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With one week to go until Florida’s statewide Primary, most members of Florida’s congressional delegation were more visible in the Sunshine State than in Washington.
In part, it’s because, during a redistricting year, every incumbent seeking re-election in Florida faces opposition in either the Primary or the General — and, in many cases, both.
House members facing intraparty challenges Aug. 23 include Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Kat Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Byron Donalds, Scott Franklin, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Giménez, Brian Mast, John Rutherford, María Elvira Salazar, Michael Waltz and Daniel Webster and Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
With all that intraparty fire, it may be no surprise many found themselves on the campaign trail. Waltz could be found in Marion County campaigning alongside state Rep. Joe Harding and shaking hands with Ocala voters. Castor, meanwhile, has been keeping track of local straw polls. Neither appear to be in danger nor do they seem willing to leave the race to chance.
Cherfilus-McCormick, who won the Democratic Primary in a Special Election less than a year ago by just five votes, could be seen distributing school books and speaking at graduation ceremonies. Hers is one of many districts with enough of a partisan lean that any genuine political threat will not come in August, though Republican Drew Montez-Clark has filed to face who wins the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 20th Congressional District.
In fact, while swing seats are an increasing rarity even in the Sunshine State, nearly every district in Florida will host a general election contest this year. Only Rutherford’s seat, Florida’s 5th Congressional District under the new map, will avoid any action come November. That means delegation members looking for a return to Washington may need to spend a good amount of time in Florida in their home districts for the next couple of months, though many will certainly want to spend time helping other members of their partisan caucuses win seats.
Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, isn’t running for another term in Florida’s 10th Congressional District but has stepped up campaigning, nonetheless. While a clear front-runner in a Democratic Primary, she does face three Democratic Primary opponents next Tuesday before she can devote herself fully to a challenge against Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio in a nationally watched General Election battle.
And while St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist isn’t seeking re-election this year, he’s busy running in a Democratic Primary against Agriculture Nikki Fried to see who gets the chance to challenge Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in November.
Florida’s citrus industry and bipartisan members of the congressional delegation scored a win with an Agriculture Department decision. Months after suspending enforcement of quality standards for imported grapefruit, the USDA will begin once again enforcing juice content maturity requirements.
Sens. Rubio and Rick Scott co-led a letter in December, along with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, calling for reconsideration on suspending standards in the first place. Rubio praised the change, of course, announced Friday by the USDA. But the episode clearly left a bitter taste for the Senator.
“The USDA’s failure to protect Florida grapefruit growers during last year’s harvest season is inexcusable. Not only did it harm the local economy, but it threatened to undermine America’s food security,” he said. “While I am glad the USDA will finally enforce these standards to ensure low-quality grapefruit does not flood the market, our growers need lasting certainty. I remain committed to holding USDA to its word to issue a lasting marketing order.”
A Texas A&M University study released in November showed more than 85% of grapefruit shipped across the Mexican border in September and October last year should have been rejected were standards being enforced.
A number of Representatives from agriculture states, including 12 Republicans and three Democrats in the Florida delegation, has called on the USDA to begin patrolling fruit once again.
As Scott continues to demand transparency — and, more recently, accountability — regarding a raid of former President Donald Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago, outrage has continued to grow regarding the Senator’s rhetoric.
Scott initially compared a judicially approved search warrant being served at Trump’s Florida home to the actions of Nazis. “The way our federal government has gone it’s like what we have thought about the Gestapo and people like that, they just go after people,” Scott told Fox Business. “What we thought about the Soviet Union. Look at Latin America.”
Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Co-Chair of the delegation, immediately balked. “To compare the serving of a search warrant authorized by a Federal judge and the Justice Department to conduct by Nazi secret police who directed the deportation of Jews to ghettos, concentration camps, and mass murder sites is not just factually errant and irresponsible, it is repulsive,” the Jewish Congresswoman tweeted.
The comments also drew rebukes from Holocaust awareness groups including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Nazism represented a singular evil that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews and the persecution and deaths of millions of others for racial and political reasons,” the museum said in a statement critiquing all elected officials making similar similes. “Comparing contemporary situations to Nazism is not only offensive to its victims, but it is also inaccurate and misrepresents both Holocaust history and the present. The Holocaust should be remembered, studied, and understood so that we can learn its lessons; it should not be exploited for opportunistic purposes.
Florida Politics obtained a video showing what appears to be two security guards with Demings’ Senate campaign pushing a man to the ground at a meet-and-greet event in Mims. Demings, the Democrat likely facing Rubio in November, met with supporters at Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park, but security blocked the individual from entering.
Based on dialogue captured on video, the individual appeared to be a video tracker who regularly follows the campaign. A clip shows two security guards, one shouting “don’t do it,” before the man is pushed down to the ground on the street.
Another security staffer says: “You can’t get up. Stay down.”
“What are you doing?” the pushed man asked. Clearly surprised, he uses an expletive before questioning guards again to ask why they are taking such action.
Demings officials stood by the security team’s handling of the campaign tracker.
“Security officials take potential threats and threatening behavior toward the Chief seriously,” said Christian Slater, Communications Director for the Demings campaign. “In this instance, the individual did not respond to multiple requests to leave and charged at security personnel in pursuit of Chief Demings’ approaching vehicle.”
The guards shown look to be employees of Ardent Protection, a company hired by Demings’ campaign.
To watch the incident video, please click on the image below:
Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert visited the Florida Panhandle to help a fellow cable fixture on the trail, as Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz held a campaign event in Crestview.
“It’s an honor to visit the great people of Northwest Florida with Matt Gaetz!” the Congresswoman tweeted, alongside photos of the event and the hashtag #RINOhunters.
Gaetz later posted a picture from a gun shop with Boebert, where the two held a short town-hall-style event. “WE THE PEOPLE will not see our rights infringed,” Gaetz tweeted. “Thank you, Lauren Boebert, for campaigning with me at Gulf Coast Guns in Milton today!”
The two controversy-courting members of Congress posed for several pictures with AR-15s in hand and supporters not much farther.
Gaetz faces a challenge from Mark Lombardo, who in recent days has run ads comparing the incumbent Congressperson to infamous sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. The Republicans appear on an Aug. 23 Republican Primary ballot, along with Greg Merk, in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.
A PAC headed by Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack issued a fresh round of endorsements for House races around the country. The American GRIT PAC announced support for eight candidates around the country who fit the mission to “elect, mentor, and prepare hardworking conservative patriots to serve in Congress.”
“Election Day is just 85 days away, and I’m thrilled to announce the next round of endorsements for American GRIT PAC. The eight candidates included in this bunch of endorsements are energized and ready to take the House back at a critical time for our nation,” Cammack said.
“It’s no secret that the American people are ready for new leaders in Washington, D.C. as failed one-party rule has created the disastrous recession, skyrocketing inflation, surging crime crisis, catastrophe at our southern border, and beyond. We know it’s going to take dedicated, thoughtful representatives to stop the nonsense and fire (Nancy) Pelosi once and for all. These eight candidates have the grit necessary to win this fight, and I’m proud to support them.”
New endorsees include Republicans Scott Baugh of California, April Becker of Nevada, Juan Ciscomani of Arizona, Regan Deering of Illinois, Russell Fry of South Carolina, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert of Ohio, Barbara Kirkmeyer of Colorado, and Yesli Vega of Virginia.
Orlando area Democrats Demings, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto announced federal grants to support public transit in Central Florida. Funding includes $16.1 million for LYNX and an additional $6.5 million in support for the Florida Department of Transportation to use on the expansion of low-emission transit in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.
“Central Florida is one of America’s fastest-growing regions and is also one of the most susceptible to the consequences of climate change,” said Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat. “These funds will help reduce our carbon footprint while delivering world-class infrastructure that will help boost long-term economic growth.”
Soto called this another success from an infrastructure package passed last year as a priority of the Joe Biden administration.
“Our great state of Florida continues to see the benefits of the Infrastructure Law in our transportation,” Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, said. “Thanks to these federal funds, LYNX and the Florida Department of Transportation will have the opportunity to improve facilities and focus on lowering pollution as we fight climate change. I am proud to have worked with Reps. Demings and Murphy to secure these grants for Central Floridians and look forward to seeing the future of our region’s transit fleet.”
Demings offered the grants as evidence of the work that can be done when lawmakers work across the aisle.
“I joined Republicans and Democrats to pass the bipartisan infrastructure act because Orlando’s economy depends on our travel infrastructure,” she said. “When Central Florida’s residents and visitors can get where they need to go easily, quickly, and safely, it helps our families and our community to grow. I’m proud to announce these new federal transportation grants that will expand low-emission transportation that keeps our air clean, keeps our communities healthy, and reduces traffic and congestion. This will help fuel our community’s continued economic growth and keep us moving.”
Legislation providing benefits for disabled veterans that had controversially been denied a committee hearing could move straight to the floor.
Palm Harbor Republican Bilirakis announced there are enough co-sponsors on the Major Richard Star Act (HR 1282) to fast-track the legislation. House rules allow bills with a certain level of broad bipartisan support to skip committees. Bilirakis co-introduced this legislation with California Democrat Raul Ruiz, and the two have pulled in 290 co-sponsors, qualifying the bill for a floor vote.
If signed, the legislation would require medically retired veterans to receive their full retirement pay and disability compensation. It’s named after a soldier who died of cancer in February 2021 after being medically retired.
“The brave men and women who return from serving our country should be able to receive the benefits promised to them. Military retirement pay and service-connected disability compensation are two completely different benefits. One does not diminish the merits of the other,” Bilirakis said.
“I am committed to rectifying this injustice for all Veterans, and passage of the Major Richard Star Act will get us one step closer to our goal of ensuring that Veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.”
One year later
It’s now been more than a year since the Taliban retook Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and Sarasota Republican Greg Steube still feels enraged.
“America is just as angered and frustrated at Joe Biden’s disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal today as we were the day it occurred,” Steube said in a statement marking the anniversary of the “fall of Kabul.”
“Over the last year, Biden and his incompetent administration have tried every way possible to escape accountability. We’ve seen the State Department obstruct the independent, congressionally mandated oversight of the withdrawal. Secretary (Antony) Blinken can’t seem to get a number straight on how many Americans are still stranded without U.S. assistance. To further our frustrations, we recently learned al-Qaida has reemerged in Afghanistan.”
Steube, who joined the Army after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, called for Biden to resign over the mismanagement of the withdrawal. He said he expects many voters to remain incensed.
“We won’t stop working until every question is answered, every American is safe at home, every piece of U.S. equipment is recovered or destroyed, and the Biden administration is held fully accountable for their dereliction of duty,” Steube said.
Brightline has earned the distinction of having the most deaths per mile of any other U.S. railroad, so the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is pulling to the rescue.
South Florida Democrats Cherfilus-McCormick and Wasserman Schultz, and Republican Díaz-Balart, joined locals such as Broward County Mayor Mike Udine and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in Fort Lauderdale to hail the award of $25 million in a federal grant to make things a little safer.
With $10 million from the state and another $10 million from Brightline, a total of $45 million will pay for added fencing to keep pedestrians away, 170 more suicide prevention signs and 150 warning signs. The money will also support more crossing delineators and other equipment to keep motorists out of the trains’ danger zones to dissuade motorists from trying to beat the high-speed trains.
“We want Brightline to be in the news for all the right reasons,” Wasserman Schultz said, according to The Associated Press.
Brightline began its South Florida segment, from West Palm Beach to Miami, in 2018, with the expectation it would be a 320-mile passenger rail route connecting Miami to Tampa by 2028. Florida East Coast Railway shares the tracks and stations are currently being added in Aventura and Boca Raton. An expansion to Orlando is expected to be completed by 2023.
But it’s been bedeviled by cars trying to beat the train after the gates come down and suicidal pedestrians.
“This is a big day and we’re dealing with a very big deal,” said Diaz-Balart, who serves with Wasserman Schultz on the House Appropriations Committee. “What Brightline is doing and what they’ve done is a national model.”
Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene may not have any committee assignments, but she’s becoming a coveted campaign trail presence for congressional hopefuls. She will campaign in the coming days for Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Anthony Sabatini and St. Petersburg Republican Anna Paulina Luna, the respective campaigns announced.
Sabatini, a state lawmaker running in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, announced Greene will speak in support of his candidacy at an America First Rally in Volusia County. Details are still pending.
“I want to pack our venue with America-First patriots who want to DESTROY the deep state this November,” Sabatini said in a mailer announcing the rally.
Both Sabatini and Greene brand themselves as Donald Trump-style Christian nationalists. Sabatini controversially headlined a nationalist convention in Tampa. Greene recently made headlines for openly embracing the term as “nothing to be ashamed of.”
She formally endorsed Sabatini, who faces a crowded field of Republicans aiming to flip CD 7 red.
Luna announced Greene and Kimberly Guilfoyle, fiancee to Donald Trump Jr., will speak at a campaign event Aug. 19.
Like Sabatini, Luna faces a field of Republicans running for the seat. An Aug. 23 Republican Primary will determine the nominees for both CD 7 and CD 13.
The Republican National Committee chose Doral to hold its first-ever Republican Civics Initiative training course. The class will teach lawful permanent residents of the U.S. about civics to prepare them for naturalization exams.
The first course, covered by The Economist, graduated 40 individuals. Julie Friedland, a spokesperson for the RNC, said the program will help the party engage potential new voters.
It’s also a play for Florida Hispanic voters, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc where the GOP hopes to make inroads.
“As Democrat complacency in Florida grows, Republicans are working that much harder to meet voters wherever they are,” Friedland said.
On this day
Aug. 16, 1777 — “Americans win Bennington Battle, turn Revolutionary Way” via National Today — The battle was fought in Walloomsac, New York, just 10 miles northwest of Bennington. It became the beginning of the Saratoga Campaign, the most decisive battle in the war. Though it took place in New York, the encounter took the name ‘Bennington Battle’ because the British army was headed to Bennington, Vermont, to plunder military supplies and ammunition. Since, this time, the Americans arrived with a superior preparation, defeating Britain, and winning the battle. At least 700 British soldiers were captured and 207 died.
Aug. 16, 2014 — “Missouri declares state of emergency in Ferguson” via the USA Today — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in Ferguson, Missouri, following nights of protests after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. “If we’re going to have justice, we must first have and maintain peace,” Nixon said. “The eyes of the world are watching.” Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol says the curfew will run from midnight to 5 a.m. local time Sunday and will be enforced through conversations, not tear gas and tanks.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.