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Here’s Brunch, a pop-up, weekend email about the last month of Florida’s primary elections — 8.9.20

A brunch buffet’s worth of real-time reporting.

Good morning and welcome to Brunch. 

There are nine days left before Florida’s primary elections. The staff of FloridaPolitics.com is currently tracking at least 97 competitive races that will be decided on August 18. Today’s edition of Brunch offers a quick look at the most intriguing of these contests.

Before you dive into that, please join me in wishing a happy birthday to a big man with a giant heart, my friend Emmett Reed of the Florida Health Care Association. Belated wishes to a great American, Slater Bayliss. I hope to enjoy a dirty martini with both men sooner rather than later.

Coronavirus numbers

>>>Breaking: The United States has surpassed 5 million Covid-19 cases, a grisly milestone that represents roughly a quarter of all infections across the world confirmed since the coronavirus first emerged from Wuhan, China a little over seven months ago.

Positive cases: 520,846 FL residents (+8,395 since Friday); 5,731 Non-FL residents (+77 since Friday).

Origin: 3,976 Travel related; 152,252 Contact with a confirmed case; 4,049 Both; 337,036 Under investigation.

Hospitalizations: 30,251 in FL.

Deaths: 8,109 in FL.

Staffing up 

Staff announcements continue for the Biden campaign in the swingiest of swing states.

Biden 2020 new gets are former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and former Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux.

Staffing up: Joe Biden’s Florida campaign adds former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and former Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux. Image via AP.

Brown, who ran Jax city hall from 2011-15, is being brought in as senior adviser for political engagement. He also served as a senior member of the White House leadership team under President Bill Clinton, and as Al Gore’s senior adviser for urban policy.

Arceneaux, the Florida Democrats’ top staffer from 2009-17, comes in as Biden’s strategic adviser in Florida. He also served chief strategist on Andrew Gillum 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

The undercard featured several more hires, including Jackie McGuinness, a former press secretary for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson; Florida campaign veterans Javier Cuebas, Christiana Ho, Amir Avin, and Karla Alvarado; and national campaign veterans Rachel Niemerski and Freedom Alexander Murphy.

It’s a mixed bag for Biden. He’s adding a litany of big names, no doubt, but there are more narrow losses than Ws to go along with them. Still, if the polls and the pandemic keep with their current trends, they may be able to do for Biden what they couldn’t for Gillum, Nelson and Gore.

Self-spending

Still in disbelief that the GOP lost Florida’s 7th Congressional District in 2016 — which they owned forever until Democratic now-Rep. Stephanie Murphy surprised everyone — Republicans are trying to outspend each other to win it back. Three GOP candidates, Leo Valentin, Richard Goble, and Yukong Zhao, want the chance so bad, they’re spending out of their wallets.

— How much: Valentin has put in $190,000 of his own money; Goble, $144,000; and Zhao, $30,000.

— Not enough: Murphy has never had problems raising money, mainly because businesses buy into her insistence that she’s a pro-business Democrat. That’s rare enough that she gives business groups a chance to look bipartisan. Murphy has raised $2.3 million, is sitting on $1.4 million, and is raising money faster than the three Republicans combined, mostly from PACs.

It will take more than hating socialism/loyalty to Donald Trump to beat Stephanie Murphy.

— Primary message: The three all have tried to tie Murphy to the Democratic Party’s socialist wing. And each has tried to show how loyal he is to President Donald Trump

— General message: None of the three has yet clearly offered a message beyond hating socialism and supporting Trump. It’ll be a tough sell to convince voters that Murphy, who receives Chamber of Commerce endorsements and money, aligns with socialists. And the CD 7 electorate has all the demographic characteristics that are expected to give Trump great trouble in the general election

Weak link

The hits keep coming for U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, and the latest blow comes from one of his colleagues up north.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz delivered a gut punch with a new robocall imploring Republican primary voters to reject Spano and give their vote to Scott Franklin.

Loans, loans, loans. Spano has been under fire for the illegal campaign loans he used to float his 2018 bid, and Gaetz doesn’t ignore it — he sweeps the leg, saying the issue will crush his chances if he makes it to the general.

Scott Franklin’s big get — an endorsement from fellow conservative Matt Gaetz.

He doesn’t mince words: “Everything is on the line this election, and we can’t have a weak link like Ross Spano take down our team. Let him fight his legal trouble … I don’t suggest defeating an incumbent Republican lightly, but the President’s agenda, our party and our nation are at stake this election. Vote for Scott Franklin, our President Donald Trump can count on him.”

Invoking Trump is the dagger, especially since Spano crows about his loyalty to the President at every opportunity.

Mark another win for Franklin, who has already landed an endorsement from Gaetz as well as a host of conservative stalwarts, such as Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

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Mailer mudslinging in HD 4

In the crowded Republican primary for House District 4, the battle is a race to see who can tie themselves closest to President Donald Trump.

Republican or Libertarian? An email sent by Sandra Atkinson’s campaign Friday calls opponent Jeff Hinkle a Never-Trumper for accepting an endorsement from Young Americans for Liberty.

The GOP primary in HD 4 is getting dirty between Jeff Hinkle and Sandra Atkinson.

Getting dirty: Atkinson tied the group to the Libertarian Party and their presidential candidates from 2016 and 2020. “I’m throwing a little mud, but I back it up with facts,” she told Florida Politics.

Malignant mailer: The day before, Hinkle took to Facebook to decry a dark money snail-mail mailer that warned voters of a “taxpayer alert” and hit Hinkle for “special interests” and “corporate bailouts.” Hinkle’s response: I’m so glad they used one of my better pics.

Touché: The Friday email is a taste of Hinkle’s own medicine. A recent ad of his hit Patt Maney for saying, “I did not work for President Trump,” and Jonathan Tallman for donating $1,000 to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

Party leadership squabble: Both Atkinson and Hinkle have held local Republican leadership roles. Atkinson is Okaloosa County’s Republican State Committeewoman, while Hinkle is a Republican Party of Okaloosa County executive committee chairman.

Duval drama

Two of the most interesting races on the Jacksonville primary ballot come down to one feud: that between Rep. Tracie Davis of HD 13 and Rep. Kim Daniels of HD 14. Each of them backs a primary challenger facing the other on August 18. 

— Cynthia Smith is challenging Davis, a doctrinaire Democrat in the mold of mentor Sen. Audrey Gibson. Davis has the money and the momentum, but Smith has run before in a losing bid for the School Board. “I’m the real Democrat in this race doing the real work,’ Davis said at a Jacksonville forum Smith no-showed Thursday.

— Angie Nixon is taking on Daniels, who has been self-funding her way to a fundraising lead over Nixon, who enjoys support from anti-Daniels Democrats throughout the state. 

Cynthia Smith and Angie Mixon are challenging two Duval-area incumbents.

— Daniels, meanwhile, is backed by Republicans: the Florida Chamber has deemed her the most pro-biz legislator.

— Nixon stresses her mentor: former Rep. Mia Jones, who served just before Daniels, striking a much different legacy than the incumbent. “For too long our district has been struggling under failed leadership,” Nixon said at the Thursday forum, noting that Daniels district office is “next to Mayor Curry’s office in City Hall, so you know she’s beholden too.”

Daniels was not on hand to refute. 

Money vs. Mooney

The House District 120 Republican primary is shaping up to be one of the unique in South Florida. One candidate has secured much of the GOP support, while another has built up a massive war chest. Which will win out?

Clash in the Keys: The contest is a three-way battle between Rhonda Rebman Lopez, Jim Mooney, and Alexandria Suarez. Mooney has racked up several endorsements from big-time GOP figures in the region, including outgoing HD 120 Rep. Holly Raschein and Sen. Anitere Flores, whose district covers much of the same ground as HD 120.

Never-ending fundraising faucet: Lopez has been the best fundraiser in the contest and one of the best candidates at raising cash in the entire state. Without the help of a personal PC, she’s raised more than $242,000 through July 24, about $70,000 more than Mooney and Suarez combined.

Rhonda Rebman Lopez is the biggest fundraiser in the HD 120 race.

Standing out: The most competitive primaries in the region tend to be races where the winner will cruise to a general election win. That’s not the case in HD 120, where voter registration shows this November’s contest could be one of the closest in the state.

The breakdown: Though Raschein, a Republican, holds the seat currently, Democrats have a slight voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district at 35.5% to 35%. Raschein won her 2018 race by 6 points, but that gap could close in an open race in a presidential year.

Bottom line: The race showcases a clash between money and party support, with Suarez potentially playing spoiler as well. It’s unclear which candidate will fare best against Democratic candidate Clint Barras in the fall. Still, Republican voters’ decisions next week could very well affect which party holds this seat next Session.

Chiefland bellwether

Barely 200 voters came out for a city election in Chiefland, but Florida Democrats hope the small community just offered a significant sign of enthusiasm ahead of November. Lance Hayes just unseated incumbent Commissioner Tim West in a vote of 132 to 70.

Feeling blue: It’s big news statewide because Hayes is a Democrat, and no such creature has won any office in Levy County in the modern era.

A surprising Levy County race where Democrat Lance Hayes (left) unseated incumbent Commissioner Tim West could be a bellwether for November.

Outside Help: The Florida Democratic Party gave the candidate a lift through a new $2 million “Down Ballot Elections” program aimed at county and municipal seats. The hope is building a better bench can bring dividends down the road.

No response: But perhaps because of local politics, there was no Republican response to the effort. West said GOP leaders actively tried (unsuccessfully) to get a Republican to challenge him this year. He certainly got no help from his own party.

— No hard feelings: Ultimately, West, while losing in a nonpartisan race to someone backed by a state party, said he holds no grudge. “They won fair and square. They were very well organized.”

Ready to start: As for Hayes, he’s just anxious to take his place at the dais. “I am so grateful to the Chiefland community for trusting me to lead,” he said.

Early sign: The party, meanwhile, say this is just a start. “Lance Hayes is emblematic of what Democrats can achieve when we work together,” said Lisa Peth, director of the Florida Democratic Party’s Municipal Victory Program

Miami-Dade showdown

More than $11 million has poured into the race for Miami-Dade County Mayor, making it one of the most expensive races in the state this cycle. With just over a week to go until that election, which candidates will see that money well spent, and who will be left on the outside?

Meet the candidates: The seven eligible candidates are Carlos Antonio De Armas, entrepreneur Monique Nicole Barley, County Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez, real estate agent Ludmilla Domond and former County Mayor Alex Penelas. Bovo, Levine Cava, Suarez and Penelas have easily raised the most money and are seen as the likely favorites in the race.

Runoff likely: The Aug. 18 race features seven candidates but requires a candidate to earn a majority of the vote to clinch the contest. That’s unlikely in such a crowded field, meaning we’ll likely see a runoff between the top two vote-getters come November.

The old guard: Suarez is a former Miami Mayor turned County Commissioner, while Penelas already ran the county from 1996-2004. Both are hoping to draw on their decades of experience and name ID with locals to secure support, while their rivals have framed them as contributors to the region’s struggles.

Ideological struggle: Though the race is nonpartisan, Levine Cava have each tried to outflank the other on the left. Bovo, meanwhile, has secured support from the Lieutenant Governor and has framed himself as the conservative alternative to ride Republican support into a chance at a runoff.

The winner will succeed term-limited Mayor Carlos Giménez, who is now seeking a spot in Congress. Residents may be waiting until November to find out who that successor will be.

BLM or Bust

Who’s behind a strange text message announced Black Lives Matter’s support for Ed Hunzeker’s Manatee County Commission race? Nobody wants to say, though it’s clearly bogus.

Words matter: The text reads, “Black Lives Matter endorses Ed Hunzeker for his dedication to defunding Manatee County’s Sheriff’s Office. Thank Hunzeker for defunding the police.”

Whodunnit?: Besides reading like an endorsement nobody in a GOP primary wants, the local BLM chapter announced no endorsement, and Hunzeker didn’t seek one.

Is Ed Hunzeker really getting BLM support?

Offending text: Hunzeker called the message a “racist and disgusting text.” “This is a new and shameful low in Manatee County politics. This text was completely and absolutely false. It also said that I do not support the Sheriff. That too is a disgusting lie.”

No fingerprints: His primary opponent George Kruse’s campaign also disavowed the consultant Anthony Pedicini said there’s no connection whatsoever to the campaign.

But is there truth?: It’s likely a Hunzeker critic, of course, and it’s notable some opposed to the former county administrator’s election say he was regularly at budget odds with county Sheriff’s every year. But this seems like an expense no one will list explicitly in reports anytime soon.

District debates

Sarasota County will hold the first single-member district elections for County Commission since the 1990s. There will be Republican primaries in both District 1 and District 5. So how has the buildup to primary day come along so far?

Draw: No sitting County Commissioner much favored the switch to district elections, what with all elected countywide voting before. So ahead of this election, the county controversially redrew lines. The Commissioner, who made a motion for the current map, Mike Moran, faces a District 1 Republican primary, so the election may show if these new lines help his ambitions.

Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran will learn if the switch to district elections will work in his favor. Image via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Cost savings? There may genuinely be less money flowing into the races this year. Moran raised about $71,000 ahead of the GOP primary for years ago and through the end of July pulled in closer to $51,000. Opponent Mike Hutchison raised just over $8,000. In the open District 5 race, Ron Cutsinger reports $66,000-plus, and Chris Hanks has more than $21,000.

True test ahead: But the loudest support for single-member districts came from county Democrats, who haven’t won a county commission seat in decades. There are no Democratic primaries Tuesday, so many expect the general to show if this produces a more diverse board.

Sarasota’s races to watch

Another Southwest Florida election shift will be the first City Commission elections in living memory to take place in a November election cycle. Two district-level races take place Aug. 18, and the top two candidates will face off again in November if no one pulls off a majority outright.

District 3: The most likely race to be decided on Aug. 18 is the three-person District 3 election, but all candidates offer something. Erik Arroyo ran for state House District 72 before electing for this low-key contest, but he has resources from his first run. Dan Clermont has rallied support in Arlington Park and boasts ties to business. Rob Grant seems to have emerged as a fave of neighborhoods quickly.

Former House candidate Erik Arroyo is choosing a more lower-profile contest.

District 2: Incumbent Liz Alpert should be the favorite but faces well-known opposition in former City Commissioner Terry Turner and former County Commissioner Joe Barbetta. It wouldn’t be a shock if Alpert failed to make a runoff. There are also wild cards with regular city critic Martin Hyde, finance professional Jerry Wells, and tech CEO Don Patterson who all can shake up expectations.

District 1: The fun in North Sarasota will have to wait, but incumbent Willia Shaw certainly faces a spirited challenge from media personality Kyle Scott Battle. There’s no vote until November, but the heat is already turning up.

Dark campaign rising

A dark-money campaign has been predicted in Seminole County since the County Commission rejected a controversial land development. Commissioners Lee Constantine and Bob Dallari predicted developer and lobbyist Chris Dorworth would come after them in their reelection bids.

— Something’s happening: A group called “Sunshine State Rising” has spent more than $80,000 on advertising, including Orlando TV commercials and social media ads blistering the commissioners over old allegations of sexual harassment and claims on tax increases.

— Misleading claims: Both Constantine and Dallari maintain the claims are misleading if not outright false. WESH-TV reporter Greg Fox debunked an ad against Constantine. Dallari said his lawyer is drafting a cease-and-desist order for the ad about him.

— No clear fingerprints: Dorworth, the former state Representative whose Speaker ambitions were sunk by his own controversies, has acknowledged his desire to destroy Constantine and Dallari for voting against his development, but has admitted to doing nothing. Sunshine State Rising’s money traces to Jacksonville developers.

— Primary elections: Constantine and Dallari face tough Republican primary challenges on August 18 from Longwood City Commissioner Ben Paris and Mayor Matt Morgan, respectively.

— Send a scare: Morgan has vowed to oppose Dorworth’s River Cross development, while Paris hasn’t. But the Sunshine State Rising campaign might not be about Morgan or Paris. Observers believe that if Dorworth or developers want to send a powerful message to the rest of Seminole’s County Commissioners, all they’d have to do is make it look as if they can knock off even one.

Putnam joins Alico

Former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is joining the Board of Directors of Alico, Inc., an agriculture business that is one of the largest citrus growers in the state.

Prominent player: The publicly-traded company about 111,000 acres across eight Florida counties.

More moves: Also named to the board was Pavese Law Firm partner Kate English. Pavese concentrates on agricultural, environmental, and land-use law.

Former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has joined Alico.

Natives: “They are both lifelong Floridians and bring decades of leadership in the area of agriculture as well as other land expertise that are vital to our future operations and strategy,” Alico chair Benjamin Fishman said in a statement.

In the business: Putnam, whose family runs citrus and cattle businesses, remains a chief executive officer of the national group Ducks Unlimited.

Putnam served in both the state House and Congress before becoming Agriculture Commissioner in 2010. In 2018, he lost the Republican gubernatorial primary to then-Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Keep it clean, Tampa

Rep. Jackie Toledo joined forces with Clean the World and Hope on the Horizon Saturday to help about 100 individuals who are homeless or financially struggling to ensure they had hygienic kits to keep them clean.

— “When you think about saving that last dollar, you might not buy toothpaste,” Toledo said: Clean the World partners with hotels to recycle hygienic products that often go to waste after a guest has checked out. Those little shampoo and conditioner bottles wind up in the trash (unless you’re a Chandler who hoards them, of course.)

‘Waste not, want not’ says Jackie Toledo.

Waste not, want not: Clean the World makes sure unused products are safe to distribute and then distributes them to various places where people are in need. Toledo chose Hope on the Horizon to distribute hygiene kits, which include shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. Hope on the Horizon is distributing the kits to people, many veterans, already in its database of clients. 

Even more critical with COVID-19: “Cleanliness is so important,” Toledo reminded. But staying clean in challenging economic times might be hard for some struggling with unemployment or reduced wages.

It all started with a job fair: Toledo and her staff have been holding COVID-19 job fairs throughout her Tampa district to help those who have lost jobs find alternative employment. But it’s hard to get a job without the basic necessities in life, including hygienic products. Toledo said this is just one more way her office can do something simple to solve a major problem, even if it’s one often overlooked. 

Oppenheim celebrates

Rick Oppenheim started his public relations firm in 1985 in his den with a typewriter, a daily run to the local copy shop, $1,000 in the bank, and one employee, himself. No cellphone — they hadn’t been invented yet — and no computer.

Times and technology have changed, and RB Oppenheim Associates, Tallahassee’s oldest continually operating PR firm, celebrates its 35th anniversary this month.

Rick Oppenheim is celebrating a PR milestone.

Oppenheim estimates his company has employed over 97 professionals, 189 student interns, and 33 part-time students over the years while serving more than 300 local, state, regional and national clients.

It was a “pristine” PR venture to start, but clients pushed him to offer a suite of services that ultimately morphed into what is now known as integrated marketing communications.

Now, digital is king. Oppenheim says at least 60% of his current business is related to digital services. In fact, the company is doing well during the coronavirus crisis as clients find they can’t do in-person training, meetings, and annual conferences.

In his words: “Virtual events are becoming a big part of our business right now. In terms of evolution, digital is where we are and where we’re going.”

Brunching out

If you’re missing Sunday brunch at your favorite restaurant, chances are you’re also craving a top-notch bloody mary or a summer-fresh mimosa. If you don’t want to dine at a restaurant, you can still order both brunch and a cocktail to-go at several Tallahassee spots.

Here are five of your prime options for a brunch cocktail, courtesy of TallahasseeTable.

Coosh’s Bayou Rouge: You can add a bloody mary, mimosa, or even a half-gallon of daiquiris along with your brunch at the New Orleans-themed restaurant. The Northeast branch is open for brunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the College Town location is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. 6267 Old Water Oak Road, 850-894-4110; 705 W. Woodward Avenue, 850-597-9505.

Jeri’s Midtown Cafe: Pair your brunch fare with bloody marys, mimosas or containers of red or white sangria or tipsy lemonade. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 1123 Thomasville Road; 850-385-7268.

Jeri’s offers a wide selection of brunch cocktails. Image via TallahsseeTable.

Railroad Square Craft House: You can take home a gallon of cherry limeade sangria as well as other spirits with your weekend brunch. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. brunch Saturday and Sunday. 644 McDonnell Dr.; 850-296-3496.

Sage: A Restaurant: The fine-dining destination features fun cocktails like a charred orange old fashioned, elderflower daiquiri and summery drinks like the Pool Party (with watermelon juice) as well as classics like a bloody mary and sangria. Curbside cocktails can serve four to six people. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Sunday brunch. 3534 Maclay Boulevard; 850-270-9396.

Table 23: Get a complimentary 750ml bottle of Wycliff Champagne and a bottle of either cranberry or orange juice to make your own mimosas at home when you order brunch at the Southern-style restaurant. You can also buy a bottle of wine to go with your meal. Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 1233 Thomasville Road; 850-329-2261.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
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