The appearance of report cards made to look like grades from Donald Trump’s campaign has Southwest Florida politics agitated.
Fliers showing the candidate grades from Team Trump 2020 Florida angered campaigns denoted with F grades. The concern isn’t the accusation of lack of loyalty to the President; that’s become the universal vernacular of primary season in a presidential election year.
Rather, it’s the electioneering language from a group not registered as a political committee in the state of Florida. And it implies a relationship with Trump that seems not to exist.
An example of the fliers circulating around Cape Coral shows grades in a local House and Senate race. In House District 77, it gives Mike Giallombardo an A and Bryan Blackwell an F. In Senate District 27, it gives Ray Rodrigues an A and Heather Fitzenhagen an F. But what those grades are based upon is unclear.
In the afternoon, a picture of grades issued statewide by the group could be found on Team Trump 2020 Florida’s Facebook page, which also notably has a disclaimer the group is not affiliated with any candidates. The report card later disappeared but could be found using a Google archive search.
As far an explanation of grades, an A supposedly marks a “Solidly Pro-Trump candidate. A candidate who has supported President Trump on key votes in elective office or a candidate with a demonstrated record of support of President Trump’s agenda.” An F, on the other hand, means a candidate “requested and received the endorsement or financial support of Anti Trump or #NeverTrump politicians or groups.” But there’s no other details.
The Blackwell camp found the flyers infuriating.
“Creating a fake Trump Organization is fraud,” said Anthony Pedicini, Blackwell’s political consultant.
Notably, the organization issued grades around the state but it is in Southwest Florida where race specific fliers started to surface— at least so far. And there’s a significant number of A-versus-F contests in the region.
The respective grades were issued to Adam Botana (A) and Jason Maughan (F), candidates in House District 76. The same breakdown was found for Ned Hancock (A) and Kaylee Tuck (F) in House District 55. Grades were also given to Jenna Persons (A) and Roger Lolly (F) in House District 78; minor candidate Charlie Lynch was given a B there.
At least in Pedicini’s case, he smelled foul play by a particular player. The flyers attacking Blackwell coincidentally promote two candidates, Rodrigues and Giallombardo, using the same campaign manager, Terry Miller.
For his part, Miller said he has nothing to do with the flyers.
“I had nothing to do with it and no idea about it,” he said. “I heard about it and saw it, but it wasn’t anything that came from us.”
Miller said he’s not shy about using his own political committee, Just The Facts, to fund attack mailers, as he did against Blackwell recently.
But he also said trying to disguise attacks as connected to pro-Trump groups isn’t new. In fact, a committee named Trump Committee PC funded mailers calling Giallombardo a Never Trumper, highlighting years-old Facebook messages of the candidate trashing the now-President.
But Pedicini isn’t buying it. First off, Trump Committee PC is a registered Political Committee with the Division of Elections, chaired by Lakewood Ranch activist Steve Vernon and following campaign finance laws. But he believes Miller was part of this new campaign.
“Terry Miller paid thousands of dollars to Annie Marie Delgado to put that mailer out. It’s a sham,” Pedicini said.
It’s not a useful comparison anyway as the ‘Trump Team’ A-rated Giallombardo is the one with a record of criticizing Trump, he suggested.
“Mike Giallombardo is a documented Never Trumper having stated the President is like Hitler. Terry has run one of the most remarkably dishonest campaigns I’ve seen in 20 years, bringing in a teenage charge on Blackwell to muddy up the waters in this primary.”
Delgado, for what it’s worth seems to be the sole power behind the ‘Trump Team’ group. She’s listed online as its President. A contact number appearing on the Facebook page goes to her phone; she did not return calls from Florida Politics. The page itself contains photos dating back years of Delgado with Trump.
The former Palm Beach Gardens Councilwoman founded the group last year as a grassroots organizing effort for Trump’s reelection, The Palm Beach Post reported in March. But it formed as a limited liability corporation, not a political committee
The report card issued by the group makes endorsements in 11 different Congressional races, three Senate contests, 12 House primaries and three local offices. In a dozen races, endorsed candidates including U.S. Rep. Bill Posey and Indian River Sheriff candidate Rich Rosell (whose name is misspelled) are the only candidates graded, despite facing Republican primary opposition. In others, there’s a range of candidates with grades, some close and some not.