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Bernie Sanders makes endorsements in several Florida races

Following his visits to Tampa and Orlando last Friday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders is offering endorsements to some local candidates in Florida, including Anna Eskamani, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Lee Mangold in Florida House races.

Sanders, the Senator from New Hampshire, went to both towns to stump for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s gubernatorial campaign. But before the speeches, he sat down with a number of local Democrats in each place.

The result: the patriarch of current Democratic progressive politics is weighing in on some of their races.

In Central Florida, Sanders announced endorsements of Mangold in House District 28, Eskamani in House District 47, and Smith in House District 49.

Sanders also endorsed Democrat Sanjay Patel‘s congressional campaign in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, covering Brevard County, north Indian River County, and east Orange County.

In addition, Sanders announced his backings for Cindy Polo in House District 103, Dotie Joseph in House Disrict 108, Wesley Anne Beggs for Sarasota County Commission, and Sarah McFadden in House Districxt 106.

“I’m proud to be supporting nine incredible candidates for office in Florida,” Sanders tweeted, with pictures of the nine, including Gillum. “Early voting has begun so let’s get out the vote to transform Florida from the bottom on up!”

A couple of the campaigns were touting their endorsements.

“Senator Sanders is a champion for all these values, as am I,” Mangold, who faces Republican David Smith in the HD 28 race, stated in a news release. “I’m truly honored to receive his endorsement and I will continue to fight for ALL working families – regardless race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability – to ensure that we don’t reserve the American Dream for only a select few or allow it fade away.”

Offered Eskamani, who awaits a winner of the Republican primary, Mikaela Nix or Stockton Reeves, in the November election:

“We envision a Florida where every person — no matter who they love, how much money they make, where they live, or who they worship — can live life to its fullest potential. I feel confident that with our victory in November, we’ll be able to build that state together.”

GOP holds lead in returned ballots as statewide early voting begins

A Republican advantage fills the backdrop as voters head to the polls early across the state on Saturday.

Of the nearly 790,000 mail-in ballots returned as of Friday afternoon, Republicans have the edge with 367,864 ballots cast. Democrats have returned 313,678, according to the Division of Elections.

In the 18 counties that offered early voting this week, Democrats took a slight lead, but not enough to offset the Republican advantage. GOP voters have cast 22,519 ballots at early voting sites, compared to the 26,108 from Democrats returned by Friday afternoon.

With Republicans appearing to show more early enthusiasm, some speculate whether Democrats have the much-hyped momentum — or ‘blue wave’ — behind them this midterm.

“For all this talk of a ‘blue wave,’ Democratic enthusiasm isn’t anywhere close to Republican energy, and it’s showing,” said Taryn Fenske, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “Florida Republicans are ready to defy history in November.”

The RNC, along with the Republican Party of Florida, is making its largest-ever investment in data-driven ground efforts in the state, according to Fenske.

The ROI appears to be promising.

“We are arming passionate Republicans with the skills and tools necessary to reach out to their communities,” added Fenske. “It’s about Floridians talking to Floridians, neighbor to neighbor.”

But while Republicans lead in the most-telling metric, the party is slightly trailing in the total share of ballots returned when compared to final 2014 primary numbers. As of Friday afternoon, GOP voters comprised less than 47 percent of all mail-in ballots. On primary day in 2014, that number was roughly a percentage point higher.

Juan Peñalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, noted that Democrats make up almost 40 percent of returned mail-in ballots — more than half of a percentage point higher than 2014 numbers. Elections are numbers games, both within and outside of the party.

These numbers, however, can fluctuate between green and red throughout each week.

Peñalosa conceded to us that he does think preliminary voter turnout in a primary election is indicative of enthusiasm to come in the fall, “But it’s not the only identifying factor.”

What else is there? Peñalosa — echoing what Republicans attributed to their early lead — highlighted nuances in ground game efforts. The party implemented its field program early this year. Ground efforts are typically reserved for after the primaries in midterm cycles, according to Peñalosa.

They’ve also recruited the “best” candidates, according to Peñalosa, and are fielding competition down the ballot, speaking to voters in rural areas — doing things the party hasn’t done before.

While open to ‘blue wave’ speculation, Peñalosa doesn’t think it will stand against time. When early voting is wrapped, he expects his party will have exceeded 2014 tallies.

“I hope Monday is going to be another good day,” he said, referencing the impending fresh batch of statewide turnout numbers.

Democrats vow to ‘fight’ if elected Attorney General

As Florida Democrats go to the polls, their two Attorney-General candidates continue traveling the state attempting to draw attention to a Cabinet contest that has been highlighted by an ongoing lawsuit over one candidate’s ballot qualifications.

An undercard to the high-profile race for governor — and more subdued than the divisive Republican primary for Attorney General — the Democratic race pits state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa and Ryan Torrens, a consumer-protection attorney also from Hillsborough County.

Shaw and Torrens have taken different approaches to the campaign, while sharing stances on issues ranging from opioid manufacturers to their opposition to the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ self-defense law.

The Democrats have appeared at few events together on stage, despite efforts by Torrens to debate and gain more attention.

One place they are expected to square off, however, is the Leon County Courthouse on Aug. 22, as Shaw has filed a lawsuit that alleges Torrens should be decertified from the ballot because of improperly listing an “illegal” contribution as a loan to be able to afford the candidate qualifying fee.

Torrens disputes Shaw’s characterization and said people are tired of such “frivolous lawsuits.”

Shaw equated the lawsuit with his goal, if elected, to be one of the “most active Attorney Generals in this country.”

“If I don’t hold my primary opponent accountable, what does it mean when I’m telling people that I’m going to hold the Legislature accountable?” Shaw said. “When I’m going to go after anyone doing wrong in the state, that what it looks like. This is what proactive Attorney General action’s look like.”

The winner of the Aug. 28 primary will move on to the November general election and face the winner of the Republican primary between former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody and Rep. Frank White of Pensacola. Also, Jeff Siskind, an attorney from Wellington is running without a party affiliation.

The better politically connected and funded Democrat in the race, Shaw, 40, is a trial lawyer and the son of late Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw Jr. Sean Shaw served as the state insurance consumer advocate under former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and in 2016 was elected to the House.

Torrens, 33, is a fifth-generation Floridian who operates his own firm, which specializes in foreclosure defense. He’s served as a congressional intern and has been open about battling alcohol addiction, saying someone running for office needs to be honest with the voters.

Both say they would actively use the post of Attorney General for all Floridians, which they contend current Attorney General Pam Bondi has failed to do. Bondi cannot run again in November because of term limits.

“People are upset, and they want someone to fight for them, and you have to tell the people what you’re fighting for and who’s best equipped to fight for them,” Shaw said.

Torrens said Shaw’s lawsuit trying to bump him from the ballot may actually help him.

“We know how Republicans are going (to run) this race, and we need someone who is going to be a fighter,” Torrens said. “You need the one who will actually stand up and fight.”

Aubrey Jewett, a political-science professor at the University of Central Florida, said Shaw is the apparent favorite, due to his time in the state House and his father’s notoriety. The elder Shaw, who died in 2015, was the first black chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

The Republican Attorneys General Association is already targeting Sean Shaw, issuing a release that alleged he “would dramatically transform the office into the most partisan, extreme, anti-job, Attorney General Florida has ever-seen.”

The association also contended Shaw “has a clear disdain for the rule of law; he openly admits he would use the authority of the Office of the Attorney General to suit his personal political priorities.”

Shaw disagrees with the part about a disdain for the law. But he sees himself using the “bully pulpit” of the statewide position.

“You are doggone right that I’m going to go after people who are doing wrong, and I’m going to make sure that everyone is held accountable under the law,” Shaw said. “If the Republican Attorneys General Association has a problem with that, then they’re going to have a problem with me.”

But with no formal debates, few polls and little advertising, Jewett said there remains a challenge for voters to learn much about either candidate before casting ballots.

“That race, compared to the Republican race where both Moody and White have raised money and actually run ads … compared to the Republican side, which has seen a lot of activity and ads, I haven’t really seen anything on the Democratic front,” Jewett said.

Shaw and Torrens back Florida joining a coalition of states suing the Trump administration about the separation of undocumented immigrant families and support a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters in November, would automatically restore voting rights to most felons who have served their sentences.

Meanwhile, both support Bondi’s defense of a new state law that imposed new gun restrictions after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The National Rifle Association challenged part of the law that increased the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns from 18 to 21.

Shaw said if elected his first action would be to establish a task force on gun violence and pointed to incidents such as the Parkland shooting, the massacre at the Pulse night club in Orlando and a highly publicized shooting of a black man in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store.

“Eradicating the type of violence that resulted in the lives of Floridians being cut too short at places such as the Pulse night club, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Clearwater convenience store … is going to take a team effort,” Shaw said.

He acknowledged that with a Republican-dominated Legislature, there is little he can do other than work with law enforcement and use the Attorney General’s position to try to push lawmakers.

The debate about the ‘Stand Your Ground’ self-defense law has been refueled in recent weeks by the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton at a Clearwater convenience store. The shooter, who is white, claimed self-defense under the’Stand Your Ground’ law and was not initially arrested, though he was charged this week with manslaughter.

Torrens has said he wouldn’t defend what he describes as an “outrageous law.”

Philip Levine launches new ad that looks beyond primary

Gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, bouyed to the top of the Democratic heap in the latest poll, is launching a new TV commercial that appears aimed at showdowns with Republicans and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, rather than his Aug. 28 primary opponents.

The new 30-second spot “The Challenge,” launched Friday, appears more focused on Aug. 29 and beyond, pairing DeSantis and President Donald Trump as status quo for problems ranging from the environmental threats of offshore drilling to the rise of hate groups.

“If Trump and DeSantis win, nothing will change,” Levine says in the ad. “If we do, we take back our state.”

Nonetheless, Levine’s Campaign Senior Adviser Christian Ulvert characterized the commercial as a primary election appeal to Democratic voters. The latest poll put Levine up slightly on former U.S Rep. Gwen Graham, and up considerably on the others, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum running third, businessman Jeff Greene fourth, and businessman Chris King fifth.

“2018 is a fight for the future of our state and as Florida Democrats come together to rise to the challenge, we need a candidate who has what it takes to win when so much is on the line,” Ulvert stated in a news release.

DeSantis is paired with Trump even though he, too, must win a primary, against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, long the Republican frontrunner until Trump endorsed DeSantis. DeSantis has been leading almost all recent polls.

The ad does go through the roll of many of the basic Democratic issues in this primary season: “We cannot have drilling,” Levine insists. “Our schools need help. And so do our teachers,” he follows up. “If we don’t expand Medicaid, women and children will suffer,” he continues. “Florida needs stronger gun laws, and we have to stop the hatred that’s tearing us apart.

Then the montage of frightening images of such things as oil spills and hate groups gives way to video of DeSantis and Trump.

Next mission for women with military service: Run for office

A dragon winds around a cherry tree in the tattoo across MJ Hegar’s arm and back, over the shrapnel wounds she had, at one point, not wanted to see with her young children around.

But nine years after being shot down in Afghanistan, then winning a lawsuit against the federal government, writing a book and now running for a Texas congressional seat, Hegar isn’t hiding much anymore.

“I carry my service with me wherever I go,” Hegar said in a telephone interview near her home in Round Rock, outside Austin. “We don’t see my family and my childhood and my service as different chapters. It’s all a package deal.”

Hegar is part of a crop of female veterans running for Congress in this year’s midterm elections. Almost all Democrats and many of them mothers, they are shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks and overseas wars, including the longest war in American history. Many are retiring from the military and looking for another way to serve the country.

They’re part of a record number of women running for seats in Congress, but in certain ways, they are a class apart.

The female veterans claim expertise in national security and veterans issues, with a track record of thriving in institutions dominated by men. Regardless of party, they cast themselves as the antidote to bitterly partisan politics — describing themselves as “mission-driven” and trained by the military to work toward a common goal.

“I flew 89 combat missions as a U.S. Marine. My 90th mission is running for Congress to take on politicians who put party over country,” said Kentucky Democratic candidate Amy McGrath, the first female Marine to fly an F/A-18 in combat.

The increase in candidates with military experience is no accident, and the hopefuls are expected to be propelled by Democratic luminaries. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for example, is expected to campaign for McGrath, among others, according to officials close to them who spoke on condition of anonymity because the schedule is not set.

Two Democrats — Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a retired Marine Corps captain and Bronze Star recipient, and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs and partial use of an arm when her helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq — have been instrumental in recruiting veterans to run for office.

Moulton said female veterans in his party carry a particular authority when talking to voters concerned about President Donald Trump’s leadership.

“It’s the year of the woman, but it’s also the year of yearning for bringing integrity and honor back to politics,” Moulton said. “We need Democrats with the credibility to tell people what’s really going on.”

The women are hardly the first to use their military service to their political advantage — men have been doing it for decades.

One of the traditional knocks against female candidates is “they aren’t tough enough, they aren’t strong enough, and they might not have the leadership skills,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Not female candidates who are veterans, particularly of combat.

“They kind of automatically get that kind of respect as leaders; it’s well-earned,” Walsh said. “It’s such a logical next step for people who are committed to this country and are committed to service.”

But their campaigns highlight a set of political concerns specific to female veterans.

The candidates acknowledge that their extraordinary stories of trailblazing military careers could make it difficult for some voters to relate to them. Will they come off as too tough or hawkish? Is it possible for any candidate, male or female, to overemphasize his or her military background in the post-9/11 era?

McGrath, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, opened her campaign with an online video in which she wears a bomber jacket, a fighter jet in the background.

McGrath sees herself as a bridge to male voters who “sort of see women as being weaker,” she said in a telephone interview. “But yeah, I have to make an effort to reach out to women and make sure that they’re not scared, or think that I’m too militant.”

Out came a 30-second spot that mentioned the 89 combat missions — but focused on McGrath taking her three children to the pediatrician.

“I’m Amy McGrath and I approved this ad,” she says, as her young son takes off down a hallway with his pants down. “Because I’d like to see the other guys running deal with this.”

She upset popular Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in the Democratic primary and will take on Republican Rep. Andy Barr in November, a closely watched race considered competitive in a district Barr won by 22 points in 2016. Poised for the different calculus of the general election, Barr last week released an ad quoting McGrath saying of herself, “Hell yeah, I’m a feminist” and calling herself “a progressive.”

“Seriously? Is that all you got?” McGrath retorted in a video response, sharing the screen once again with a fighter jet. But this time, she traded her bomber jacket for a denim one.

Much of Hegar’s story was already public by the time she decided to challenge Republican Rep. John Carter in the Austin-area district, so she went for the full reveal — tattoos and all.

Her video, “Doors,” features the door of the helicopter in which she was shot down on her third tour of Afghanistan as a combat search and rescue pilot. Her medals, including a Purple Heart, play a role, as does Hegar’s 2012 lawsuit against the federal government that forced it to repeal the ban on women in combat.

The spot also features an intimate detail: One of Hegar’s first memories was of her father throwing her mother through a glass door.

“That’s been one of the most difficult transitions for me, is talking about myself more,” Hegar said. “I hope that they take away that we have to start putting our faith in people who have a history of putting other people first, fighting against intimidation and bullying, and trying to do the right thing.”

Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democratic nominee for a House seat in West Texas, hopes her active military duty and intelligence work will “neutralize this perceived strength” of Republicans as strong on security issues.

That could be important in the race for the San Antonio-area seat, currently held by Republican Rep. Will Hurd, a former CIA operative. Ortiz Jones supports single-payer health insurance, a position that could be considered too liberal for the district.

“‘Liberal’ isn’t a word that is normally used to describe my work in national security,” she said.

If these women win, they will join an exclusive club in Congress.

Just 19 percent of lawmakers are veterans — the same percentage that are women. Only four members are both: Sens. Joni Ernst, the Republican from Iowa, and Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat; and Reps. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, and Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat from Hawaii.

“It kind of reminds me of a fighter squadron, with so few women,” said McSally, a retired Air Force veteran who was the first woman to fly in combat and is now running for U.S. Senate.

All the candidates have stories about being among the only women working among men and have used their platform to speak out about abuses in the military.

McSally told The Wall Street Journal in April that she was pressured into having sex in high school with a coach and that she became an Air Force pilot in part to regain a sense of power. But even there, she told the paper, she had “similar, awful experiences in the military on the spectrum of abuse of power and sexual assault.” She did not elaborate.

Pennsylvania’s Chrissy Houlahan, a retired Air Force officer and now a congressional candidate, said she cringed more than once when a male colonel “used blonde jokes” to introduce her for presentations to superior officers.

“I definitely felt some overt sexism,” she said.

New Jersey’s Mikie Sherrill is a former helicopter pilot and prosecutor whose time at the Naval Academy dovetailed with the Tailhook sexual assault scandal in the Navy and Marine Corps. In the 1990s, she said, speaking out when she felt sexually harassed “would really have impacted the way I was treated in the squadron.”

But these days, with a generation of women retiring from the military and a record number running for Congress, “it’s become a lot easier to talk about these things,” she said.

Republished from The Associated Press with permission.

Poll: Philip Levine atop what’s looking like two-person race with Gwen Graham

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are going down to the wire in what is starting to look like a two-person race in the Democratic primary battle to run for governor, with Levine holding a lead among the most likely of voters, a new poll shows.

The poll, from SEA Polling and Strategic Design, has Levine leading Graham by seven points among the most likely of Democratic primary voters, but just barely ahead of her among voters who already have cast ballots.

And the other three major Democratic candidates have fallen back, slipping toward out of reach of the top spot with voting already underway and just 13 days left before the Aug. 28 Election Day.

The SEA poll has Levine leading Graham 30 to 28 percent among those who already have voted, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum running a distant third with 15 percent, businessman Jeff Greene getting 14 percent; and businessman Chris King just 3 percent.

Among those voters who self-rated their chances of voting as five out of five, Levine opens up a lead on Graham, 31 percent to 24 percent, with Gillum and Greene back in the mid-to-low teens, and King still in the low single digits. Among all 600 Democratic voters surveyed by SEA, the relative standings and patterns remained the same: Levine, 27; Graham, 24; Gillum, 15; Greene, 13; and King, 3.

The poll was conducted Saturday through Tuesday, live interviews of 600 Democrats, with an overall margin of error of 4 percent. The poll was conducted for an undisclosed group of Democrats not directly affiliated with any of the five campaigns, according to SEA President Thomas Eldon.

The results show four trends from the previous two Democratic gubernatorial polls SEA conducted in early and late June, Levine and Gillum up; Graham and Greene down.

This is the first major poll publicly released since Greene launched his attack ads on Graham.

“Greene’s decision to go negative against Gwen Graham appears to have brought her back to the pack, but also seriously diminished his chances as he has dropped into the fourth place in the low teens,” Eldon stated in a memo.

Among factors still to be watched: Gillum’s grassroots campaign, aimed at stirring up voters among Democrats who normally don’t get out to primaries, especially in off-year elections; and Graham’s expectation to attract the votes of undecided women awakened by the #MeToo movement this year.

Yet they could cancel each other out. Eldon said that there appear to be “balloon” effects seen in the polling movements involving Levine and Greene as one pair, and Graham and Gillum as another: when one goes up, the other goes down, he said.

Voter registration trends suggest tougher races for Mike La Rosa, Bob Cortes

Democrats’ voter registration gains in greater Orlando is spelling bigger challenges for several Republicans running in GOP-held Florida House seats.

It includes state Reps. Mike La Rosa and Bob Cortes, whose districts are turning bluer as they seek re-elections this fall.

In many ways, Central Florida mirrors statewide trends in the era of President Donald Trump, with Democratic voters increasing as percentages of the electorates in urban and, increasingly, in suburban areas. Republicans are gaining voters in more outlying areas that may be parts of the metropolitan media market but center more on smaller cities such as Melbourne, Daytona Beach, and Leesburg.

Democrats are seeing improved chances for their ambitions to knock off Republicans in the immediate Sanford-Orlando-Kissimmee corridor and gaining more advantage in their safe urban districts. However, in a few areas farther from the urban core, Republican voter bases are growing. That’s solidifying the GOP’s holds for such seats as House District 52 in north Brevard County and House District 25 in Volusia County, and also making inroads in more purple areas such as House District 27 in western Volusia.

La Rosa’s House District 42, which includes part of Kissimmee but otherwise covers huge, mostly rural parts of Osceola County and some of east Polk County and a few small towns, is a bit of an exception. That’s due in large part to the swell of Democratic voters throughout Osceola County.

Republicans have lost almost two percentage points of the HD 42 voter base in the latest book closings for the Aug. 28 primary compared with the 2016 primary. As a result, Democrats in that previously purple district now have almost a 6-point advantage over Republicans in voter registrations.

Democratic HD 42 nominee Barbara Cady said she’s sensing that on the campaign trail, saying voter turnout will be critical to her hopes to unseat La Rosa.

“I think it’s going really good. the campaign is terrific. … I think we have a good chance in November,” said the Democratic activist from Kissimmee. “I have a cautious, optimistic sense that it’s just about voter turnout, and that’s what we’re focusing on. If they come out to the polls, we have a really good chance.”

Yet  La Rosa, of St. Cloud, is a well-known figure; a three-term representative who has won easy re-elections; chairman of the House Tourism Gaming Control and Tourism Subcommittee; and an active fundraiser, who’s outraised Cady $158,000 to $42,000.

He said things are going well for his campaign.

“Of course the district is changing. It’s been changing since Day 1 for me, and I just do what I need to do to represent the district,” La Rosa said.

As Osceola turns deep blue throughout and HD 42, taking in most of the more conservative areas, is turning pale blue. The latest voter numbers show the HD 42 voter base to be 37 percent Democrat, 31 percent Republican, and 32 percent independent.

Cortes’ House District 30 in south-central Seminole County is following the lead of that county’s voter base, where Democrats have made the most significant gains, relative to Republicans, since 2016. Democrats picked up two percentage points in HD 30, and now have almost a 4-point advantage there, 37.4 percent to 33.5 percent.

Cortes, a two-term lawmaker from Altamonte Springs who is reportedly on U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’ short list of possible Lieutenant Governor running mates, awaits the Democratic primary to see whom he will face in November. The Democratic battle is between Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil, Brendan Ramirez, and Clark Anderson.

Others where Republican voters slipped as percentages of their districts’ overall electorates: Seminole County districts represented by Republicans, House District 28 with Jason Brodeur and House District 29 with Scott Plakon.

Also feeling the pinch are three Orange County districts represented by Republicans, House District 44 with Bobby Olszewski, House District 47 with Mike Miller, and House District 50 (split between Orange and Brevard counties) with Rene Plasencia.

Miller is not seeking re-election in HD 47. Democrats are running activist Anna Eskamani, while lawyer Mikaela Nix and businessman Stockton Reeves VI are battling toward the Aug. 28 Republican primary.

The other four Republican-held districts in Orange and Seminole still have more Republican voters than Democratic voters, but the gaps are shrinking.

In HD 28, where Brodeur is not running for re-election, and where Republican David Smith will be facing Democrat Lee Mangold, Republicans’ advantage is now five percentage points, down from seven.

In HD 29, Plakon’s 8-point advantage for Republican voters in 2016 is down to 5 points. He awaits the winner of a Darryl BlockTracey Kagan Democratic primary.

In HD 44, Olszewski’s district, Republican voters had almost a 6-point advantage in 2016, and that’s down to 3. He awaits the winner of the Melanie GoldGeraldine Thompson Democratic primary.

In HD 50, Republicans’ advantage has slipped by almost 2 points, and they now have an advantage of 36 percent to 34 percent for Democrats. Plasencia’s facing his own primary challenge from Republican George Collins, with Democrat Pam Dirschka waiting for next.

Only one Central Florida seat held by Democrats saw any shrinkage of its Democratic voter base compared with Republicans, but that’s a relatively safe seat in Volusia County, House District 26, held by Democratic state Rep. Patrick Henry. Even with a 2-point swing toward Republicans in the past two years, the district still is 41 percent Democrat and 30 percent Republican, by voter registration.

Most of the deep-red or deep-blue Central Florida districts got more so in the past two years.

In Republican strongholds, state Rep. Thad Altman’s advantage in House District 52 in Brevard County has increased to slightly, with Republican voters now up 19 percentage points over Democrats. State Rep. Jennifer Sullivan‘s House District 32 in Lake County plus a corner of northwest Orange County, saw Republicans edge up toward a 14 point advantage in voter rolls. House District 51, held in Brevard County by state Rep. Tom Goodson but featuring a Republican primary battle this year between Tyler Sirois and Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish, saw Republican voters’ increase to an 11 percent advantage over Democrats.

In Democratic strongholds, state Reps. Bruce Antone in House District 46 in Orange County; John Cortes, in House District 43 in Osceola County; and Kamia Brown, in House District 45 in Orange County, do not have Republican opponents. Here’s why: Democratic voters expanded their dominance in each of those districts to way more than 30 points greater than the percentages of Republican voters.

In partisan contested races, state Rep. Amy Mercado‘s District 48 in Orange County tipped a bit further toward Democrats, who now have a 30-point lead over Republicans there; and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith‘s House District 49 in Orange County saw Democratic advantage grow to be 15 percentage points better than Republicans in voter registration.

Democrats make big gains in Central Florida; Republicans sweeping rural county voters

Seminole, Osceola and Orange counties led the state in increasing presence for Democratic voters over the past two years, while Republicans were consolidating voters in most of the state’s rural and many medium-sized counties.

According to the latest voter registration data released by the Florida Division of Elections, Democrats made their biggest gains in those three Central Florida counties plus in several other urban or suburban counties including Clay, Miami-Dade, Collier, Duval, Lee, Sarasota, Pinellas, and Broward. Meanwhile, Republicans were making huge gains in voter registration in dozens of smaller counties.

The overall effect becoming apparent from the latest election “book closing” numbers for the 2018 primary election: Democrats, who already control the urban counties, are evening out or taking control of some suburban counties now as well. Meanwhile, voters in rural and most small-city-centered counties are running in droves towards the Republican Party.

Yet statewide, the pool of independent voters and those registered with minor parties is growing much faster than either Republicans or Democrats.

In the latest numbers, for voters eligible to vote in the Aug. 28 primary, 37 percent of the state’s 13 million registered voters are Democrats, 35 percent are Republicans, and 28 percent are neither. Since the Aug. 31, 2016, primaries, Democrats and Republicans have each lost a percentage point of their shares of the state’s voter base, while the independents have picked up those two points.

Among Democratic gains, Seminole County showed the most dramatic tip between parties in the state since the last primary election.

Republicans remain in control in Seminole, but their past formidable advantage in the once bedrock-Republican suburban county is getting tight. The numbers show 108,937 registered Republicans, 100,003 Democrats, and 85,518 independents for the next election.

The Division of Elections data show that since the 2016 primary, Seminole County Republican Party has added only about 400 new voters, while the Democrats added almost 7,000. So Republicans now lead Democrats in overall registrations in Seminole by 37 percent to 34 percent, down from a 39-34 advantage two years ago.

That change of 2.6 percent between the two parties was the greatest change among any state swinging the Democrats’ way. Osceola County and Orange County were next; Democrats in both counties saw 1.6 percent gains compared with Republicans, and Democrats now dominate both of those counties. The voter rolls in Clay, Miami-Dade, Collier and Duval also showed improvements of at least 1 percent for the Democrats versus Republicans.

On the other hand, Republicans showed huge gains against Democrats in numerous small counties, including some that Democrats have dominated.

In fact, Republicans made advances versus Democrats in 50 of Florida’s 67 counties, including several medium-sized counties.

For example, Democrats used to have a 62 percent to 32 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans in Lafayette County. That’s down to a 55-38 lead in the new voter registration numbers, a 12.4 percent change in the gap.

Holmes County Republicans saw a 12.3 percent improvement against Democrats; in Glades; it was 10.7 percent; Calhoun, 9.9 percent; Jefferson, 9.7 percent; and Dixie, 9.4 percent. Glades, Calhoun, and Jefferson used to be overwhelmingly Democratic; now they’re less so.

Republicans also made gains compared with Democrats, albeit quite modest in some cases, including in Hernando, Charlotte, Volusia, St. Lucie, Polk, Pasco, Brevard, Escambia, Lake and Leon counties, and in one big county, Palm Beach.

By the numbers: Voter registration tops 13 million

Some will vote by mail. Some will vote early. Some will go old-school and vote on the actual election day. Some won’t vote at all.

But slightly more than 13 million Floridians are registered to vote in advance of the Aug. 28 primary elections, according to new figures posted online by the state Division of Elections. Democrats outnumber Republicans, but just barely, as both parties gear up for a fierce battle in November for a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office.

Here are five takeaways from the new voter-registration numbers, which reflect the primary-election “book closing” on July 30:

The big picture

As Florida’s population has continued to grow, so has the number of voters, with 13,013,657 registered to cast ballots in the primaries. By comparison, 12.37 million were registered to vote in the 2016 primaries, and 11.8 million were registered to vote in the 2014 primaries.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, but not by a lot — 4,839,434 to 4,594,133. While both parties have seen registration increases since the 2016 primaries, the Democratic margin is about the same as it was two years ago.

No labels, please

Voters who aren’t registered with the Democratic or Republican parties won’t be able to cast ballots in many primary races, including the marquee race for governor. But that hasn’t stopped the trend of Floridians ditching the donkeys and the elephants and registering “no party affiliation.”

The total of so-called NPA voters has climbed to 3,493,494 — or about 27 percent of the electorate. That is up from slightly more than 2.91 million voters, or about 23.6 percent, during the 2016 primaries.

Democratic dominance

Conventional wisdom has long held that Democrats look to South Florida when they need votes. And there’s good reason for that: Miami-Dade County has 586,648 registered Democrats, Broward County has 577,248, and Palm Beach County has 387,445 — nearly a third of all of the registered Democrats in the state.

It’s also no wonder that Democrats focus on the Orlando area. In Orange and Osceola counties, registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 161,000 voters. With both parties focusing heavily this year on attracting Hispanic voters, Democrats also hold about a 100,000-voter edge in Orange and Osceola among Latinos.

GOP heaven

Registered Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in each of the seven most-populated counties — Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas (though the GOP trails by fewer than, 1,000 voters in Pinellas.) But the GOP has been successful for the past two decades, at least in part, because it has dominated regions such as North Florida, Southwest Florida and many suburban areas.

The new numbers bear that out. For example, in Northwest Florida, registered Republicans make up more than half of the voters in Bay, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Washington counties. The same holds true in Northeast Florida in Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties. It also goes for Sumter County, which is home to much of the massive Villages retirement community, and Collier County in Southwest Florida.

Don’t forget the little guys

Much of the attention during this year’s campaign focuses on candidates going to large media markets and party strongholds as they try to amass votes. But the new registration numbers also give a glimpse of smaller, rural counties that can get lost in the debate.

Nine counties — Calhoun, Dixie, Franklin, Glades, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty and Union counties — each have fewer than 10,000 registered voters. The smallest are Lafayette, with 4,312 voters, and Liberty, with 4,365, followed by Glades, with 6,751. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in each of the nine counties, though GOP President Donald Trump carried all of the counties in 2016.

Mail-in ballots continue pouring in

More than a half-million people have already voted in the Aug. 28 primary elections, with Republicans maintaining an edge over Democrats in returning vote-by-mail ballots, according to figures updated Friday morning by the Florida Division of Elections.

Nearly 2.5 million ballots have been mailed out to voters. Republicans had returned 238,051 ballots, compared to 198,631 by Democrats, according to the new figures. Another 71,507 had been completed by people without party affiliation and another 1,966 by people registered with third parties.

The Division of Elections reported that Pinellas, Broward and Miami-Dade counties have each had more than 40,000 ballots returned, with Republicans holding slight leads in each county.

The last day for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots is Aug. 22, and the last day for supervisors to send out the ballots is Aug. 24. Voters can also pick up vote-by-mail ballots from election supervisors up to the day before the election.

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