Hillary Clinton Archives - Florida Politics

How to counter Donald Trump? Democrats still searching

Nine months into the Donald Trump era, Democrats are still searching for a standard-bearer and a crisp message to corral widespread opposition to an unpopular president and a Republican-led Congress.

The minority party has put that struggle on vivid display this week in Nevada, site of Democrats’ first national party gathering since a contentious chairman’s election in February. The party’s congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates mostly stayed away, with the exception of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose name has surfaced among possible 2020 hopefuls.

The activists and party leaders who did attend expressed optimism over their rebuilding efforts, but also lingering resentments from the 2016 presidential primary, confirming that the battle between liberals and establishment Democrats continues long after Hillary Clinton dispatched Bernie Sanders but lost to Trump.

The months since the election have brought plenty of frank public assessments about how far the Democratic National Committee has to go to catch up to Republicans on fundraising and technology — twin pillars of how a national party helps its candidates win elections across the country.

The lingering debate was enough for party Chairman Tom Perez, still putting his stamp on the party, to warn that the discord distracts from laying the groundwork for the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential contest.

“This is a Rome-is-burning moment,” he said Friday, his summation of Trump’s presidency so far. “We may be playing different instruments, but we are all in the same orchestra. We need more people in that orchestra.”

Democrats need to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats next November to reclaim the House. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate advantage, but Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won. In statehouses, Democrats have just 15 governors, and Republicans control about two-thirds of legislatures.

Democrats hope to hold the Virginia governorship and pick up New Jersey’s next month. The party is tantalized by an Alabama Senate race pitting the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, against former jurist Roy Moore, a controversial figure who wasn’t the GOP establishment’s first choice.

Perez is selling confidence. “We’ve got game,” he roared to an exuberant audience at one reception.

Behind that hope, there are plenty of reasons for caution, mostly rooted in an uncomfortable reality: No Democrat has emerged as a leader and top rival to Trump in 2020, with a line-up of previous candidates like Joe Biden and Sanders and little-known House and Senate lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Perez’s deputy who hails from the party’s left flank, pushed back against any notion that the Democrats don’t have a clear leader.

“We are not a leaderless party. We are a leader-full party. We have Tom Perez. We have Keith Ellison. We have Leader Pelosi. We have Leader Schumer,” he said.

Still, that reliance on Capitol Hill means the party is touting a leadership core much older than the electorate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 77. Sanders is 76. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 66. Other national figures, Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are in the same generation.

“You will see a new generation out there — good messengers with the right message,” said Henry Munoz, the party’s finance chairman, though he declined to speculate about individual names.

A prominent DNC member who backed Clinton in 2016 tried to convince Democrats on Friday to call on Sanders to join the party. “The first word in DNC is ’Democratic,’” quipped Bob Mulholland. But the party’s Resolution Committee, led by Sanders backer James Zobgy, jettisoned the idea. Zogby said taking a shot at Sanders would “feed a Twitter debate that will not be helpful in bringing together” voters on the left.

Trump’s approval ratings are mired in the 30s, levels that history says should spell scores of lost Republican House seats next year. Yet Trump has never had consistent majority public support. Democrats also face an uphill path because Republican state lawmakers drew a majority of congressional districts to the GOP’s advantage.

Trump’s election has sparked an outpouring of volunteer energy and cash on the political left, but the money hasn’t flowed to the national party. Munoz, who helped former President Barack Obama haul in record-setting sums, says the DNC has taken in $51.5 million this year, compared with $93.3 million for Republicans.

Party treasurer Bill Derrough acknowledged that he’s found frustrated Democratic boosters asking about “a damaged brand, what are we doing, what do we stand for.”

The party’s “Better Deal” rollout earlier this year — a package of proposals intended to serve as the economic message to counter Trump’s populist nationalism — hasn’t been an obvious feature at Democrats’ national meeting at all.

Perez is seeking to inject younger blood into the party leadership structure with his 75 at-large appointments to the DNC. But his appointments meant ousting some older DNC members, including Babs Siperstein. The New York at-large member whom Perez did not reappoint warned her fellow Democrats not to underestimate the fellow New Yorker in the White House — Trump.

“He may be weird. He may be narcissistic. But he’s not stupid,” Siperstein said. “He’s smart enough to get elected. He’s smart enough to get away with everything. … So we have to stay united.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Democratic chairman: Donald Trump ‘most dangerous’ president ever

Trying to quell accusations that he is ousting activists from the party’s left flank, Democratic Chairman Tom Perez told fellow Democrats on Saturday that unity is crucial in the fight against President Donald Trump, whom he lambasted as an “existential threat” to the nation.

“We have the most dangerous president in American history and one of the most reactionary Congresses in American history,” Perez said as he addressed the first Democratic National Committee gathering since his February election.

The former Obama Cabinet official blistered “a culture of corruption” that he said extends to Trump’s Cabinet, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he warned that internal ruckuses over party priorities and leadership would distract from the goal of winning more elections to upend Republicans’ domination in Washington.

The chairman’s plea comes amid a rift over his appointments to little-known but influential party committees and the 75 at-large members of the national party committee. Perez and his aides plug his choices as a way to make the DNC younger and more diverse, but the moves also mean demotions for several prominent Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries and then supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez in the postelection race for party chairman.

Perez spent time during this week’s proceedings meeting privately with frustrated DNC members, including some he did not reappoint. He apologized publicly Saturday for not reaching all of those members before he announced his appointments, but he defended his overall aim.

“If someone ever asks you which wing of the party you belong to, tell ’em you belong to the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party,” he said, “because you’re trying to get s— done. That’s what we’re trying to do here, folks. We’re trying to move the ball forward.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have exalted in the internal wrangle, painting the DNC as incompetently discordant.

“The Democratic Party’s message of doom and gloom has left them leaderless and nearly extinct in most of the country,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “If Tom Perez wants his party to stick with that same failed strategy, Republicans will gladly keep working to help the middle class by cutting their taxes and fixing our broken health care system.”

To some extent, the Democrats’ developments reflect routine party politics after an unusually contentious chairman’s race, but they also fit into the ongoing philosophical tussle on the left.

Sanders’ backers accused the DNC in 2016 of stacking the nominating process in Clinton’s favor and shutting out the Vermont independent who still seeks to pull the party toward his ideology. Those frustrations carried over into the DNC chair race between Perez, the former labor secretary, and Ellison.

Now, Perez’s appointees will hold sway over setting the primary calendar in 2020 and, perhaps most importantly, whether the party’s superdelegates, including the 75 at-large members, will continue to cast presidential nominating votes at Democratic conventions without being bound to any state primary or caucus results.

Democrats are looking next month to hold the Virginia governor’s seat and wrest the New Jersey governor’s seat from Republican control. Next year, Democrats need to flip at least 24 Republican congressional seats to regain control of the House. They face an uphill battle in gaining control of the Senate, because they must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won last November. Democrats also want to increase their gubernatorial roster from the current 15 state executives.

Separately, former Attorney General Eric Holder urged the party to play the long game necessary to overcome Republican advantages scored when GOP-run legislatures drew congressional and legislative districts around the country after the 2010 census.

Holder leads a political action group, with fundraising support for former President Barack Obama, to back candidates in states where gerrymandering gives Democrats an uphill path to majorities. He singled out Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, among other states, where Republicans “picked their voters” with districts that “are impressive in their geographic creativity but they are destructive to representative democracy.”

The Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case challenging the Wisconsin districts. Legal analysts expect Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, will decide whether the court for the first time declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pam Keith gets backing from NOW in bid for congressional seat

Pam Keith, the former Navy JAG officer who finished third in 2016 ifor the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, is getting the backing of the National Organization of Women in her bid to defeat Republican Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Florida NOW considers Pam Keith a champion for women’s rights.  She will not let women or children fall to the wayside with bad legislation on healthcare or equal opportunity for women,” said Terry Sanders, Florida NOW President.

“Pam has long been an advocate for women’s rights.  Her legal background as judge advocate in the U.S. Navy and private practice in both Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as well as her experience in diplomatic arenas around the world, make her an excellent candidate for Congress,” added Joanne Sterner, Florida NOW political action director.

Keith is one of two Democratic challengers to emerge so far against Mast, an Army veteran who took back the Treasure Coast area seat for the Republicans in 2016. It had been held the previous four years by Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Lauren Baer announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month. She served as a senior policy advisor to former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as well as to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador the United Nations under Barack Obama.

“Women are the majority of our nation, women are the future of our nation, and I am gratified that NOW believes I am the best woman to lead our nation toward that future,” said Keith in a statement. “Brian Mast and Donald Trump have fought against the interests of women, from stealing our healthcare to endorsing sexist, hateful language in the workplace. Women are being undervalued at work, the system pays us less for the same work, ignores harassment and gave us a government that doesn’t even allow women to help write the legislation that affects so many of us. I’m going to Washington to put a stop to all that, to make women’s lives better. I joined this race to take my passion and skill to unite people of all genders, orientation, and color to fight this administration’s continual assault on women’s reproductive health. I’m glad that NOW recognizes that I am a strong ally and best advocate.”

Annette Taddeo wins SD 40 special election

Democrat Annette Taddeo has won Tuesday’s state Senate District 40 special election, narrowly defeating Republican former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the hotly contested and expensive race that was closely watched by both state and national parties.

SD 40 wound up being more of a nail-biter than anyone first expected, as Republicans entered Election Day with only a slim 500 early-vote lead. But Hurricane Irma and its after-effects helped the off-year race stay a low-turnout affair.

In the end, Diaz took just 47.2 percent of the vote; Taddeo received almost 51 percent. Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, with no party affiliation, received just under 2 percent.

“This is a victory for the residents of Senate District 40. The voters wanted a champion in Tallahassee who will fight for higher paying jobs, affordable healthcare and fully funded public schools and I am honored and humbled that they have placed their faith and trust in me,” Taddeo said in an election night statement.

“I pledge to work everyday for the families of my community and not the special interests. I would like to thank my opponent for running in a hard-fought race. Our campaign saw a strong coalition come together … who unified behind a winning plan. I’m beyond thankful for all the work and their efforts and the the thousands of volunteers who committed their time, energy and resources.

“This was a community, grassroots driven effort and I am ready to continue the work in our state capitol.”

Turnout was expected to be much lower than the pre-Irma estimates of 45,000-55,000. Later, working models predicted the number to be around 32-39,000, with larger Election Day turnout seemingly favoring Taddeo. Nevertheless, preliminary turnout numbers put the final number at 47,500 or 14 percent.

The Senate seat was vacated five months ago by former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican who resigned in the midst of this spring’s Legislative Session after a profanity-laced and racially charged outburst at a private club near the Capitol.

Diaz, who resigned his state House seat to run for the Senate and is known almost universally as “Pepi,” spent much of Saturday outside an early voting site in Southwest Miami with Cuban-born retired Major League Baseball pitcher Camilo Pascual. Taddeo joined black pastors and churchgoers Sunday for a “Souls to the Polls” barbecue as a DJ blared tunes at near-deafening levels in the background.

The competitive matchup in Senate District 40, which voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential race but also elected the Republican Artiles, is viewed by many as a harbinger of how Democrats might fare in upcoming elections.

It’s also seen as a litmus test for President Donald Trump, who is lauded by many of the district’s Cuban-American voters for chilling his predecessor’s accord with Cuba but is denounced by other Hispanics for his hard-line stance on immigration, especially policies involving undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers.”

But Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Southwest Florida little more than two weeks ago, threw a monkey-wrench into the contest, temporarily putting campaign activities on hold after the massive storm knocked out power, internet, cable and mail delivery to much of the district.

Florida Democrats asked Gov. Rick Scott to postpone the election for two weeks. He refused, saying the Miami-Dade elections supervisor had decided the election should take place as scheduled.

Hispanics make up 69 percent of the district’s voting-age population, whites another 20 percent and blacks make up about 7 percent, according to the latest Census data. The swing district, redrawn as a result of a redistricting process that took effect with last year’s election, is almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents, with Democrats having a slight voter-registration edge.

The race for the open seat has a whopping tab estimated at $2 million, including spending by the candidates and political committees affiliated with the Senate hopefuls.

Democrats had viewed the seat as an opportunity bolster their limited numbers in the state Legislature. The Party registration is about 36 percent Democrat, 35 percent are Republican, and 29 percent are independents or third-party voters. The district is 68 percent Hispanic, 18 percent non-Hispanic white and 8 percent black.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

SD 40 race could be Donald Trump test for Democrats

Florida Democrats are facing a test to see whether anti-President Donald Trump politics will give them a boost ahead of a critical election year and perhaps signal a turnaround after two decades of Republican dominance in the Legislature.

They’ve made Trump a focal point in a special election set for Tuesday to replace a Miami-area Republican state senator who resigned after using racial slurs in front of black colleagues. The Republican in the race, state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” helping to make that connection easier.

“Trump’s apprentice just got the GOP nomination,” said a Democratic fundraising email when Diaz won the primary in July. “Contribute now to fire Trump’s apprentice.”

If Democrat Annette Taddeo wins with less money against the stronger organization of the Republican Party, it could be a sign of better times for Democrats. It would also test an anti-Trump strategy ahead of a 2018 election when the governor’s seat and all three Cabinet positions are open and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is up for re-election.

“It’s an interesting test. Does the Trump thing translate down the ballot in a nontypical election?” said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale. “If Democrats talk about getting back to a majority, you have to win races like this at some point.”

On paper, the district southwest of Miami leans Democratic. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump last year, but Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also carried the district.

“I’m sure the Democrats are going to try to make it a referendum on Trump, but they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do it,” said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. “If Pepi wins, it will be credited largely to superior resources and organization.”

Taddeo, 50, has a television ad that begins with her clicking off a television showing a clip of Trump “attacking” professional wrestling icon Vince McMahon. And in a speech to supporters two months ago, she said, “We have a president that we need to stand up [to] and not stand on the sidelines. We need to fight him every step of the way.”

She has run for Congress twice, losing both times. She was also Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist‘s running mate in 2014 in a race barely lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

She said Diaz, 37, wasn’t shy about using his ties to Trump during the primary.

“When the president was insulting to Hispanics, instead of coming out and defending us, Representative Diaz actually joined his national Hispanic advisory council,” she said.

Diaz dismissed the attacks from Taddeo and Democrats over Trump and said that being on “The Apprentice” in 2006 was a life-changing experience — even if he was one of the first contestants to get fired.

“Having a camera on 24 hours a day changed me. It made me really think about just how important it is to make the right the decision at all times,” he said.

And while he said the race isn’t about Trump, some voters still see it that way.

“I support Diaz because I support President Trump,” said Republican Raul Musibay, 75.

Abel Lopez, a 65-year-old Democrat, agreed that the Trump factor was key.

“Anything I can do to help those against Trump,” Lopez said, “I will do it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Hillsborough lawmakers call on state and feds to reject Medicaid, CHIP cuts

Hillsborough County Democratic lawmakers Wednesday called on Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Congress to reject potential cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

President Donald Trump’s budget plans unveiled earlier this year would reduce the Children’s Health Insurance Program by at least 20 percent over the next two fiscal years and slash Medicaid, which covers millions of children.

Hillsborough County officials and the children who would be directly affected by those cuts, spoke out against the proposals at a news conference at Robles Park Village in South Seminole Heights on Wednesday afternoon in an event sponsored by the group Organize Florida.

Congress enacted the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 as a more modest and more bipartisan expansion of federally funded insurance than compared with the failed bid of Bill and Hillary Clinton for universal health care in 1994.

George W. Bush vetoed efforts to increase the program’s reach, but Democrats succeeded in expanding it once Barack Obama took office in 2009 and again a year later as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders struck a deal in 2015 to reauthorize the program, which by then had been credited with helping reduce the uninsured rate among children from nearly 14 percent two decades ago to under 4.5 percent.

The Trump administration official told the New York Times Thursday that the administration wants Congress to provide money the CHIP program.

Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor said that Congress had to recommit to extend the CHIP program by the end of September. She said that has to happen first, or else Governor Scott and the Legislature could then begin cutting kids from the state health care rolls.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz says she grew up in a family where her single mother couldn’t afford to take her to the dentist as a youth with a severe toothache.

“We tried to figure out all kinds of different things to make the pain go away, and one of the number one causes of absenteeism in schools is toothaches,” she said.

Cruz said one out of every two children in Florida receives their health care through Florida KidCare. She said the program was “fundamental to fulfilling our moral obligation of ensuring that a child’s ability to access health care doesn’t vary by the size of their parents’ paycheck.

“Governor Scott, go pick on somebody your own size and stop picking on these kids!” she said to applause.

“All my life, I’ve received health care through Medicaid,” says Isabelle Hall, 17, a student at Hillsborough High School. “Without this essential service, my teeth would have rotted in my skull because of a lack of dental care. Without the psychological resources provided by Medicaid, my depression and anxiety issues would have made my life exponentially more burdensome.”

“My mother provides for me as a single parent,” she adds, “but Medicaid helps her fill in the gaps when her bi-weekly paycheck is parceled out into every bill due that month until barely anything remains.”

Low-income children are covered by a complicated mix that only the state why they leave it to the leave it to the individual of programs. Medicaid covers 37 million children. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, has 8.9 million enrolled. Together, these two programs cover about one in three American children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Hillsborough County School District receives up to $12 million annually in Medicaid reimbursement payments, according to school board member Tamara Shamburger. Those funds are used to Medicaid eligible services to students for speech therapies, psychological and counseling services, and providing assistance to students managing their diabetes.

“The loss of this funding does not lower our cost to provide these mandated services, neither does it lessen our obligation,” she said.

“I suffer from sickle cells. It is a problem, and it’s difficult to deal without Medicaid,” said Germanique Canyon, 20. “I’m coming before all of you to ask Governor Rick Scott to please just leave Medicaid for Florida.”

Samantha Underwood, 16, attends Hillsborough High School. She suffers from asthma, allergies and eczema, and had a word for politicians who often talk about “the children.”

“As they’re running for everything, they’re saying it’s all about the youth, but when they get in, they want to take from the youth, and that’s really unacceptable,” she said.

“It would be devastating for state spending if these federal dollars were to go away,” said St. Petersburg Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Donald Trump link may have helped swing St. Pete race

A virtual tie between St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker in a mayoral primary Tuesday has left Florida Democrats giddy and Republicans groping for ways to rebrand their candidate.

Baker, a Republican former mayor who remained wildly popular years after leaving office, led Kriseman in polls and fundraising throughout the campaign.

But Kriseman, who served in the Florida House prior to his 2013 election as mayor, wound up beating Baker by 69 votes, with both candidates garnering about 48 percent of the ballots in the nonpartisan race.

The dead heat, with neither candidate capturing more than 50 percent of the votes, forced a Nov. 7 runoff between the two politicians.

St. Petersburg is a swing area in which Democrat Hillary Clinton trounced President Donald Trump by a margin of 60 percent to 36 percent in November.

Baker’s campaign tried to link Kriseman to a variety of divisive local issues, including a kerfuffle over the replacement of an iconic waterfront pier, a massive sewage link and a pricey new police station.

While those issues may have resonated with many voters, Democratic and Republican political consultants maintained that what likely hurt Baker the most was the Kriseman team’s success in tying Baker to Trump.

Strategists cautioned against overstating the broader significance of Kriseman’s Tuesday comeback.

“But it should be a warning sign. It should be an alert signal. It should cause Republicans to ask themselves, how could a guy who was so beloved in this community (Baker) not be able to turn that on again,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.

Kriseman’s success could be a model for progressives and Democrats going into next year’s elections, Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferullo said.

“It’s going to validate that strategy going into 2018, to make Trump an anvil to hang around the neck of our opponents,” Ferullo, whose organization endorsed Kriseman, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In contrast to many GOP politicians, Baker made inroads with black voters, especially those in St. Petersburg’s Midtown district, during his tenure as mayor from 2001 to 2010.

But the recent controversy about Trump’s remarks in response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – and Baker’s refusal to say whether he had voted for Trump – almost definitely hurt the Republican candidate.

“Rick Baker’s secret sauce was always that he could bring out African-Americans to vote for a Republican,” said Wilson, a harsh critic of Trump who was one of the founders of the “Never Trump” movement.

Baker’s performance in the mayoral election – especially in a city that has been rocked by racial strife in the past – may be a reflection of a growing racial divide nationally, Wilson said.

“There’s an association now among African-Americans that Donald Trump is leading a party of folks who are comfortable with racism. That doesn’t mean Rick Baker is racist. What it means is the association with the Republican Party’s brand and Donald Trump is having blowback effects down the ballot,” he said.

Baker’s support from the black community may have been overshadowed by an endorsement former President Barack Obama gave to Kriseman on Friday.

Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who led Obama’s 2008 campaign in Florida, credited Obama’s endorsement for helping Kriseman.

“This was definitely a #ThanksObama moment,” Schale said in a telephone interview.

Almost 70 percent of the votes in the mayoral primary were cast before election day, and nearly all of them before the Obama endorsement, Schale pointed out. And, when those votes were tallied, Baker was ahead in the absentee ballot count by more than 1,000 votes.

Just a fraction of the voters on election day, therefore, “cast a ballot with the knowledge of the Obama endorsement,” Schale said.

“There’s no question in my mind that the reason it got as close as it did was at some level the Trump brand and at the same level because of the popularity of Barack Obama,” Schale said.

In advance of the 2018 elections, Democrats are eyeing not only the St. Pete race but a key special election next month in Miami-Dade to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who was forced to resign in April after a profanity- and racially-tinged tirade at a private club near the Capitol.

“If they can win here and they win the Frank Artiles seat, the Florida Democrats are going to be a totally new party,” said Barry Edwards, a Democratic strategist and radio-show host who is active in St. Petersburg politics.

“The Democrats need to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and if they see this light, then they’re going to be energized. Their donors are going to be energized. The activists are going to be energized. And it’s going to create the perception that they’re on a roll, and we know in politics, perception is reality,” he said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Donald Trump’s turn to face tricky politics of natural disasters

George W. Bush never recovered from his flyover of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Barack Obama got a bipartisan boost late in his re-election campaign for his handling of Superstorm Sandy.

Now, President Donald Trump confronts the political risks and potential gains that come with leading the federal government’s response to a deadly and destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, the massive storm that has dumped torrents of rain across Texas — flooding Houston and other cities — is the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and the yet-to-be-determined scope of the damage appears likely to require a years-long federal project.

Trump, who is suffering through a long stretch of low approval ratings, has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He will visit Texas Tuesday — and may return to the region again on Saturday. The White House announced the first visit even before Harvey made landfall. On Monday, Trump promised Texans will “have what you need” and that federal funding would come “fast.”

“We will come out stronger and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said Monday during a White House news conference. Trump was scheduled to be briefed on relief efforts with local leaders and relief organizations during a stop in Corpus Christi, then touring the state emergency operations center in Austin and receiving a briefing on the storm before returning to Washington.

The president’s unconventional style has still oozed out. Trump sent about two dozen tweets about the storm since Friday, marveling at the size of the hurricane and cheering on emergency responders: “You are doing a great job — the world is watching!”

Indeed, he argued Monday he specifically timed his controversial pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to capitalize on all the viewers tuned into storm coverage. The Friday night pardon wasn’t an attempt to hide the news, he said: “I assumed the ratings would be higher.”

Trump advisers are well-aware that the hurricane poses a significant test for the White House, which has largely been mired in crises of its own making during Trump’s first seven months in office, including the president’s widely criticized response to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump, who ran a real estate business and starred in a reality show before taking office, has no experience in the kinds of recovery efforts that will be required in Texas and has struggled at times to show competency in governing.

Administrations often tread carefully in planning visits to disaster-ravaged areas. Mobilizing a president, his staff and his security is an enormous logistical undertaking and can pull local law enforcement resources away from the disaster recovery efforts. But Trump hasn’t been cowed.

Aides said it was Trump who pushed for the White House to make his desire to travel to Texas known early. He won’t be visiting Houston, where flooding has wreaked havoc on the nation’s fourth-largest city. Instead, he is meeting with local leadership and relief organizations in Corpus Christi, then visiting the state’s emergency operations center in Austin.

“Conditions haven’t cleared in Houston yet so probably not appropriate for him to go up there, probably not safe for him to go up there,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “But I do think having your own eyes on the devastation that I have seen is important.”

The optics of a president’s initial response to a natural disaster can be long-lasting.

Bush was haunted by his now-infamous declaration that then-FEMA Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job” — a statement that appeared wildly off base after the full scope of the devastation became clear. Images of Bush peering down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also furthered the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.

“He understands why that picture became a metaphor,” said Dana Perino, who was serving as deputy White House spokeswoman at the time.

Trump has played storm politics before. During his campaign, he rushed to Louisiana, in his signature “Make America Great Again” hat, to view damage from massive flooding. Trump made it to the battered neighborhoods before Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and while President Barack Obama was vacationing.

“We’re glad you’re not playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard,” one woman told him, a jab at Obama.

“Somebody is, somebody is that shouldn’t be,” Trump replied.

Over the weekend, Trump offered a sunny assessment of the response efforts while the rain was still pouring down on Houston and other Texas towns. He cited the “great coordination between agencies at all levels of government” and declared, “We have an all-out effort going, and going well!”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has so far praised the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, which has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths. But with nearly 2 more feet of rain expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come.

On its own, a successful federal response to Hurricane Harvey is unlikely to reshape Trump’s presidency. But with his approval rating perilously low, it could help Trump convince some Americans that he has the capability to lead the nation through difficult moments.

Trump’s predecessors have also benefited from the political opportunities that can arise after natural disasters.

When Superstorm Sandy barreled across the East Coast days before the 2012 election, Obama paused his campaign to monitor the federal response from Washington. He traveled to hard-hit New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a strong supporter of the president’s rival, lavished praise on Obama.

Obama advisers said then that while they didn’t believe the president’s Sandy efforts were a deciding factor in the election, the praise he received from Republicans was helpful in the midst of a highly partisan campaign.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

NRA’s video message to ‘elites’: ‘We’re coming for you’

The election of President Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress meant the National Rifle Association could probably rest easy that gun laws wouldn’t change for at least four years. But the NRA has begun a campaign not against pending legislation but what it sees as liberal forces bent on undoing the progress it’s made — and the political powerhouse is resorting to language that some believe could incite violence.

Using the hashtags #counterresistance and #clenchedfistoftruth, the NRA has put out a series of videos that announce a “shot across the bow,” and say the gun-rights group is “coming for you” and that “elites … threaten our very survival,” terms that suggest opponents are enemy combatants.

“The times are burning and the media elites have been caught holding the match,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch says in one video aired on NRATV, the gun lobby’s web video site, as it shows footage of people fighting police, breaking storefront glass and burning the American flag.

Later, she specifically calls out The New York Times: “We’ve had it with your narratives, your propaganda, your fake news. We’ve had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords, your refusal to acknowledge any truth that upsets the fragile construct that you believe is real life. And we’ve had it with your tone-deaf assertion that you are in any way truth or fact-based journalism,” Loesch says. “Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. … In short? We’re coming for you.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the tone and language is “overwrought rhetoric” that, viewed by the wrong person, could lead to violence. The kicker on one of the videos — “We’re coming for you” — is straight out of the movies, she said, and “that phrase means that violence is imminent and we will perpetrate it.”

The NRA is taking a page from the Trump playbook.

The friction between the gun lobby and the media isn’t new. But critics of the NRA contend the organization is relying on the “fake news” mantra started by Trump to whip up its followers after a dip in gun sales that has taken place since Trump succeeded President Barack Obama, who favored stricter gun-control laws.

“They’re not inventing this hyperangry, nasty partisan tone but piggybacking on Trump’s approach. Of course, NRA voters, by and large, are Trump voters, so they would be sympathetic to that kind of message,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at State University of New York at Cortland, who has examined the firearms industry and Second Amendment issues extensively.

Spitzer, a member of the NRA as well as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said it’s a pattern the NRA has exhibited as the group evolved from an almost exclusive focus on gun safety into a political beacon for conservatives who fear changes to the Second Amendment and the gun industry.

“It was Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, it was John McCain. It was Hillary Clinton. It was the United Nations. They’ve held up the U.N. as ready to swoop in and take everybody’s guns,” Spitzer said. “The focus of their ire has changed, but the basic message has been the same.”

The NRA declined to comment on the videos to The Associated Press. But the NRA has produced videos saying the left and the media are out of control and feeding a false narrative that tea party conservatives are racists and Trump supporters are “toothless hillbillies.”

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, said this month: “There is no longer any difference between our politicians and the elite media who report on them. … These elites threaten our very survival, and to them we say: We don’t trust you, we don’t fear you, and we don’t need you. Take your hands off our future.”

Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said it’s been a longtime frustration with journalists who, he contends, “ignore the violence and harsh rhetoric on the left while magnifying and twisting the words of those on the right.”

The NRA videos prompted Mike Nelson, a Democratic congressional candidate in Arkansas and self-described hunter and gun-rights supporter, to label them as “hate speech.” Nelson, whose website lists the NRA among more than two dozen organization he’s supported, said he can no longer back the NRA.

In a Facebook post, Nelson wrote: “If the NRA does not stop their hate campaign, I will call them out on sedition. Sedition is the willful undermining of the legal authority, the Incitement of Violence.”

Some gun owners have cheered the videos and said they give voice to conservatives weary of media attacks on Trump; others say the videos stray from the NRA’s original mission and that the NRA is inviting violence.

Joe Plenzler, a Marine veteran who served overseas and sometimes had reporters accompanying his unit, joined two other veterans in writing an opinion piece for The Daily Beast criticizing the videos.

“The NRA props up the Second Amendment by undermining and vilifying the protections afforded in the First, and paints everyone who may disagree with the current administration, our country’s justice system, or the NRA’s partisan political position with a very dark and unjust broad brush,” Plenzler wrote with Marine veterans Craig Tucker and Kyleanne Hunter.

Plenzler, who has since dropped his NRA membership, said he was disturbed by the videos.

“Lately, it seems like they’ve gone well out of the bounds of any sort of sane responsible behavior. If you want to advocate for the Second Amendment, which I unapologetically believe in, that’s fine,” he said. “But I think at the point where you are going to demonize half the American population in a recruitment effort to get more members, I’ve got a big problem with that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jack Latvala says he’ll capture more Trump voters than GOP opponents

While President Trump is being disparaged this week even by some Republicans following his controversial remarks in which he equated white nationalist hate groups with the protesters opposing them, Jack Latvala showed no qualms about the commander in chief when he said Wednesday that Trump voters in Florida may look more favorably upon his candidacy for governor than his opponents.

“I’m looking at a field that’s made up of people who have been in government their entire lives—either in elective office or as a staff member—and don’t have any business experience and have never really had those challenges that those of us that have businesses have, and I just think that the party who nominated Donald Trump (is) not going to be comfortable with nominating somebody like that,” Latvala told Tampa 820 AM host Dan Maduri on Wednesday.

Trump easily defeated Marco Rubio in the Florida Republican presidential primary more than a year ago, before capturing the Sunshine State narrowly over Hillary Clinton in last fall’s presidential election.

The 63-year-old Clearwater state senator was referring to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran when he said that, unlike his opponents, he has no desire to run for higher office than governor, saying that leading Florida would be his ultimate destination.

“It’s a never ending ladder and I’m at the end of the ladder,” he said. “I’m old enough that this is my last race for anything, and I just want to get in and do what’s got to be done to solve some of these problems and straighten things out.”

Putnam declared his candidacy back in March, and remains the presumptive favorite in the race, thanks in part to his prodigious fundraising and simply the fact that he’s so well known after serving in politics for nearly half of his 43-year-old life. Corcoran has not declared for office, though he is expected to early in 2018.

Latvala announced last month that he would pledge to raise $50,000 over the next six months for the Republican Party of Florida. He told Maduri that someone has to do it, since Rick Scott and other high profile Republicans are raising money for their own political committees.

“The governor doesn’t participate with the party, the Cabinet members haven’t done that, and the leadership of the party is all out raising money for themselves, for their own PACS and own campaigns, and it’s taking it’s toll on the party,” he said. “We’ve got to remember the party.”

Latvala spoke to him the Tampa radio station en route to the Panhandle, where he was scheduled to make his third and final appearance around the state as he officially kicked off his run for governor on Wednesday.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco)

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