest for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The Strategic Government Consulting poll, conducted Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, the Auburndale Republican is the pick for 31 percent of primary voters while Dover state Rep. Ross Spano, who had a double-digit lead in an early July measure from St. Pete Polls, is in a distant second place with 17 percent support.

The other three GOP contenders — Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker — showed up in the low single digits.

Despite the strong showing for Combee, two-fifths of Republican voters said they were still undecided three weeks out from the Aug. 28 primary election.

One thing voters were in near universal agreement on was their love of President Donald Trump. According to the poll, a full 87 percent of Republican primary voters in the district gave the president a positive assessment, including nearly three-quarters who said they “strongly approved” of him. Just 10 percent said they disapproved of him 19-months into his presidency.

Interestingly, voters were also asked whether they would vote for Trump’s preferred candidate come Election Day. Voters answered that question in the affirmative by a 58-12 margin, with 30 percent saying a presidential nod would not sway them one way or the other.

Though Trump has weighed in on the Governor’s race and a couple congressional races, he hasn’t issued an endorsement in CD 15. If he were to do so, however, Combee would be the likely recipient considering he gave up his seat in the state House last year to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district, which voted for Trump by double digits two years ago, is open in 2018 due to the retirement of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

Though previously considered a Republican lock, the lack of an incumbent combined with strong fundraising by Democratic candidates Kristen Carlson and Andrew Learned have caused political handicappers to shift their assessments of the seat from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

SCG automated phone poll collected 508 responses from likely Republican voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

 

CD 15 Republican Primary poll by Andrew Wilson on Scribd

Andrew Learned says ‘dark money’ fueling Kristen Carlson’s CD 15 bid

Valrico Democrat Andrew Learned attacked his primary opponent in Florida’s 15th Congressional District on Wednesday over recent spending by a so-called “dark money” group.

The Learned campaign pointed to recent Federal Elections Commission filings showing that a super PAC by the name of “REINVESTING IN AMERICA” had tossed $19,487 to Washington-based Resonance Campaigns for a data file and a direct mail campaign in support of Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson.

Resonance Campaigns says it creates “direct mail and digital content for labor unions, Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.” The shop’s website shows off work completed for public employee union AFSCME, labor union SEIU and a Democratic state senator in Virginia, among other clients.

REINVESTING IN AMERICA, however, is a little more secretive about its work.

Documents available on the FEC website show the committee was opened in mid-July by Lauren E. Leonard, a former federal employee who most recently worked as the White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama Administration.

The committee has not yet filed a finance report, though the spending reports it has turned in indicate it has also spent about $75,000 on direct mail campaigns backing Detroit Democrat Haley Stevens, a former Obama Administration official who on Tuesday won the primary for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.

The Learned campaign said the lack of transparency in who is funding REINVESTING IN AMERICA is troubling while also hitting Carlson for past campaign contributions to Republican politicians, most recently a $50 check to Bartow Republican Jennifer Spath, who lost the special primary for House District 39.

“Dark money is coming in at the last minute to help Carlson, after she wrote thousands of dollars in checks to Republicans,” said campaign manager Jaden Slagle. “There is no place for this in the Democratic Party. This is shameful and Kristen Carlson needs to disavow this group.”

Learned’s team then reiterated the candidate’s vow to not accept contributions from corporate PACs and to end Citizens United.

While that commitment is becoming more common among Democratic politicians, it’s important to note that independent expenditures — what REINVESTING IN AMERICA’s spending is classified as — must be made without consulting or communicating with candidates, otherwise such expenditures are considered campaign contributions and subject to limitations.

Carlson and Learned are running alongside Ray Pena in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for CD 15, which is open due to the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face one of five Republicans, likely Dover state Rep. Ross Spano or former Auburndale Rep. Neil Combee, in the Nov. 6 general election.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a Republican lock, but the combination of Ross’ retirement and strong fundraising numbers from the Democratic candidates caused the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment from of the seat from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

Ross Spano

Family Research Council backs Ross Spano for CD 15

The political arm of the Family Research Council announced Wednesday that it’s backing Dover state Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign for Congress.

Spano, currently in his third term representing Hillsborough County’s HD 59, is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. When it comes to championing “individual liberties” and “strong family values,” FRC Action PAC said Spano was the top pick.

“As a native Floridian, you have a unique understanding of the issues facing your district and the values important to your constituents. As a small businessman, you have been an advocate for family-friendly tax reform,” FRC Action PAC executive vice president William Boykin wrote in an endorsement letter.

“You have also demonstrated a strong commitment to life, family, and religious freedom, championing religious freedom by voting to protect churches and adoption agencies from being forced to provide services that might violate their deeply held religious convictions,” he continued.

The Family Research Council is a staunchly Christian conservative group that takes hard line stances against abortion and LGBTQ rights and is in favor of increasing the role of Christianity in public life. In addition to endorsements U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi and numerous other Republican politicians, Spano has received the recommendation of another pro-life group, Florida Right to Life.

“I could not be more honored to receive this endorsement from an organization that prioritizes the protection of our shared Conservative values,” Spano said in a press release. “I look forward to continuing this fight on behalf of the constituents in CD15.”

Spano faces former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee, Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the primary race. A St. Pete Polls survey released early last month showed him in the lead with nearly 32 percent support.

Spano also leads the primary field in fundraising with $157,068 raised including loans through the end of the second quarter. He had $108,275 banked and $88,025 in campaign debt at the end of that reporting period.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a safe Republican seat until Ross’ retirement announcement and the subsequent fundraising successes of the Democratic candidates in the race — with the help of self-funding, Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson topped the field with nearly $250,000 raised in Q2, while Andrew Learned has raised $223,618 since filing for the seat prior to Ross’ announcement.

That led the political handicappers of at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, still lists the district as “likely Republican.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

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