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AFP-Florida bashes Patrick Murphy for supporting a public option in Obamacare

Americans for Prosperity Florida is blasting Democratic Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy, a day after he expressed support for adding a government public option to the Affordable Care Act.

“It is good to see Patrick Murphy leaving the privileged gates of his Palm Beach estate,” said AFP Florida state director, Chris Hudson. “Maybe while he’s out and about he should take a second to recognize that Obamacare has failed and that the results of President Obama’s “lie of the year” have included insurance companies dropping out of the embattled top-down program, requests being made to increase premiums as high as 43.6%, and the average American being saddled with $1,000 in medial debt.

Continued Hudson, “Patrick Murphy needs to stop pandering to special interests, and stop supporting policies like the public option that only exist to undermine the private sector until they go out of business! If this is the sort of lead-from-behind attitude Congressman Murphy is trying to sell, then Florida families shouldn’t buy it.”

While campaigning at the West Tampa Sandwich Shop on Monday, Murphy told voters that he believes that with more insurers now announcing that they will no longer carry patients who are on the Affordable Care Act, a public option is now needed to provide competition.

“The key is like any issue — it’s acknowledging that there are some things that are working, and that some things that need to be fixed,” Murphy said. “No legislation that is passed — or rarely I should say — is perfect, and you have to evolve with the times to see what’s actually working. Unfortunately, in Washington you have a group of people that basically want to shut down the government … they say throw the whole thing and start over, without offering solutions to it.”

The idea of the public option is to create a separate, government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers offering coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders included versions of the public option in their proposals when they first began working on health care reform in 2009. But they dropped the idea relatively quickly.

As Democrats were approving their platform that was officially ratified at their national convention in July, Hillary Clinton unveiled a health care plan that included a public option. Though she had supported such a proposal in the past, during her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders she opposed it, saying it would be too costly and run into interference from Republican governors.

If Murphy wins Tuesday’s primary election for the Democratic nomination for Senate, he will likely face Republican Marco Rubio in the fall. On Monday, a spokesman for Rubio blasted his comments about a public option.

“Patrick Murphy promised voters that Obamacare’s state exchanges would bring down costs and create more competition, but Floridians are finding themselves with fewer health care options and skyrocketing premiums they can’t afford,” said Michael Ahrens. “Only someone like Patrick Murphy who has consistently embellished the facts about himself could read the latest devastating headlines about the failure of Obamacare and declare it a success that should be expanded.”

Patrick Murphy says he’ll push for public option to be added to ACA if elected to the Senate

Patrick Murphy says if he is elected to the U.S. Senate in November, he’ll push to provide a public option to the Affordable Care Act.

“At least in rural areas, where you don’t have much competition,” the Jupiter representative and Senate Democratic hopeful said on while making a campaign stop on Monday morning in West Tampa. He said that would be an added option for people on the ACA, “and beyond that, to make sure that there is competition ultimately.”

Passed six years ago, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) still divides the country and the Congress. Most Republicans continue to call for repealing the entire measure, though they rarely have provided a viable alternative. Democrats have stood by it for the most part, but even some of the law’s biggest supporters say it needs an overhaul.

Earlier this month, health care giant Aetna announced it had lost more than $400 million on Obamacare policies since the insurance exchanges were set up in 2014, and was going to pull out of most of them, including in Florida. That followed similar announcements made by United Healthcare and Humana.

Which means fewer choices for those on the ACA. Lack of competition means higher premiums and/or lower benefits. A public option would be a federal option open to anyone on the individual market, and Murphy said he’d push for it if elected in November. Hillary Clinton has made similar comments on the campaign trail.

“The key is like any issue — it’s acknowledging that there are some things that are working, and that some things that need to be fixed,” Murphy said. “No legislation that is passed — or rarely I should say — is perfect, and you have to evolve with the times to see what’s actually working. Unfortunately, in Washington you have a group of people that basically want to shut down the government … they say throw the whole thing and start over, without offering solutions to it.”

Murphy was in the Tampa Bay area for the third straight Monday leading into Tuesday’s primary election, where he’s facing Congressman Alan Grayson and retired Navy JAG officer Pam Keith for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. However, Murphy never talks about his fellow Democrats on the campaign trail, instead looking ahead to a November matchup against incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.

Murphy appeared shortly before 9 a.m. at the West Tampa Sandwich Shop, a traditional stop for Democrats running for office to make an appearance at (Barack Obama was there in September of 2012). He was joined by state Rep. Janet Cruz, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, and Hillsborough County Commission hopeful Pat Kemp, among others. Murphy spent time speaking to other “regular voters” who had assembled at the table, which gave him the opportunity to discuss his plans for immigration, health care and the economy. And diss Rubio.

“Climate change — I believe it’s happening, I believe it’s real, I believe we have to get off this addiction to fossil fuels; Sen. Marco Rubio denies it’s happening,” he said while speaking to reporters after spending more than half an hour sitting at a table and talking about some of the issues he’s running on.

“It’s like infrastructure. I believe we need to make the investments. He doesn’t believe in that. I want to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He does not want to do that. He wants to support Donald Trump, who wants to build a wall, and deport 11 million people the first day. Sen. Rubio has completely lost sight of his values and his morals, because he’s so worried about running for president again.”

“Patrick Murphy promised voters that Obamacare’s state exchanges would bring down costs and create more competition, but Floridians are finding that the exact opposite has happened,” said Rubio spokesman Michael Ahrens. “Obamacare has left them with fewer health care options and skyrocketing premiums they can’t afford, yet Patrick Murphy’s answer is to expand the program and make things worse for Florida’s families. Marco will keep fighting for a patient-centered alternative that improves choices for consumers, costs Floridians less, and helps everyone get the coverage they need.”

Following his West Tampa appearance, Murphy was scheduled to make campaign stops in Orlando and Miami. His campaign announced he will be spending election night in Palm Beach Gardens.


Tanning industry blames 10,000 salon closings on ‘Obamacare’

The tanning salon industry is feeling burned by “Obamacare.”

Business owners around the country say the little-noticed 10 percent tax on tanning in President Barack Obama‘s health care overhaul has crippled the industry, forcing the closing of nearly 10,000 of the more than 18,000 tanning salons in the U.S.

Experts say the industry is overstating the effects of the “tan tax” and that it has been hurt by other factors, too, including public health warnings about the dangers of tanning and the passage of laws in dozens of states restricting the use of tanning salons by minors.

Nevertheless, some salon owners say the health care overhaul will be on their minds on Election Day. Republicans have vowed to repeal “Obamacare” if they win the presidency and retain control of Congress.

“When I go to vote, I’m supporting candidates who are pro-business and who want less government involvement, less government regulation,” said Chris Sternberg, senior vice president of Sun Tan City, a Louisville, Kentucky-based chain with nearly 300 salons in 22 states.

The tax, similar to that imposed on tobacco, is meant to discourage a practice known to increase the risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network says those who use tanning beds before age 35 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 59 percent.

Congressional experts also projected the tax would raise about $2.7 billion to help expand health coverage for uninsured Americans, but the industry says it actually has raised just a fraction of that.

The industry has spent millions lobbying to repeal the tax, which it says destroyed 81,000 tanning jobs.

Kim Arnold, a business owner in upstate New York, said she and her husband had to close their third Tropical Tann location last August because of the tax.

“Customers would say, ‘I’m not paying that,'” she said. “I’d have people walk right out the door.”

Mitch Perry Report for 8.18.16 — The Affordable Care Act is getting less affordable

There’s more news about the Affordable Care Act this week, and it ain’t that good.

Aetna announced Tuesday it would be pulling out of Florida and 10 other states next year, giving those on the government plan less options for choice here in the Sunshine State.

There have always been problems with the ACA, and they’re starting to exacerbate.

But the answer isn’t just to repeal it, like most congressional Republicans have invoked like a mantra for the past three years.

However, Democrats have got to raise their game and not just robotically defend it.

This is a test for all of our federal candidates on the ballot this fall — for David Jolly, Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio and, probably, Patrick Murphy — what do you plan to do?

Hillary Clinton is calling for a “public option” for states, which would expand health insurance coverage beyond the current provisions in Obamacare. Clinton also is calling for allowing people 55 years and older to be able to enroll in Medicare. Currently, the typical age for enrollment is 65. She pledged to expand funding by $40 billion for primary care services at federally qualified health care centers.

Will that get congressional approval, especially if Republicans still control the House? I have no idea, but having Washington remain at loggerheads on our health care coverage is simply not acceptable, not with costs going up everywhere (not just with the ACA) and the citizenry only getting older, this is as big a problem we have in this country.

According to today’s New York Times, “The administration is also hunting for consumers who can deliver ‘testimonials’ advertising the benefits of coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “Interested consumers could appear in television, radio, print and/or digital ads and on social media,” the administration said in an appeal sent last week to health care advocates and insurance counselors.

The paper reports that in Tennessee, Cigna last week requested rate increases averaging 46 percent, double the request it made in June, and Humana is seeking an average increase of 44 percent, up from 29 percent in June. The other major carrier in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said it was standing by its original request for increases averaging 62 percent in 2017.

The Affordable Care Act is becoming less affordable by the day, it seems. Time for an intervention.

In other news…

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC is backing Patrick Murphy in the U.S. Senate race, and Pam Keith doesn’t like it one bit.

Victor Crist wants Jeff Brandes to know he’s not down with proposed rules that could compel Uber and Lyft to leave Hillsborough County.

Speaking of Brandes, the St. Petersburg state senator and co-sponsor of Amendment 4 on this month’s ballot takes exception to criticism of the proposal made by one Al Sharpton.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is crushing Tim Canova in their CD 23 race in South Florida, according to a new poll published on Wednesday.

And more endorsements: Frank Peterman is supporting Wengay Newton for the job he once held — representing House District 70 in Tallahassee (It was District 55 when he was in office, for what it’s worth).

And the Florida Education Association is backing Ben Diamond in the House District 68 contest.

The Department of Children and Families says New Beginnings of Tampa did no wrong back in 2008, the second government investigation that has cleared the group after a series of damning articles were published by the Tampa Bay Times in late 2014.

Hillsborough County makes a move to preempt any civil unrest if things go sour between law enforcement and the community.



Hans Tanzler, Bill McClure vow to repeal ObamaCare

Hans Tanzler introduced himself to Northeast Florida voters on horseback, brandishing a rifle, and telling President Barack Obama that “we the people [say] ‘get out of our town.'”

Bill McClure introduced himself to voters outside of St. Johns County with his “Washington Insider Party” ad, naming Tanzler as one of three “career politicians” Nancy Pelosi would like to see in office.

Despite those apparent differences, Tanzler and McClure have teamed up against the overreach of the Affordable Care Act, signing a pledge to repeal Obamacare.

A press release from the outfit pushing the pledge, Independent Women’s Voice, featured a quote from Tanzler.

“There is no question that Obamacare has been a disaster from the start, and it keeps getting worse,” said Hans Tanzler. “We can and must do better. I will work to repeal it and replace it with patient-centered, market-based solutions that will make health care more affordable and more accessible.”

There was no comparable quote from McClure.

Meanwhile, IWV President Heather Higgins lauded Tanzler.

“The Repeal Pledge was designed as a litmus test to help the American public understand which candidates and officeholders are serious about repeal, versus those who claim to be but won’t actually take action,” continued Higgins. “With this commitment, Hans Tanzler passes that test.”

Tanzler and McClure are not the only people on the 4th Congressional District ballot to sign the pledge; U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff has, too.

House District 12 Republicans talk guns, Obamacare, and the ‘entitlement society’

Wednesday afternoon found termed-out state Rep. Lake Ray moderating a forum of House District 12 Republicans looking to replace him in Tallahassee.

Everyone was there. Except the frontrunner.

Terrance Freeman, Stan Jordan, Mark MacLean, and Don Redman had 45 minutes to make their case at the regular meeting of the Southside Business Men’s Club.

The story going in: Clay Yarborough has crushed the field in fundraising, and reasonable expectations were he would be the target. Earlier this summer, a lackluster forum featured four of the five candidates, and Yarborough’s competition didn’t seize the opportunity to put him on the defensive.

Wednesday gave those running behind Yarborough the chance to distinguish themselves without him present, as Yarborough was home with the flu.

However, there was more harmony than differentiation, with the speakers generally agreeing guns are great, Obamacare is bad, taxes are too high, and sanctuary cities are bad for quality of life.

Jordan led off with the intros, noting that Ray succeeded him in office after he was termed out, and now he sought the same opportunity.

Freeman was next, describing himself as a “conservative Republican” and a “small business owner.”

“I am new to this political scene, and given the climate of things these days,” Freeman said, “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

MacLean, with familial ties to the Southside Business Men’s Club, talked of being a “ninth-generation North Floridian.”

Redman, a former city councilman, described his profession (“I cut hair.”) and offered biography.

“I took on a lot of tough issues on the city council. I was not known for backing down on issues,” Redman said, noting his work toward setting noise limits at “rock concerts downtown.”

“I’ve been a doorman for God’s house for 37 years,” Redman said.


And with those intros, 20 minutes of the program were consumed.

Ray did have questions. The first: after talking with citizens, what issues do you see as important?

Jordan got first crack. He noted that parents are concerned with education, seniors with safety and crime, and military people with veterans’ services.

“I am focusing on military issues,” Jordan said, noting that he was previously on the BRAC Committee, and that he wants that role again to protect against an inevitable “national tug-of-war.”

Educational funding also is a priority for Jordan.

Freeman, meanwhile, focused on jobs, and helping kids, especially those growing up lower-middle-class and below. MacLean, meanwhile, saw education, veterans issues, and jobs as districtwide priorities.

Redman was up next, and noted “everybody seems to be against Common Core.”

As well, the onerous tax burden on small businesses nettles Redman, on “everything from electricity to watching TV in a business.”

“I have fire extinguishers in my business … I get inspected by three different groups, the fire department, the department of professional regulation, and the health department.”

“I get inspected by three different groups. My fire extinguishers work,” Redman said.


Sanctuary cities were up next.

Freeman vowed to “fight to hold our federal officials accountable,” as “Florida is a family state,” and “as a family man,” he wants to make sure the state is safe for families.

MacLean echoed Freeman’s position, minus the family man language, saying “it’s proper for the federal government” to “enforce federal immigration laws and for the state to put the onus on the federal government” do its jobs.

Redman noted there are “seven sanctuary counties” flouting federal law.

“The state needs to take a stand,” Redman said, on counties that “defy the federal government and defy what is right” regarding “aliens and illegal people that commit crimes.”

Jordan described “sanctuary cities” as a “place where you can break the law and it still be legal.”

“America needs to wake up … and not provide safe havens for people who break the law,” Jordan said. “You don’t reward bad behavior. As a former principal, I can tell you that doesn’t work.”


The concept of a special session on gun control in the wake of the Pulse massacre was up next.

Is there any difference between these candidates on the 2nd Amendment? Short answer: no.

The problem isn’t guns, they concur. It’s ISIS.

MacLean cautioned against “immediate legislation … that just make people feel better,” especially given that a special session is “very expensive.”

“I think it’s a task for the next Legislature,” MacLean said, adding “new gun laws” would not “solve the problem.”

Redman started off with “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and it went on from there.

“We need to deal with anybody that could possibly be a terrorist, anybody that possibly could have ties to terrorist organizations,” Redman said.

Jordan concurred.

And Freeman?

“My heart breaks for those who lost loved ones at that event,” Freeman said, noting he is endorsed by the sheriff and the NRA and “a strong proponent of our 2nd amendment rights.”

“There’s evil in this world,” Freeman said, “and government needs to step up and handle these issues of people who are really challenging the quality of life.”


Medicaid expansion was up.

Redman would “probably accept those [federal] dollars.”

Others disagreed.

MacLean said the “siren song of accepting federal dollars is misguided” and “Obamacare’s collapsing from its own weight.”

Freeman described “Obamacare as an example of career politicians” and that sooner or later, the funding would be pulled from it.

Jordan observed that “Obamacare will self-destruct on its own,” based on actuarial projections.

“It’s either going to be gone, or it’s going to be re-legislated,” Jordan said, before saying America is an “entitlement society like we’ve never seen.”

“We need to help those who need help … but Obamacare won’t work, period,” Jordan said.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell talks ACA ‘bundled payments’ in Jax

Florida may be resistant to the charms of the Affordable Care Act on a governmental level, but hospitals such as Jacksonville’s Brooks Rehabilitation benefit from certain components of the ACA: specifically, bundled payments.

Much focus has been given to the dysfunctions of the ACA. But Tuesday in Jacksonville, health care providers painted a rosy picture of one aspect of this program.

With that in mind, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was in Jacksonville Tuesday to host a roundtable about that facility’s participation in Bundled Payments, an Affordable Care Act program.

Expanded this week, said Burwell, cardiac rehab bundled payments to facilitate “overall alignment.”

So far, Brooks has served 2,500 patients under the program, which allows for what Brooks calls “accountability” for 30- or 60-day episodes of care for issues including hip fractures, joint replacements, heart failure, and spinal surgery.

Costs have been cut by 20 percent. Hospital readmission rates are down, including 24 percent for hip and knee replacements. And customer satisfaction is at 95 percent.

Among those on hand with Burwell, attesting to the efficacy of bundled payments were Pat Geraghty, the chairman and CEO of Florida Blue and Doug Baer, the CEO of Brooks Rehabilitation, along with patients, caregivers, and medical professionals and executives of various types.

Brooks opted into the ACA program because they thought that’s where healthcare was moving, Baer said, toward a “structure that rewards quality of care over quantity of care.”

Burwell noted this event was about “better, smarter healthcare,” adding that the Affordable Care Act was intended to provide access to quality, and that currently the U.S. has the lowest uninsured rate in history.

This allows, Burwell said, for preventive care, which reduces the number of things that go wrong in a health care setting.

The goal of this event: discussion of how to go forward.

Changing the way payment is rendered, which Brooks exemplifies with bundled payments, is an example of “encouraging the type of care that providers want to practice,” Burwell said.

That change leads, Burwell added, to consumer empowerment.

Baer noted that Brooks is participating in a “post-acute bundle.” After almost three years in the program, Baer calls it “transformational,” having changed the way Brooks looks at care into a more “holistic” view.

“We’ve been able to have great outcomes … reduced hospital re-admissions … saved costs,” Baer said, adding that Brooks wants to expand the modality to non-bundled populations.

Three years ago, the program was a “blank piece of paper,” said Mike Spigel, the president of Brooks.

“There’s still many ways to improve care,” Spigel noted, and “bundled payments” have been a key to that process.

Also boosted: the use of data to change behaviors, related to “transition points” such as changing from in-house to home care and medication reconciliation to ensure patients have understanding of the medicines they are supposed to take and how they might interact with one another.

This can ease the transition from acute care to post-acute care, said Dana Pedrick, a case management director for St. Mary’s Langhorne.

Brooks’ orthopedic director, Howard Weiss, was a bundled care skeptic who has been converted, saying that “communication” can make the difference between a good outcome and a bad outcome, related to medication and other aspects of treatment.

“My patients are doing better,” Weiss said, based on communication from “care navigators.”

Burwell noted overcoming skepticism is a key to program success, and Weiss concurred, saying the best way to understand is for recalcitrant medical professionals to see what Brooks and other bundled payment health providers use.

Geraghty noted that a “fee-for-service system is designed for volume,” adding that a “higher quality service” should get reimbursed, as “quality health care is more cost-effective.”

Burwell noted that working with the private sector is intended to improve outcomes.

“We cannot do this in isolation,” noted Omar Ishrak, CEO of Medtronic.

“Bundling raises awareness of providers for the costs of health care,” said cardiovascular surgeon Jeff Rich, who said the program created “awareness on [his] part of things [he’d] never thought of before.”

Accountability, Rich said, is the key.

“Bundling pulls it all together. It accelerates exciting discussions, and the bundling makes those conversations to help [patients] along the way,” Rich added.

There are gaps, said Bill Kramer of the Pacific Business Group, including on the patient-outcome side, to get regular communication to patients on what they are able to do in rehab, to supplement traditional clinical information.

“The clinical world and the business world gets a little jaded about whether the consumer really knows,” added Geraghty.

“Health care is still delivered locally. And it’s different in every community,” Geraghty said, citing differences in markets.

“Quality measures” can work toward meaningful standardization, Geraghty added.

Burwell noted implementation of this concept is “relatively new,” but HHS hopes that in five years, this will be a much more common conversation.

“This conversation cuts across everyone,” Burwell added.

Report: Changes to health care funding could have impact on Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County health care providers could see gains if Florida lawmakers were to expand health care under the Affordable Care Act.

A new report by Florida Legal Services found Hillsborough County health care providers would see revenue gains if the Legislature accepted federal funding to expand coverage to uninsured, low-income adults. The report, released Monday, estimated the expansion would generate almost $2 billion over five years.

But expanding coverage under the federal health care law is unlikely to happen. While the Senate supported proposals in the past to accept federal dollars and expand coverage, the House has opposed efforts. That has put pressure on local governments to shoulder the costs, said Miriam Harmatz, a senior health law attorney at Florida Legal Services and co-author of the report.

“While Tallahassee leaders have chosen to ignore it, counties don’t have that luxury,” said Harmatz. “They have to deal with local hospitals, and have to deal with their constituents and residents who have been unable to get care.”

Local hospitals could be further impacted because of a reduction in low-income pool (LIP) funding. In 2015, the state and the federal government reached an agreement over funding that gave the state $1 billion in 2015, and $600 million in 2016-17.

In Hillsborough County, local tax dollars are used to provide health care coverage to low-income county residents. The county adopted a half-cent sales tax in 1991, creating the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan. The plan enrolls eligible indigent county residents into a managed care plan, which then provides qualified residents with primary, preventative, pharmacy and hospital care.

The county expanded coverage in 2016, approving the integration of mental health treatment care and expanded eligibility to those earning up to 110 percent of the poverty level.

The plan is funded by the half-cent sales surtax, and a portion of those funds have been sent to Tallahassee as an intergovernmental transfer. That funding, according to the report, funded the state share of Hillsborough County’s low-income pool (LIP) funding.

The report found reductions to LIP and Florida’s Disproportionate Share Hospital program would “be more than offset if the Florida Legislature accepts federal funding to expand coverage for uninsured low-income adults.”

“It’s having a huge impact on county budgets and people’s lives,” said Harmatz.

Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the report is meant to focus on issues county leaders need to consider given the state’s decision not to accept federal dollars to expand coverage. The League of Women Voters of Florida hosted a conference call Monday to discuss the report.

“The governor and Legislature have failed the citizens of Florida by refusing to extend coverage to those in need. The result is that counties are scrambling to fix a problem that should have been handled already by our state’s leaders,” she said in a statement. “We hope this new report by FLS will help focus attention on the plight of those stranded in the coverage gap, especially those the Hillsborough area.”


Doug Broxson drops first TV ad in SD 1 campaign

State Rep. Doug Broxson is joining Mike Hill on the Northwest Florida airwaves, as his campaign announced the Gulf Breeze Republican is launching his first television ad in the Senate District 1 primary campaign.

Broxson’s spot emphasizes his work in the Legislature, including efforts on behalf of the military and veterans, as well as his opposition to President Barack Obama’s policies, including the expansion of Obamacare and immigration issues.

“It is vital that Florida has leaders that will stand up to the disastrous and harmful policies coming out of Washington,” Broxson said in a statement. “I’m proud of our work to fight against illegal immigration that costs jobs, threatens our national security, and increases the national debt, and I look forward to continuing to make sure Florida takes care of our military heroes who defend our freedom and keep us safe.”

Hill’s campaign announced earlier this week it would begin airing an ad in the district, which includes Escambia and Santa Rosa counties and a portion of Okaloosa.

Broxson’s ad can also be viewed here.

Doug Broxson – Heroes from Doug Broxson on Vimeo.

Mary Thomas campaign says Neal Dunn has a ‘Bill Nelson problem’

Mary Thomas‘ campaign came out swinging against Neal Dunn Monday, alleging links between the Panama City urologist and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

In a memo addressed to reporters, Thomas claimed Dunn has a “Bill Nelson” problem, citing Dunn’s past support for Florida’s senior senator. According to a federal campaign finance filing, Dunn contributed to Nelson’s 2012 re-election campaign against former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV.

Mack himself has even chimed in, tweeting the following back in August 2015:

“Is Neil Dunn [sic] running in the Democrat primary? He supported liberal Bill Nelson and lobbied for expanding Obamacare coverage,” wrote Mack, who was trounced by Nelson by about 13 percent of the vote, 55-42.

Thomas and Dunn are squaring off against former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia in a heated North Florida Republican primary to replace U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who is leaving her 2nd Congressional District seat after a 2014 redistricting decision led to radical changes to its political composition.

CD 2 now among the state’s most conservative seats, with experts saying it favors Republicans by 20 points or more. That means any candidate’s hint of a liberal streak could jeopardize their standing with the rock-ribbed electorate there.

Thomas has gone on the attack against Dunn in the past, aggressively going after Dunn — once the presumptive frontrunner, endorsed by top Florida GOP brass — in a Bay County debate in March.

Thomas drew boos from some in the crowd by inveighing against Dunn early and often as a supposed “liberal” and one-time lobbyist for the Florida Medical Association.

“Neal, you can’t hide your liberal record,” said Thomas. “You served as a registered lobbyist, and these are the documented facts. You advocated for Obamacare in Florida, and you said you did not support Obamacare’s immediate repeal.”

Dunn, for his part, played down the charges and did not return fire. Instead, he chose to claim the moral high road and preached unity among GOP-ers.

“At the end of the day we need solutions, not just positions,” said Dunn in his closing remark. “I’m not going up [to Congress] the make a grandstand. I want to work toward solutions.”

The Republican field in CD 2 shrank last week when Ft. White businessman Jeff Moran dropped his bid and backed Sukhia, a social conservative who, like Thomas, is from Tallahassee.

Democrats Steve Crapps and Walter Dartland are also in the running to succeed Graham, though they face long odds in the deep-red district.

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