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Ron DeSantis campaign brings in operative Tim Baker for final stretch

With four weeks before the primary, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis brought on yet another seasoned hand for his campaign’s stretch run.

Florida Politics learned Monday evening that operative Tim Baker joined the campaign last week in a senior leadership role, offering strategic and political guidance.

Baker, one of a series of recent staff moves in DeSantis World that included bringing on campaign manager Susie Wiles and communications specialist Sarah Bascom, asserted that the campaign is “starting to hit stride” and “we are all working like crazy.”

Baker, an operative in his mid-30s with a Florida State law degree, is making a full-circle move with this latest gig: in 2012, not too long after joining the Data Targeting shop, Baker was a part of DeSantis’ first successful run for Congress.

At that point, DeSantis was a political neophyte, learning the mechanics of a campaign. And Baker was one of many steadying hands.

“We advise Ron on steps his campaign should take. We have expertise running congressional elections, and doing it successfully,” Baker said. “If that makes us insiders, I guess we will wear that label.” Baker told the Florida Times-Union.

Soon enough, Baker was acknowledged as a rising star in Florida politics as one of the top oppo researchers in the game.

In quotes, however, he was less interested in self-promotion and more in extolling his bond with his clients.

“I learned in the Marine Corps to never never never give up… loyalty is key,” Baker said in 2013.

Baker and frequent collaborator Brian Hughes turned their attention to the 2015 municipal elections in Jacksonville, a watershed campaign in which former Republican Party of Florida chair Lenny Curry defeated Mayor Alvin Brown.

This was notable for many reasons; among them, Brown, even after a rough and tumble campaign, still had approval over 50 percent even in defeat.

Baker’s polling was key to that race, observed current DeSantis campaign manager Susie Wiles.

“He is so precise,” Wiles told the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Beyond being precise, Baker also knew how to keep his own counsel, Wiles observed regarding a pension reform referendum campaign she chaired and Baker polled for.

“The last time I checked, I was co-chair of the pension campaign (Yes for Jacksonville),” Wiles said. “At no time did he (Baker) ever share data with me.”

The strategy for that pension campaign is one that may prove useful to remember as DeSantis attempts to flip a poll trend that has shown Gillum up (sometimes outside the margin of error).

Key was a Bakerian deep-dive data operation, with specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

One can already see evidence of such appeals in the DeSantis campaign, which smartly and in a timely fashion went up on TV last week to pillory Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for botched storm response after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine.

Such ads can be seen as part of a larger strategy to define Gillum in the “traditional major party candidate” way. Baker notes that Gillum emerged unscathed from an oppo-free Democratic primary, while DeSantis was “pounded in the primary,” as support from President Donald Trump drove a narrative that went well beyond Florida borders.

The choice, Baker believes, will come down to one of “leadership” (DeSantis) versus a “feel-good choice without substance.”

Baker believes DeSantis will find a way to win.

“He has always overcome long political odds,” Baker noted, remembering that first race, when DeSantis was outraised against a field of sitting officials, but still “stomped the field.”

“His work ethic is unmatched,” said Baker, who himself is known for an ambitious portfolio of candidates and causes that has made him an increasingly valuable commodity throughout the country.

Andrew Gillum

‘Don’t come to my state and talk trash about my city’: Andrew Gillum pushes back against Donald Trump

It took less than a day for Hurricane Michael to make partisan sparks fly.

Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum took to Twitter Monday evening to respond to vague criticisms offered by President Donald Trump earlier in the day at a stop in Orlando.

“Don’t come to my state and talk trash about my city while we are preparing for a Category 3 hurricane,” Gillum wrote in a tweet addressed to Trump. “We need a partner right now, not a partisan.”

Gillum was referencing comments made by Trump during an exclusive interview with WFTV’s Christopher Heath following the president’s remarks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Convention.

Trump, who endorsed Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis and rallied alongside the former congressman in Tampa ahead of the primary election, praised DeSantis and criticized Gillum, along with his tenure as Mayor of Tallahassee — all without directly mentioning Gillum or the capital city.

“[DeSantis’] opponent runs a place that has a lot of problems and I know it very well, but it’s got a lot of problems, tremendous corruption, tremendous crime,” Trump told Heath.

Trump also suggested Gillum “runs an area and a city that’s got among the worst statistics in the country and certainly in the state.”

When it comes to crime, Trump may have been referring to reports released that have shined an unfavorable light on Tallahassee.

One report, which reviewed data from the FBI Uniform Crime Report, found Tallahassee had 767 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2015, far more than in any of Florida’s 21 other metro areas observed by the FBI. Another report, which only examined FBI statistics on property crime, found Tallahassee had 52 property crimes per 1,000 residents, making it the tenth-worst city in the country for crimes such as burglary or larceny

Those stats are nothing new. Leon County, which houses Tallahassee, has had the highest crime rate in the state since 2014, although Gillum has recently pointed to 2017 — which saw the lowest crime rate in the county since 2013 —as evidence that the area is improving.

Hurricane Michael is currently tracking toward the Panhandle and Big Bend regions. It is expected to make landfall somewhere between Pensacola and Panama City, possibly as a category 3 hurricane on Tuesday night or Wednesday. Tallahassee is expected to be affected by the storm, and many state offices have closed their doors in preparation.

Gillum spent Monday in Tallahassee prepping residents for Hurricane Michael’s arrival.

Hurricanes have become a topic of contention in the race for Governor, with DeSantis hitting Gillum over the amount of time Tallahassee residents went without power in the wake of Hurricane Hermine in 2016 — Republicans claim the wait time could have been trimmed if outside workers waiting to help restore power to the city were allowed to pitch in on the effort.

Despite negative ads placing the blame on Gillum, he was not empowered to make that call.

Bring hurricane relief items to campaign stops, Ron DeSantis asks

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis isn’t leaving the campaign trail despite Hurricane Michael approaching the Panhandle.

However, he will be using his upcoming events on the peninsula to marshal supplies from supporters for the storm-impacted, as the barometer drops and the October Surprise of this campaign becomes ever more imminent.

At events in Tampa on Tuesday, as well as Jacksonville and Orlando Wednesday, DeSantis will be collecting supplies at what are being billed as “regional veterans’ events” by the campaign.

“The DeSantis Regional Veterans Events will be refocused to also collect supplies, including toiletries, food, batteries, and more, in order to assist those Floridians impacted by the storm,” the campaign asserted Tuesday.

The DeSantis campaign/hurricane relief swing comes at a time when his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, will be under scrutiny for management of the city during the storm and its aftermath.

Hurricane Hermine of 2016 has proven fateful for Gillum. Ads on the air have spotlighted Tallahassee’s delay in using non-union power restoration resources, as part of a portfolio of attacks on Gillum’s mayoralty.

In 2016, as power restoration delays mounted, the candidate admitted that “I know we made mistakes — I can’t name them all right now — but we’re working really, really hard.”

Gillum will be under a national spotlight. And Ron DeSantis will be waiting in the wings to establish contrast.

Florida Southern College poll: ‘Narrow lead’ for Andrew Gillum

A new poll shows “a narrow lead” for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum over his Republican counterpart, Ron DeSantis.

But the poll, by the Florida Southern College Center for Polling and Policy Research, has a roughly 4½-point margin of error, and Gillum’s lead is just over 3 points.

Gillum received just over 47 percent support, compared to DeSantis’ nearly 44 percent.

“While our results show a small degree of separation between the candidates, this race is still up for grabs,” said Zachary Baumann, a professor of political science at the school and the center’s director.

Among other takeaways from the poll on the Governor’s race:

— “Independents are breaking toward Gillum 46 to 33 percent in this sample.”

— “Our survey indicates a healthy gender gap between the two candidates with Gillum polling 15 points ahead of DeSantis among women.”

— “Interestingly, we see evidence that Gillum is attracting a younger base of support, with over half of respondents aged 18 to 29 and 30 to 44 indicating they plan on voting for the candidate. DeSantis holds a substantial lead among those age 45 to 64 and a smaller advantage among those 64 years old and older.”

In other contests, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is locked in a virtual tie with GOP Gov. Rick Scott in the U.S. Senate race; Scott has a 1½-point lead over Nelson.

“While polls released over the past several weeks have shown Nelson to have a slight lead in this race, ours is showing Scott making headway and gaining a marginal advantage,” Baumann said.

And “President (DonaldTrump continues to be influential in how voters evaluate candidates,” he said.

“When asked how influential the President will be to their choice of candidate, 54 percent of all respondents indicate he will be extremely or very important. When asked to evaluate his performance in office, a statistical tie emerges with 48 percent strongly or somewhat approving of his job in office and 48 percent strongly or somewhat disapproving.”

The poll is below. It was conducted during the evenings of Oct. 1-5 and got responses from 476 likely voters.

Matching money keeps adding up for Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum

 Florida’s gubernatorial candidates might be able to catch Bill McCollum, but the amount of state matching funds Charlie Crist received in 2014 could remain out of reach.

Statewide candidates Friday got five more checks for matching funds totaling $448,517, with the bulk going to the gubernatorial campaigns of Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, according to numbers posted online by the Florida Division of Elections.

DeSantis received a check for $153,470 on Friday to bring his overall state matching-funds total to just over $1.52 million.

Gillum got a check for $266,838 — his third straight weekly check of more than $230,000 — and has received nearly $1.37 million from the controversial program, which provides matches for individual contributions of $250 or less to candidates’ campaign accounts.

To draw down matching money, statewide candidates must apply for the funding and reach contribution benchmarks — $100,000 in such relatively small-dollar contributions for Cabinet candidates and $150,000 for gubernatorial candidates. But the program has been controversial because some Republican leaders contend the state shouldn’t help fund campaigns.

Only two candidates in past elections have received more from the program than DeSantis and Gillum have collected this year.

McCollum, the former state attorney general, got about $1.82 million in his unsuccessful bid to be the Republican candidate for governor in 2010. Meanwhile, Crist, the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014, drew $2.58 million from the matching-funds program.

Gov. Rick Scott, who used much of his own money to defeat the establishment-backed McCollum in the 2010 GOP primary and Crist in the 2014 governor’s contest, did not tap into the matching-funds program.

This year, the state has handed out more than $6.53 million to nine candidates, including four that failecd to get through the primaries. In 2010, the state put out $6.065 million in matching funds. In 2014, the program sent out $4.3 million.

The governor’s race has accounted for the bulk of this year’s money, at $5.2 million.

Of the $897,754 DeSantis raised for his campaign account between Sept. 22 and Sept. 28, $185,157, or 20.6 percent, came through 3,194 different contributions of $250 or less.

Out-of-state donors accounted for 17.6 percent of the small-dollar contributions.

A week earlier, when DeSantis raised $726,649 for his campaign account, 23.2 percent of small-dollar donations were from out-of-state.

Each of the past two weeks have been the best in terms of weekly contributions for DeSantis since July. Those totals — and the matching funds — also do not reflect contributions to Friends of Ron DeSantis, a closely aligned political committee.

Of the $1.72 million Gillum raised for his campaign account between Sept. 22 and Sept. 28, $407,509 came through 11,653 contributions of $250 or less. Of those small-dollar contributions, just over 30 percent of the money came from out-of-state.

In the race for attorney general, Republican Ashley Moody received $13,375 in matching funds on Friday and has received $397,401 from the state. Democrat Sean Shaw got a check for $11,338 on Friday and has received $262,917 from the program.

In the race for state chief financial officer, incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis received a check for $3,495 on Friday. Patronis has received $314,095 through the program. Democratic CFO candidate Jeremy Ring has not taken part in the program.

The two remaining candidates in the race for agriculture commissioner, Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried, have not tapped the program.

Race to replace Ron DeSantis in Congress a sprint to the center

The race to replace Ron DeSantis in Congress is on, and it’s looking more like a race to the center between two former White House staffers as the 30-day mark before the primary approaches.

“Let’s bring the warring parties together and get things done,” asserted Democrat Nancy Soderberg early in a debate televised last week on WESH TV.

Soderberg, who won her primary in August with more than 55 percent of the vote, worked in former President Bill Clinton’s administration on the National Security Council and as Ambassador to the United Nations.

Those roles brought her high-profile endorsements, including from former colleagues like Paul Begala and from former President Barack Obama.

The latter endorsement, a boon in the sense of national visibility, became a talking point for Republican Mike Waltz (who won his own primary with 42 percent of the vote) during their debate.

“This choice is about America moving forward,” between “individual liberty” and a “government that piles on regulation and taxes,” Waltz (a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney) said, framing the debate before at least once conflating the name Nancy Soderberg with Nancy Pelosi and reminding CD 6 voters that Obama endorsed his fellow Democrat.

“In the [Obama] administration, the military really floundered … their funding was cut year over year … incredibly restrictive rules of engagement,” Waltz chided.

“This President and this Administration have reasserted American leadership,” Waltz said, framing that as necessary given the problems established by the Obama and Clinton administrations. “It may be unconventional what he’s trying to do, but heck, what [was done] for the last 35 years didn’t work.”

Soderberg identified foreign policy affinities with the Trump administration, including moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, advocating the “two-state solution,” and the “new NAFTA accord.”

“I believe the President is fighting for American interests abroad in a way that is unconventional for sure, but I wish him well in that,” Soderberg said, trying to pivot the debate midway through to a major campaign talking point for her: a Republican health care plan that would be bad for people with pre-existing conditions.

Waltz said he opposed any plan to limit coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, before saying “Obamacare has been a failure.”

“You need to stop distorting my positions,” the Democrat protested.

Just as Soderberg didn’t want to get identified with the Washington left (including going so far as to say she wouldn’t vote for Pelosi for party leader), Waltz (despite the historic GOP lean in the district, which went with President Trump in 2016), realizes that post-primary base appeals come with diminishing returns.

As POLITICO Florida reported Thursday night, Waltz rebuffed an invitation from President Donald Trump to rally for him in his district. A Trump fundraiser was more agreeable to the candidate, but that fell through also.

For Waltz, a candidate pilloried during the primary for being #NeverTrump, the chance to hit the reset button wasn’t worth the optics of the rally. A fundraiser closed to the press was worth the risk, in no small part because Soderberg has already raised more than $2 million, a number Waltz’s team realizes it can’t match.

A rally though, with potentially pyrotechnic quotes? Not worth it given the dynamics of this contest, very much a swing race at this point.

CD 6 is a Republican-leaning seat, a Daytona-centric district that hugs the Atlantic Coast, including territory in St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia, and Lake counties.

The 2016 race between DeSantis and Democrat Bill McCullough was not competitive, with DeSantis winning by 17 percentage points.

This one should be closer.

A survey from St. Pete Polls released Sept. 20 revealed just a five-point lead for Waltz.

Both candidates are consolidating support within their respective parties. Soderberg is the choice of 74 percent of Democrats, Waltz of 76 percent of Republicans. Independents skew slightly to Soderberg (46-43).

However, with the district showing a strong GOP plurality (205,633 Republicans, compared to 177,345 Democrats and 152,330 independents), these results suggest Soderberg will need to further strengthen her appeal to independents to make up for the realities of party loyalty.

She has the resources to do so. DeSantis, according to Soderberg polling, was underwater in his district when he resigned. And yet, despite running a textbook centrist campaign, Soderberg may find the lean of the district proves prohibitive.

Consultants on both sides bring the spin. Those close to the Waltz campaign paint a picture of Soderberg burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV yet not moving polls. Those close to Team Soderberg counter that Waltz isn’t communicating with voters and use phrases like “campaign in crisis” to describe the Republican effort.

New polls and Q3 fundraising reports will soon enough paint a picture of the race that is less impressionistic and more realistic.

Adam Putnam back on campaign trail for Matt Caldwell

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will hit the campaign trail once again this week, this time in support of potential successor Matt Caldwell.

Caldwell, the Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner this year, announced he will appear alongside Putnam at a grassroots barbeque in O’Brien.

Putnam, who will soon wrap up his second term as Agriculture Commissioner, recently lost the Republican primary for governor to Ron DeSantis.

Putnam long seemed the favorite to win the primary, leading in polling until after President Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis and changed the race.

Caldwell, meanwhile survived a tough four-way primary to win the Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner in August.

The tough primary took a financial toll on Caldwell’s coffers, but he’s since led Democrat Nikki Fried in fundraising leading toward the general election.

Putnam, meanwhile, all but dropped from public view after his difficult primary defeat.

The last political post on his Twitter account, for example, came on Aug. 28 as he made a last ditch effort to rally voters to polls to support his gubernatorial bid.

That is until this weekend.

The Friday message marked a re-entry into politics in the race for the Cabinet post that first out him on the ballot statewide.

And it may come at a moment Caldwell could use a boost. While he maintains the lead in the money race, some publicly released polls, including one from St. Pete Polls, show Fried with an edge largely thanks to her outspoken support of medical marijuana.

Caldwell had tried to showcase his traditional agricultural bona fides by traveling to numerous events focused on the industry, tracking his campaign trail on Twitter with the hashtag #2lanetravels.

Chris King, other Democrats express outrage over Matt Gaetz attack on Andrew Gillum

Lieutenant Governor candidate Chris King joined Democrats statewide in expressing outrage over comments made Saturday by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz during a political event in Cape Coral.

“Our election should and must be about real people facing real issues, and not hyperbolic propaganda used to fearmonger and gin up their base,” King said.

Gaetz on Saturday referred to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum as “Andrew Kill’em” during a campaign stop alongside Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.

The comments quickly drew rebuke from Democrats around the state.

As for Gaetz, he said Democrats started attacking him because they have no defense for Gillum.

“Democrats can’t defend the horrific crime rate under Andrew Gillum in Tallahassee so they blame others,” he wrote on Twitter. “Sad!”

Jennifer Zimmerman, Gaetz’s Democratic opponent in Florida’s 1st Congressional District, said maybe the Congressman should get back to working for his own constituents.

Matt: I need to have a word with you,” she said. “While women all over America were coping with the confirmation of Kavanaugh, you were campaigning with Ron DeSantis in South Florida. You engaged in undignified language not befitting a sitting congressman—shocking, considering you were just outed getting chummy with a confirmed Holocaust denier (again!). Why don’t you come back home and let this mama teach you how to be a Southern gentleman? And, why strut your feathers elsewhere when the people of FL-01 deserve your full attention?”

Jennifer Boddicker, state House candidate in District 80, noted the remarkable came at the same event Lee County’s Republican chair Jonathan Martin made controversial remarks.

My opponent for Florida House District 80, Byron Donalds, is an African American Republican in the Florida legislature. He was there campaigning with them, when Matt Gaetz uttered his dog whistle remarks. I imagine it was uncomfortable. As a woman, I know the feeling of having to grit one’s teeth when inappropriate remarks are made. Though we have very different policy views, I’ve enjoyed chatting with Byron before debates. I’m nothing but sympathetic to his situation––campaigning with people who are either racist or hideously tone deaf. He’s also had racist remarks posted on his Facebook page. There is no place for this in politics. I hope such remarks go in the garbage bin of history and we move forward in a way that is more representative of every person. Where an African American Republican like Byron Donalds, African American Democrats like Andrew Gillum and Sean Shaw, women, and people of all stripes are treated with dignity and respect.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called Gaetz’s remarks reprehensible.

“His words should be immediately condemned by Ron DeSantis,” Kriseman said. ” The rally in Cape Coral was just another instance of unacceptable language being weaponized by the DeSantis campaign’s top surrogates. Yet again, the DeSantis campaign refuses to adjust the tone and tenor of an ugly and divisive campaign.”

State Sen. Audrey Gibson said the DeSantis campaign chose the low road.

“Our state faces several tremendous challenges for working families and the environment. The gubernatorial race should be focused on how to solve these challenges,” Gibson said.

“I am proud that Mayor Gillum has run a campaign that is laser-focused on expanding access to health care, ensuring every child has a great public education, and protecting our water, air and coastlines. Unfortunately, Ron DeSantis and his allies have chosen to take the low road, and been more focused on name-calling rather than the issues. Floridians deserve so much better. With nearly a month until Election Day, DeSantis should make clear that Matt Gaetz’s toxic language and juvenile antics have no place in addressing the concerns at hand and start running a campaign worthy of our great state.”

Terrie Rizzo, Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, labeled Gaetz’s name-calling as a “racist and despicable attack.”

“Ron DeSantis seems intent on exploiting the ugliest and most toxic forces in our society in order to win this election,” Rizzo said.

“If DeSantis’ campaign doesn’t stop speaking so irresponsibly, they could destroy the very fabric of our state and cause irreparable harm. Floridians’ safety is literally at risk. Ron DeSantis must immediately condemn this racist attack on Andrew Gillum and stop weaponizing race.”

Sean Shaw, Democratic Attorney General candidate, also came to Gillum’s defense.

“Congressmen Gaetz should be ashamed of himself,” Shaw said. “Language of that type has no place in our state. This is more of the same inappropriate language that has become all too common from Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.”

“This latest comment proves that Ron DeSantis doesn’t have a plan to move Florida forward,” said Dianne Hart, a Democratic state representative candidate in District 61. “Floridians are tired of DeSantis’ divisive politics and that’s why they’re rallying around Andrew Gillum for Governor — a candidate with a record of putting Florida families first. I look forward to his victory on November 6.”

And state House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz said Gaetz’s comments completely crossed the line.

“The remarks made today by Representative Matt Gaetz are an abomination and have no place in our politics,” Cruz said. “Ron DeSantis should immediately condemn this attack on Andrew Gillum and stop the slash-and-burn tactics that have defined his campaign.”

King, whom Gillum tapped as his running mate shortly after beating him in the Democratic primary, said his ticket would not tolerate the rhetoric.

“”We condemn the divisive and dangerous rhetoric used at the Ron DeSantis rally by his chief congressional ally,” King said. “We call on Mr. DeSantis to immediately condemn these statements riddled with bigotry and inaccuracies. Furthermore, he must demand his campaign and supporters to tone it down for everyone’s safety.”


Darcy Richardson, Nancy Argenziano rekindle Reform Party dreams

The Reform Party 25 years ago posed a serious threat to the two-party system—then largely vanished. But Darcy Richardson, Florida’s Reform Party candidate for governor, hopes to make the third party into a force in the Sunshine State this year.

“We’re trying to refine the party and bring some new life into it,” says Richardson, a political historian and author.

The Reform Party ticket hopes to offer a true centrist alternative this year with Richardson, who previously ran as a Democratic protest candidate, and running mate Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican state Senator.

“We’re offering a true unity ticket here,” Richardson said.

Strident Centrist

Argenziano brings a high profile in state politics, as much in recent years for fighting members of her own party as representing the right. These days, she barely recognizes the Grand Old Party where she spent most of her life.

Once the most powerful woman in the Florida House of Representatives, the Homosassa politician once championed nursing home regulation and fiscal conservatism, but today finds the party allergic to controls on even the most heinous of corporate abuse.

“I started to realize it was not what I signed up for,” she said.

Her eyes started to open, she said, after a first visit to ALEC, where she expected to find a think tank on conservative policy and instead found an organized effort to drive a philosophy she considered extreme.

But at least in Florida, she remained in a body that required consensus. She first went into the state House in 1996 under then-Speaker of the House Dan Webster as Republicans took the chamber for the first time in 122 years. The Legislature then remained closely divided.

Then things moved further to the right with Speaker Tom Feeney. But over her first five years in Tallahassee, it seemed conservatism with a purpose, she says. Lawmakers systematically weeded out redundant laws and regulations; they scrutinized taxes on the books for years. But she worked with then-Minority Leader Lois Frankel on protections for residents of nursing homes.

Argenziano moved to the Senate in 2002, but by the time she left in 2007, she started to wonder why Republicans remained fixated on deregulation and cutting taxes.

“What are they getting rid of now? The regulations I worked on,” she says.

Argenziano later got appointed to the Public Service Commission but famously left that post amid friction with Tallahassee Republicans, bluntly wring in a resignation letter “I am terrified if Rick Scott becomes governor there is no check on the Legislature.”

As for Richardson, he’s never held office but has run several times, always as a voice for change. He managed one of Eugene McCarthy’s Senate campaigns in Minnesota. He later ran himself for Senate in Pennsylvania on the Consumer Party ticket.

In 2012, he filed as a Democratic challenger in several presidential primaries against Barack Obama to protest corporate influence the party. He even caused some disruption in places like OklahomaBut now he sees a chance for real change as a Reform candidate.

“We’re offering a pragmatic central solution to the myriad of problems facing Florida,” he says, “and we do have a lot of serious problems.”

Reigniting Reform

In the state of Florida, the Reform Party for the last dozen years did nearly nothing. Originally a vehicle for Ross Perot’s third-party runs for president in the 1990s, the party faced a bit of an identity crisis when figures like Pat Buchanan entered the mix and secured the nomination running from the far right.

Indeed, Buchanan’s candidacy ultimately became inextricably tied to the 2000 recount in Florida and the famous Butterfly Ballot controversy.

The only time a Reform Party candidate ever ran for governor in Florida before was in 2006, when Max Linn won less than 2 percent of the vote.

But now with the two major parties putting up extreme candidates this year, Richardson sees a chance to get a bigger share of the vote this go-around.

Democrat Andrew Gillum, Richardson says, remains largely untested from his time as mayor of Tallahassee and won the gubernatorial nomination of the promise of being a left-wing Bernie Sanders-type candidate. Republican Ron DeSantis won based on fealty to President Donald Trump, an unpopular figure among moderates.

“This is a chance for Nancy Argenziano and myself to appeal to that broad swath in the middle of people that would describe themselves as maybe slightly center right or maybe slightly center left,” Richardson says.

Mix in the fact both major party candidates were upsets and Richardson hopes disappointed Adam Putnam or Gwen Graham voters may open their minds to a third party candidacy.

The Reform ticket opposes increases in corporate taxes like those promoted by Gillum. But the candidates also bristle at the corporate-friendly Scott years, when Argenziano said utility companies ran amok.

Closing The Deal

Richardson believes if voters elect a more closely divided Legislature this year, a Reform Party governor and lieutenant governor may actually be able to strike up more conversation between moderates in the major parties. But that first requires getting elected.

So far, the Reform Party hasn’t gotten a spot on a debate stage. It’s a standard Catch-22 for third parties. A candidate must poll at 12.5-percent in statewide polls to get on a stage, but it’s hard to poll well without a platform like a debate to introduce yourself to voters. And it’s hard to get included in polls in the first place when most outfits prefer testing Gillum and DeSantis head to head.

The two candidates have been quietly canvassing for weeks across Florida. Richardson said he just wrapped up a second trip through South Florida, and will make a third stop the last weekend of the campaign, where he will meet and greet football fans at the Florida Atlantic-FIU game on Nov. 3.

The campaign boasts just $52,823, pocket change in terms of a typical statewide campaign a month out from Election Day.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Argenziano admitted. “But a lot of people are ready for change.” At the very least, she hopes the ticket gets enough votes to convince voters in the future a Reform Party candidate has a chance to win a state like Florida.

One good sign, Richardson said, is that both Democrats and Republicans express angst about the ticket spoiling a path to victory for Gillum or DeSantis. “We’re being attacked by both parties,” Richardson says. “That tells me we’re doing something right.”

Lee Co. GOP chair: Democratic judges rule based on “what you look like”

Lee County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Jonathan Martin says Democratic judges rule based on “what you look like.”

The controversial remarks came before a meet-and-greet with gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis in Cape Coral. After decrying the controversial Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process, Martin said if Democrats appoint judges, “your lives will be affected.”

“What’s in the statute book no longer matters,” said Martin. “That doesn’t matter. What you look like matters. We know how the Democrats play the game. If you look like one of us, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt.”

Jonathan Martin, Lee County REC chairman, speaks at a Cape Coral meet-and-greet.

The comments were made to a crowd gathered at the party’s Victory Office in Cape Coral to meet DeSantis and running mate Jeannette Nuñez.

Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo called it the latest example of DeSantis associating himself with purveyors of toxic, divisive and racially charged rhetoric.

“Ron DeSantis’ campaign has once again used racist dog whistles to try and divide the people of this state,” Rizzo said. “This is disgusting rhetoric that should not be tolerated by anyone. Over the past few weeks, DeSantis has made clear that he will never stand up for women and that he is committed to fanning the most ugly and toxic forces in our politics in order to win. As a Floridian, I am ashamed by the campaign he is running and believe it is hurting the people of our state.”

The words came the same day the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Kavanaugh to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court after two weeks of contentious hearings centered around accusations he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford while both were in high school.

Martin told Florida Politics after the event it was in that context he made his remarks.

“It’s becoming more evident, and through the Kavanaugh process strikingly evident, that if you’re a certain gender or you make a certain amount of money, you’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt from liberals in this country or from the judges liberals are appointing in this country,” Martin said.

“That’s what a lot of people are seeing. That’s what their frustration with the whole Kavanaugh process was. It wasn’t whether or not he had the temperament or whether he was going to be a good judge or whether or not he was educated enough or what his experience was.

“It was that he was a man, and someone who is not a man was accusing him of doing something. Automatically, you couldn’t take him at his word and his qualifications no longer mattered.”

Several speakers at the event raised the Kavanaugh hearings, including DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis speaks in Cape Coral to supporters.

“What they did in the Kavanaugh hearings was a disgrace and a sham,” DeSantis said. “Him being confirmed today will show that their smear campaign and their campaign of character assassination does not work in this country.”

Martin in his speech also noted three justices on the Florida Supreme Court will soon retire.

“If we don’t have a Republican Governor in place, the judges that the Democrats put in, they don’t play by the same rules that we play by.”

DeSantis declined to address Martin’s remark and referred questions to the chairman.

“Ron has been very clear that he intends to appoint judges that will uphold the constitution and apply the law fairly to everyone and as he often says, ‘Justice should be Blind,’” said DeSantis spokesman David Vasquez.

Read Martin’s quote in complete context below:

“We have judges that are retiring in Florida in a couple months, and if we don’t have a Republican Governor in place, the judges that the Democrats put in, they don’t play by same rules that we play by. They don’t play by the rules in the constitution. They play by their own rules. The ends justify the means. If we have a Democrat appointing judges, not just on the Supreme Court but in our local district courts of appeal, in our circuit courts, in our county courts, your lives will be affected.

“What’s in the statute book no longer matters. That doesn’t matter. What you look like matters. We know how the Democrats play the game. If you look like one of us, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

“If you are a Republican, if you worked too hard and just make more money than they think you should have, you don’t get to play by same rules in our constitution.”

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