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Mitch Perry Report for 7.21.16 — Ted Cruz’s courage

One of the biggest surprises of how the Republican primary season played out to this reporter was how successful Ted Cruz was. When you looked at the panoply of candidates who had serious potential to go all the way in 2016, he was never at the front of my list (neither, of course, was Donald Trump).

But Cruz emerged over the much more hyped Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, et al. He’s a true believer, what Paul Ryan likes to call a “movement conservative.”

Trump is definitely not, which is one reason why the Republican Party as a whole has never, and will never, completely embrace the NYC business mogul.

Cruz is very conservative — too conservative to lead the country, some might suspect. Trump is not as conservative, which is why he could very well defeat Hillary Clinton this fall.

So while I suppose I sort of guess I understand the anger expressed by Republicans toward Cruz last night at the RNC for failing to endorse Trump, I sort of don’t. There was not one report from anyone beforehand that Cruz was going to endorse. Not one. Trump certainly knew that when he allowed Cruz to speak at his convention.

I actually think it was courageous of the Texas Senator to stick to his principles, and have the audacity to do so in front of thousands in the Q and millions worldwide.

Rubio has been all over the place in terms of whether he’d support Trump or not. He ended going halfway, sending an incredibly brief video saying Republicans should back Trump (Interesting, by the way, that Rubio is conducting a statewide campaign tour this week — a tour that could have been planned for next week, but gives him the cover that he’s too busy campaigning to actually travel to Cleveland).

True, Bush and John Kasich, two other major Republicans who don’t support Trump, have made sure to far, far war from the convention hall. But this is Ted Cruz, folks. There’s a reason he’s the most loathed member of the senate.

They say he (and Rubio) are already running for 2020. Some say he’s thrown that all away after last night. I’m not so sure.

It was Florida night on the stage Wednesday, with Rubio, Rick Scott and Pam Bondi getting airtime. Actually, Bondi’s speech wasn’t carried by any of the cable networks, but was captured in its entirety on C-SPAN. Including the part where she seemed to enjoy the refrain of the week regarding Hillary: “Lock her up.”

Meanwhile, if you want to watch the final night of the RNC with a group of Republicans, the Hillsborough County REC hosts a gathering at a South Tampa craft brewery.

In other news …

Hillary Clinton speaks at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa in the second of three Florida appearances before heading to Philadelphia to receive the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party.

The Hillsborough County Commission actually hung the Gay Pride flag from their building in tribute to the fallen victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last month, but don’t expect them to ever do that again.

We finally heard back from the head of the Tampa Firefighters Union regarding their endorsement of Luis Veira. Steve Suarez says Veira received their endorsement because he was the only one who asked, and he had no interest in the other candidates running.

Mark Kelly & Gabby Giffords‘ super PAC on gun safety is backing Patrick Murphy for senate. Neither Kelly or Murphy had much to say positive about Rubio’s record on guns.

Eric Lynn & Ben Diamond announce more endorsements in their HD 68 race.

Mitch Perry Report for 7.18.16 — Here’s the Trump-Pence ticket, America

Greetings, y’all.

My dateline is V.M. Ybor this morning in Tampa , NOT the Baymont Inn in Hudson, Ohio — some 30 minutes away from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, site of this week’s Republican National Convention. Circumstances have dictated that I won’t be reporting from the RNC this week, but I certainly intend to observe from afar in this space about this week’s events.

It’s going to be entertaining, that’s for sure. Just look at the drama that took place over the weekend before the Trump campaign unveiled Mike Pence as their VP selection on Saturday morning.

I had a feeling Thursday night when Donald Trump said he was canceling his 11 a.m. Friday presser to introduce his veep that it was more than just being sensitive about (at the time) the latest tragedy in the world, the incident on Bastille Day in Nice. CNN’s Dana Bash reported Friday Trump was trying to get out of his selection of Pence at midnight on Thursday, but Pence it is.

The two appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes last night, and there were plenty of awkward moments. Pence is a pretty doctrinaire social conservative, as most of you know. Trump is, well, all over the place on so many issues.

Trump was queried by Leslie Stahl regarding his declaration of “going to war against ISIS.” What does that mean?, she asked. Does that mean “boots on the ground”?

“I am going to have very few troops on the ground,” Trump specified. “We’re going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need; which, right now, we don’t have. We don’t have the people over there. We are going to use ….”

Here’s more of the exchange:

Trump: Excuse me — and we’re going to have surrounding states and, very importantly, get NATO involved because we support NATO far more than we should, frankly, because you have a lot of countries that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And we have to wipe out ISIS. And speaking of Turkey, Turkey is an ally. Turkey can do it by themselves. But they have to be incentivized. For whatever reason, they’re not. So we have no choice.

Stahl: But I still don’t know if you’re going to send troops over ….

Trump: Very little. I’m gonna ….

Stahl: But declare war ….

Trump: … get neighboring states and I’m going to get … we are going to get NATO; we’re going to wipe ’em out. We’re gonna ….

Stahl: But declare war?

Pence: Lesley ….

Stahl: What does that mean?

Pence then jumped in to state that, “This is … this is the kind … this is the kind of leadership that America needs and it begins with deciding to destroy the enemies of our freedom.”

OK, so that’s good news for all of us who want to see ISIS go away.

There were several other moments where it was, shall we say, a bit embarrassing if you think Pence is a stand-up, strong man in his own right.

Pence: Clearly this man is not a politician. He doesn’t speak like a politician ….

Stahl: He’s done pretty well.

Pence: He speaks from his heart.

Trump: Well, I, I speak from my heart and my brain. Just so we understand.

Pence: Right.

Trump: This is [Trump points to his head] maybe more important.

OK, so it wasn’t as good as Trump’s line during his press conference on Saturday in New York City that Pence’s endorsement of Ted Cruz over himself in the Indiana primary was the greatest non-endorsement of his life.

“He talked about Trump, then he talked about Ted, who’s a good guy by the way, who is going to be speaking at the convention,” Trump said. “Ted Cruz, good guy. But talked about Trump, Ted, then he went back to Trump. I said, ‘Who did he endorse?’” Trump said Saturday. “It was the single greatest non-endorsement I’ve ever had in my life, I will tell you.”

This week is going to be something, that’s for darned sure.

In other news..

A day before another shooting of police officers in America, Alan Grayson addressed a Black Lives Matter protest in Ybor City in Tampa.

And learn a little more about the candidates running for House District 70, which encompasses parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Former rivals, military leaders, actors to take stage at RNC

Former presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio — the latter by video link — are among those set to speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Military leaders, members of Congress, actors, faith leaders and family members of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump are also set to speak in what the Republican National Committee calls “an unconventional lineup” that will challenge the status quo and press for Trump’s agenda.

Speaker highlights at the four-day convention, which begins Monday at the Quicken Loans Arena.

MONDAY

Theme: Make America Safe Again

Headliners: Trump’s wife, Melania; Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn, U.S. Army; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.

Others: Willie Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty”; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Marcus Luttrell, retired U.S. Navy SEAL; Scott Baio, actor; Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, killed in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya; Mark “Oz” Geist, member of a security team that fought in Benghazi; John Tiegen, member of Benghazi security team and co-author of the book “13 Hours,” an account of the attacks; Kent Terry and Kelly Terry-Willis, siblings of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent whose shooting death revealed the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation; Antonio Sabato Jr., actor; Mary Ann Mendoza, Sabine Durden and Jamiel Shaw, immigration reform advocates; Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas; David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis.; Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.; Rachel Campos-Duffy, LIBRE Initiative for Hispanic economic empowerment; Darryl Glenn, Senate candidate in Colorado; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Karen Vaughn, mother of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and Jason Beardsley of Concerned Veterans for America.

___

TUESDAY

Theme: Make America Work Again

Headliners: Tiffany Trump, candidate’s daughter; Kerry Woolard, general manager, Trump Winery in Virginia; Donald Trump Jr.; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson; and actress Kimberlin Brown.

Others: Sharon Day, co-chairwoman of Republican National Committee; Dana White, president, Ultimate Fighting Championship; Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge; former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey; Andy Wist, founder of Standard Waterproofing Co.; Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Chris Cox, executive director, NRA Institute for Legislative Action; golfer Natalie Gulbis; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

___

WEDNESDAY

Theme: Make America First Again

Headliners: Former presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; Eric Trump, son of the candidate; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s pick to be vice president.

Others: radio host Laura Ingraham; Phil Ruffin, businessman with interests in real estate, lodging, manufacturing and energy; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; retired astronaut Eileen Collins; Michelle Van Etten, small business owner; Kentucky state Sen. Ralph Alvarado Jr.; Darrell Scott, senior pastor and co-founder of New Spirit Revival Center Ministries, Cleveland; Harold Hamm, oil executive; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Lynne Patton, vice president, Eric Trump Foundation; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (by video); Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Callista Gingrich, wife of Newt Gingrich.

___

THURSDAY

Theme: Make America One Again

Headliners: Peter Thiel, co-founder PayPal; Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital; Ivanka Trump, daughter of the candidate; and Donald Trump, GOP nominee for president.

Others: Brock Mealer, motivational speaker; Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin; Dr. Lisa Shin, owner of Los Alamos Family Eyecare in New Mexico; RNC Chairman Reince Priebus; Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and evangelical leader.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

GOP team addresses America Saturday

After frenzied, final decision-making, Donald Trump announced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate Friday, adding an experienced politician with deep Washington connections to the Republican presidential ticket.

Trump’s pick was aimed in part at easing some Republicans’ concerns about his temperament and lack of political experience. Pence spent 12 years in Congress before being elected governor and his demeanor is as calm as Trump’s is fiery. While some conservatives are skeptical of Trump’s political leanings, Pence has been a stalwart ally on social issues.

Yet Pence is largely unknown to many Americans. And his solidly conventional political background runs counter to Trump’s anti-establishment mantra.

The two men scheduled a news conference for Saturday in New York to present themselves to America as the Republican team that will take on Hillary Clinton and her Democratic running mate in November. The duo will head to Cleveland next week for the Republican National Convention.

As Pence arrived for a private meeting with Trump Friday, he told reporters he “couldn’t be more happy for the opportunity to run with and serve with the next president of the United States.”

In choosing Pence, Trump appears to be looking past their numerous policy differences. The governor has been a longtime advocate of trade deals such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, both of which Trump aggressively opposes. Pence also has been critical of Trump’s proposed temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States, calling the idea “offensive and unconstitutional.”

The reaction to the Pence choice from Republican officials was overwhelmingly positive — no small feat for Trump, given how polarizing he’s been within his own party.

“It was a pick that clearly shows he is pivoting to the general election,” said GOP chairman Reince Priebus, who was in the midst of an interview with The Associated Press when Trump announced his decision. “He is choosing a person who has the experience inside and outside Washington, Christian conservative, very different style that I think shows a lot of maturity.”

Pence, a staunchly conservative 57-year-old, served six terms in Congress before being elected governor and could help Trump navigate Capitol Hill. He is well-regarded by evangelical Christians, particularly after signing a law that critics said would allow businesses to deny service to gay people for religious reasons.

Clinton’s campaign moved quickly to paint him as the “most extreme pick in a generation.”

“By picking Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump has doubled down on some of his most disturbing beliefs by choosing an incredibly divisive and unpopular running mate,” said John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Clinton spent Friday holding meetings in Washington about her own vice presidential choice. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of liberals and one of the Democrats’ most effective Trump critics, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, were seen in separate cars that left Clinton’s home. Housing Secretary Julian Castro also met with Clinton, according to a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private gathering.

Trump spent weeks weighing vice presidential contenders, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and only zeroed in on Pence in recent days. In fact, the selection process appeared on the verge of sliding out of control in the final hours before the announcement, sparking speculation that Trump might be changing his mind.

Word that Pence would be joining the Republican ticket began trickling out in news reports Thursday before Trump had made a final decision or called Pence to offer him the job, according to a Republican familiar with the situation. Trump was in California for fundraisers, separated from his closest aides, and was fuming about leaks that he viewed as an attempt to pressure him into the decision.

Still, Trump called Pence Thursday afternoon to offer him the job and ask him to fly to New York for a Friday morning news conference. Pence accepted and boarded a private plane, along with his wife.

A few hours later, a huge truck barreled through a crowded holiday celebration in Nice, France, killing more than 80 people. With Pence sitting in a New York hotel, Trump decided to postpone the announcement.

The billionaire businessman then went on Fox News to say he had not yet settled on his “final, final” choice. He also held a midnight conference call with his top aides to discuss the situation, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

By Friday, plans were back on track.

Trump sent out a Twitter message saying he was pleased to announce Pence as his running mate. Moments later, one of Pence’s aides filed paperwork with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office withdrawing him from the governor’s race.

Pence was up for re-election, and state law prohibits candidates from being on ballots in two contests. Trump’s formal announcement came about an hour before Pence’s noon Friday deadline for withdrawing.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, strongly rejected suggestions that the candidate considered changing his mind about Pence.

“Never waffled once he made his decision,” Manafort wrote in an email.

Gingrich, one of the finalists for the vice presidential spot, said he was “very comfortable” with Trump’s decision and praised Pence as someone who could help unite the party.

But as of Friday afternoon, Gingrich had yet to share his support with Trump himself. He told The Associated Press he had not received a call from Trump telling him he wasn’t getting the job.

Meanwhile, Trump did speak with Christie, according to a person familiar with their conversation. Ironically, Christie traveled with Trump to Indiana in April to help introduce the candidate to Pence when Trump was trying to win his endorsement ahead of India’s primary.

Pence endorsed Trump’s rival Ted Cruz instead.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Running mate Mike Pence: Conservative but not angry about it

As a conservative talk-radio host in the 1990s, Mike Pence described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”

Two decades later, Pence is the unflappable conservative governor of Indiana who’s being plucked by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump as his running mate.

Where Trump is impulsive, Pence is cool-headed. Where Trump makes conservatives suspicious, Pence has credibility. And where Trump struggles to draw evangelical Christians, Pence is well-regarded by them.

A favorite quote highlights how Pence might smooth some of the sharp corners of the Trump campaign and its supporters.

“I’m a conservative,” Pence says. “But I’m not angry about it.”

The former congressman also is a proven fundraiser with close ties to billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and their network of wealthy donors, many of whom have been dismissive of Trump.

“One thing you can say about Mike Pence is he’s got a very calm, steady demeanor that in some ways is a little Reaganesque,” said Christine Mathews, a Republican pollster for former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. “He’s a counterbalance to Trump in that way.”

Trump announced on Twitter Friday morning that he’s selected Pence as his running mate, capping a wild 24 hours of speculation interrupted by the truck attack in Nice, France, that left scores dead.

Not so long ago, their relationship was a little awkward. Trump met privately with Pence before Indiana’s primaries, seeking his endorsement. Instead, Pence, under pressure from national conservatives, tepidly endorsed Trump’s rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, while still lavishing praise on Trump. Trump won that primary. Before the night was over, Cruz had quit the race.

For Pence, a former six-term congressman, Trump’s selection offers a return to national politics after his embrace as governor of conservative social issues sidelined his own presidential ambitions. Pence describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” In 2015 he provoked a national backlash after signing a law that critics said would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people for religious reasons.

Even some Indiana Republicans have questioned his decisions, suggesting Pence has at times seemed more interested in appealing to national conservatives than doing what’s best for the state. Pence’s support of the state’s religious objections law led to a revolt from the business community, which joined gay rights advocates in successfully pushing for changes to the law.

Raised in Columbus, Indiana, in an Irish-Catholic family, Pence revered the Kennedys growing up and has said he voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. He later identified as an evangelical Christian and was inspired to join the Republican Party by former President Ronald Reagan, whose “happy warrior” rhetorical style Pence has since tried to emulate.

After attending Hanover College, Pence graduated from Indiana University Law School in 1986. He met his wife, Karen, around the same time and twice unsuccessfully ran for Congress before taking a job at Indiana Policy Review, a conservative think-tank. In a 1991 essay titled “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” Pence swore off harsh political tactics he used in “one of the most divisive and negative campaigns in Indiana’s modern congressional history” while calling for “basic human decency.”

“That means your First Amendment rights end at the tip of your opponent’s nose — even in the matter of political rhetoric,” Pence wrote, though he backtracked in the face of a difficult re-election campaign in Indiana.

In Congress, Pence sponsored a few bills that became law as amendments in other legislation. But he built a national following among conservatives for his willingness to buck his own party after opposing President George W. Bush‘s Medicare expansion and the No Child Left Behind education overhaul. During the early years of President Barack Obama‘s administration, Pence helped lead the opposition to the Democrat’s agenda.

“He has a particularly strong talent, a gift if you will, for being able to stick to principle while making his political opponents or those who disagree with him feel like they are being heard and respected,” said Ryan Streeter, a former Pence aide and George W. Bush staffer who is now a public affairs professor at the University of Texas.

Pence’s congressional experience is one trait that Trump, who has never held public office, wanted in a running mate.

Marc Short, a former Pence aide and top Koch brothers operative, elaborated: “He’s worked with (House Speaker) Paul Ryan. He’s worked with the team in House leadership. He’s somebody who has deep relationships in the evangelical movement, and he’s somebody who has foreign affairs experience.”

Pence’s one term as governor has drawn mixed reaction, and he has managed to alienate moderate Republicans over social issues.

Groups threatened boycotts over last year’s religious objections law and late-night television hosts mocked the policy, leading lawmakers to approve changes.

This year Pence clashed with the local Catholic archdiocese by opposing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Indianapolis.

Pence was also slammed for the planned 2015 launch of “JustIN,” a state-operated news service that was ditched after critics panned it as “Pravda on the Plains.”

But he has also presided over Indiana’s improving economy and plummeting unemployment rate, which Republicans credit to the state’s low taxes, limited regulation and pro-business climate.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Tim Tebow: Speaking slot at Republican convention ‘a rumor’

Thursday morning he was among the biggest stars featured on Donald Trump‘s convention lineup. Thursday night, Tim Tebow declared his attendance at next week’s Republican National Convention was nothing more than “a rumor.”

“I wake up this morning to find out that I’m speaking at the Republican National Convention,” Tebow said in a video posted on Facebook. “It’s amazing how fast rumors fly. And that’s exactly what it is, a rumor.”

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to questions about Tebow’s departure from a convention program the New York billionaire’s team had long teased would be an extraordinary display of political entertainment. But instead of sports stars and celebrities, as promised, the campaign is relying heavily on the party’s establishment for the four-day convention, which begins Monday.

The presumptive presidential nominee has approved a convention program featuring at least 20 current or former elected officials, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a primary rival.

Still, there is no shortage of political outsiders.

Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, may be the first-openly gay speaker featured at a national Republican convention. His appearance comes as party leaders refuse to soften the GOP’s formal opposition to gay marriage.

Other speakers will include four of Trump’s children, Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin, and actor and former underwear model Antonio Sabàto Jr.

Mark Geist and John Tiegen, survivors of the deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya, will speak.

“This impressive lineup of veterans, political outsiders, faith leaders and those who know Donald Trump the best — his family and longtime friends — represent a cross-section of real people facing the same challenges as every American household,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller.

Some of the GOP’s biggest names are declining to participate in the convention.

Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and the party’s two most recent presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, plan to skip the event, as does Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another Trump primary challenger.

Shrugging off such absences, Trump’s team suggested the convention lineup would help highlight Trump’s outsider appeal.

“We are totally overbooked. We have great speakers, we have winners, we have people that aren’t only political people,” Trump told Fox News Channel on Tuesday. “We have a lot of people that are just champions and winners.”

He acknowledged in recent days that he’d stick a little closer to tradition.

“Look, I have great respect for the institution of the conventions. I mean to me, it’s very important. So we’re not going to change the wheel,” he said on Fox.

Tom Brady was initially floated as a possible speaker, but he won’t appear. Neither will former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight or boxing promoter Don King, a Cleveland resident and passionate Trump supporter.

The program will feature people such pro golfer Natalie Gulbis, retired astronaut Eileen Collins, and Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White. Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, author of the book, “Lone Survivor,” about a 2005 firefight in Afghanistan, will make an appearance, along with a Wisconsin sheriff, David Clarke, who is a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The convention will highlight religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Haskel Lookstein, the New York rabbi who converted Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, to Judaism.

Trump does not forget his business relationships, giving speaking slots to real estate investor Tom Barrack and even the general manager for Virginia’s Trump Winery, Kerry Woolard.

In a nod toward party unity, Trump will feature several former presidential competitors, including Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Two finalists in Trump’s search for a running mate made the list as well: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. The other finalist, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was not included in the program obtained by the AP.

Large number of GOP senators skipping Donald Trump’s convention

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana will be fly-fishing with his wife.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he has to mow his lawn (yes, he has one even in Arizona).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will be traveling her state by bush plane.

And Sen. John McCain of Arizona will be visiting the Grand Canyon, and joked that his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would be coming along and might even fall in (just kidding, an aide later clarified).

All are among the GOP senators who will be skipping next week’s convention in Cleveland where Donald Trump will claim the Republican Party presidential nomination.

A majority of Republican senators do plan to attend, and it’s not unusual for lawmakers to skip their party’s convention, especially if they’re up for re-election and need to spend time campaigning.

But the level of rank-and-file congressional defections from this year’s Republican convention is unusually high. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, given the GOP establishment’s well-documented discomfort with the man who stands on the cusp of becoming their presidential standard-bearer. But in the halls of the Capitol this week, some senators seemed to visibly squirm when asked about their convention plans.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the party leadership, gave a lengthy series of responses to questions earlier this week that ultimately left his plans unclear.

“I think it’s going to be a different and unique convention experience. You know I’ve been to a number of them in the past, and this year is different, and we’ll see how it goes,” Thune said. “For most people they go because it’s the Republican convention, and it’s our party’s effort in a presidential election year to talk about what we’re for and what we’re about. So that will go on.”

The next day, Thune said he was still “firming up” his plans.

Confronted for months with uncomfortable questions about Trump, some senators can still seem aggrieved to get asked about the presumptive nominee, and uncomfortable giving an answer. But at this late date, just days from when the convention will start on Monday, nearly all have at least decided whether or not they’re going to Cleveland.

Nearly all, but not quite all.

“I’m not sure yet,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said Wednesday, adding there are “other things going on and I’ve got to weigh where I can do the most good.”

Of the Senate also-rans in the White House chase, only Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas will attend the convention and deliver a speech. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Graham are skipping the event.

For the nearly two dozen GOP senators up for re-election this year, the considerations are particularly sensitive, and that’s especially true for the handful of vulnerable Republican senators in swing states. They must weigh sharing a convention hall with a nominee whose comments have offended women, minorities and others who can decide general elections. There are also concerns that given the “Never Trump” sentiments still nursed by some delegates, the convention could go off the rails and turn into a chaotic spectacle.

But few senators were interested in wading into such considerations on the record.

“No,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said tersely when asked if he was staying away from the convention out of a desire to distance himself from Trump.

Murkowski said she had only a month to visit the remotest areas of Alaska by plane before her Aug. 16 primary.

“For me, this was an easy choice” and “nothing to do” with Trump, Murkowski said.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the most vulnerable members, said he could not go to Cleveland because “I’ve got to spend as much time in Wisconsin as possible.”

As for his views on Trump, Johnson said: “I support all of the areas of agreement … I’m supporting him. Let’s put it this way, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Even Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a vulnerable senator whose state is playing host to the convention, said he will only be dropping into the convention hall from time to time, but not delivering a speech or staying to watch speeches from others.

Instead, he’ll be spending his time on his own campaign events in and around Cleveland, including building a Habitat for Humanity home and holding a kayaking charity fundraiser, “Paddling with Patriots on the Cuyahoga River.”

“I’m not going to have much time to listen to ’em because I’ll be out and about,” Portman said of the convention speakers.

___

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

A lot of holes in GOP presidential ground game in key states

Presidential battleground states were supposed to be swarming with Republican Party workers by now.

“We’ve moved on to thousands and thousands of employees,” party chairman Reince Priebus declared in March, contrasting that with the GOP’s late-blooming staffing four years earlier. “We are covering districts across this country in ways that we’ve never had before.”

That hasn’t exactly happened, a state-by-state review conducted by The Associated Press has found.

With early voting beginning in less than three months in some states, the review reveals that the national GOP has delivered only a fraction of the ground forces detailed in discussions with state leaders earlier in the year. And that is leaving anxious local officials waiting for reinforcements to keep pace with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the states that matter most in 2016.

To be sure, the national party actually has notched record levels of fundraising over the past few years and put together a much more robust ground game than it had in 2012. But officials acknowledge the real competition isn’t their past results or the chronically cash-strapped Democratic Party. It’s Clinton and what GOP party chairman Reince Priebus calls “that machine” of Clinton fundraising.

Some examples of Republican shortfalls: Ohio Republicans thought they were going to see 220 paid staffers by May; in reality, there are about 50. Plans for Pennsylvania called for 190 paid staffers; there are about 60. Iowa’s planned ground force of 66 by May actually numbers between 25 and 30. In Colorado, recent staff departures have left about two dozen employees, far short of the 80 that were to have been in place.

AP learned of the specific May staffing aims from Republicans who were briefed earlier this year; the RNC did not dispute them. Current totals came from interviews with local GOP leaders over the past two weeks.

The gulf between what state leaders thought they could count on and what they’ve actually got comes as RNC’s ground game is asked to do more than ever before. Presumptive nominee Donald Trump is relying on the party to do most of the nuts-and-bolts work of finding and persuading voters in the nation’s most competitive battlegrounds.

“This is a race we should win,” Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges said, citing a voter registration boom. “Now, we have to put the people in the field.”

In New Hampshire, a swing state that also features one of the nation’s most competitive Senate contests, the Republican National Committee’s original plan called for more than 30 paid staff on the ground by May. Yet what’s happening there highlights that even when the RNC is close to meeting its staffing goals, there can be problems. In this case, 20 positions have been converted to part-time, and local officials have been struggling to fill them.

“It’s a tall order to ask the RNC to be the complete field operation for the presidential nominee,” said Steve Duprey, a national party committeeman from New Hampshire. “We’re following through on the plan, but it was slower being implemented than we first would have hoped.”

Borges and Duprey, like Republican leaders across the nation, acknowledged that the national party has dramatically reduced its staffing plans in recent months.

“You discuss idealistic, you discuss realistic,” said the RNC’s political director Chris Carr. “Some people hear what they want to hear.”

The Democrats have been more focused. The GOP’s foes, says party chairman Priebus, “have built their program around a candidate.”

By that measure, Clinton and her Democratic allies appear to be quite far ahead, with roughly double the staff of the Republicans in Ohio, for example.

For anyone – party or candidate – ground operations are expensive.

The RNC’s 242-person payroll cost $1.1 million in May, federally-filed financial documents show. Additionally, the party transfers hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to state parties, which in turn hire more people.

Between direct RNC employees and state employees hired with the help of transfers, the party counts more than 750 staff members, including 487 spread across the country and concentrated in battleground states. By contrast, at this point in 2012, there were just 170 paid Republican operatives across the country.

Party officials say they are confident they will raise enough money to maintain – and very likely boost – the current level of employees until Election Day. Trump, who did not actively raise money during the primary season, touted surprisingly strong fundraising numbers in late May and June, including $25 million that will be shared with the party.

But it was the primary triumph of Trump in May – and the fact that he did not bring with him a hefty portfolio of donors – that derailed the party’s fundraising and hiring goals, party officials said.

The timing was important because a nominee typically serves as a major fundraiser for the national party, and having one in March or April would have given the Republicans a boost.

A sign on an office door in Sarasota, Florida, illustrates how critical the RNC will be to Trump’s bid for the White House. It’s Trump’s state headquarters.

“THANKS FOR STOPPING BY OUR OFFICE!” the blue paper reads. “Our office is TEMPORARILY CLOSED to the public, while our office works to prep for the National Convention in Cleveland.”

A phone call to the number on the sign ended with an automated message stating, “Memory is full.”

The Republican Party has 75 employees on the ground in Florida – a few dozen shy of Clinton – but they aren’t seamlessly integrated with the Trump campaign.

“I do see cooperation between the national party and the Trump campaign,” said Michael Barnett, chairman of the Palm Beach County GOP. “But that hasn’t materialized at the local level yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It’s a little bit of a late start, but I’m not nervous. Not yet.”

Like Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire, Wisconsin is a presidential battleground that features a highly competitive Senate race. That means national party staffers have the dual task of promoting Trump and a Senate candidate.

That can be tricky.

Wisconsin’s Republican primary voters chose Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the April primary, and local conservative talk radio hosts have been some of Trump’s toughest critics.

The RNC’s 49 employees are spread across 13 field offices under the command of the state director in Madison. That office is papered with re-elections signs for Sen. Ron Johnson. Trump yard signs are stacked in one corner.

On a recent evening, 18-year-old volunteer – and ardent Trump supporter – Andy Andrews left the state headquarters to knock on doors and collect voter information.

The only campaign flier Andrews handed out while knocking on doors was for Johnson. But one of the three questions he and other volunteers are asking voters either on the phone or when knocking on doors is about whether they prefer Trump or Clinton. Another is about the Senate race and a third is about whether they want to see President Barack Obama‘s policies continue.

Voters’ answers are fed into a database that Republicans use to better target their turnout efforts – part of a $100 million investment in data, party officials said.

In the span of an hour, Andrews talked to some voters who want a change in the White House and who support Johnson, but none who are ready to commit to Trump. That’s the way most people have responded over the three weeks he’s been doing doors, Andrews said.

“I’m a Republican but I just can’t vote for Trump,” said voter Steve Rhoades, of Fitchburg. “I don’t believe in his policies and point of view on most things. He’s just too over-the-top for me.”

The RNC ground force has a simpler task in states without a Senate race, and in areas of Trump enthusiasm. For example, in Virginia, where there are about 35 paid employees, a recent evening of door-knocking turned up numerous voters committed to Trump.

GOP volunteer Robert Frank got a quick, “Yes, absolutely,” when he asked Fredericksburg resident Elizabeth Skinner whether she’d be voting for Trump. “Why would I want that chaotic mess to continue?”

Even the state leaders who are disappointed the RNC hasn’t yet hired as many ground troops as it had hoped say the party’s operation is bigger, better and more experienced than four years ago. The party’s first 2016 employees got to work in 2013, and they’ve road tested voter identification and turnout strategies all across the country.

Party leaders are also training hundreds of volunteers to help paid operatives identify likely Republican voters and get them to the polls this fall, which is one way to offset the need for so many paid employees.

“We are so far ahead of where we were last time that there’s almost no way to compare it,” said Garren Shipley, the RNC’s Virginia communications director. “And none of what we’ve built will go away on Inauguration Day.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

With few political allies, Donald Trump plans celebrity convention

Donald Trump‘s team promises an extraordinary display of political entertainment at this month’s Republican National Convention, with the accent on entertainment.

The former reality television star plans to feature his high-profile children at the summer gathering in Cleveland, with the hope they’ll be joined by a number of celebrity supporters. Prospects include former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and longtime boxing promoter Don King.

“I’m going to be involved, definitely,” said King, who lives in Cleveland and is a passionate supporter of the presumptive Republican nominee. “He’s my man. I love him. He’s going to be the next president.”

While those bold-face names have yet to be confirmed, the fact they’re on Trump’s list is a reminder that many of the Republican Party’s biggest stars aren’t willing to appear on his behalf. The GOP’s two living presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, its most recent presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, all plan to avoid the four-day event that traditionally serves as a powerful display of party unity heading into the sprint toward Election Day.

“He’s going to have to bring all his skills to bear to make this work, not just in Cleveland, but for the next four months,” said Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman. “It won’t be easy, but that’s what he’s got to do.”

Trump’s team says he’s up to the challenge.

“This is not going to be your typical party convention like years past,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. “Donald Trump is better suited than just about any candidate in memory to put together a program that’s outside of Washington and can appeal directly to the American people.”

When Hillary Clinton hosts her party at the Democratic National Convention the following week, she’ll face a different issue entirely: how to squeeze in the many popular, prominent Democrats backing her campaign.

Along with Clinton and her eventual vice presidential pick, there are sure to be speeches from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and, of course, the candidate’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.

There’s also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of progressives and one of Trump’s fiercest critics. Warren is on Clinton’s running-mate shortlist but will surely be slotted for a prominent convention speech even if she’s not selected.

By necessity as much as preference, Trump’s team is crafting a far different lineup. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the likely speakers, praised Trump’s plan to use his celebrity connections to reach a broader audience.

“Trump understands that if he can appeal to consumer America, he drowns political America,” Gingrich told The Associated Press. He said he had little idea of what kind of show to expect, but recalled a recent conversation with a Trump family member who confidently told him, “We know how to do conventions.”

“My children are all going to be speaking: Ivanka, Tiffany, Don, Eric. They’re going to be speaking,” Trump said Friday during an appearance at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. “My wife is going to be speaking at the convention. We’re going to have a great time.”

Trump’s campaign has also been in touch with aides to chief primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been trying to win a speaking slot. Other national leaders under consideration include former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Gingrich.

Some celebrities backing Trump have passed on the chance to be a part of the show. Among them: former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who told the Chicago Tribune last week, “I spoke with Mr. Trump this afternoon, and he invited me. But I don’t think I’m going to go.”

Clinton’s speaking program, too, isn’t without its uncomfortable riddles. There’s no public sense yet of what role she’ll give to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator whose surprisingly strong challenge in the Democratic primary has yet to officially come to an end. Sanders says he’ll vote for Clinton, but he’s yet to formally endorse her and is pushing for changes to the Democratic platform.

Ivanka Trump predicted in a recent radio interview the GOP convention would be “a great combination of our great politicians, but also great American businessmen and women and leaders across industry and leaders across really all sectors, from athletes to coaches and everything in between.”

“I think it will be a convention unlike any we’ve ever seen,” she said. “It will be substantive. It will be interesting. It will be different. It’s not going to be a ho-hum lineup of, you know, the typical politicians.”

And that will still leave room for complaints from Trump’s Republican skeptics.

“Whatever you want to say about Trump, he’s been a showman. And I expect something completely different,” said former Kasich adviser Jai Chabria. “I find it hard to believe that that’s going to be enough to put him over the top.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio leads Carlos Beruff 71% to 7% in new AIF poll

Marco Rubio holds a 60-plus point lead over Carlos Beruff.

That’s according to a new Associated Industries of Florida poll of likely Republican primary voters. The survey — conducted June 27 and June 28, one week after Rubio announced he was running for re-election — found 71 percent of respondents said they would support Rubio in the primary.

Seven percent of voters said they would vote for Beruff, while 18 percent said they were still undecided.

Rubio announced last week he was running for a second term in the U.S. Senate, reversing a previous decision to return to private life when his term ended. The decision cleared the field, with Republicans Ron DeSantis, David Jolly, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Todd Wilcox all bowing out of the race.

Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder who has poured a significant amount of his own wealth into the race already, said he would continue to run for the seat. He has said he is prepared to put another $10 million to $15 million more into the race.

Rubio has received the backing of several top Republicans in Florida, including Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and former Gov. Jeb Bush. He’s also received support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sen. Ted Cruz.

One top Republican who hasn’t thrown his support behind him? Gov. Rick Scott.

In a Facebook post last week, Scott stopped short of endorsing Beruff, but said the “Florida voters deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Sen. Rubio and make their own decision.”

While the AIF polling memo notes Rubio’s entry into the race creates an entirely different field than just a few weeks ago, it also points out Rubio was leaps and bounds ahead of Republicans even before he got into the race.

When AIF conducted a similar survey in April, 50 percent of Republicans said they would support Rubio. The April survey found 5 percent of respondents would support Beruff, while 26 percent said they were undecided. Jolly was in second in the April survey by AIF, with 8 percent support.

The AIF poll is in line with another poll released this week. A survey conducted for News 13/Bay News 9 found 63 percent of Republicans would vote for Rubio in the Aug. 30 primary, while 11 percent said they planned to support Beruff. In that survey, 13 percent of respondents were undecided.

The most recent AIF poll surveyed 750 likely voters and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

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