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Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of October 11, 2020

Florida Latinos feel the love during this election cycle and Republicans are closing the registration gap.

This year taught us something about presidential debates, namely this: They need to be eliminated.

Going forward, stick to the town hall format used Thursday night by both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. We got a much better snapshot of the candidates this time than the first debate.

That one was better suited for pro ‘rasslin.

The only problem was that both events were scheduled opposite each other. I channel flipped.

OK, I might have strayed to the Tampa Bay Rays game occasionally.

Forgive me.

Here’s another suggestion: Declare Savannah Guthrie and George Stephanopoulos the permanent debate hosts. They may not want the job.

But come on, do it for America.

Guthrie got the headline of the night with her persistent questions to Trump about his conspiracy cravings. She zeroed in on our visitors from the Planet Zortron, known hereabouts as QAnon.

“I just don’t know about QAnon,” Trump said, even though he retweets its, ahem, “theories” with frightening persistence.

Wait a second.

He doesn’t know about QAnon but he is an expert on Antifa.

Interesting.

We return to our regularly scheduled critique.

Guthrie didn’t give up.

“Can you just once and for all state that is completely not true and disavow QAnon in its entirety?” she asked.

A strange answer followed.

“What I do hear about it is they are very strongly against pedophilia,” Trump said. “I agree with that. I do agree with that.”

Pedophilia: bad!

Way to take a stand!

Somewhere Mike Pence threw up in his mouth at that answer.

Give praise to those in the audience who got face time to ask questions of the candidates. They are real people seeking real-life answers from their leaders.

That was a major upgrade from the screaming and bulging eyeballs of the first debate.

NBC took some heat for giving Trump free national TV time after he canceled the scheduled debate with Biden. Scheduling it opposite Biden’s town hall forced viewers to choose. A reasonable guess is that most people chose to watch the candidate they prefer.

Inadvertently, though, we may have stumbled upon the remedy for the freak show we saw in the first debate.

Of course, maybe that will cure itself after Trump exits the national stage, whether in January 2021 or in four years.

Addendum: The two candidates meet for the final time on Thursday, Oct. 22.

OK, it’s time for our weekly game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Bobby Bowden. Florida State’s legendary football coach scored a bigger victory than his two national championships. At age 90, Bowden went home after a 10-day stay at Tallahassee Memorial Health Care to treat COVID-19.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported Bowden’s symptoms included fever, loss of appetite, and a deep cough.

“Stay away from it, don’t test it because it’s no fun. No. 1 for me was a loss of appetite. I didn’t want to eat anything,” he told the Democrat. “But now I have my hunger back and (am) feeling pretty good.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Florida GOP voter surge. Democrats have long held the edge in the number of registered voters in Florida, but that might not last much longer.

Republicans narrowed the gap to 134,242, a pickup of more than 129,000 since the 2018 midterms. Statistically, the difference is less than 1% out of Florida’s 14.065 million registered voters.

That’s potentially ominous news for Democrats and their hope to flip Florida blue in November. Even with a large registration advantage over the years, they have had little success in statewide elections.

The real battle is for the hearts, minds, and votes of the state’s 3.6 million people with no party affiliation.

Oh, and these folks too.

The biggest winner: Florida Latino voters. They should be feeling the love like never before in this presidential election cycle. Both major parties want to be their best friends.

What’s at stake?

Oh, just about everything.

Latinos make up about 17% of the state’s voters. They will have a major impact on which candidate wins Florida, which in turn could propel that person to the White House, or out of it.

Mike Bloomberg’s Latino Victory Fund spent $2.4 million on digital ads, urging Latinos to A) vote, and B) vote for Biden.

Both Biden and Trump invested much time and money in Central Florida, focusing on the large Puerto Rican community around Sanford. Biden’s campaign also purchased an ad blitz on TV stations in Puerto Rico.

Even though people who live on that island can’t vote, the stations are carried by some Spanish-language cable systems in Orlando and Miami.

Trump, meanwhile, keeps telling Cuban voters in Miami that Biden is a socialist. That resonates deeply with those who escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

“It’s about patriotism. If you love America, you hate socialism. And with Democrats moving toward a socialist agenda, that’s what’s got so many Cubans and other immigrants supporting Trump,” Nelson Diaz, chair of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, told Politico.

“They’re not supporting him necessarily. They’re supporting America.”

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Dan Mullen. The University of Florida football coach is feeling awfully chastened.

He should be.

Just a week ago, after the Gators lost at Texas A&M, a frustrated Mullen asked UF officials to allow full capacity at Florida’s home field.

“Pack the Swamp” is how he put it.

It sounded ridiculous then, and even more so after Florida had to postpone today’s scheduled game at the Swamp with LSU.

We know why, of course.

 Gov. Ron DeSantis recently moved Florida into full-fledged reopening known as Phase 3. Almost on cue, COVID-19 cases spiked.

Several Gators players and coaches were infected.

Mullen apologized and said he will let doctors take the lead on how many fans should be admitted to Gator home games.

“I certainly apologize if I offended people,” he said.

Late Saturday afternoon, Mullen confirmed that – yeah – he tested positive for the virus.

“I’m continuing to self-isolate from my family, who all remain healthy, and am following all the guidelines set forth by UF Health, the CDC and our public health officials,” he said.

“I am proud of how our players, staff, and campus community have navigated this unprecedented time and hope all continue to be safe.”

Mullen is a terrific football coach, but stay in your lane, ‘bro.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: University of South Florida College of Education. When academics use words like “reimagining” to describe a program, hold onto your backside.

But that’s how Interim Dean Judith A. Ponticell spun the announcement that USF will phase out the undergraduate programs in the College of Education. It will convert to a graduate school.

“We are strategically reimagining and reconfiguring Education at USF,” Ponticell said as part of a 43-word sentence in a letter to faculty announcing the move.

It will save about $7 million over two years. But the cost to education in the area may be far greater.

USF is a major pipeline for students in the area to learn the craft of teaching. In Pasco County, for instance, the Tampa Bay Times reported that nearly 1,900 out of approximately 5,000 teachers received degrees from USF.

“We depend upon USF’s undergraduate program to fill our teaching needs,” Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego told the Times. “I was certainly extremely disappointed to hear about the plans.”

The biggest loser: Jose Oliva. Well, the Florida House Speaker certainly isn’t going quietly into that good night of his political life. With less than three weeks left in office before he leaves because of term limits, Oliva had sharp words to go with a Florida Department of Health report about COVID-19.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that of 13,920 reported deaths as of Sept. 23, and 11,460 listed COVID-19 as the underlying cause. That’s 82%.

Others listed COVID-19 as a factor in the death.

In a memo, Oliva trolled that data from medical examiners are “often lacking in rigor.” That, he said, “undermines the completeness and reliability of the death records.”

“Precision in data is imperative, not just for proper decision-making, but also for public confidence and consistency of response,” he said.

Florida Republicans have tried to downplay the scale of the virus infection and deaths since the pandemic exploded out of control. Heading into the weekend, 15,829 deaths in the state have been attributed to COVID-19.

Oliva’s jab elicited this response to the Sentinel from Dr. Joshua Stephany, chief medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties: “Number one, I don’t need a politician to tell me how to do my job.”

He added, “When you’re dealing with the numbers that we’re dealing with, I just think it’s ridiculous and being nitpicky. Do you think the Census is correct? There’s no way that the Census is 100% accurate. You’re never going to get anything 100%.”

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Albert

    October 18, 2020 at 6:10 am

    Glad Donald Trump has now taken a position on pedophilia. He certainly did his research palling around with Jeffrey Epstein.

  2. S B ANTHONY

    October 18, 2020 at 7:02 am

    Joe, your articles are great. You need a wider audience.

  3. Ron Ogden

    October 18, 2020 at 8:41 am

    The doctor complains about a politician telling him how to do his job. Ummmm. . .what are doctors doing every day but telling politicians what to do–and failing miserably at it, I might add.
    The doctor needs to keep a civil tongue in his head about the people who represent Florida and, in the end, have the duty and bear the responsibility for setting public policy. By the way, as long as we are talking about “professionals”, where do the “opinion makers” fit in? Don’t get me started.

  4. tjb

    October 18, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Ron,

    I have my money on the wisdom of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other Drs that are experts on epidemiology. Without them, we will be drinking bleach. Trump’s policies and attitude toward COVID-19 has killed too many Americans and Florida unnecessarily. We have a serial killer in the White House.

  5. Joe Fatala

    October 18, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    You forgot the biggest loser: The Sociopath in Chief in the White House. Get ready to spend time in the slammer, draft dodger.

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