Going rogue: Duval GOP chair shreds Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott for bad campaign messaging

Karyn Morton

Florida Republicans are as well-positioned as could be imagined after a “blue wave” year, controlling both Senate seats and almost everything that matters in Tallahassee after a series of tight campaigns.

Republicans ran up margins in rural and exurban areas, and in part that was necessary because of Republican candidates underperforming in Jacksonville (Duval County), a historic Republican stronghold going back to the Jeb Bush days.

Statewide winners such as Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis took Ls in Duval, despite having devoted a lot of time to the campaign locally.

On Monday night, Duval GOP chairwoman Karyn Morton had a message for them: the countywide losses were their fault.

Losing in Duval was the fault of those campaigns’ “poor messaging,” per multiple sources who described Morton’s 34 minute speech as “pathetic” and a marker of the “death of the local party.”

“I must say that in Duval County especially we had some issues with messaging from a couple of our candidates, one in particular,” Morton said.

Singled out for particular opprobrium: the Governor-elect, a Jacksonville native whose wife was a longtime fixture on local television, with his campaign manager Susie Wiles being an even longer-term fixture in the local political scene.

Per a handout obtained by Florida Politics, Morton lambasted the DeSantis campaign for “poor messaging  … lack of organization … little coordination with County Party … county activities diverted by two activists to bypass County Party.”

“The DeSantis campaign took forever,” Morton said, to produce “yard signs and literature.”

“In the general election, there was very little organization with the county parties,” Morton charged, blaming interlopers for looping her out with the DeSantis campaign.

“Those two people were named Nancy McGowan and Cindy Graves,” Morton said. “You think the DeSantis campaign didn’t perform? There you go!”

[Note: McGowan was a very early supporter of DeSantis. Graves, who was Morton’s immediate predecessor as chair, has been on Morton’s bad list for years.]

Besides the Republican Party of Florida and the DeSantis campaign sidestepping the local hierarchy, there were other issues.

“Black vote, black Governor … Democrat voter intimidation … Duval County targeted for Gillum, not the whole state … teams from all over US paid by Democrat, Socialist, Communist parties,” Morton contended.

“People told me they or their relatives had visitors to their home. They had gangs,” Morton said, “knocking on doors in different neighborhoods in Duval, certainly the Northwest area.”

“Why Duval County? We do have a good black population [that] voted for the black President, they were going to vote for a black Governor,” Morton said.

Morton said that Gillum, over and over again, talked about “Duval putting [him] over … not Democratic strongholds.”

“If you’re Democrat, you need to vote for Gillum, and you need to take a picture of it, because we will be back,” Morton said. “In these neighborhoods … you don’t know if somebody’s going to come by your house and spray it with bullets if you don’t have that picture.”

Rick Scott and Matt Caldwell weren’t left out either.

“Let’s take a look at Rick Scott,” Morton said of the man who has won three statewide elections in eight years.

“Purists regarding gun issues,” Morton said, “were angry because Rick Scott signed the Parkland Shooting Bill or whatever it’s called.”

The bill, properly called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, bars most groups of people under 21 from buying guns, mandates a three-day waiting period before buying a firearm, bans bump stocks, and otherwise hardened schools in the wake of February’s massacre in Parkland.

Scott told us he was proud of having signed that legislation earlier this year.

Caldwell, who narrowly lost the Agricultural Commissioner race, “wasn’t popular in Duval County,” Morton said.

“What killed the campaign,” Morton said, was “marijuana.”

“NPAs, libertarians, soft Democrats who normally would have gone to the Republican side went with the marijuana candidate,” Morton said.

Another issue: the “Never Trumpers,” per Morton, former “Adam Putnam voters” who said “I’ll either vote for nobody or I’ll vote for Gillum.”

We reached out to the Republican Party of Florida and the DeSantis transition team for comment Monday night, but they as of yet have not wanted to go on record.

However, sources familiar with the DeSantis campaign’s thinking note that the campaign invested heavily locally, suggesting a larger disconnect between the embattled party chair and the Governor-elect’s operation.

Morton also had words for this reporter and his coverage of DeSantis, including seeming encouragement of mob aggression against the press.

A.G. Gancarski decided to act up at one event. I had him removed from a couple,” Morton lied.

“He caused quite a ruckus, so badly that he was being called Jim Acosta … and he was so bad that a group of about 40 to 50 people turned on him and started screaming ‘Get out, shut up, get out, shut up, get out’,” Morton said.

“It was wonderful! I loved it,” Morton exulted to a smattering of audible applause, saying that “since that time, he hasn’t been invited to another Republican event.”

Morton closed what could be her last meeting as chair by saying the party couldn’t afford an annual Christmas Party as is usual, as the donors aren’t coming through.

After 34 minutes of maligning donors, swing voters, Never Trumpers, malevolent journalists, and all the rest, Chairwoman Morton was finally done.

Morton faces an election for party chair next month. Vice Chair Dean Black is expected to challenge her.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Frankie M.

    November 19, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    I saw black people in my neighborhood a few weeks ago canvassing for Nelson. At first I assumed they were Jehovah’s witnesses but you know what they say about assumptions. Had I known they were gangbangers I would have immediately alerted the proper authorities. I’m afraid my mostly white middle class neighborhood is in danger of turning into the next Cabrini Green.

    • Jennifer

      November 20, 2018 at 12:10 am

      I had to read this twice as I thought Frankie was joking. I can’t believe someone writes such a racist comment and there are no replies. Come on FL!! Do not sit back and condone racism.

    • Kim

      November 20, 2018 at 12:38 pm

      Black people canvassing for votes are not gangbangers! They are taking part in a legal civic action that all should applaud and welcome no matter which party they are canvassing for.

      • Jim Davis in Jax

        November 20, 2018 at 1:25 pm

        Unless they’re intimidating voters as descrined. That’s not just gang-type activity, it’s a Racketeering violation. °See RICO definition.

    • S. Staci Anderson

      November 24, 2018 at 8:59 am

      Are you joking? If so, such poor taste if not this is more horrifying than the Candyman movie. Some deranged soul
      will read this and get an idea to start killing out of fear that anyone in unknown to them knocking on their door is there to do harm . It will be blood on your hands.this is how this kind of Madness begins.

      • Jim Davis in Jax

        November 24, 2018 at 10:10 am

        Intimidation is no joke. When it involves an election it’s considered Racketeering…and RICO violations come into play…as well as First, nineth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and twenty-sixth Amendments :as well as Hate Crime, and Eldery Abuse laws.

  • John R Fleming

    November 19, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    sounds like a fun lady to be Chairman.Her criticisms are worth thinking about-I think local party loyalists are being left out of the campaigns now-Electronic media is powerful, but the old-time walking precincts is still the most powerful force in the process

  • Jim Davis

    November 20, 2018 at 7:49 am

    She has failed by every measure. Cannot raise money, cannot recruit volunteers, cannot effectively present ideas to the media and cannot train candidates.

    Time for her to go.

  • Claire Frank

    November 20, 2018 at 9:05 am

    I know Karyn & have worked with her & Duval for many years. People were calling me saying the message was not strong enough & they were going to lose. If you don’t fight hard, you don’t win. Dems know what to do to win & are not afraid to say it, even though most of it are lies. Gilliam was a perfect example of a Socialist who lied to his base. I posted the video from his hdqtrs to prove facts of what they were really going to do to Florida. We would have moved out of Florida if he won. She has every right to speak up & we should have done much better in this race. Republicans better do something & vote or become dinosaurs. Dems are willing to do anything to win & that means cheating big time.

    • Frankie M.

      November 20, 2018 at 9:47 am

      Dems speaking truth to power is not wanted. They should just keep their mouths shut & know their place. Sounds familiar.

    • Kim

      November 20, 2018 at 12:40 pm

      What credible evidence is there of cheating?

  • Jim Davis in Jax

    November 20, 2018 at 9:54 am

    My name is also Jim Davis. I’m a grassroots Republican activist in Jacksonville.

    I could not disagree more with the Jim Davis above, (I suspect this to be a political stunt).

    Mrs. Morton has irritated the plutocrats who give money to both parties and play voters against each other.

    She has, without the help of those plutocrats and their oligarch minions focussed the Duval Republican Party on the blue collar and Main Street voters that reflects theRepublican demographic in our county.

    She’s built enough cash flow to prevent the Chairman from begging for light bill money…which equates to favors in the future; and she managed the largest mid term turnout for Republicans in a cycle that is historically down.

    Mrs. Morton is a Constitutional heroine.

    • George Baylee

      November 21, 2018 at 5:30 am

      I agree. The problem with Jacksonville is that Big Money(and the seven families that run this town) are worried that they are losing their influence in City Hall. If we could get the Big Money out of local policy making and money spending(taxpayer dollars) then we could have some new blood in our city. I heard a radio program call most of our elected leaders; Retreads…I don’t think that is very far from the truth. When you look at the resume’s of candidates, you see the same names every cycle. Even when a new name enters the fray, you can find that they are some official’s Cousin, Brother, Wife, etc….Do we not have anyone willing to step-up and take a beating in the press for a Thankless, low-paying elected position…..Oh Wait..Never mind.

      • Jim Davis in Jax

        November 25, 2018 at 7:41 am

        “Retreads” is a good description. Same old names and faces…all propped of by plutocrats who want something in return. From failed attempts at equestrian centers, to land bought for yet another dump in a bad place.

        God forbid someone actually represent the people of the county.

  • Raymondo

    November 20, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Ms. Morton ran and won by arguing that due to Trump winning Duval by only 4900 votes the party and it’s then chair had failed. She claimed that she was well known and respected by local Republican donors and that she would fill precinct committee slots that were then empty.

    The reality of her tenure has been significantly different than what she promised. We lost Duval for DeSantis and Scott. Fewer people are involved with the party than when Carter was POTUS and Karyn’s phone calls remain unanswered and unreturned by even second tier donors.

    Karyn’s brilliant political mind (with the assist of another weak link) created and sent direct mail in support of two failed judicial candidates and one failed Jacksonville Beach City Council candidate. There are no light bills to pay as the HQ was not paid for by the local REC and her only claim to fame is attempting and failing to remove those who disagree with her and alienating the local media.

    In short she has been a disaster.

  • Him Davis in Jax

    November 20, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    O disagree with your analysis. Republican voters turned out higher than they normally do in first Administration mid terms.

    I would remind readers that the Candidates run and control their campaigns while the state and county parties facilitate their efforts. Congressman DeSantis campaign was anemic…he won by r8ding Governor Scotts coattails. I van say that with certainty as I met and talked with voters on their front door steps.

  • Jim Davis in Jax

    November 20, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    I disagree with your analysis. Republican voters turned out higher than they normally do in first Administration mid terms.

    I would remind readers that the Candidates run and control their campaigns while the state and county parties facilitate their efforts. Congressman DeSantis campaign was anemic…he won by riding Governor Scotts coattails. I van say that with certainty as I met and talked with voters on their front door steps.

  • Not Him or Jim Davis in Jax

    November 20, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    So other than “Him Davis in Jax” making no sense, his first cousin “Jim Davis in Jax” made no sense either.

    Must be some sort of family thing.

  • Jim Davis in Jax

    November 20, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    Apologies for the double post. I neglected to edit the first post and wasn’t able to delete it.

    However, even with the spelling faux pas- the posts were accurate and reasonable.

    The adolescence of some who disagree notwithstanding.

    …That adolescence exposing a weak position.

  • Not Him Davis

    November 20, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Nothing like a little ad hominem attack to expose the fallacy of your position Jim.

    • Jim Davis in Jax

      November 20, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      A fallacy you’ve yet to establish. Your supercilious posturing doesn’t equate to refutation

  • George Baylee

    November 21, 2018 at 5:18 am

    The Duval REC has been dissolving from the inside out for many years. From the time it took 4 votes to decide who to support, Curry or Bishop, to the internal struggles between the former Chair and the current Chair, things have been rough. On the outside looking in (for many years) it seems as though the former Chair never left the position and has been doing everything possible to retain some political clout in the Jacksonville area. Now there are references to Dean Black (from the Corrine Sandbag debacle) is going to step up to run against Morton….Just remember Howard Dean(Dem. candidate for President) and swap the names around. This alternative tries to be as funny as Sen. Bean and as intelligent as Jerry Holland, but fails miserably at both. The REC would do well to listen to Morton(although she is rough around the edges), pandering to big money is NOT going to get you the votes anymore….Grassroots and handshakes WILL.

  • English Teacher

    November 21, 2018 at 7:18 am

    My favorite part of Morton’s handout was where she combined the words “there” and “their” to create the new word “theire”.

    I guess she was just covering all bases.

    • Paul

      November 22, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      Gotta love those spelling nazis to avoid the accuracy of a propostion.

Comments are closed.


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