A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

‘Contest of ideas’: Matt Caldwell wants debates in Ag Comm’r race

If Republican nominee for Agriculture Commissioner Matt Caldwell gets his way, he will have a two-debate “contest of ideas” with Democrat Nikki Fried.

However, the two can’t agree on when and where to debate.

“Florida’s future is at stake this November. Will we continue the low tax, pro-jobs policies that have brought prosperity to Florida, or will we reverse course with policies that raise taxes by over a billion dollars and kill jobs? Those decisions will have a profound effect on Florida’s future,” Caldwell wrote to Fried Friday.

“We are very different candidates, with very different track records, running on very different policy platforms. I propose that this be more than the two candidates settling into fixed ideological positions or descending into partisan bickering. These debates should be meaningful and substantive and offer voters our visions for Florida’s future,” Caldwell added.

The idea of “track records” soon came up in Fried’s messaging. She called attention to reportage of the NRA’s Marion Hammer‘s strong influence over the office under Adam Putnam, calling Caldwell “another NRA sellout” who “chose not to investigate the failures and corruption of the concealed weapons permitting system” while serving as Chair of the House Government Accountability Committee.

Beyond that issue, expect non-traditional issues in Ag Commissioner races to come up, including the cannabis industry.

Caldwell, who helped to write the 2014 Charlotte’s Web legislation, believes that cannabis should be rescheduled to allow more federal research (even as he does not believe a medicine can be smoked). Fried, a cannabis lobbyist who advocates smokable and legalized adult-use variants of the substance, has been frustrated by banks being unwilling to handle her campaign contributions because they are tainted with the verboten herb.

One debate Caldwell proposed would be in Miami, on CBS-4 moderated by Jim DeFede. The second debate is more open, with “several invitations from interested parties.”

However, Fried spox Max Flugrath notes that in the last week, Fried agreed to two dates, but “on both, the Caldwell campaign declined any availability.”

Flugrath reiterated Fried’s question for Caldwell regarding why he “chose not to investigate the failures and corruption of the concealed weapons permitting system, and explain to voters why he opposed and obstructed the medical marijuana amendment that 71% of Floridians supported.”

Caldwell is slowly replenishing his campaign coffers after an expensive primary. With $157,000 of new money between Sept. 8 and 14 for his “Friends of Matt Caldwell” political committee to add to the nearly $200,000 he had on hand, the Fort Myers state Rep. is well positioned against Fried, who has roughly $100,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 14.

Recent polling shows Fried up two points on Caldwell (inside the margin of error); however, it is possible that the resource disparity between the two campaigns may impact future surveys.

Buying ads, but Tracye Polson still holds money lead in HD 15

In the competitive race to replace Jay Fant in Westside Jacksonville’s House District 15, Democrat Tracye Polson is starting to spend her nest egg, but still holds a big cash lead over Republican Wyman Duggan.

Polson raised $14,143 and spent $59,583 between Sept. 1 and 14, giving her a total of $100,000 left in hard money.

Most of that money was spent on media: SnyderPickerill Media Group out of Chicago got over $14,000 for “production costs,” and an additional $42,000+ went to media buy.

Per her Wikipedia, Terrie Pickerill cites Obama alum David Axelrod as a mentor, and that mainstream Democratic feel can be seen in Polson’s television ad,

The Polson spot contrasts Duggan’s career as a lobbyist with Polson’s advocacy for students and law enforcement.

The Duggan side noted the attack in the ad, and expect them to respond in kind.

Polson also got $33,125 in in-kind contributions from the Florida Democratic Party, a number defrayed by $25,000 moved to the FDP from Polson’s Better Jacksonville political committee. That committee has $16,000 on it.

Duggan is still far behind Polson in cash on hand, even as he’s gaining momentum after a fractious primary.

Between Sept. 1 and 14, Duggan raised $21,250, a muscular haul from just 21 contributions.

Among the Duggan donors: PHRMA, Palm Beach Kennel Club, Free Markets Florida (a committee involving state Reps. Travis Cummings, Manny Diaz, and Ray Rodrigues), Floridians for Economic Freedom (a committee aligned with Associated Industries of Florida), Florida Patriot Fund (a committee tied to Rep. Halsey Beshears), Florida Foundation for Liberty (a Rep. Paul Renner committee).

Ahead of the primary, 76 percent of Duggan’s money came from outside the district. What’s clear is that in the general, the Republicans in Tallahassee are rallying behind Duggan. Even as the local buy-in may be proving elusive.

The only in-district donation: $250 from Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love.

He will need more rallying still.  Duggan has under $23,000 on hand, putting him well behind Polson’s $116,000+.

Good news for Lenny Curry: Jacksonville unemployment down to 3.5 percent

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry faces re-election in six months, and if August job numbers mean anything, the well-capitalized Republican incumbent should breeze through.

The Jacksonville MSA’s unemployment rate sits at 3.5 percent, down from 4.2 percent a year ago.

And that’s way down from near-term historical heights of over 11 percent in 2010.

When Curry came into office in July 2015, the unemployment rate sat at 6.4 percent. The region has added 20,900 jobs over the last year, with leisure/hospitality and professional services leading the growth sectors.

Over the last year, the only sector to show decline is wholesale trade, which shed 800 workers since Aug. 2017.

Senate candidate works ‘Words With Friends’ into fundraising pitch

A creative fundraising appeal may help bolster Democrat Billee Bussard‘s campaign against well-funded incumbent Republican Aaron Bean in northeast Florida’s Senate District 4.

Bussard, a 73-year-old veteran journalist, had $5,000 on hand at the end of August.

But she offered an unusual story on her Facebook page, one that would only make sense in the world of random games of “Words With Friends,” the Scrabble-like game that took off as smartphones did almost a decade ago.

Bussard has a regular opponent that she has difficulty defeating: 22 wins in over 300 games.

Finally, over conversation during one of these games, she divulged that she was running for Senate … and he divulged that he was a Jacksonville resident, and “practically neighbors.”

All of this set up a fundraising pitch.

“Hey, all you #WordsWithFriends soul mates, how about kicking in a small donation (or a big one) to my campaign so I don’t have to work so hard raising money in this final stretch to turn the Florida Senate blue.”

Bean, who survived a primary, is well-fortified with cash: Over $200,000 on hand at the end of August.

It remains to be seen whether #WordsWithFriends is a fundraising draw. Just like on the board itself, there is an element of luck of the tiles.

Bobby Payne brings the money for re-election bid

State Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican representing House District 19, has amassed what looks to be a prohibitive cash advantage against Democratic challenger Paul Still.

Payne’s last two reporting periods have been strong — between Aug. 24 and Sept. 14, he raised a total of $30,325.

Of that sum, $21,025 was raised Aug. 24-31, from 62 individual contributions. Among the donors: Putnam County Sheriff Gator DeLoach and various regional Chamber of Commerce groups.

The district covers Bradford, Putnam and Union counties, and part of Clay County.

The Sept. 1-14 period brought in $9,300, with corporate interests signaling approval. Among those donors: Duke Energy PAC, Comcast, U.S. Sugar, and PHRMA.

Payne has raised $144,871 in all and has over $131,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, Still — an elected Supervisor for the Bradford County Soil and Water Conservation Board — has not seemed to get traction.

He brought in $460 for Aug. 24-Sept. 14. He has just over $5,000 on hand, an amount covered by a personal loan at the campaign launch.

HD 19 has a GOP plurality. Of its 99,647 voters, 44,804 are registered Republican. An additional 36,250 voters are Democrats, with the rest lacking party affiliation or belonging to various third parties.

Jeb Bush, Richard Corcoran laud Ron DeSantis’ education policy

Republican nominee for Governor Ron DeSantis rolled out an education policy this week that wasn’t too different from that of dispatched primary rival Adam Putnam, with emphasis on school choice (charter schools) and vocational training.

As yet another signal of DeSantis being embraced by establishment Republicans, his campaign on Thursday rolled out a list of endorsements for his education policy.

Primary among them are former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose eight years in Tallahassee stressed educational reform and who was the last conservative defender of Common Core, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who abandoned his own gubernatorial ambitions and backed Putnam in the primary.

Bush said “DeSantis’ education policies will prepare Florida students to succeed in the competitive 21st century global economy. He understands that transforming our schools into a world-class education system requires bold reforms, and he is the only candidate with a plan to ensure Florida continues to lead the nation in raising student achievement.”

He added: “Ron is a fighter who will work tirelessly to ensure every student has access to a high quality education, and I am proud to endorse his education plan.”

The Bush imprimatur is interesting here, given the former Governor spent a good portion of his 2016 presidential run explaining away his own backing of Common Core. DeSantis, of course, wants to end Common Core.

No less interesting is Corcoran’s full-throated endorsement of the DeSantis plan. Corcoran, who called DeSantis “visionless” just this summer, now believes DeSantis offers “bold education policy.”

“Ron DeSantis will work to ensure that our tax dollars will be prioritized to reduce teacher shortages and reward great teachers with great salaries, not to funding wasteful education bureaucracy,” Corcoran vowed.

Corcoran’s wife is on a charter board, according to the Tampa Bay Times, as is Erika Donalds, the wife of state Rep. Byron Donalds, who also lauded the plan.

Rep. Donalds, a Naples Republican, asserts that DeSantis’ plan shows he is “committed to ensuring that the children of Florida have the best education in the country.”

“His policy will expand vocational and technical programs to teach real-world skills to students and help them prepare for the jobs of the 21st century,” DeSantis said. “I have always supported school choice and increasing opportunities for all Florida’s students and I am proud to stand by Ron DeSantis for Governor.”

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., running in a tough race for state Senate in Miami-Dade, likewise lauded the plan. Diaz, the chief operating officer of charter school-affiliated Doral College, claimed DeSantis would work “to expand school choice in our state.”

The DeSantis plan also is endorsed by incoming GOP House Speaker Jose Oliva, who did not mention charter schools explicitly. Oliva endorsed DeSantis back in June.

“He has made it clear that he will always stand with students and their parents over bureaucracy and special interests when it comes to the education of Florida’s children,” Oliva said. “Ron DeSantis is committed to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to get a quality education, regardless of their circumstance. I have no doubt that Ron DeSantis will work tirelessly to make Florida’s education system the very best it can be.”

Ashey Moody

Crossing the aisle: Democratic sheriffs endorse GOP’s Ashley Moody for A.G.

In the bare-knuckled GOP primary race for Attorney General, former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody played up law enforcement backing to distinguish herself from opponents.

Now the nominee, Moody continues to bank law enforcement endorsements — including from the other side of the aisle.

Moody’s campaign rolled out a list Thursday of 14 more sheriffs endorsing her, including eight Democrats from rural counties, bringing her total to 57. Florida has 67 counties.

The Democrats:

— Glades County’s David Hardin

— Dixie’s Dewey Hatcher

— Lafayette’s Brian Lamb

— DeSoto’s James Potter

— Hamilton’s J. Harrell Reid

— Jackson’s Louis Roberts III

— Suwannee’s Sam St. John

— Liberty’s Eddie Joe White

Democratic endorsements suggest that Moody will draw votes from Blue Dog Democrats as well as Republicans in her race against the Democratic nominee, state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa.

Of all the Cabinet candidates, Moody seems to be the one best-positioned to overcome a potential Blue Wave. The latest survey by St. Pete’s Polls shows Moody up two points over Shaw, a 46-44 margin.

Mike Waltz up 5 points over Nancy Soderberg in new CD 6 poll

A new survey from St. Pete Polls finds Republican Mike Waltz building a lead against Democrat Nancy Soderberg in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The auto-dial poll of 981 likely voters shows that Waltz, a former Green Beret and counterterrorism adviser for former Vice President Dick Cheney, is leading Soderberg, a Clinton-era Ambassador to the United Nations, by five points (48-43) — outside the 3.6 point margin of error.

Both candidates are consolidating support within their respective parties. Soderberg is the choice of 74 percent of Democrats, Waltz of 76 percent of Republicans. Independents skew slightly to Soderberg (46-43).

However, with the district showing a strong GOP plurality (205,633 Republicans, compared to 177,345 Democrats and 152,330 Independents), these results suggest Soderberg will need to strengthen her appeal to independents to make up for the realities of party loyalty.

As well, the gender gap seems to be playing to Waltz’s advantage in this survey. The Republican has a strong lead with men (50-37), while Soderberg clings to a two-point advantage (47-45) with female voters.

CD 6 covers parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

The 2016 race between DeSantis and Democrat Bill McCullough was not competitive, with DeSantis winning by 17 percentage points.

This race appears to be significantly more competitive; however, with over $2 million raised and a raft of national endorsements, Soderberg isn’t playing for a moral victory. And this survey suggests she has some work to do to overcome the district’s challenging party split.

“This poll confirms this is going to be very tight race,” a Democratic consultant closely following the campaign told Florida Politics. “You have two candidates within 5 points of each other in a Republican district with six weeks to go.

“She has a large fundraising advantage and is the only candidate in the race to release an internal poll, which showed the race is tied and she’s got the momentum. If you’re the NRCC, you could not have been expecting to have a competitive race in Ron DeSantis’ seat.  Soderberg has been defying gravity.”

Former Jacksonville mayors see no issue with Brian Hughes helming DIA

A familiar face is assuming the helm of Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority, if only in a transitional role.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff Brian Hughes will assume the interim CEO role, while pulling double duty as chief of staff until a new permanent DIA head is found.

Though many members of the community saw a potential conflict of interest, with the mayor’s right hand man now in a position to push for approval of various big-ticket projects being considered in Jacksonville (a new convention center, the Berkman re-development, and new development at the sports complex), Curry and a number of former mayors we talked to Wednesday evening did not see it that way.

“Unanimous vote. We need a strong interim in while we do a national search so we can keep kicking ass downtown,” Curry said.

Curry’s predecessors in office likewise thought Hughes would be fine in a transitional role.

Former Mayor Tommy Hazouri said it was “fine” that Hughes was there “in the interim.”

“They made a quick decision and hopefully they’ll get a new director before long,” Hazouri said.

Former Mayor Alvin Brown, Curry’s immediate predecessor in office, said “the DIA Board knows the policy in terms of handling those types of appointments, so I’ll leave it to them.”

“It’s an independent body and it’s up to the board,” Brown said.

Florida Politics asked Brown if he could have gotten away with such a move.

“I think if I made that decision, you know, we’d set it up,” Brown said. “As the Mayor who created the DIA, I think the board is following public policy and I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Former Mayor John Peyton — the 2018 Jax Chamber Chair — can “certainly understand on an interim basis wanting somebody from the Mayor’s Office to be involved.”

Peyton believes the Hughes appointment could be a “good sign.”

“If they’re going to do a search, there’s nothing wrong with bridging the gap. I’m glad the Mayor’s staying close to it,” Peyton said.

And former Mayor John Delaney likewise saw the move as a beneficial bridge.

“He’s a brilliant guy, he’s a political savant, and I think he wants to get some administrative background, to understand how the city works,” Delaney offered. “We’ll see how it turns out.”

“The Mayor’s made some good picks of people, and he has a lot of confidence in Brian,” Delaney added.

There was one dissenting voice, though not that of a former mayor, but a potential future mayor: former Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche.

“Shocking,” Brosche quipped.

When asked if Hughes presented a conflict of interest, Brosche said “seems like it, but we’ll see,” noting the interim tag.

“Seems like there might have been some other options,” Brosche said. “We’re going to see how it goes.”

Brosche will decide on mayor between now and January, she said.

Brosche’s Council colleague, John Crescimbeni, noted that there was precedent for a mayoral senior staffer assuming interim positions, citing Mike Weinstein‘s willingness and ability to perform in different roles.

One thing is for certain: DIA meetings will take on heightened interest, with Curry’s right hand man taking over six months before city elections.

Bill Nelson disputes ‘vulnerable’ claim, says he’s ‘going to win’

Sen. Bill Nelson is vying for his fourth term in office; however, one national outlet rates him as the “most vulnerable” Senate incumbent.

Per elections analyst Nate Silver‘s FiveThirtyEight, Nelson is the “most vulnerable” Democratic senator on the 2018 ballot, plagued by “a very good challenger in Florida: Gov. Rick Scott,” a Naples Republican.

We asked Nelson on Wednesday if he was vulnerable, given the bleak FiveThirtyEight assessment.

“FiveThirtyEight also says I’m going to win,” Nelson said, drawing laughter from those around him.

Nelson “absolutely” believes issues like the red tide and green algae, which drew protesters that were the main news from Scott’s “Make Washington Work” tour, will work in his favor.

“My opponent has systematically dismantled the environmental agencies and their funding,” Nelson noted, “on regulating pollution going into the waterways.”

“That is going to be a major issue in this campaign,” Nelson noted.

We also got Nelson’s take on the apparent/alleged schism between Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump, a function of DeSantis not backing Trump’s claims that there were nowhere near over 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico caused by last year’s hurricane.

“What else is new,” Nelson quipped.

Polls so far rate the race as a toss-up.

A Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics Poll released Wednesday showed Scott up 46-45, well inside the four point margin of error.

Republicans have consistently messaged that the Nelson campaign is tanking, though polls don’t reflect that. Even a personnel move — the departure of Carlie Waibel to the Andrew Gillum campaign — earned a Republican National Committee press release this week.

“It’s no wonder that Nelson’s staffers are jumping ship from his sinking campaign,” remarked RNC spokesperson Taryn Fenske, who added that Nelson’s campaign may be “unsalvageable.”

Likewise, volunteer phone bankers from Sacramento were held up this week by one Republican operative as evidence that there is no on-the-ground enthusiasm for Nelson.

“Bill Nelson’s campaign is so desperate he’s now resorted to enlisting the help of radicals from California almost 3,000 miles away from Florida,” said Camille Gallo, NRSC spokesperson.

“Maybe if Bill Nelson actually worked for Florida, Floridians would be willing to help him keep his job.”

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