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Richard Corcoran committee raised $445K in September

House Speaker Richard Corcoran brought in another $445,000 for his political committee and possible governor’s race fund, “Watchdog PAC,” between Sept. 1 and Oct. 9 according to reports available on the committee’s website.

The committee has now raised $4.4 million total since Corcoran started it up in June, and has just shy of $3.9 million on hand.

The largest contribution last month was a $100,000 check from The Voice of Florida Business, a political committee tied to the Associated Industries of Florida. Following the six-figure check is a three-way tie between Miami auto dealer and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, Wal‐Mart Stores, and Conservative Principles of Florida. Each gave $50,000.

A committee controlled by Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur chipped in $30,000, while a number of other GOP movers and shakers came in at the $25,000 level.

Among them are former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli through his Growing Florida’s Future committee, political consultant Anthony Pedicini through Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy, and Rep. Jamie Grant through Floridians for Liberty and Innovation.

Corcoran’s committee received the money across just 27 contributions. And one of those, a $25,000 check from Orlando law firm Newsome Melton, was refunded.

Expenditures clocked in at $265,814 through Oct. 9, with $68,800 of that money heading to Ft. Lauderdale-based Fabrizio, Lee & Associates for surveys, consulting and travel expenses.

Rapid Loop Consulting received $42,500 for consulting work and expenses, followed by D.C.-based Go Big Media which took home about $33,000 for consulting and travel, and Jacksonville-based Political Capital with $20,000 for consulting.

Corcoran has said he is waiting to announce his future plans after the 2018 Legislative Session, which ends in March.

Currently, the only two major Republicans running to succeed Rick Scott as Florida governor are Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala. Putnam’s fundraising has reached the double-digit millions through his committee, Florida Grown, and campaign accounts, while Latvala has a few million of his own in his committee, much of it left over from his campaign to be Senate President.

Decision time in contentious House District 58 GOP primary

In eastern Hillsborough County, one of the more contentious Republican primaries in quite some time will soon be over.

Tuesday night, a winner will emerge from the hard-fought House District 58 battle between Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure.

HD 58 opened up in August after Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson stepped down for health reasons.

Final financial reports in the race, filed Friday night, show McClure,  a 30-year-old Dover businessman, out-fundraising Fry, with more than $23,000 cash on hand for the campaign’s final days. That includes an additional $11,000 raised by Fry’s separate political committee.

McClure’s last report includes several $1,000 contributions from various established lobbying groups based in Tallahassee, including Southern Strategy Group, Florida Beer Wholesaler Association, and the Florida Cow Political Action Committee.

The Tampa Bay Times also noted several contributions made to McClure’s campaign from allies of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked, McClure said he was unaware of that, but then pivoted, saying that as the most conservative candidate in the race, it only follows he’d receive conservative backing.

An automated phone poll on election eve of 358 registered voters in the district gives McClure an 18-point lead, 54 to 36 percent.

McClure has been running hard as the purest conservative in the race, with some mailers from third-party groups going as far as to label Fry a “liberal” – something clearly intended to be a black mark in a staunch GOP primary.

Flyers contained pointed commentary, accusing Fry of once being supportive of light rail, a bugaboo with Tea Party types (although Fry counters that she’s now against that form of transit, she was once quoted as speaking up for the 2016 Go Hillsborough transportation plan, which included a light rail component).

Among the third-party groups behind mailers attacking Fry include Save Southern Heritage and Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts.

There have even been mailers attacking campaign strategists. One attacked Anthony Pedicini, McClure’s campaign strategist, mailed Thursday by a group called The Florida Leadership Fund. The group’s treasurer later told Florida Politics that he had nothing to do with the mailer.

Fry is the more politically connected of the two, working several years as a civic activist involved in Plant City public affairs. Her information technology consulting company, Lines of Communication, performed work orders for the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office (led by her paramour, Mark Ober) as well as other government agencies in Hillsborough County and across the state.

“We are excited about tomorrow,” says Fry. “We have been working hard, talking to voters and spreading our conservative message.  I am looking forward to having the opportunity to represent District 58.”

McClure did not immediatley return a call for comment.

The winner of Tuesday night’s GOP primary advances to the general election for HD 58 Dec. 19. They will face Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated candidate Ahmad Saadaldin.

The polls will be open Tuesday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Supervisor of  Elections Craig Latimer announced two last-minute polling place changes Tuesday:

Precinct 753 voters (originally assigned to vote at Plant City Recreation and Parks due to a storm-related closure of the polling place at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center) will instead be voting at the Bruton Memorial Library (302 McClendon St. in Plant City).

Precinct 763 voters, assigned to Hope Lutheran Church, will instead be voting at Faith Temple Assembly of God (4240 N Frontage Road).

The elections office learned Monday of extremely long lines for Food for Florida benefits at the Plant City Stadium that will make sights on Park Road inaccessible for voting. Approximately 800 eligible voters will be affected by these changes.

Election eve poll gives Lawrence McClure wide lead in HD 58 special election

A barrage of nasty direct mail campaigns in the HD 58 special election may have snookered Yvonne Fry’s chances in the Tuesday Republican Primary, according to a new survey from St. Pete Polls.

An automated phone poll conducted over the weekend surveyed 358 registered HD 58 voters and found the Plant City native trailed Republican businessman Lawrence McClure 54-36 percent, with another 10 percent saying they were unsure which candidate they would choose at the ballot box.

McClure polled 20 points better than Fry among whites, and did similarly well among both men and women. He also dominated among voters over 30 – voters aged 50 to 69 picked McClure over Fry by 32 points, with only 7 percent saying they were unsure.

Fry’s only wins came among the 18-29 crowd, 50-33, and among Hispanics, who preferred her 2-to-1 over McClure.

About 44 percent of those polled also said they had already voted in the special primary,

The prime timers have turned out for the election, too, with more than 55 percent of the 70-and-up crowd having already cast their ballot.

There’s still a day left before the door shuts on the primary, but even Fry’s wins don’t paint a pretty picture in a district where 64 percent of the electorate are non-Hispanic whites, and the median age is hovering around the late-30s.

Fry was the first-in candidate for the special election, which Gov. Rick Scott scheduled after former Rep. Dan Raulerson announced he would leave office due to health issues.

She amassed plenty of support from all levels of GOP leadership, too. In addition to Raulerson coming out in support of her once he became a “private citizen,” she won over all five current Plant City Commissioners as well as neighboring Rep. Ross Spano, Attorney General Pam Bondi and a host of others.

McClure picked up his support, and cash, from allies of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who found himself at odds with Raulerson more often than not.

With those deep pockets backing him, he has led in fundraising through most of the campaign. And his major foible – having never cast a ballot in a primary election until last year– was outshined by the rash of mailers branding Fry as a liberal in cahoots with “Obama, Clinton and Pelosi” when it came to 2nd Amendment rights.

The winner of the McClure-Fry battle is the odds-on favorite for the seat, but still must face Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated Ahmad Saadaldin in a Dec. 19 general election.

Joe Henderson: Yvonne Fry in tough HD 58 fight

In a different reality, Yvonne Fry would enter Tuesday’s special HD 58 election without concern.

Her neighbors in Plant City know her as smart, personable, connected and dedicated. She is one of them, having been born and raised there. In addition to being well-liked and respected, she is a successful businesswoman and making her first run for public office.

She has the support of former state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons in August. Raulerson was easily elected twice in the district Fry now wants to represent.

Her opponent, Lawrence McClure, was embarrassed when Mitch Perry reported voting records show he has never cast a ballot in a non-presidential primary — and yet he is asking for support in the same type of race in which he has never voted.

Slam dunk, right?

Not exactly. And the support she has received from Raulerson could be one reason why.

Connect the dots.

William March of the Tampa Bay Times reported Monday that campaign finance records show House leaders close to Speaker Richard Corcoran are donating heavily to McClure’s campaign. That has helped give McClure $135,485 for his campaign compared to $112,790 for Fry.

Raulerson was increasingly at odds with Corcoran before leaving the House. One interesting tidbit is that Raulerson received an “A” grade and a 100 percent score in a legislative report card by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Corcoran scored a “C” in the same survey, with the notation that the “grade was decreased because Speaker Corcoran presided over a regular Session that saw Legislature unable to finish on time, operate in the sunshine or meaningfully address certain important business issues.”

Corcoran also bucked the Chamber position on economic and marketing efforts, which could explain why political committees tied to that group have poured $785,000 this year into Adam Putnam’s campaign for governor.

Corcoran, of course, is contemplating a run for governor as well. He has also been known to administer a little payback for anyone who steps out of line with his agenda, and Raulerson certainly did that.

Raulerson also has been highly critical of the process which gives the House Speaker vast power during the Legislative Session.

“I wouldn’t discount that entirely,” he told me. “I don’t think it’s the only reason for the support though. I think the overriding reason is that (Corcoran) wants control of everything. The fact I didn’t always go along with leadership and went rogue possibly contributed to this.

“I voted the way I felt the way my vote needed to be. Obviously, I did not play the puppet role. What’s interesting is that (House) leadership never got involved in primaries before. I see that culture has changed.”

Fry has been the target of a slew of attack mailers in recent weeks that have played loose with the facts. She has been labeled a “Lie’n liberal” in some of the fliers and, in one particularly scary appeal to the Republican base, was said to have “joined the ranks of Obama, Clinton and Pelosi in declaring war on the Second Amendment” because she opposes open-carry and campus carry.

Will it work?

Maybe.

Mailers tend to target so-called super voters — those who cast ballots in every election. As of Monday morning, there were 5,050 ballots cast either by mail or early voters so far. That is likely about half of the turnout that might reasonably be expected in an off-peak race like this, and the Republican base tends to get nervous when the subject is the Second Amendment.

And while Fry will likely enjoy strong support from Plant City, that may not be enough to carry the day. Only about 35 percent of the voters in this election are expected to come from Plant City. The remainder will likely come from the Temple Terrace and USF area, where Fry isn’t as well known.

“I will say this — Yvonne is a tough cookie,” Raulerson said.

Given Corcoran’s apparent influence and interest in this race, it’s worth pondering what awaits the winner.

Would McClure become a rubber stamp for the Speaker’s agenda? Would Fry find herself relegated to insignificant committees and given little to no voice in trying to accomplish things for her district?

Good questions in a race increasingly rife with palace intrigue.

Will Weatherford endorses Ardian Zika for HD 37 seat in 2018

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is endorsing Ardian Zika for the Pasco County-based House District 37 seat.

“I’ve known Ardian Zika for the past decade, and he is absolutely the best person to represent District 37 as our State Representative,” said Weatherford in a statement. “Ardian’s story is one of hard work and dedication. He is proof that if you have a dream and work hard, you can achieve success.”

The 37-year-old Zika was born in the former Yugoslavia and emigrated to the U.S. from Kosovo in 1997. He spent the past 14 years in the banking industry before starting up his own business advisory company, Guardian & Company I, earlier this year.

“His passion for our country and for Pasco County is evident from the moment you first meet him,” Weatherford added. “His strong financial background will help him fight for our shared values of lower taxes while growing and strengthening our economy for all us.”

“I am honored and humbled to have the endorsement of Speaker Will Weatherford,” said Zika.

Weatherford had previously contributed $1,000 to Zika’s campaign, as he and the rest of the Pasco County GOP establishment have shown that they are firmly behind his candidacy to succeed current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is term-limited out of his seat next year.

Florida Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson endorsed Zika last week.

Weatherford has stayed out of electoral politics since leaving the House of Representatives in 2014. He announced shortly before Christmas last year that he would not run for governor in 2018. He currently works as a managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a capital investment and strategist advisory firm that is based in Tampa.

George Agovino, Elle Rudisell and Bill Gunter have also entered the HD 37 primary.

Bill would rein in community redevelopment agencies

A measure to overhaul community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has been filed for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Rep. Jake Raburn, a Lithia Republican, is sponsoring the bill (HB 17).

Lawmakers designed the programs to combat blight and slums and build affordable housing, WFSU explained. Critics argue more regulations are needed to ensure that happens.

Under the bill, CRAs would have to conduct ethics training, open competitive bids and file annual performance reports. Agencies would have to post project lists and funding plans, as well as changes in property values and vacancy rates.

The bill would also phase out active CRAs by September 2038 or earlier. And the Legislature would have to approve any new CRAs, instead of local governments.

Most recently, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office sent subpoenas to the city of Tallahassee and the City/County Community Redevelopment Agency over deals that body has made, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. “The subjects of the subpoenas included prominent business people and financial documents and communication with city officials,” it said.

Material also provided by LobbyTools. 

—–

Updated Thursday — Sen. Tom Lee filed a companion measure in the Senate (SB 432).

Wilton Simpson latest Republican to back Ardian Zika in HD 37 race

Florida Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson is the latest Republican to endorse Ardian Zika in the Pasco County-area House District 37 race for 2018.

“Ardian Zika’s story is a modern-day story of the American Dream,” Simpson said Tuesday in a statement from the Zika campaign, referring to the Land O’ Lakes businessman’s background, which includes leaving war-torn Kosovo 20 years ago to come to the United States.

“He has since completed an education, spent a decade and a half in the banking industry in a variety of leadership positions and started his own business,” Simpson added. “He and his wife have five children and are active members of their church. Ardian Zika has the common-sense experience we need to represent us in our state capitol.”

“This election, Ardian Zika has my strong support to serve as our Florida House Representative from District 37.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran currently occupies the House District 37 seat, but the 37-year-old Zika is quickly becoming an establishment favorite to succeed Corcoran, who is term-limited next year.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford has already contributed $1,000 to Zika’s campaign, as has Simpson, his wife and two connected companies. All told, Zika raised more than $100,000 since entering the race in August.

“Senator Simpson has been a role model and a positive example for me, both as a successful business owner and in how he serves our community and gives back,” said Zika. “I am honored and humbled to have Senator Simpson’s support and endorsement.”

George Agovino, Elle Rudisell and Bill Gunter have also entered the Republican HD 37 primary.

Richard Corcoran is the biggest threat in the Governor’s race … and he’s not even running

A new Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released this week gives Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam a significant early lead in the 2018 race for governor.

This comes as little surprise, especially since some view the Chamber as one of Putnam’s biggest cheerleaders.

However, the survey does have one shocking element. Richard Corcoran scored dead last in the Chamber-backed poll.

This poor showing begs a slightly closer look at polling and why the Land O’Lakes Republican might just be poised to be the biggest threat to Putnam.

In the GOP primary, Putnam gets 26 percent, with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis at 9 points and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater with 2 percent. Corcoran manages only a single point.

As Speaker of the Florida House and a prominent figure in state politics, that Corcoran would receive such sparse polling numbers raises more than a few questions.

First, some background. According to state financial reports, political committees tied to the Chamber gave $785,000 to Putnam’s campaign in 2017 alone, with nearly half of that coming after he officially declared his candidacy.

In contrast, Watchdog PAC, the committee led by Corcoran, has received no Chamber money.

Why is that? One possible explanation is, during Session, Corcoran publicly struck out strongly against a Chamber priority – the state funding for VISIT FLORIDA. That certainly did not inspire the Chamber to open its checkbook.

What also makes this lack of financial support intriguing is that only last year, the Chamber scored Corcoran as an A-rated, pro-business legislator at 97 percent.

So the Chamber loves how Corcoran votes, just not enough to give him any money.

Now, compare this week’s Chamber survey to a similar poll taken three weeks earlier by Florida Atlantic University — a neutral third-party.

Both polls include the same four major Republican Party candidates (as well prospective candidates) for governor: Putnam, Corcoran, DeSantis and Latvala.

Both polls offer similarities: Putnam’s share is 1 point apart in the polls (26 versus 27 percent). DeSantis’ is same in both polls (9 percent). Latvala is also the same at 2 percent.

Also, notable in the Chamber polling is the margin of error, which typically changes with the number of respondents for primaries (only 256 Republicans surveyed) versus the number of respondents for general elections (615 surveyed). For the general, both surveys offer a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points, although the FAU margin of error — when broken down to Democratic or Republican primary only — increases to +/- 6.5 points. (The FAU poll does point out those changes as the sample size decreases.)

Nevertheless, the one key difference between the two polls is Corcoran.

Corcoran drops from 10 percent (solidly in second place) in the FAU survey to a single point (last) in the Chamber poll.

But why all the skepticism, you may ask. The Speaker is emerging as everyone’s favorite target in the governor’s race. And he’s not even running.

While on the stump, in media and digitally, Democrats have attacked Corcoran with alarming regularityGwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and even Philip Levine (who has been flirting with, but not committed to, a run for governor). Putnam and Latvala have also been consistent in their attacks.

Could it be that Corcoran is the most dangerous candidate to all of the above?

This summer, the Speaker had been quickly raising money ($4 million in 100 days) as well as assembling a top-notch political team (including admen and the winning pollster for President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott). The Speaker also has a strong conservative record to lean on, which would make a compelling case in a Republican primary.

In addition, all polls show the race as wide-open – with some giving Corcoran double digits (despite not yet being an official candidate). That this is happening so early in the race is noteworthy.

Compare that to DeSantis, whose entire potential campaign now rests on a series of appearances on FOX News.

What’s more, other than two significant donors, DeSantis’ aligned committee raised little money (only $1M after the transfer from his federal PC) in nearly six months of its existence. That suggests a lack of infrastructure.

And with waning approval ratings for both Congress and Trump, a sitting congressman in the gubernatorial race is not necessarily setting the world on fire, at least among those in the state Republican Party.

All things considered, as Corcoran builds momentum and is positioned to become Putnam’s most practical challenger, why would the Chamber bother putting a thumb on the scales?

Perhaps not, but the Chamber would have 785,000 reasons to do so if they did.

Pro-Confederate group heats up HD 58 race

As a registered nonprofit group, Save Southern Heritage can’t endorse candidates.

However, they can provide “information” to voters,  and the inference from the cards it’s mailed out to 3,000 households in House District 58 in eastern Hillsborough County indicates it likes the responses that Lawrence McClure gave the group, as opposed to Yvonne Fry, who opted not to respond to the organization’s questionnaire.

McClure and Fry are engaged in an intense battle for the Republican Party primary in the special election to succeed Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson, who stepped down from the seat for health reasons, with more than a year on his term last month.

The 30-year-old McClure is a partner in environmental consulting firm Streamline Environmental. The 45-year-old Fry is a small businesswoman and civic activist from Plant City.

Save Southern Heritage Florida is the advocacy group that fought to maintain the Confederate statue in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse annex, an effort they lost last month when the Board of County Commissioners voted to remove the monument after the private sector contributed half the expected costs of the move.

The group asked McClure four questions pertinent to their constituency, all revolving around Confederate monuments. When asked if he supported keeping the monument in Tampa, Frank said he did.

“I have been on on record at club meetings and debates that would have had a vote on the Hillsborough County Commission to remove the Confederate monument outside of the downtown Tampa courthouse, I would’ve voted no. I think it should stay,” he responded.

Fry is on the record as having said that she did support keeping the monument in place, something she repeated to FloridaPolitics earlier this week.

“We have been on the record on this issue for over a month,” said Brock Mikosky, Fry’s campaign manager. “Yvonne believes that our history is our history and the monuments should not be removed. Further, the attempts to take down these monuments and each ensuing fight is a waste of resources and a distraction from real problems facing our communities.”
The questionnaire also asked if a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith representing Florida should be removed from the U.S. Capitol. McClure said it should not.

The Florida Legislature agreed last year to remove Smith’s statue, but it still remains in National Statuary Hall because lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement on a replacement.

Last month, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron urging them to call a special session on finding that replacement. No action was taken.

The GOP primary for HD 58 is Oct. 10.

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