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Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer casts his vote for Gwen Graham

One of Florida’s top mayors officially cast his primary vote Saturday for former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary for Florida governor.

Buddy Dyer, Orlando’s mayor since 2003, appeared with Graham today at a rally in Orlando outside the Orange County Supervisor of Elections’ Kaley Street office. He then voted early himself.

“Together, we are going to restore Florida’s public schools, protect our environment and finally pass commonsense gun safety,” Graham said in a statement.

Graham’s campaign announced Dyer’s endorsement yesterday, when Dyer said Graham put particular effort into understanding the needs of the City Beautiful.

“Gwen Graham has spent her life bringing people together to solve problems,” Dyer said. “She has spent a tremendous amount of time here in Orlando over the last year, and she understands how the state of Florida can be a true partner to help Orlando grow into the future.”

Graham called Orlando a model city in the Sunshine State.

“Orlando is a real example of what Florida can be, a place with a growing economy, shared prosperity, and a community open to a diversity of ideas,” Graham said.

“Mayor Dyer has accomplished these goals by bringing together people from different perspectives, forcing compromise to solve problems, while at the same time never backing down from his progressive values. I am honored by his support and eager to work with him to move Florida forward.”

The endorsement also shows the strong support Graham has received so far from some of the biggest Democratic leaders along Florida’s I-4 corridor, an area that has become critical in winning statewide races.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn endorsed Graham earlier this month, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has publicly defended Graham in the face of primary attacks.

(Notably, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry went another way, endorsing Andrew Gillum.)

Graham’s campaign hopes her edge with the endorsement from the state’s most notable mayors will move voters into her camp come Tuesday’s primary.

The support seems particularly impressive as the Democratic primary field this year includes two candidates with experience as mayors of major cities—former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Gillum.

The most recent polls show Graham and Levine running neck and neck, with Gillum enjoying a surge in support in advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Former Puerto Rico Gov. Sila María Calderón Serra to join Philip Levine for Orlando tour

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is planning a whirlwind tour of Central Florida’s Puerto Rican communities with the isaland’s former Gov. Sila María Calderón Serra this weekend.

She endorsed Levine Friday in the Democratic gubernatorial primary election, his campaign announced.

That seal of approval adds to the endorsements Levine already has received from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto and Ponce Mayor María “Mayita” Meléndez.

Calderón served as the eighth Governor of Puerto Rico from 2001 to 2005. Calderón also served as mayor of San Juan, and as Puerto Rico’s secretary of state.

On Saturday she will be joining Levine for three stops in Orlando and Kissimmee on Saturday evening, and one in Kissimmee Sunday morning.

“As a former governor myself, I was upset with the Trump administration’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In a moment of crisis, Mayor Levine demonstrated true leadership, putting together relief efforts immediately and working to support the people of San Juan, and all of Puerto Rico,” Calderón stated in a news release issued by the Levine campaign. “Floridians deserve a compassionate leader like Mayor Levine, with a clear track record of action and a reputation for standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Puerto Ricans have an incredible opportunity to decide this governor’s election, It is important that we stand with Philip in the way he stood with us after Hurricane Maria.”

Levine is courting Central Florida’s robust Puerto Rican community heading toward Tuesday’s primary showdown with Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, and Chris King for the Democratic nomination to run for governor.

On Saturday, Levine and Calderón plan to start with a rally at 11331 Cypress Leaf Dr. at 4:15 p.m. They plan to join a Boricua vota caravana, a political parade, at the El Ponceño Restaurant in Kissimmee by 5:30, and then appear at an early voting center at the Kissimmee Civic Center by 6:30 p.m. On Sunday they will visit the Melao Bakery at 11:30 a.m.

“I’m honored to earn the support of Governor Calderón, a strong public servant who has stood up for what’s right, and has advocated for working people both while in office and after her tenure. As Governor, our state will stand with our Puerto Rican neighbors, strengthen our economic and cultural ties, and ensure that our state is accepting to those who came here after losing everything.”

Jeff Greene going back up on TV Monday

In the ever-changing landscape of the Florida Democratic gubernatorial race heading into Tuesday, Jeff Greene is back.

The day after the Palm Beach businessman, who had been running a distant fourth in polls, started pulling all his television commercials, he has reconsidered. Jeff Greene for governor commercials will start running again on Monday in Jacksonville, Orlando, and South Florida, his campaign announced Friday.

Campaign spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren said a recent poll showing Greene running second behind Gwen Graham helped lead the campaign to reconsider, and leave commercials already set to air Monday in place, rather than cancel them.

The campaign has more than $100,000 worth of commercials ready to roll

“It’s a race toward the finish line. We’re going to be firing on all cylinders,” she said.

In most polls Greene is running well back of Graham, the former congresswoman from Tallahasssee, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and a few percentage points back of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, though ahead of Winter Park businessman Chris King. That was his position in the polls despite the fact that Greene had spent $29 million of his own money, mostly on television and mail advertising this summer.

On Thursday Greene’s campaign announced he was pulling back from TV commercials and public appearances, but would be focusing on marshaling his ground game, paid staff and volunteers statewide seeking to get Greene voters out to vote.

That effort is continuing VanSusteren said Friday.

Mikaela Nix gets Carlos López-Cantera’s backing in HD 47 primary

Republican Florida House candidate Mikaela Nix has been endorsed by Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera for House District 47, her campaign announced Thursday.

“I admire Mikaela because she has a passion for helping people and a love for the law,” said López-Cantera in a prepared statement. “There’s no doubt that she would be an effective leader for the citizens of District 47.”

Nix, a lawyer from Orlando, is battling with Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves VI for next Tuesday’s Republican primary nomination. The winner takes on Democratic nominee Anna Eskamani to represent HD 47, covering north and central Orange County, including downtown Orlando. Incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican, is running for Congress.

“I am honored that the lieutenant governor reached out to me and volunteered his support,” Nix said. “I have worked hard to get to where I am today, and I am proud that it is recognized by leaders of our state.”

Personnel note: Vivian Myrtetus hopping aboard Lime

Vivian Myrtetus is leaving as CEO of Volunteer Florida to run interference with local governments for Lime, the bike-sharing company.

“I’m excited about my new role, and looking forward to promoting multiple transportation options to users across our communities at affordable rates,” Myrtetus said.

She accepted the post of community affairs manager for California-based Lime, which operates in several Florida markets and recently expanded to Orlando, centering on the University of Central Florida.

Myrtetus has extensive experience in local government communications.

Lime rents electronic bikes and scooters, as well as regular pedal bikes, in more than 100 locations across the country.

The company recently secured $335 million in funding from backers including Uber and GV.

Myrtetus has more than two decades of public affairs experience in state government and in the private sector, most recently serving as CEO of Volunteer Florida.

Previously, she served in various roles in Florida government including Chief of Staff at the Florida Department of Children and Families, Communications Director at the Executive Office of the Governor and Deputy Communications Director at the Florida Office of the Attorney General.

She also worked as Deputy Chief of Staff for United States Senator George LeMieux.

Chris King still pushing ideas as campaign end appears to loom

Democrat Chris King started his run for Governor in his own back yard — literally — declaring he would run a race based on ideas and detailed plans for a progressive governorship.

On Wednesday, he came home where it started, back to the Hillcrest Hampton House Senior Center he owns in Orlando, still pushing those ideas.

“I promised that before this election was ended, I would come back around, and come back here,” King told a gathering of mostly senior citizen residents of the Hillcrest Hampton House. “We are just days away from a historic election, and I’m in a tough race. We’ve got, I’d say, billionaires and bazillionaires down south, we’ve got people with famous families.”

And they’ve got commanding leads over him.

All recent polls of the five-person Democratic primary race show that King’s campaign is the political equivalent of being at least two touchdowns behind with 20 seconds left on the clock. And though everyone knows it, there’s no acknowledgment that victory isn’t possible — because there’s always hope for a Hail Mary, an onside kick recovery, and another Hail Mary.

Still, there’s already talk of a game played right.

“But what I think has set us apart in this race and has made us special if you’ve followed it closely, is we are trying to bring the best ideas,” King told the seniors, ticking off a few, including his detailed plans for affordable housing, justice reform, free community college and trade schools, and environmental protection.

All recent polls have the Winter Park businessman, once seen as a viable candidate, running a distant fifth out of five Democrats, typically pulling only single-digit support, sometimes as high as 10, sometimes as low as 2. That, after 17 months of campaigning.

The race now appears to be either former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine‘s or former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham‘s to lose; with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum making a late charge from well back, and Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene is falling out of contention, but still staying ahead of King.

King said Wednesday he’s trying to close on ideas, specifically on his ideas for justice reform, civil rights and fairness, “and so I’m ending with taking on what I call institutional racism in the state of Florida, taking on laws and policies that are not fair for people based on the color of their skin or where they’re from.”

That has focused much of his activities over the past couple of weeks and into the next six days. Meeting with the family of slain “Stand Your Ground” victim Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater. Speaking before a Muslim conference in Orlando. Calling for removal of a Confederate monument in Walton County. Talking about the history of lynchings with the NAACP at “the hanging tree” in Hernando County. And joining a protest Wednesday outside the office of Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, after his anti-Muslim social media comments.

“And it’s been so gratifying,” King added.

King also laid out some of the things he said made him an unusual candidate, and one elderly woman in the group called out: “You’re better looking!”

There’s always that.

Bill Nelson, Adam Putnam top Orlando’s Political Salsa

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were the top choices at Orlando’s Political Salsa hobnob for races for Senate and Florida Governor.

With more than 400 votes, Nelson topped Republican Gov. Rick Scott 52 percent to 43 percent with Rocky De La Fuente taking the rest during the Hispanic-oriented but mostly mixed-ethnic event Thursday night.  Organizers released results over the weekend.

Putnam won a tight contest over Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 16-person straw poll for Governor, with Putnam grabbing 25 percent of the votes and Gillum 23. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis finished third with 15 percent; Democratic former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, 13 percent; Democratic former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, 11 percent; Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King took five percent; and four points for Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene.

In a separate poll taken at Political Salsa held at Acacia, a community center for Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community,  77 percent of the participants said they support Puerto Rico statehood. Only 15 percent chose the option of independence, and 8 percent said none of the above.

Unlike many hobnob straw polls, the Political Salsa straw poll evenly divided favorites between Republicans and Democrats, offering a possible Democratic lean with several upsets.

The primary sponsors of the event were the Suarez Group of Companies and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida.

Republican former Judge Ashley Moody was the pick for Attorney General, with 39 percent, compared to 27 percent for Democratic state Sen. Sean Shaw, 22 percent for Democrat Ryan Torrens, and 12 percent for Republican state Rep. Frank White.

In the race for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring topped Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis 51 to 49 percent.

Democrat Nikki Fried was the top choice for Agriculture Commissioner, taking 30 percent, compared with 19 for Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell, 18 for Democrat Roy David Walker, and 17 for state Sen. Denise Grimsley, among the leaders.

In congressional races, three Democratic incumbents came out on top and one Democratic challenger took a surprise victory.

Democrat Sanjay Patel outpolled Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey 53 to 47 percent in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which is Brevard County-centered with a piece of eastern Orange County.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy barely topped Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering Seminole and north and central Orange counties. Murphy polled 35, Miller 33. The other three candidates, two Republicans and a Democrat, drew totals in the low teens.

In Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto not only came out on top but his Democratic primary rival, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson finished a distant third. Soto got 51, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky 34, and Grayson 15 points in that district covering Osceola, south Orange and eastern Polk counties.

In Florida’s 10th Congressional District, which covers west Orange County, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings has only an upstart Democratic challenger standing between her and re-election. And that was relatively close in this poll: Demings 61 percent, Wade Darius, 39 percent.

Several surprises came in Florida House races.

Democrat Lee Mangold topped Republican David Smith 53 to 47 percent in House District 28.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon came out on top in House District 29, taking 44 to 40 percent for Democrat Tracey Kagan; Democrat Darryl Block took 16 points.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes topped House District 30, taking 49 to 22 percent against Democrat Brendan Ramirez; 20 percent went to Clark Anderson and 9 points for Joy Goff-Marcil.

Democrat Debra Kaplan led Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, 58 to 42 percent in House District 31.

Democrat Ricky Shirah was the choice in House District 39, topping Republican Josie Tomkow 54-39 percent.

Democrat Barbara Cady topped Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa 54 to 46 in House District 42.

Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski topped House District 44. He drew 38, to 33 for Democratic former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson and 29 for Melanie Gold.

Democrat Anna Eskamani edged out a Republican rival the House District 47 contest with 47 percent; 42 percent went for Republican Mikaela Nix and 11 percent for Republican Stockton Reeves.

Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith got 56 percent to Republican Ben Griffin‘s 44 in House District 49.

Democrat Pam Dirschka led the House District 50 contest with 45 percent, while Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia took 40 percent, and Republican George Collins, 15 points.

Republican Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke led in the contest for Orange County Mayor. Clarke grabbed 41 percent, to 35 percent for Sheriff Jerry Demings and 24 percent for businessman Rob Panepinto.

Retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez pulled off a shockingly easy upset in the contest for Orange County Sheriff, topping Orlando Police Chief John Mina 51 to 28, with Democrat Darryl Sheppard finishing third with 21.

In Orange County Commission races, Republican Christina Moore was the top choice in a four-person field for District 2, leading Republican Mark Byrd 35 to 28 percent; Democrat Eric Rollings was the pick in the five-person field for District 3, leading Pete Crotty 36 to 22 percent; Gina Perez-Calhoun and Maribel Gomez Cordero were the top choices in the five-person District 4 race.

For the Seminole County Commission, Katrina Shadix was the choice in District 2, and Amy Lockhart in District 4, with both polling more than 50 percent.

For the Osceola County Commission, Wanda Rentas got 44 percent in District 2, while incumbent Commissioner Viviana Janer took 25 and Janette Martinez 24. Adam Michelin led a tight race for District 4, taking 32 percent versus 26 percent for incumbent Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, Will Fonseca taking 24, and Will Gonzalez Jr., 18 points.

Alan Grayson, Darren Soto, Wayne Liebnitzky spread on ICE in ‘Political Salsa’ CD 9 debate

When asked Thursday night about what they want to do with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the three candidates for Florida’s 9th Congressional District had a wide range of opinions.

Either keep it as is, reform it, or throw it out.

Speaking at one of four debates at the packed Political Salsa hobnob in Orlando, Republican Wayne Liebnitzky defended the embattled federal immigration enforcement agency, its work and officers as necessary and law enforcement doing the best they could with what they have.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto talked about law changes necessary to rein in excesses while protecting important work ICE does. And Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson blasted ICE as a federal agency that “has lost its way.”

“ICE deserves to abolished,” Grayson said. “ICE has become what amounts to an agency of viciousness. I never expected any time in my life to see a federal agency caging children, anywhere in the world. And therefore, ICE has lost its way. We should not have federal agents on the federal payroll, paid by the taxpayers, abusing and brutalizing people because they don’t happen to be Americans. That has to change.”

“I believe the solution is to reform ICE,” said Soto. “The reason that ICE is the way it is is that there aren’t laws that are preventing them from doing the things that they do. That’s why we need a Democratic majority in back in Congress, to make family separation illegal, to make zero-tolerance illegal.

“Keep in mind, they also regulate and protect people who are involved in human sex trafficking and other aspects that are important, that we do support. We do need a culture change there, from the top down,” Soto said. “We also need to make sure they are not going into churches, and they are not going after people who are low priorities.”

“No, I will not vote to abolish ICE,” Liebnitzky said. Later he defended ICE agents as law enforcement officers just following the laws, and getting a bad rap, saying, “They’re doing what they’re told to do, by Congress,” adding that President Donald Trump has asked Congress “over and over to do something, and yet they do nothing.”

Their sparring over ICE was one of the few moments of genuine disagreement in debates between Orange County congressional, mayoral, and sheriff’s candidates. The discussions took place during an event where scores of candidates — including Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — worked the floors at Acacia, a gathering point for the area’s Puerto Rican community.

The debates did not bring any of the go-for-the-throat moments seen at earlier debates, particularly between Soto and Grayson, and between Orange County mayoral candidates Sheriff Jerry Demings, Commissioner Pete Clarke, and businessman Rob Panepinto.

Nor were there many moments of new revelation, 11 days before the Aug. 28 elections.

Panepinto had one of the few notable moments to shine when the mayoral candidates answered questions on specifics about what they would do to address Orange County’s affordable housing crisis.

Panepinto declared the county no longer can wait for (or count on) state help, then laid out details of his $20 million-a-year, seven-point plan for the county to promote affordable housing. Demings and Clarke mostly called on the state to do its job, giving generalized answers about looking for possible zoning and permit-processing reforms.

“We’ve been looking to Tallahassee for a long time to solve this problem,” Panepinto said. “Yes, they should fund the Sadowski [Affordable Housing Trust] Fund. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. I’ll continue to go up there and fight for it. But I think we owe it to our people to solve the problem here locally.”

Orlando Police Chief John Mina and retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Joe Lopez, both running for Orange County Sheriff, mostly agreed on many items ranging from their opposition to the sheriff’s office ever actively enforcing federal immigration law, to their commitments to reduce violence against and by law enforcement officers. But they split squarely on their views of red-light cameras.

“I would be in favor of it, as long as the system is run properly and there are many, many checks and balances, and the person has the opportunity to go before a hearing officer and in front of traffic court to fight a red light traffic ticket, which we do in the city of Orlando,” Mina said.

“Very simple: no! I do not support them,” Lopez offered. “I don’t think it works. I think it creates problems,” he said citing studies indicating they increase rear-end traffic accidents.

“It’s a cash cow, that’s all it is,” he added.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Miller shared the debate dais with progressive Democratic challenger Chardo Richardson, as incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Republican candidates Scott Sturgill and Vennia Francois skipped the event, even though it was held in their district.

Miller and Richardson stood on far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Miller argued for capitalism, low taxes, and freeing up businesses; Richardson, mounting a left-wing (albeit long-shot) Aug. 28 Democratic primary challenge to Murphy, pressed his Democratic socialist platform, including universal Medicare and raising the minimum wage “to a living wage.”

The pair were far enough apart that they offered grace and respect to one another, Richardson expressing appreciation for Miller’s service in Tallahassee, and Miller for Richardson’s service in the U.S. Marines, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scott made a late, brief appearance, mostly meeting with a few people in crowded hallways.

The Governor left shortly after being confronted in a corridor by Central Florida progressive political activist and former congressional candidate Susannah Randolph. He was ushered toward the stairwell while she tried to demand an answer on one of her questions.

On the other hand, Scott’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. (and Orlando resident) Bill Nelson, was a no-show.

Levine and Gillum worked the floor of the main room, filled with hundreds of people and scores of candidates for county, state, and federal races packed the auditorium.

Political Salsa was sponsored primarily by the Suarez Group of Cos. and the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Florida, drawing a sizable Hispanic attendance.

The Soto-Grayson-Liebnitzky debate stayed civil, a dramatic departure from previous CD 9 debates where Soto and Grayson trashed each other’s records and called each other names, all but drawing actual blood. The closest to personal attacks came when Liebnitzky chided the two Democrats for talking so much about their records.

They were coming off sounding like their only concerns were themselves, not the district and its residents, he said.

Neither Soto nor Grayson took his bait.

Bernie Sanders to join Andrew Gillum for Tampa, Orlando rallies this Friday

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is coming to Florida to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum.

The Gillum campaign announced late Tuesday that the Senator from Vermont will join Gillum at two rallies on Friday — less than two weeks away from the Aug. 28 primary.

The first of the rallies is set to take place in Tampa, where Sanders and Gillum will speak to voters at 11 a.m. in Armature Works — Gathering Room. In the afternoon, the two will head to Orlando for a 2 p.m. rally at the CFE Arena at UCF.

Sanders endorsed Gillum at the beginning of the month, christening him as the progressive option for Florida voters.

“As governor, Andrew Gillum will work to provide health care for all through a Medicare-for-All program, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, invest in sustainable energy, improve education, make sure the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and be welcoming to immigrants,” Sanders said then.

With respect to the Democratic field, Gillum faces former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, billionaire investor Jeff Greene, former Mayor of Miami Beach Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King. Most recent polls have shown Gillum trailing Graham, Levine, and Greene, though a large swath of likely Democratic voters still haven’t picked their candidate yet, according to the same polls.

Whether a rally could give the Tallahassee Mayor the much-needed boost is unknown.

On the Republican side, candidates Adam Putnam, the Agriculture Commissioner, and Ron DeSantis, the Congressman from Ponte Vedra, were “virtually tied,” according to a Florida Chamber poll in July.

But that was before President Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis on Twitter (for the second time) and came to Tampa to rally on the Congressman’s behalf. Now DeSantis appears to be firmly in the lead in the Republican primary.

Trump, however, is battle-tested against Florida’s electorate. He captured 45 percent of the party’s vote in the Republican primary in 2016. Sanders, in the same primary, lost to Hillary Clinton, who captured more than 64 percent of Democratic votes.

Scott Sturgill ad puts abortion question into CD 7 contest

For the first 18 seconds, the new video ad in the race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District looks like something almost any Democrat would be willing to air: young women praising the candidate for supporting abortion choice rights and Planned Parenthood, and resisting President Donald Trump‘s “assault on Roe versus Wade.”

“I like Mike,” the two women declare. And then the video screeches to a halt.

The angle: the 30-second spot “Thank You Liberal Mike Miller” is not about a Democrat, but rather a mock testimonial to Republican state Rep. Mike Miller. And the ad is not his; it is from his Aug. 28 Republican primary opponent, Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill.

“I’m Scott Sturgill,” Sturgill declares after the quick cut when the ad turns to him. “I’m the only candidate who is 100 percent pro-life, and endorsed by Florida Right to Life.”

Miller’s campaign expressed outrage, calling the positions portrayed about him in the ad “a complete fabrication.”

Sturgill began placing the ad on social media Friday afternoon, the latest shot in the bloody battle between him and Miller for the chance to take back CD 7, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy took from the Republicans and longtime U.S. Rep. John Mica two years ago.

Murphy has her own primary challenger from the left, Democrat Chardo Richardson, and Miller and Sturgill have a third rival in the Republican primary, Vennia Francois.

Sturgill’s campaign said the ad is a direct reference to Miller’s vote last January on House Bill 41 to fund Planned Parenthood, stating that Miller was one of only three Republicans to vote for it.

“It looks like Planned Parenthood has either teamed up with Scott Sturgill or this ad is a complete fabrication, which presents even larger problems for our opponent’s campaign,” Miller campaign spokeswoman Dana Loncar said in a written response. “It is appalling that Sturgill would stoop to such desperate levels to mislead voters when Mike is an “F” ranked legislator by them, because of his pro-life stance.”

The issue, and Sturgill’s effort to raise it to front and center in the primary battle, may wind up providing a test of sorts for the district. Can a strong pro-life campaign still fly in CD 7, even in a Republican primary?

Orlando remains home to a vast evangelical Christian community, much of it centered in CD 7. And historically state and federal lawmakers from much of that area have been staunch conservatives, particularly social conservatives.

Murphy won in 2016 with a socially-liberal platform, in part because the district, covering Seminole County and north and central Orange County, is not what it had been historically. Redistricting made CD 7 more urban, taking in downtown Orlando and all its surrounding cosmopolitan neighborhoods. Demographic trends made even the legacy areas much more diverse. The district now has an ever-so-slight Democratic lean. And yet the Republicans awash in that more mixed community, maybe less conservative as a group than they were five or ten years ago.

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