David Brooks on Donald Trump voters, Colin Kaepernick and growing loss of connection in U.S.

With his twice-weekly forum on The New York Times Op-Ed page, along with weekly gigs on NPR’s All Things Considered and the PBS NewsHour, David Brooks is regarded as one of the pre-eminent political pundits in the country.

So when I had the opportunity to speak with him about an hour-and-a-half before his scheduled appearance at the Palladium in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening, I asked him what he thought the greatest challenge facing the U.S. in 2016.

He believes it’s our increasing social isolation, something that was reflected in a column he wrote earlier this week, titled, “Dignity and Sadness in the Working Class.”

“The number of people who have five or six friends is dropping, the number of people involved in community organizations is dropping, the number of people who are in marriages is dropping, the number of people who are chronically lonely is increasing,” he said while speaking in an anteroom inside the Palladium.

“And so all the little web of connections that make up normal happy lives is fraying for a lot of people, and they’re falling between the cracks. And when they fall between the cracks, that leads to opiates, that leads to spiking suicide rates which are showing up, that leads to higher mortality rates, obesity rates … and so, it’s really the loss of connection.”

The 55-year-old Brooks has been traveling the country extensively over the past seven months, talking to an audience of hundreds who paid $65 to hear him about speak at the Palladium behind the publication of his latest book, “The Road to Character.” (Proceeds from Wednesday night’s event went to the St. Petersburg College Foundation).

In his recent travels, he says he’s found a level of disaffection among Donald Trump supporters that revolve around a sense of loss, adding that these Trump voters “tend to be richer people in poorer places.”

“The average Trump voter is making $74,000 a year,” he says, noting that’s not a bad salary outside some of our biggest cities. “They feel that they’re playing by the rules, but (feel) that a lot of people are getting off scot-free and aren’t playing by the rules. And then there’s just this overwhelming pessimism, and nostalgia, that things were one way, and now are they’re sliding downhill, and they’re sliding away from us.”

Brooks is dismissive of critics who say that his paper and the mass media, in general, haven’t been hard enough on the Manhattan real estate mogul turned GOP presidential nominee.

“We’ve written 8 million pieces criticizing his university, his charity and on the Op-Ed page, have we ever wrote a pro-Trump thing?” he asks rhetorically. “People are upset that Trump is still doing fine, so they have to blame somebody, so they blame the media.”

He mocks the notion that “if you just wrote that one piece, it will turn it all around. That’s not the problem here, ” referring specifically to a series of stories written over the past month by Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold about Trump’s charitable foundation

The biggest revelation there has been that Trump spent more than $250,000 from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits for his businesses.

Earlier this summer, Brooks wrote that if the campaign remained static, Trump would probably end up getting somewhere between 38 percent to 44 percent support in the general election, unless he somehow could fuse a right-left hybrid populist movement together.

But with less than seven weeks to go before the general election, there’s no indication he’s done that, yet polls show him remaining extremely competitive in his race against Hillary Clinton in the fall.

“I think for the long term if there’s going to be a populist movement it has to cross the color line, he has to get some African-American support, and he certainly hasn’t done that,” he admits.

Brooks also notes that what is new about this election cycle is that college educated voters used to split in a general election roughly 50-50, but not this year.

“I spend a lot of time with businessmen, and they talk like Democrats now,” Brooks says. “They were sort of socially moderate, fiscally conservative but they’re for trade, and they’re for immigration. And I think those people are going to end up as Democrats, especially because they’re hanging around New York or Boston. And they look across at the Republican Party, and they see Trump and they say, ‘well that’s not me.’

“And so, I do think that that the professional class is going to migrate over to one party, and the nonprofessional class is going to migrate to the other — with the exception of race, that’s the barrier — but I think that’s where things are headed.”

Brooks thinks U.S. politics are changing, with the divide more with the professional classes who likes the forces of globalization, trade and immigration versus those who don’t. “It’s new battle lines, and it’s not the old debate between big government versus small government anymore.”

Like any publicly famous social commentator, Brooks has his critics on the left and the right. He was considered the “house conservative” when he began writing columns for the Times in 2003, but has been known to disappoint fellow travelers often over the years.

He has come down recently against San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick‘s refusal to stand for the national anthem to protest racial inequality and oppression in the U.S. — an issue that has catapulted the 28-year-old football player on the cover of this weeks’ Time magazine.

Brooks’ negative take elicited more than a thousand responses to the Times website before it stopped accepting comments. In asking him about the column, it’s obvious he stands strongly behind the piece.

“I would just say that there are a few things that bind us; there are a lot of things that divide us, racial experiences and class experiences, but there are also a few things that unite us, and one of them is the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, our shared patriotism for the country, our shared gratitude for the people who gave us this country, and hopefully some shared belief in the ideals,” he says.

“And so I’m all for protesting the things that are disgraceful about the country, but I hate to do it in a way that tears at what is left of our unity, which is already so tattered and frayed. And I do think if you — the reason that Martin Luther King Jr. sang the national anthem and quoted the Declaration in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was because the ideals of the country are exactly what the solutions to the problems of the country, and so paying homage to those ideals gives you this awesome lever to fight against inequality,” he added.

“And so I would hate to throw away that lever, and I would hate to separate you from anybody else who’s also American, and frankly I hate to insult people who really get emotional about those things.”

Brooks has spoken and written extensively about Barack Obama since he came on the national scene and began running for president nearly a decade ago. He has no time for conservatives who say race relations have worsened since Obama’s election.

“I think he’s been sort of a role model in terms of his personal behavior,” he says. “It’s not like somebody from the Obama administration is going out and shooting people in the streets … so the causes that are really inflaming us are not related to the president.”

“I think he may regret later in life he didn’t spend more time in his administration working on the plight of African-American men in particular, that more resources weren’t thrown at that problem and so I think that’s something he’ll probably do post-presidency. Some of the incarceration stuff, there was grounds for more work on that or just people coming out of prison, or inner city boys growing up in single parents’ households.

“I think a lot of work needs to be done there, and I think he’ll regret that he didn’t do more.”

New York Magazine once wrote that Brooks and Obama both “fetishize balance.” It wasn’t a compliment.

“I admire balance,” Brooks laughs when asked to comment on that comparison. “I think most political issues are competitors between partial truths and so mostly, on most issues both parties have a piece of the truth and I trying to balance those pieces is the heart of politics.”

Brooks has previously said that he’s more of a “3,000-word guy” whose challenge every week is to write 800-word columns, and says his worst columns come when he tries to “cram too much” into a piece.  But he still enjoys writing them, and says he hopes to continue to pen them for at least another decade.

“It’s tremendous satisfaction having had your say, whether or not anybody listens, just to have the chance to say my piece, and the other nice thing — writing twice week it sounds easy but it’s hard to come up with ideas all the time, but it does keep your mind fresh … you’ve got to find something else that’s interesting, but you just gotta keep going. It does keep you learning stuff. It also keeps you forgetting stuff, because you go through so much (and) my memory is not good as it is.

“And another thing. I’m convinced something like my job will exist for another 10-15 years. The industry seems to be a little more stable than it did, and I’m hoping to do it if they’ll have me for another 10 years.”

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Rick Scott to put $25M toward developing Zika vaccine

Gov. Rick Scott, lamenting federal inaction on the Zika virus, has earmarked $25 million in state money for vaccine research.

“I have traveled multiple times to Washington this year to meet with congressional leaders to tell them how urgent this need is. Yet, despite endless claims of support from those within both parties, nothing has been done,” Scott said in a written statement.

“Every minute that passes that Congress doesn’t approve funding means more time is lost from researching this virus. For the sake of our state’s future children, this is time we cannot afford to waste.”

The move brought state spending on Zika to $61.2 million. Earlier, Scott used his emergency authority to pump state money into preparedness efforts.

The state Department of Health will oversee a competitive grant process to expedite development of a Zika vaccine and new testing methods, the governor’s office said.

“I look forward to seeing research partners across Florida come together to help combat the Zika virus and ensure our state is safe,” Scott said.

The governor announced the initiative Thursday. Earlier in the day, in an op-ed in USA Today, the governor blasted the federal government for its “incompetence” in the fight against Zika.

“This $25 million is a step forward for research and development in order to find a vaccine, but we still need the federal government to do their part to fully fund this mission,” Scott said.

“While I hope the federal government will recognize the dire importance of developing a vaccine and immediately pass funding, we will continue to allocate every available resource from the state. I look forward to seeing research partners across Florida come together to help combat the Zika virus and ensure our state is safe.”

Scott said his office would release more details about the vaccine program “in the coming days.”

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Patrick Murphy hires Barack Obama’s 2008 Hispanic media manager to aid his campaign

A recent poll showed that Democratic Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy has some work to do to build up his name recognition amongst Florida’s Latino voters. A recent Univision News survey showed that 6 in 10 Hispanic voters don’t know who he is.

In an attempt to change that equation, the Murphy camp announced on Thursday that they have hired Freddy Balsera to serve as Chief of Hispanic Communications and Strategy, focusing primarily on media, communications and outreach. The campaign says Balsera will advise the campaign on messaging and strategy with regard to the Latino community.

“Freddy is a top tier communications professional with deep insight into Florida’s Hispanic communities and we are thrilled to have him join our campaign,” said Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf. “His experience, connections, and skill set will be an invaluable asset to ensure that Florida’s diverse Hispanic communities know Patrick Murphy and what he stands for. Patrick’s message of fighting for immigration reform and strengthening Florida’s middle class continues to resonate with voters and Freddy will help make sure that message reaches Floridians across the state.”

That Univision poll had incumbent GOP Senator Marco Rubio up seven points over Murphy with Hispanic voters.

Balsera served as President Barack Obama’s 2008 Hispanic media manager and was also a national finance committee member for both of his presidential campaigns. He co-wrote and produced all of the Spanish media messages broadcast by the Obama campaign, and currently has been serving as a top Democratic surrogate in Spanish-language media and as a political analyst for Telemundo during the current election cycle.

I’m excited to join Patrick Murphy’s campaign and look forward to helping him cross the finish line in November,” said Balsera in a statement supplied by the Murphy campaign. “This Senate election is critical for Florida’s Hispanic community. We can’t afford another six years of Marco Rubio abandoning us on immigration reform, fighting for special interests, and putting his personal political ambition above Florida families. Patrick will show up and work hard to fix our broken immigration system, strengthen the middle class, and make sure the voices of Florida’s Hispanic community are heard in the U.S. Senate. I will do everything I can to help Patrick reach Hispanic communities across Florida and ensure he is our next U.S. Senator.”

POLITICO reported last year that Balsera had alienated some Democrats in Miami-Dade County by endorsing Republican Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26 Congressional District race against Democrat Joe Garcia. He’s also worked for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. 

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FAU poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump among Hispanics in Florida 53-34%

Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump among Hispanics in Florida, 53 percent to 34 percent, according to a new survey by conducted the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative released on Thursday.

The organization polled where Latinos stand in the presidential race in five key battleground states: in addition to Florida, Hispanic voters in Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina were included polled from September 15-September 19.

As has been the case in other polls, Clinton’s lead with the Latino vote is slightly slimmer than the margins that President Obama received in his victories in Florida in 2008 and 2012. In ’08 Obama received 57 percent of Hispanic support. In the 2012 election, he won 60 percent.

That is also the case in the other four polls included in the survey, with the biggest drop-off in Hispanic support coming in Nevada. Clinton is currently getting just 54 percent of the vote there against Trump (who gets 25 percent support), whereas Obama received a whopping 76 percent of their votes in ’08 and 71 percent in 2012.

“Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. Republicans cannot continue to underperform with them and maintain a realistic ability to win some of these battleground states,” said Kevin Wagner, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative. “The electoral map becomes increasingly difficult for Republicans if they cannot narrow these large margins.”

Hispanics in every state view Clinton as the better candidate to handle all the major election issues they were polled on, including: the economy, education, terrorism/national security, healthcare, immigration and treatment of minorities.  However, when Hispanic voters were asked about the Affordable Care Act, a majority of the electorate in four of the five states (Colorado being the exception) favor repealing it. The respondents who want to repeal Obamacare support Trump by double-digit margins.

“Clinton is doing well among young Hispanic voters, now she has to motivate them to go out and vote,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI. “The Affordable Care Act, however, is hurting Clinton in four of the states and might be used as a wedge issue by Trump to improve his position in those states.”

The poll was conducted in English and Spanish from Sept. 15-19. Each state sample consisted of 400 registered Hispanics with a margin of error of +/-4.9 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

In Florida, the pollsters surveyed 173 Democrats, 155 Republicans, 70 independent voters and one Libertarian voter.

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Hillary Clinton campaign raced through $50 million last month

Hillary Clinton spent $645,000 more a day than her opponent Donald Trump last month, but even with her $50 million campaign outlay, she has not been able to pull away from him in the race for the White House.

Clinton’s campaign had its most expensive month to date in August, eclipsing its previous monthly high by more than $12 million. And combined, Clinton and the national Democratic Party paid out $78 million in August, while Trump and the Republican National Committee spent about $47 million.

While both candidates are raising huge sums from donors, their lopsided spending lays bare the difference in the two major party presidential campaigns. Clinton is running a conventional operation featuring multimillion-dollar ad buys and expansive voter outreach. Trump has kept spending down by enjoying seemingly limitless free media coverage and outsourcing the guts of his voter contact duties to the Republican Party.

The spending disparity has also become a favored Trump boast.

“Our expenditures on advertising, our expenditures on people, our expenditures on everything are a tiny fraction. And yet we’re minimum tied,” Trump said Tuesday at a rally in Kenansville, North Carolina. “If you can spend less and be winning, that’s a positive thing, right?”

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said Trump has been “derelict” in building a political operation that would help not only himself but down-ballot Republicans.

Four years ago, President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney each raised and spent about $1 billion, a formidable number that Clinton’s national finance director has also set as a benchmark.

Much of Clinton’s spending has been eaten up by advertising, which is costing her about $10 million per week. Through August, she blanketed 11 states with 35,714 broadcast television commercials to Trump’s 7,457 in five states, according to Kantar Media’s political ad data.

Clinton also has built a robust campaign team of 800 employees who cost a total of about $5 million last month. Even after an August hiring spree, Trump has a far smaller shop of about 130 employees and more than 100 consultants.

Among those consultants: Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. He parted ways with Trump in mid-June — and was immediately hired as a CNN contributor — but his Green Monster firm received a $20,000 payment for “strategy consulting” Aug. 11, the same amount it has regularly been paid for months.

The Trump campaign’s biggest expense for the month was more than $11 million to Giles-Parscale for digital consulting and online advertising. Like Trump, the Texas firm is new to politics.

The Clinton campaign’s August fundraising report shows increases in legal and polling expenses, which appear to reflect those firms’ billing cycles. The campaign spent about $450,000 on legal bills and almost $1.3 million on polling.

The presidential spending is even more lopsided after factoring in the main super PACs backing each candidate. While the campaigns must adhere to a $2,700-per-person, per-election donation limit, super political action committees can accept unlimited amounts of money.

Deep-pocketed Priorities USA spent $20.6 million last month, almost exclusively on Trump-bashing and Clinton-boosting TV, radio and digital. The group also replenished its war chest with a healthy $23.4 million haul.

Trump’s outside boosters have so far raised and spent much less money; for example, one group, Great America PAC, spent just $2.6 million in August. Some late help may be on the way: On Tuesday, a group called Future 45 said it has a $5 million commitment from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and $1 million from members of the Ricketts family to attack Clinton.

Clinton’s aides insist their investments will pay off on Election Day.

“Battleground states carry that name for a reason: They’re going to be close, from now until Election Day,” campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in a memo to supporters this week. “But we are going to win them because we’ve spent the past year building a superior ground game to communicate our message and turn our people out to vote.”

Yet if August finance reports are a guide, her heavy spending is only one piece of the puzzle.

The polls have tightened significantly since Clinton benefited from a post-convention bump in early August. Some surveys still show her slightly ahead, but others show an extremely tight race nationally and in key battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Angry Rick Scott wants Barack Obama declare Florida disaster after Hermine

No doubt there is bad blood between the Rick Scott and Barack Obama administrations.

It could be a reason why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has rejected Scott’s request for federal assistance for a multitude of bad weather events — as well as requests for federal funds for handling the Zika virus and the Pulse nightclub shooting — over the past year.

But in a letter directed to the President on Tuesday, the governor lays out the case that it’s beyond time for the feds to help out the nation’s third-biggest state, following the damages incurred from Hurricane Hermine.

In his letter, the governor states there has been more than $36 million in damages due to the hurricane. A presidential disaster declaration would provide federal resources to support recovery efforts in Florida. This request is for both individual assistance for families and public assistance to help state agencies and local governments.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that Florida families and businesses can get back on their feet following Hurricane Hermine,” Scott said in a statement issued out Tuesday afternoon. “I have traveled across the state to meet Floridians who have been personally impacted by the storm, and communities are working hard to recover from flooding and damage. The resources and financial assistance from the federal government would support our communities and help them rebuild. We look forward to President Obama immediately issuing a declaration in support of all Florida families and businesses affected by the hurricane.”

Florida was rocked significantly by weather events in August and September this year. In his letter to the president, Scott lists the amount of rainfall to specific counties, with Pinellas leading the way with more than 22 inches.

Thirty-eight different counties in the state declared local state emergencies, 39 opened up their emergency operations centers and 34 opened up shelters.

“During the preceding 12 months, the state of Florida experienced repeated emergencies that required the development of significant state resources,” Scott writes. “Individually these incidents may not have overwhelmed the ability of the State of Florida to respond. Cumulatively, however, these emergencies significantly impacted the state’s capability to provide financial support following Hurricane Hermine.”

Scott then indicates how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the guidance of former Floridian Craig Fugate, has refused to provide any funding from severe flooding from Aug. 1-9 of 2015, nor from the fallout of excessive El Nino-led rainstorms in January and February of 2016, nor from tornadoes that affected several Florida counties, nor to June’s Tropical Storm Colin.

Scott also cites the lack of any federal help after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June in Orlando, which led to the deaths of 49 people, the deadliest single-gunman massacre in U.S. history. Nor from the toxic algae bloom that emanated near Lake Okeechobee earlier this summer.

Three weeks ago the White House rejected Scott’s last request for a federal disaster declaration for Tampa Bay’s August flooding, prompting Scott communications director Jackie Schultz to say, “It’s disappointing that the Obama administration denied our request for federal assistance for those impacted by recent floods in the Tampa and west-central Florida areas.”

Before he ran for governor in 2010, Scott led a movement to try to bring down what would become the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). He’s also sued the Obama administration regarding veterans programs and federal hospital funding, while Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined up with other Republican attorneys general to sue the president over some issues, including his executive orders in late 2014 to shield several million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

In the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane Hermine, Tallahassee-based Democratic Representative Gwen Graham sent a letter to Obama requesting federal assistance. She said today she supported Scott’s missive to the White House.

“Hurricane Hermine was the greatest natural disaster our region has faced in a generation,” Graham said. “I fully support Governor Rick Scott’s request for federal assistance and renew my call on President Obama to quickly approve all available and applicable help for North Florida,” Representative Graham said. “North Florida families are as strong as they come, and we will recover from this storm. I’m hopeful the state and federal government will work together, as neighbors worked together after the storm, to best serve the constituents we represent.”

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David Jolly, Charlie Crist clash in electric debate in St. Petersburg

David Jolly and Charlie Crist went at each other hard for close to an hour in their first debate for Florida’s 13th Congressional District race at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg Monday night.

It was good theater, and for those observing the event that was broadcast live on WTSP-10 News, the differences in the candidate’s positions were relatively stark and distinct.

Although the district is supposedly solidly Democratic after redistricting, Jolly would appear to be in fairly decent shape some seven weeks before Election Day. Although he is being out-fundraised, a St. Pete Polls survey released Monday (which did not include cellphones) had Jolly narrowly leading Crist, 46 percent to 43 percent. Jolly also polled better regarding favorability rankings with a 54/25 percent favorable to unfavorable rating. Crist was listed at 45/45.

The candidates clashed throughout the evening, with some of the fiercest sparks emanating from Crist’s decision to talk about the environmental crisis that has led the city of St. Petersburg to release 151 million gallons of sewage into the streets, as well as Boca Ciega Bay and Tampa Bay.

“What I don’t understand, is why our member of Congress, our representative of Pinellas County, the epicenter of this problem, isn’t advocating day after day after day for federal emergency help to get this cleaned up,” Crist said. “Our country has done this for Flint (Michigan). Why can’t we do it for Pinellas County?”

Jolly responded by getting in a dig in at St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, exciting the GOP partisans in the hall.

“Because the mayor who’s endorsed you who oversaw this catastrophe did not ask for it,” Jolly responded, getting a loud round of applause.

“If you have to be asked for help while the people in your district are suffering, something’s wrong,” Crist replied, getting almost as loud a reaction.

Jolly again blamed Kriseman for not standing up and said he’d be “happy” to work for the county as he has done for other cities in the district.

“Then why haven’t you done it?” Crist interrupted, keeping his foot on the gas. “Do you need an invitation to serve?” which generated the loudest cheer in the exchange. Crist said if he were in Congress, he’d at least be talking about the issue.

There were several other sharp conflicts throughout the evening, which actually began on the second question when co-moderator Mark Rivera asked the candidates were OK with permitting a woman infected with the Zika virus obtain an abortion.

Jolly, who is pro-life, said that he did believe in exceptions for abortion when it came to a woman’s health situation. After Crist had said he was proudly pro-choice, Jolly pounced.

“You were pro-choice, then you were pro-life, then you were pro-choice,” the Indian Shores Republican said. “As a Republican, when you had a chance to serve when you were in office you told the AP in 2009 that you would have supported an abortion ban in the state of Florida. It was only after you switched parties that you switched your position. This was not a matter of conviction for you; it was for political convenience.”

Both candidates came in well prepared.

Crist was more vulnerable, having switched political parties beginning in 2010, when he left the GOP to become an independent while running for the U.S. Senate seat, before making the complete switch to the Democratic Party in late 2012. But he took the offensive in explanation his ideological wanderlust, saying, “it’s not a sin.”

“If the values of the party at the time don’t comport with how you were raised by your family, I think you have a duty to yourself and your God, to do what you think is right, and represent the principals and values that you share, those of decency, doing unto others, doing what’s right for the people that you want to serve, and that’s why I’m a Democrat today and I’m proud of it,” Crist said, eliciting a hearty cheer from the audience.

Crist inadvertently provided the biggest laughs of the evening when he engaged with Jolly about how each candidate found themselves running in the CD 13 contest. Jolly painted his move as noble, and not political.

“Mr. Crist got into this race because the lines have changed,” he said. “I got into this race despite the fact that the lines had changed.”

Crist said he got into the contest only after the lines had changed because the new district included where he lived in downtown St. Pete.

Jolly fired back, “You bought a house in the district in St. Pete Beach that you later sold.”

Not true, Crist insisted. “My wife bought that house,” he said, which while factually accurate, didn’t pass the smell test with the crowd.

When it came for the time for the candidates to ask each other a question, Crist attempted to play the statesman, declining to offer a gotcha question to his Republican rival.

Jolly wasn’t about to let the opportunity go to waste.

Citing a Sarasota-Herald Tribune story, Jolly referred to Crist’s former life when he was known as being tough on crime “Chain-Gang Charlie” of the mid-1990s, when being tough on crime was de rigueur for conservative lawmakers. Jolly went into extensive detail about a Crist visit to Alabama, where he stood over black prisoners to say such a program would be good for Florida.

Crist appeared mortified by the story and chastised Jolly for getting racial.

“I’m embarrassed you’d say that about a fellow Floridian,” Crist said.

When each candidate was asked where they differed from their political party, Crist mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which does place him opposite Barack Obama and the platform of the Democratic National Committee, but safely with the growing mainstream of Democrats who oppose it, like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Jolly went a little loftier, saying that much of his political persona is a challenge to party leadership on issues like marriage equality, climate science, and his STOP Act, which would ban federal officeholders from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

“Look, in three years I’ve tried to change politics at great political risk,” he said. “And I think I continue to put Pinellas over Washington politics.”

Crist said at one point that Jolly lobbied for the privatization of Social Security, a charge the former D.C. lobbyist denied. “Well, you registered to lobby for it,” Crist said. Jolly did say Crist had endorsed his legislation to end taxation of Social Security.

Jolly showed off his preparation when he attempted to bust Crist regarding his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour. He said Crist opposed the proposal when he served as a board member of Enterprise Florida in 2004 (that’s when Floridians voted to raise the minimum wage as a constitutional amendment).

To his credit, co-moderator Adam Smith took 45 minutes before asking whether Jolly had finally “gotten there” yet on whether or not he’ll support his party’s standard-bearer in November, Donald Trump.

“I’m not there with Mr. Trump,” Jolly said, his stock answer when asked the question.

After Smith had challenged him, Jolly said he wasn’t sure he ever would get there in November.

Crist had no such moral compunction when speaking affirmatively for Hillary Clinton, though he did elicit giggles when he said, “I believe that she is steady. I believe that she is strong. I believe that she is honest.”

Among those seen in the crowd were former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, SD 19 Democratic candidate Augie Ribeiro, and St. Petersburg City Councilman Karl Nurse.

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Kathy Castor warns of ‘Alt-Right’ surge in hailing opening of African-American history museum this week

This coming Saturday morning, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. will open to the world, and Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor said Monday that Dr. Samuel Wright will be her special guest at the opening ceremonies. Until he retired in 2013 after 27 years, Wright served as associate dean of student and parent relations, director of multicultural affairs, and student ombudsman at the University of South Florida, where he also taught as an adjunct professor in its Department of Africana Studies.

“This is going to be a remarkable moment,” Castor said at a news conference Monday morning at the Robert W. Saunders, Sr. Public Library in Tampa. The library, which opened last year, contains a historical archive of the black Central Avenue district in Tampa before integration took hold.

Carrie Hurst, principal librarian and branch manager of the library, said that in association with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the Saunders Library will host a live watch party of the opening of the museum this Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

The Smithsonian’s new museum — the last to be built on the National Mall — follows the African-American experience through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights era. Castor said its opening comes at a unique time in our country’s history, specifically mentioning the “alt-right,” the political movement that has become increasingly tied to the Donald Trump campaign.

“There is a kind of a new wave of racism in this country,” the Tampa Democrat told reporters, as she was flanked by Wright and Hurst. “Something is going on that has made it acceptable to lash out at your neighbors who are different than you are, whether it’s how they look, or their religion, or where they come from.”

The congresswoman went on to say that while Americans have much more in common that in what divides them, something is happening this year to disrupt racial relations.

“The rise of the alt-right movement — which is really a term of white supremacy — and we’ve all got to work together to battle back and say,’that’s not OK, it’s not acceptable to condemn your neighbor because they’re different than you,'” Castor said.

The 63-year-old Wright says there’s been tremendous progress in civil rights, but thinks it’s been stalled in recent years, citing what he said was the lack of respect that Barack Obama has received as president. “Is that because of color? I think those are the things that we have to give consideration to,” he said.

And Wright said the opening of the new Smithsonian is important for everyone, but especially for our youth. “It’s important for our young people to understand, many people had to pay a great price for the freedom in America, and you have to understand the importance of voting,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to understand your history, to be able to appreciate all these things.”

Although admission to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture will be free, Castor said that members of the public are asked to register with the museum in advance so they can be given a specific time to visit. She advises those considering visiting the museum in its first few months to contact her office if they need help in getting that scheduled time.

“There are going to be displays inside that are going to be uncomfortable,” she warned. “A KKK robe, shackles from the era of slavery. Some of this is going to be very difficult, and I understand there’s signage that warns people about how harsh it can be. But this is an important chapter of American history, it explains in a lot of ways why we still must focus on fighting for equal rights all across this country.”

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Donald Trump finally says President Obama was born in the U.S.

After five years as the chief promoter of the false idea that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, Donald Trump admitted on Friday that the president was — and claimed credit for putting the issue to rest.

“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” Trump said in brief televised remarks. “Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”

But as Trump sought to put that false conspiracy theory to rest, he stoked another, claiming that the “birther movement” was started by rival Hillary Clinton. There is no evidence that is true.

“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it,” Trump said. “I finished it, you know what I mean.”

Trump spoke against a backdrop of veterans in a sprawling ballroom at his new Washington hotel. His statement of a few seconds came only after a lengthy campaign event featuring military officers and award winners who have endorsed him. Trump did not address the issue until the end of the event, turning it into a de facto commercial for the GOP candidate, as the major cable TV networks aired the full event live in anticipation of comments Trump had hyped hours before.

“I’m going to be making a major statement on this whole thing and what Hillary did,” he told the Fox Business Network. “We have to keep the suspense going, OK?”

Clinton herself said Friday that Trump owes Obama and the American people an apology for his role as a leading “birther” questioning the president’s citizenship.

Speaking at an event with black women, Clinton said that Trump’s campaign was “founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history.”

She said Trump is “feeding into the worst impulses, the bigotry and bias that lurks in our country.”

The birther idea, which he now denies, provided Trump with his entry into Republican politics and for years has defined his status as an “outsider” who is willing to challenge convention.

As late as Wednesday, he would not acknowledge that Obama was born in Hawaii, declining to address the matter in a Washington Post interview published late Thursday night.

“I’ll answer that question at the right time,” Trump said. “I just don’t want to answer it yet.”

Clinton seized on Trump’s refusal during a speech Thursday night before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

“He was asked one more time where was President Obama born and he still wouldn’t say Hawaii. He still wouldn’t say America,” Clinton said. “This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry?”

Hours later, campaign spokesman Jason Miller issued a statement that suggested the question had been settled five years ago — by Trump.

“In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate,” Miller said.

“Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised,” he added. “Inarguably, Donald J. Trump is a closer. Having successfully obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States.”

The facts of Trump’s actions do not match Miller’s description. Trump repeatedly questioned Obama’s birth in the years after Obama released his birth certificate. In August 2012, for example, he was pushing the issue on Twitter.

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he wrote.

Trump’s comments speculating on Obama’s birthplace have been seen by many as an attempt to delegitimize the nation’s first black president, and have turned off many of the African-American voters he is now courting in his bid for the White House.

On Friday, Obama jabbed at Trump, saying “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”

“I was pretty confident about where I was born. I think most people were as well,” Obama said during a meeting about his trade agenda.

Miller’s claim that Clinton launched the birther movement during her unsuccessful primary run against Obama in 2008 is unsubstantiated and long denied by Clinton. The theory was pushed by some bloggers who backed Clinton’s primary campaign eight years ago, but Clinton has said Trump “promoted the racist lie” that sought to “delegitimize America’s first black president.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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In Florida, Donald Trump faces a Hillary Clinton campaign behemoth

For Donald Trump, the fight for Florida begins and ends with mass appeal: signature rallies and direct social media contact with voters who believe he can “make America great again.”

Add some 30 Florida Trump employees to about 80 Republican Party field workers deployed around the state, and that pretty much covers the GOP nominee’s conventional ground game operation in the largest battleground state.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton: 51 offices, with more on the way, and 500 employees combing Florida, and an overall ground game that rivals that of the previous Democratic nominee, President Barack Obama.

Trump loyalists say they have a deliberate strategy and far-reaching footprint to counter the Clinton behemoth, even if his apparatus doesn’t measure up in campaign offices, staff and paid advertising. But the organizational disparity leaves more than a few Republicans scratching their heads. All agree Trump has no path to the required 270 electoral votes without claiming Florida’s 29.

“Everyone keeps saying you’re not doing this in a traditional way, why?” says Trump adviser Karen Giorno. “Well, we don’t have a traditional candidate.” She oversaw Trump’s Florida operation from the primary season until last week, when she moved to national duties.

Giorno points to thousands of volunteers led by unpaid chairmen in each of Florida’s 67 counties. The Republican National Committee says it has 1,000 trained volunteers to go with its employees.

Yet only after Labor Day did the Trump campaign open outposts other than the nominee’s state headquarters in Sarasota. Giorno’s replacement by Susie Wiles came just two months before Election Day.

Giorno and Wiles say their candidate is in good shape. Either Trump or his running mate Mike Pence will be in the state at least weekly until the election, Giorno said. Between visits, she added, a volunteer network, led by people in each of Florida’s 67 counties, will use more conventional methods to build the Trump coalition.

Wiles, in an interview on her first day as the new Florida boss, said judging the campaign by offices and staff “isn’t the right measure we should use,” because “you don’t meet voters sitting in an office.”

Prior to her job change, Giorno described a two-track strategy she developed with Trump’s blessing.

“Ten thousand people in an arena and thousands of people on social media are just as good as (Democrats) knocking on 10,000 doors — and we’re doing that, too,” Giorno said. “I don’t see how people say we have no ground game just because they don’t see something that operates just like they think it should.”

Scott Arceneaux, senior strategist for Clinton’s Florida campaign, calls that “ridiculous spin” in a state where marginal shifts in a diverse electorate can tilt the statewide result. Obama won Florida by fewer than 3 percentage points in 2008 and less than a percentage point four years later, with turnout exceeding 8.3 million both times. Polls for months have suggested another tight race.

Trump’s Orange County chairman, Randy Ross, said Arceneaux discounts people like him.

Ross, whose territory includes Orlando, shepherds other volunteers who run phone banks and knock on doors using voter lists produced by the Republican National Committee’s data operation, expanded after Obama’s two victories. “We happen to be using things Republicans learned” from Obama, Ross added, “but we are really a movement, just like Mr. Trump calls it.”

Brian Ballard, a Trump fundraiser and top lobbyist in the state capital of Tallahassee, said, “Counting campaign offices just doesn’t matter these days.”

Florida is slightly less white than the national electorate, but still roughly a microcosm. If the electorate largely reflects 2012, Clinton would capitalize on her standing among African-Americans and Hispanics wary of Trump. Even among Cuban-Americans, a population that has historically leaned Republican, Trump appears to be underperforming — a circumstance that would pad Clinton’s advantage.

Yet even if Clinton maintains her advantage among minorities, turnout could drop in places like Orlando and south Florida’s Broward County, yielding her fewer overall votes. That could give Trump an opening if he’s able to goose turnout among whites, particularly in Pensacola, Jacksonville and other GOP strongholds in north Florida.

Even so, said Arceneaux, “This is a 1 percent state, so if we win by 2 percent, that’s a landslide.”

Facing such a landscape, Giorno conceded Trump is late building his paid campaign infrastructure. But other Florida Republicans point to strong local parties that already were using the national party’s data and support, while running their own outreach programs.

Michael Barnett, chairman of the Palm Beach County GOP, for example, says his party has for several years built relationships within the Haitian-American community. That pocket — numbering in the tens of thousands — shows up as black voters on paper, Barnett notes, “but doesn’t have the historical connection with the Democratic Party” that American-born blacks do.

Arceneaux, the Clinton strategist, questions whether the overall Republican effort can identify and mobilize voters beyond those who identify themselves as eager supporters, given fewer employees and Trump’s late effort.

He joked: “We like to say that Mr. Trump gives us many avenues to victory.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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