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Orlando facing prospect of all-freshman lineup in Congress

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her nearly 24 years in Congress – gone.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and his nearly six years in Congress – gone.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster and his nearly six years in Congress – gone, moved to an outside district.

U.S. Rep. John Mica and his nearly 24 years in Congress – more at risk than he’s faced in more than a decade.

This year, Orlando is losing most and potentially all its seniority, experience, leadership and clout in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Whoever gets elected, the voters’ choices for change may wind up being for the better. And in the long run, who knows, at this point, how effective the new class might become?

But at first it could be like replacing an entire college basketball team starting lineup with freshmen for the coming year. And it’s not about wins or losses. At least in the short term, it’s about attracting Washington’s attention to Central Florida’s needs and priorities, and about finding and bringing federal money for such discretionary goodies as transportation improvements, veterans’ facilities, military simulation center support, social services’ grants, and college and university research funding.

Might Central Florida’s next congressional starting line-up be able to compete?

“It certainly might have a big effect when you lose so many people who are established in Washington and have been serving this area for at least some time,” said University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett. “How much it hurts will be determined by which party is in control of Congress. That’s going to play a big role.”

Technically, Orlando still has U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, the Rockledge Republican, assuming he wins re-election in Florida’s 8th Congressional District. But he’s always been first and foremost about the Space Coast, not the inland counties, though his district includes a sparsely-populated corner of Orange County.

Technically, Orlando may be picking up U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Flagler County Republican, whose newly-redrawn Florida’s 6th Congressional District, assuming he wins re-election, stretches into the northernmost Orlando suburbs in Volusia County. But his attention more likely would be focused east and north, from Daytona through St. Augustine, where his base always has been.

Technically, Orlando may be able to count on Webster, the Clermont Republican, assuming he wins re-election, because he’ll still be representing Orlando’s western-most suburbs in Lake County, if he’s elected in Florida’s 11th Congressional District. But he no longer has any responsibility toward Orlando voters. And any congressional clout Webster had was largely stripped away in 2015 anyway, after he first challenged John Boehner and then Paul Ryan for the house speakership. Insurgents who lose are not rewarded with shared power.

That leaves Mica, the Winter Park Republican who is the only Orlando-oriented member of Congress with a chance to still be in office next year. Suddenly he is getting a stiff challenge from Stephanie Murphy in a race the national Democrats are trying very hard to win, for Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat representing north Orange County and Seminole County. A poll commissioned by Democrats last week showed her in the margin of error against him.

Mica, first elected in 1992, is almost a poster child for how a member of Congress grows in power with seniority, key committee assignments, and longterm relationships, and using them to bring federal support for his district. SunRail, the Interstate 4 expansion, Orlando International Airport expansions, the Orlando Veterans Administration Medical Center, Orlando’s National Center for Simulation, and other Orlando projects have gotten federal approval and money, due in part to his his connections, and in part to his work with Brown, Grayson, and Webster, who had their own clout.

Mica makes congressional seniority and the power that comes with it a key part of his campaign message.

“I do have a senior position in Congress and because there are 435 members it takes many years to gain positions of importance,” he said.

Mica offers another advantage, as big brother to the new members of Congress. Orlando will have two freshmen for sure, either Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto or Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky in Grayson’s old Florida’s 9th Congressional District; and either Democratic former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings or retired businesswoman Thuy Lowe in Webster’s old Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Brown’s entire district is gone. First her district was pulled from Orlando in last year’s redistricting, then she lost her primary.

Statewide, there will be at least seven freshmen, out of 27 Florida members of Congress.

“If I’m re-elected one of the things I’m going to work with both Republicans and Democrats in my position – I’m fairly well respected – to help them get on committees that they want. Eventually they will benefit our community and our state, and of course our country too,” Mica said. “That’s one of my goals: to help place and mentor the new kids on the block.”

But there’s that word “if,” which seemed unnecessary and modest until recently, though Mica always says he never takes re-election for granted.

Mica also has political policy positions and records, particularly conservative views on social issues, which Murphy and the Democrats are portraying as out of step with the changing, younger, more diverse, more Democratic new CD 7, which covers much of north Orange County and all of Seminole County.

Murphy is asking voters to trade Mica’s seniority and experience for fresh ideas and more liberal policies. National Democrats are investing millions of dollars to help her knock off Mica. A recent poll – commissioned by Democrats – showed the race within the margin of error.

She also says that Congress simply doesn’t work anymore, adding that Mica votes with the Republican line 97 percent of the time. So his seniority is partisan, she said.

“I think seniority is important if you are willing to work across the aisle in a bipartisan manner and actually lead on issues,” she said.

She dismissed any notion that the next class of Orlando members of Congress would lack experience.

“I have deep experience in business, in national security and academia and I would be able to draw on those real-world experiences to bring fresh perspectives to Congress, and a willingness to work across the aisle to get things done,” Murphy said. “I’m excited about the prospect of having a trio of members of Congress representing the Orlando area who will be a powerhouse representing the area with fresh new ideas that actually represent the people as opposed to being very partisan.”

Meanwhile, Orlando leaders are bracing for changes that are likely to require them to start over in building relationships with member of Congress, whether Mica or Murphy wins. The lobbyists and institutional leaders across the region insist they play no political or partisan favorites – they just want someone they can talk to who can get things done.

“We’ve been very fortunate in terms of the team we have there, not just who’s there, but the length of them they’ve had there, and their abilities to be effective. I’m very mindful about the changes that might take place. I’ve had discussions with board members about what that might mean,” said Harry Barley, executive director of MetroPlan Orlando, Central Florida’s transportation planning agency.

He noted both Brown and Mica have had senior positions on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, saying, “They’ve worked well together over the years. I’m not sure they’ve agreed on anything other than transportation. But that’s been a very great team. They’ve both been very, very helpful to us.”

Michael Waldrop, chair of Orlando’s Veterans Advisory Council, said the issue is making sure the new members of Congress are willing to work together to forward veterans’ and defense concerns, which he said must be non-partisan matters.

“You would hope a newer delegation that represents us in Central Florida realizes this and if they can work together on any one or two topics then it is the defense of our nation nd supporting our veteran community,” he said.

UCF Senior Vice President Dan Holsenbeck, who has overseen the university’s lobbying for decades, said there is reason to be concerned, but ultimately reasons to be hopeful.

“Seniority is the way you get a principal voice in budgeting, the way you get access to make meaningfully comments on policy,” Holsenbeck said. “So if you lose your seniority in the eleciton, then it does have a significant impact on policy and budgeting, on persuasion opportunities.”

But, he added, new relationships eventually lead to new opportunities.

“We’ve done very well over the years, our president and others, to build new relationships,” he said. “That would be our challenge, to build new relationships of trust and support for UCF.”

CD 6 personal finances: Democrat Bill McCullough fails to file disclosure statement

Democratic congressional nominee Bill McCullough has failed to file his personal financial disclosures report as required under federal law in his campaign attempting to unseat U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

McCullough, who won the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, has twice filed for extensions on the requirement, but both extensions have expired. He told FloridaPolitics.com this week that it should be filed soon.

DeSantis, a two-term Republican incumbent who ran for the U.S. Senate this year before dropping out this summer and instead won a Republican primary to defend his seat, filed a disclosure showing he has modest stock assets, some money in the bank, and student loans and a home mortgage that put him in debt overall.

DeSantis reported less than $15,000 worth of stock in each of Scottrade, SiriusXM Holdings and United States Steel Corp., and somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 in the bank. He did not list his house as an asset. His liabilities include two student loans that total between $25,000 and $65,000 and a home mortgage for between $250,000 and $500,000.

He listed no outside income. He draws $174,000 a year as a member of Congress.

Florida congressional races start fall with lopsided campaign cash

In 20 of Florida’s 26 contested congressional races this fall, one major party nominee escaped from last Tuesday’s primaries with more than five times as much cash-on-hand as the other major party’s candidate.

And in many cases, the cash gap heading into the fall is so overwhelming that one party’s congressional nominee’s bank account would barely be a rounding error for the other party’s nominee. In 15 of the districts, one nominee has at least 30 times as much money as the opponent, and in six of those, the leading candidate has at least 100 times as much cash.

And in only one of the 27 races did the most-endowed, major-party nominee not have more than twice as much campaign money as the rival, in campaign finance reports through Aug. 29, the eve of the primary.

This, according to data gathered, compiled and provided by On 3 Public Relations of Tallahassee on Tuesday.

Florida is a place where a five-to-one disadvantage in campaign money looks pretty good, considering most of the state’s congressional races.

In a couple of districts, one party’s nominee came out of last Tuesday’s primaries nearly broke because of the need to spend everything to win bruising primaries. But most typically, the huge discrepancies between the major parties’  nominees are due to the complete dominance of one party.

The numbers don’t reflect other factors, such as the prospect that newly minted nominees can expect the campaign contributions to start flowing now that they’ve got a win; or that many of the campaigns may be assisted or even overwhelmed by super PAC or dark money this fall, making official campaign funds close to irrelevant.

But still.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, fresh off an aborted U.S. Senate run, came out of a fairly contested Republican primary in Florida’s 6th Congressional District with $2.9 million in the bank. That’s roughly $21,500 for every dollar that Democratic nominee William McCullough had in his campaign fund at primary time.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who through redistricting is seeking another term in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, came out of the primary with $705,000 in the bank, or roughly $1,763 for every dollar Republican nominee Andrea Leigh McGee had on hand.

U.S. Reps. Bill Posey, a Republican in Florida’s 8th Congressional District; Dennis Ross, a Republican in Florida’s 15th Congressional District; Francis Rooney, a Republican in Florida’s 19th Congressional District; and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican in Florida’s 25th Congressional District; all also start the fall with 100-to-1 advantages in campaign money over rivals.

The only close-money races in Florida include an unexpected one. In Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho‘s penchant for never raising much campaign money has created a close money race. Yoho left the primary with $429,000, while Democratic nominee Ken McGurn had $247,000 in the bank Aug. 29. That’s a 1.7-to-1 ratio, the closest in Florida.

In other races that could only generously be described as financially close headed into the fall, Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Mica has about five times as much money as Democratic nominee Stephanie Murphy in Florida’s 7th Congressional District; Democrat Charlie Crist had about 2.3 times as much money as Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District; Democratic nominee Randy Perkins had about four times as much money as Republican candidate Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District; Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has about 2.5 times as much money as Republican nominee Joseph Kaufman in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District; and Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen has about five times as much money as Democratic nominee Scott Fuhrman in Florida’s 27th Congressional District.

Charlie Crist CD 13 campaign continues psychological warfare offensive

David Jolly easily handled Mark Bircher in the GOP primary contest in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Now, the Indian Shores Republican is turning his full attention to defeating Charlie Crist, which won’t be easy.

Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in a special election in March 2014 by just 1.8 percentage points. That was when the district did not include more liberal enclaves of downtown and South St. Petersburg, making it much more favorable for a Democrat to win in 2016.

Trying to set the mood from the onset, Matthew Van Name, Crist’s campaign manager, issued a memo to the media on Wednesday laying out the reasons why his candidate is the man to beat on Nov. 8.

“On Day 1 of the General Election, Charlie Crist is leading Republican David Jolly in polling, fundraising, and grassroots support,” the memo begins.

Van Name goes on to compile information that is statistically accurate — that Crist won the newly configured district by 15 percentage points in the 2014 gubernatorial run against Rick Scott in a year where turnout was less for Democrats than is expected to be the case in a presidential election year. That 15-point margin is twice as better than how Crist did in the old CD 13. In the 2012 presidential election, Van Name notes how Barack Obama won the new district by ten percentage points — and says the breakdown of voters that year was 40 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans, and 23 percent non-party-affiliated or other third party groups.

Last fall, Jolly admitted that CD 13 was one that “no Republican can win.”

“We were leaning very strongly into staying in the House. I ran to be in the House,” he said while speaking to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in Clearwater last October. “The truth is the Supreme Court later created a district that virtually every person in the political sphere will tell you, no Republican can win.”

Jolly made those comments while he was already well into his race for the U.S. Senate, a race that he dropped out of this past June when Marco Rubio decided that he would run for re-election to the seat. Three other Republicans running in that race — Ron DeSantis, Todd Wilcox and Carlos Lopez-Cantera — also dropped out, while the lone Republican who remained in the race, Carlos Beruff, was crushed by Rubio in Tuesday night’s Senate primary, losing by 54 percentage points.

Also in the memo, Van Name giddily recounts the chill existing between Jolly and the National Republican Congressional Campaign — a chill that exploded after NRCC officials strongly denied Jolly’s assertion on “60 Minutes” this past spring that he was told at a meeting shortly after being elected that he needed to raise $18,000 every day.

Officials with the NRCC so far have indicated they won’t be providing financial resources to aid him this fall.

“The NRCC was not included in his ‘deliberations’ and has not had any discussions with David about him running for re-election,” said Katie Martin, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, after Jolly announced he would run for the seat again in June. “We do not — and will not — comment about commitments for financial support or anything else.”

The NRCC issued its own memo Wednesday, where they praised Jolly as a “strong advocate … who has spent his entire career working on behalf of the people of Pinellas County.” Conversely, they lambasted Crist, saying, “Democrats are left with perennial candidate Charlie Crist who has been consistently rejected at the ballot box ever since he hightailed it out of Tallahassee when things got tough. Under Crist’s failed leadership as governor, Florida lost nearly 800,000 jobs and saw unemployment skyrocket 217 percent. That is a record Crist will have to answer for in the general election.”

However, Van Name is right to say that it’s questionable whether or not the NRCC will help out Jolly financially in his tight re-election campaign. There have been conflicting reports, but as of now, the NRCC has not said they will provide financial support.

“Most importantly, Jolly isn’t right for Pinellas County,” he writes. “First as a Washington lobbyist, and now as an out-of-touch Republican congressman, he is failing the middle class, women, and seniors.

“He has advocated for privatizing Social Security and Medicare, wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and defund Planned Parenthood, lobbied for offshore oil drilling, and voted against millions in VA funding increases that would help veterans get the care they need.”

Van Name also notes that a recent poll by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research showed Crist beating Jolly by a 50-38 percent margin.

The Jolly campaign released their own poll in June showing their man leading Crist by the same 50-38 percent margin.

On election night, Crist issued out a statement, saying that “it saddens me to think that anyone who supports Donald Trump’s agenda could ever represent Pinellas County.” However, Jolly has made a big deal about how “he’s not there yet” in regards to supporting Trump.

“Charlie lied to voters in his very first statement of the general campaign,” says Jolly spokesman Max Goodman. “And in the midst of an impending hurricane is engaged in gutter politics.”

“Charlie’s latest memo of misleading smears against Congressman Jolly is nothing more than the typical garbage and lies Florida has come to expect from an untrustworthy, disgraced former governor who once again is trailing in the polls and thinks the only thing he needs to recover his lost political legacy is a lot of money in the bank and Washington politicians in his pocket,” Goodman added in an email to FloridaPolitics. “As with Jolly’s last four election victories, the congressman knows the only thing that counts is having the people of Pinellas behind you. To that end, and unlike what Crist did during his 18 years in office, David Jolly will continue doing what he always does — his job.”

Ron DeSantis slams temporary amnesty for Syrian refugees

On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Ron DeSantis did an interview on the Fox Business Network slamming the Department of Homeland Security‘s decision to extend temporary protective status amnesty to 8,300 Syrian refugees for up to 18 months.

DeSantis, in a competitive primary for re-election in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, observed that the amnesty “actually applies to people who came from Syria [as recently as] yesterday.”

DeSantis framed this amnesty as a dereliction of duty by DHS, describing the “impossible task” of vetting refugees, given that authorities have “no idea where the individuals are from.”

DeSantis described the decision to confer amnesty as “mostly ideological,” adding that “all we have to do is look at Europe,” where “mass migration” has wreaked havoc.

The congressman cited an estimate that “two to three percent” of Syrian refugees are Islamic State or Al-Qaeda affiliates, by way of contending that such unchecked immigration poses a “major threat to western societies.”

Framing the issues in 2016 election terms, DeSantis posited that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is “even weaker” than President Obama on border security and vetting of immigrants from high-risk countries.

That weakness, said DeSantis, could end up being a “magnet” for security threats; it is incumbent on Republicans to demonstrate “how radical her posture really is.”

DeSantis got a second chance to go in on Clinton during the interview, when asked about Donald Trump‘s assertion that Clinton is “unfit” to be president.

The congressman reiterated claims familiar to those who have heard his stump speeches that question the appropriateness of Clinton having a security clearance given her handling of top-secret information, describing her as “extremely careless” with material of national security import.

In response to new district map, Ron DeSantis moves to Flagler County

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports Rep. Ron DeSantis has moved to Flagler County, thus blunting criticism from primary opponents that he did not live in the recently reconfigured Congressional District 6.

DeSantis, who had previously lived in Ponte Vedra in northeastern St. Johns County, saw the parameters of his district change this year, cutting out the northern part of St. Johns County in favor of expanding toward southern Volusia and Lake County.

“He has spent the past four years representing these communities in Flagler and Volusia counties. He think it’s important he move into the district he represents,” campaign manager Brad Herold told the News-Journal.

This move theoretically will blunt some of the more pointed rhetoric used by State Rep. Fred Costello, a former Ormond Beach mayor who has noted he has lived in the district for 39 years, describing the incumbent as “a candidate who is not a part of our community and has already demonstrated he is more interested in raising his national profile as a career politician in preparation for higher office than serving his constituents as their congressman.”

DeSantis’ wife, Casey Black DeSantis, has been an anchor and host on Jacksonville television for some time, meanwhile, and one expects that this move will impact her professional trajectory.

Ron DeSantis scores NRA endorsement in re-election bid

On Friday, Rep. Ron DeSantis announced he had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association in his re-election bid in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

“I’m proud to be recognized as a strong defender of the rights of law-abiding citizens and appreciate the support of the NRA for my campaign,” said DeSantis. “I will continue to stand with Florida’s gun owners and sportsmen and to defend our constitutional rights.”

DeSantis was given an A rating by the NRA, which means the congressman is “a candidate who has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office or a candidate with a demonstrated record of support on Second Amendment issues.”

However, DeSantis is not the only Republican in the race to score an A; State Rep. Fred Costello got the same rating.

G.G. Galloway got no rating from the gun group.

Straight, white, male dynasties falling in Central Florida congressional districts

This year, Central Florida voters have an unprecedented diversity of candidates to pick from for the region’s five congressional districts, and at least one, probably two, and possibly more heterosexual-white-male dynasties will fall.

Straight, white, male members of Congress have always held the congressional seats in Florida’s 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Congressional Districts. But that racial-ethnic-gender-sexual-orientation dynasty is certain to change in at least one of those districts, highly likely to change in at least one other, and at least remotely possible to change in any of the five.

In those congressional races that include parts of the Orlando market, white, heterosexual men are a distinct minority of the 23 Republican or Democratic candidates who qualified last month for the Aug. 30 primary. Black, Latino, Asian or women candidates have qualified to run in all five districts.

Ten candidates are women. Three are African-Americans. Two are Vietnamese Americans. Two are Puerto Ricans. One is Brazilian-American. Two are openly gay, which in itself breaks new ground, twice over, for Central Florida.

“Some of that is because of the changes in the district, because of the Fair Districts Amendment. This is creating a number of new opportunities where incumbents are not necessarily as entrenched as they normally would be,’ said University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett. “Also, you have seen, particularly in 9 and 10, the creation of Democratic districts, where gay candidates, or people of color, or women, particularly progressive women, are expected to do better. If they can win the primary, they have a good chance of winning the election.”

It’s not as if Central Florida voters have not had female or minority representation. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has represented Florida’s 5th Congressional district for the 22 years it stretched from Jacksonville’s black neighborhoods to Orlando’s. But redistricting has pushed that area out of the Orlando market, and brought CD 6 back into the Central Florida market. Also, Florida’s 24th Congressional District once stuck a leg into Central Florida, and Republican U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams and then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, both women, were elected to one term each from the Orlando area. But it’s long gone.

— CD 10, redrawn for this year to replace CD 5 as the likely minority-representation district for Central Florida, is guaranteed not to have a straight, white man in Congress next year, since none is running.

The district, which covers west Orange County and west and central Orlando, now has a majority of voters who are black or Latino, and Orlando’s largest LGBT communities. It’s also heavily Democratic now, so four Democrats are fighting for it.

Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who has the money, endorsements, campaign structure, resume, and personality to be the front-runner; and state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, who has the proven record of winning elections and a strong record for voters there, both are black women. Former Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe is a white man, but he could be the first openly gay congressman from Florida if elected, and he has more campaign money than Demings and at least as many political connections. Lawyer Fatima Rita Fahmy is a Brazilian-American woman.

The Republican nominee, Thuy Lowe, is a Vietnamese-American woman.

— In CD 9, covering south-central Orange County, Osceola County and eastern Polk County, only Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky is a straight, white man. His Republican rival, Kissimmee Vice Mayor Wanda Rentas, is a Puerto Rican woman in a district that has a large Puerto Rican population.

But CD 9 also has a heavy Democratic lean, so, as in CD 10, the winner of the Democratic primary will be heavily favored to win in November.

The Democrats fighting for the nomination include state Sen. Darren Soto, who [along with Rentas] wants to be the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida, and three white women, Susannah Randolph, Valleri Crabtree, and Dena Grayson. Crabtree, like Poe, could become Florida’s first openly gay member of Congress.

— In CD 8, straight, white, male incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Posey may have little to worry about seeking re-election in a district that is solidly Republican, covering east Orange County and all of Brevard and Indian River counties. Democrat Corry Westbrook, a white woman, may be his toughest opponent yet.

— The same may be true in CD 7, which covers north-central Orange and Seminole County. Straight, white, male U.S. Rep. John Mica may be heavily favored, first against his primary opponent, straight, white, male Mark Busch, and then in the general election. But national Democrats are investing heavily in Democratic nominee Stephanie Murphy, a Vietnamese-American woman, in a district they see trending their way.

— The majority of the ten straight, white, male congressional candidates running in Central Florida this year — six of them — are found in CD 6.

That district traditionally had been a Jacksonville-oriented, First Coast district, but was redrawn for this year to stretch through Volusia County into Lake County, giving it more voters in Central Florida than on the First Coast.

Even there, with incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and five other straight, white males running, Democrat Dwayne Taylor, a former Daytona Beach vice mayor who is African-American, may offer a serious challenge.

The other Republican candidates are state Rep. Fred Costello and businessman G.G. Galloway, who both are convinced the redrawn, Volusia County-centric district will eliminate much of DeSantis’s advantages of incumbency, money, and endorsements. The other Democrats are Bill McCullough, Jay McGovern, and George Pappas.

In Jacksonville, Marco Rubio reiterates support for Donald Trump

Saturday afternoon saw Sen. Marco Rubio hosting a town hall on Jacksonville’s Southbank as part of a two-day swing through the city that included a fundraising event.

The turnout? Maybe 150 people. But for Rubio, this tour of the last week was a re-introduction to the grassroots as a U.S. Senate incumbent, rather than a presidential candidate, and a relaxed Rubio took the stage after an introduction from Duval GOP Chair Cindy Graves and a prayer from Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby.

As one might expect, he also was asked to — and did  — vow to support GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump. Despite not agreeing with Trump on everything, Rubio said he disagrees with Hillary Clinton on everything, and beyond that, there are only two viable candidates on the ballot.

As part of making that case, he talked foreign policy and other issues, while reminding the grassroots he was one of them.

****

Rubio said he was at peace with how the presidential primary election went, before serving up a variety of mainstream conservative policy positions familiar to those who have followed him in national office and in the presidential race.

“That was not what the voters chose. That was not God’s plan for our lives.,” he said.

Then, Rubio had a chance to “reconsider why he got into public service to begin with,” and realized that his commitment to party allowed him to make a difference.

If the GOP loses the Senate?

Chuck Schumer becames majority leader of the Senate.”

This would reap a harvest on the Supreme Court, Rubio said, with a Democratic president nominating “someone who believes it is their job to rewrite the Constitution.”

Rubio believes the next president could appoint up to three Supreme Court justices, which could erode “the rights we hold dear.”

“Ten years from now, 20 years from now,” Rubio said, “there are only two possible outcomes.”

One? “To leave our kids better off than ourselves.”

The other? “History will say we are the first Americans in history to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Rubio delivered a traditional small-government, localist Republican message, including “we don’t even need a federal Department of Education,” and qualms about an overly expansive federal government “doing more harm than good.”

Still, there are things the government could do more of, such as military spending for better, newer equipment, a new F-35 program, and “an aircraft carrier stationed here at Mayport.”

The “peace through strength” message Ronald Reagan delivered in the 1980s was on full display.

As well, Rubio noted he had just had an “honest conversation with law enforcement about what’s happening,” saying “nothing justifies the irresponsible rhetoric in the public domain on this issue.”

Rubio, who famously bought a gun last Christmas Eve, restated his dedication to the Second Amendment, and “not just for hunting,” but for self-defense and “sport shooting.”

“You do have a right to protect yourself and your family,” Rubio said.

“These are the challenges we face, and this is why I decided to run for re-election,” Rubio said.

****

 Then the questions.

One: thoughts on the Thursday night speech of Donald Trump, with a grade requested from A to F.

“I don’t know if I want to grade the speech,” Rubio said. “I don’t agree with Donald on everything. I disagree with Hillary on everything.”

Rubio then pivoted back to the speech, addressing concerns that “no one is fighting for them.”

“It also spoke to the insecurity in this country,” Rubio said, including economic and national security insecurity.

“And we have national leaders saying to us that we’ve never been safer? We’ve never been better? There are people in this country … who have been running on a treadmill for 10 years,” Rubio said.

Rubio then went on to balance conservative ideals with “realistic expectations of what can get done,” given the “system that deliberately made it hard for the federal government to pass laws quickly because they wanted the power in the states.”

A pressure the founders never anticipated? The “bureaucracy” and “bringing the bureaucratic state under control.”

Rubio was asked to stand by Trump then, and he did, saying there are “only two people on the ballot with a chance to win.”

To that, he got applause.

****

Rubio reiterated policy staples, including his hard line on Cuba normalization policy, saying that immigrants exploit “wet-foot, dry-foot” by injuring themselves, getting picked up by the Coast Guard, and dropped off at hospitals, where they can stay.

The president gave away the store, Rubio said, and “this deal is a one-sided deal that all it’s done is empower them.”

Since the opening with Cuba, Rubio said, “human rights in Cuba have gotten worse, not better.”

This is part of an “abysmal” record of foreign policy, Rubio added, including the “reset with Russia” and “the deal with Iran.”

“For four years of that,” Rubio added, “Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.”

****

Rubio also discussed Turkey and his “concerns” with Erdogan and the more Islamicist direction he’s taken, “which has had an impact on a lot of things, including our relationship with Israel.”

The coup? “An opportunity to grab more power for himself,” another authoritarian play that “jihadists will takes advantage of” by appealing to disenfranchised “disaffected young people.”

“I worry about that happening in Turkey,” Rubio said, while adding our military dependence on our NATO partner is an issue to consider “for the next president.”

“I am very concerned that if Erdogan uses this attempted coup as an opportunity to become more authoritarian … that Turkey will become a prime space for terrorist recruitment.”

****

The last question came back to mass shootings: specifically, Orlando Pulse.

The questioner wanted “common-sense gun reform that addresses the mentally ill.”

Rubio noted the “stigma” related to mental illness, to be remedied with “more treatment options” and “options for that information to be fed into the existing system.”

“This individual … was also a subscriber to radical Islam … this was a terrorist attack,” Rubio said.

“Let me tell you something about the Muslim community. There were two FBI investigations into this guy,” and one of them was initiated by the Muslim community.

“This guy was born and raised in this country … raised in Florida … benefited from all this greatness in this country … and decided to kill 49 people.”

****

Rubio took press questions after the event, and there were no message inconsistencies in those answers.

Asked again about Trump’s convention speech, Rubio noted that was the “message he won the primary on,” and the convention itself has “got to be better than the Democrats’,” given the DNC “under Debbie Wasserman Schultz … actually questioning Bernie Sanders’ faith” during the campaign.

Given the amount of delegates on hand in support of Sanders, Rubio anticipated an interesting time next week in Philadelphia.

Rubio faced a question about Ted Cruz also, who pointedly deferred endorsement of Trump Wednesday evening.

“Everyone makes their own decision,” Rubio said, but it’s “time to come together as a party.”

Meanwhile, regarding Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, Rubio was complimentary.

“I’ve worked with Tim a lot. I like him. He’s a friend. And I look forward to working with him in the Senate, because Hillary Clinton is going to lose,” Rubio said.

From there, questions went to more local matters, including the primary challenge Rubio faces from Carlos Beruff.

Would there be any debates?

“I just got into the race four weeks ago,” Rubio said, and “I’m not sure any are scheduled.”

The final question worth noting: would Rubio endorse in the 4th Congressional District race?

Short answer: no.

“I usually don’t get involved in primaries. I’ve worked with John Rutherford; I admire him,” Rubio said, noting he also knows Hans Tanzler, who is emerging as the alternative to Rutherford in that race.

However, Rubio added, he is going to endorse Ron DeSantis in Congressional District 6.

****

The crowd was a fraction of the large draws Rubio had in this region ahead of the March presidential preference primary, but those in attendance left happy with what they heard. With operatives from most other Senate campaigns either working for Rubio directly or supporting him tacitly, it’s clear the party will unify behind him in short order, with the pre-March rhetoric an increasingly distant memory.

Endorsement watch: NRA, Fraternal Order of Police, Eagle Forum PAC and others issue endorsements

There are just a few weeks until the election, and organizations across the state are rolling out endorsements for state and federal candidates.

Several organizations — including the National Rifle Association, Fraternal Order of Police, and the Eagle Forum PAC — issued endorsements.

The American Conservative Union (ACU) has thrown its support behind Rep. Ron DeSantis.

The conservative organization announced this week it was endorsing DeSantis in his re-election bid in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis has quickly shown great leadership in advancing conservative principles,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “DeSantis’ ACU rating of 100 percent for his three years in Congress reflects a remarkably consistent commitment to conservative principles on a wide range issues, whether economic, cultural, or issues of national security.”

DeSantis faces Fred Costello and G.G. Galloway in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

The Family Research Council has thrown its support behind Dan Bongino.

The organization announced this week it was endorsing Bongino in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. The organization cited his Secret Service background, and said it was impressed with the campaign’s decision to stress “the need for passionate and direct action” to threats on to America’s liberty and freedom.

“The Family Research Council is an iconic conservative organization that traces its history directly to President Reagan,” said Bongino. “I am glad they are in this fight with me to ensure a strong, anti-establishment Republican wins the GOP primary.”

Bongino faces Chauncey Goss and Francis Rooney in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

That National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund and Unified Sportsman of Florida has thrown its support behind Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The organizations announced this week they were endorsing Benacquisto in her Senate District 27 race.

“We sincerely appreciate your support of Second Amendment issues as a member of the Florida Senate,” said Marion Hammer, executive director of Unified Sportsman of Florida and past president of the National Rifle Association. “Your support of Second Amendment, self-defense, and anti-crime issues and your pro-sportsman, pro-Second Amendment, pro-freedom record have earned you our endorsement and our appreciation.”

Benacquisto faces Republican Jason Maughan in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

The Eagle Forum PAC has thrown its support behind Matt Hudson.

The organization announced this week it was endorsing Hudson in his Senate District 28 bid.

“We are proud to lend our support to Rep. Matt Hudson as he seeks to represent the people of Southwest Florida in the Florida Senate,” said Phyllis Schlafly, chairman of the Eagle Forum PAC. “As a pro-life, conservative leader, Matt has showed us that he is dedicated to ensuring Florida’s traditional values remain intact in our state government, in our local communities and amongst Florida families, and we know that he will continue to represent these conservative principles in the Senate.”

Hudson said he was honored to receive the organization’s endorsement.

“As a father and grandfather, I understand the importance of teaching and preserving pro-life, conservative values, and believe that we should uphold them within our state government,” said Hudson in a statement. “I’ve done this since Day 1 while in the Florida House and I promise to do the same if chosen to serve our Southwest Florida community in the Senate.”

Hudson faces Kathleen Passidomo in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

The Fraternal Order of Police has thrown its support behind Ken Keechl.

The organization announced this week it was endorsing Keechl in his House District 93 bid.

“We are proud to endorse a candidate who will work with our members to ensure public safety is a top priority in Tallahassee,” said George W. Woolley, the director of the Fraternal Order of Police District 5. “Together, I am confident that we can better the working conditions of our law enforcement professionals and make sure they have the resources they need to continue to protect and serve our residents.”

Keechl said he was grateful to receive the endorsement and looks forward to working with the organization.

“I feel very fortunate to work closely with their trusted organization to build stronger relationships between our officers and residents and leaders in our local communities, and to provide much-needed resources to those that put their lives on the line to protect us every day,” he said.

Keechl faces Doug Oberman in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary.

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