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Today on Context Florida: Fuzzy budget math, accounting tricks, Ben Carson and ending meetings on time

Today on Context Florida:

Once again, the media is abuzz and many in the Florida Legislature are absolutely giddy at the prospect of what they call a budget surplus this year. State fiscal analysts are predicting a surplus of about $635 million and the Governor’s Office, using what Rich Templin calls a bit of fuzzy math that no one outside of his administration can understand to project excess revenues of $1.3 billion.

Frank Clemente says, surprisingly, Congress’s $680 billion holiday-season tax deal will bring some cheer to working families and not just to big corporations this year. Refundable tax credits putting extra cash in the hands of hard-pressed workers and parents were included in a huge year-end gift-wrapped package of tax breaks — the type of bill that usually only offers big rewards to corporate fat cats. It’s an accounting trick, Clemente notes. Tax cuts supposedly expiring in a year or two don’t make long-range budget projections look so bad, after all.

Bill Day’s latest:

Bill Day's latest ... #FlaPol

According to Marc Yacht, presidential hopeful Ben Carson found voters fickle. And as they say in the theater, “His star is fading.” After enjoying a top-notch rating since appearing on the political scene, the neurosurgeon seems fated to the dustbin of political history.  Carson sinks faster than a leaky wooden boat.  What happened to this Trump challenger?

Many of us have taken the rollover of the calendar as a chance to make changes and reaffirm commitments. Usually, says Michael Preston, these decisions take the form of the New Year’s resolution. We are great at making promises, but, unfortunately, are lousy at keeping them. Likely you are one of those who have made and failed to keep your resolution. But here’s one resolution Preston is going to try to keep this year: End meetings on time.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

Reuters poll: Donald Trump maintains lead over GOP field

A new Reuters poll shows Donald Trump is maintaining a hefty lead among registered Republicans.

Among registered Republicans, 42.2 percent said they supported the New York businessman, compared with 15 percent for Sen. Ted Cruz and 11.2 percent for Ben Carson.

Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush rounded out the Top 5 candidates, with 8.5 percent of the respondents said they supported Rubio and 7.7 percent supported Bush.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll collects data entirely using online surveys. The data is drawn from online surveys using sampling data developed with several outside experts.

Trump has been at the top of national polls for months, and he leads the pack in New Hampshire and South Carolina. In Iowa, polling averages show that Trump trails Cruz.

Mitch Perry Report for 1.5.16 – GOP candidates defend Saudi use of Sharia law

For nearly a year that they’ve been campaigning, the Republican candidates for president have focused on what they contend is how Barack Obama‘s bumbling foreign policy has led to the U.S.’s loss of stature around the world. While there could be some truth to some of the rhetoric, there’s also a lot of hyperbole and lack of nuance that has only been exacerbated in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November.

Take, for instance, their views on the weekend execution of 47 men by Saudi Arabia. They included dissident Shiite cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, which outraged Iranians who then set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the Saudi Consulate in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.

Tthe men were beheaded except for four killed by firing squads, according to the Reuters news agency.

So how should the U.S. deal with this? The Obama administration performs a delicate balance when dealing with the Saudis and Iranians.

According to Republican presidential candidates Saudis are good, Iranians are bad.

The Saudis justify their executions as part of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, aka Sharia law.

“Saudi Arabia is our ally, despite the fact that they don’t always behave in a way that we condone,” Carly Fiorina said Sunday. “Iran is a real and present threat.”

Ben Carson criticized the Obama administration for backing the Iran nuclear deal (a deal all the GOP candidates have condemned). “Of course, we don’t condone that kind of thing,” he said of the mass executions. “But I’m just saying we need to stop doing silly things that promote these kinds of activities.”

On “With All Due Respect” last night, Chris Christie said he could never support Iran in such a conflict.

Obviously, the Middle East kingdom is an ally because of its strategic importance and oil wealth, but its treatment of women and record on human rights are abysmal. Iran’s government has been a sworn enemy of the West for decades, of course, making it somewhat of a difficult choice as to who, if either nation, the U.S. should be backing.

But the fealty to the Saudi government is disconcerting.

In other news …

Marco Rubio and friends were busy on Monday. Just after the sun came up in New Hampshire, the GOP presidential candidate was delivering a major foreign policy speech, where he once again assailed Hillary Clinton as being a liar for her public comments regarding the tragedy at Benghazi, while saying something else entirely to others. Meanwhile, later in the day one of his super PACS, American Solutions PAC, began airing two ads going off on … Chris Christie? Yes, indeed.

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Three people are now running to be chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, and none of them are named Mark Hanisee.

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HART board member Kathleen Shanahan wants the agency’s chairman to write a letter to local newspapers about what the occasionally besieged transit authority has done and is doing for transportation in the Tampa Bay area.

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Tampa Bay area state Reps. Dana Young and Darryl Rouson plan an event this week to help Hillsborough County motorists restore their suspended driver’s licenses.

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The Republican Liberty Caucus is coming to the defense of a Miami-Dade County Republican who may be ousted from the party because of his advocacy for a Ted Cruz presidency. Manny Roman‘s fate is scheduled to be discussed this week at the Dade County’s Republican Executive Committee meeting.

Guest lineups for Sunday news shows

Guest lineups for the Sunday TV news shows:

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ABC’s “This Week” — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders; Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

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NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Not available.

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CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

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CNN’s “State of the Union” — Sanders; Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina; U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican

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“Fox News Sunday” — Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg: 2016 to be a put up or shut up year

At last, we will have a put up or shut up year.

In 2016, people will have to act instead of speculate or opine, and we are going to have some answers, finally. In 2016, we’re going to find out who schlongs who.

We will find out whether the rise of The Donald is the solidifying phenomenon that, however unlikely, it appeared to become in the final months of 2015.

Trump is the biggie of 2016. We will find out if the polls are just notional things, people toying with the idea of Commander In Chief Trump. Starting in just over a month — just over two months for Floridians — people will have to put their votes where their poll-answering mouths are.

Every two years in Florida is a political put up or shut up year. But 2016 is the biggest in eight years. There is no incumbent president and four of the GOP contenders have strong Florida ties. Florida will be replacing a U.S. senator. There are all those new House districts. State Senate districts still are being formed.

The year 2016 will provide answers to major questions in Florida. Fantasy sports leagues and the Seminole compact are so ripe — after lengthy discussions and fretting in 2015 — that they will rot if the Legislature doesn’t put up or shut up on those issues in 2016.

The same could be said for medical marijuana. United For Care, led by John Morgan of Orlando, likely has the signatures to put medical marijuana back on the ballot in November 2016.

If learning the outcomes to all these issues will be a relief to most of us, it seems bound to bring crushing disappointment to some mix of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump — or all of them. But of all of them, Jeb has the most to win or lose in 2016.

Jeb Bush’s forces have insisted — true to that! mark at the end of his name — that Jeb will rally to become a viable candidate. Plus, since Jeb recently has positioned himself as the Republican most willing to take on Trump, a victory by The Donald would be particularly stinging. Will Jeb put up or shut up? I’m betting that the results will shut him up. If that happens, 2016 could spell the end to Jeb’s political life. I still think he’d have a shot at running for the Senate, though.

And, as we learned in 2014, it is possible to declare an end to a political career too early. In that year, Charlie Crist was declared politically dead after losing to Gov. Rick Scott. But 2016 turns out to be another put up or shut up year for Crist, who now seems poised to win election to the 13th Congressional District. Funny to think of Crist arriving in Washington just as his 2010 nemesis — Marco Rubio — will be leaving, unless Rubio takes up residence in the White House or, possibly, Blair House.

Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson will have to put up or shut up in seeking the Democratic nomination for Rubio’s old Senate seat. Can anyone see Grayson — famous for verbal outbursts — actually shutting up? But while that attitude seems to work for Donald Trump, it is not vaulting Grayson to the lead in a race that still has many undecided voters.

Murphy is very much different from Grayson, representing a moderate, work-with-the-political-enemy vibe. But will the Democratic base — imitating the GOP base in its love for Trump — prefer a fire-breather?

No matter which candidate Democrats nominate, will South Florida Democrats — the key to success — come out to vote in November? Either Murphy or Grayson would need their votes to defeat the Republican candidate, which at this point looks likely to be Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. David Jolly or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

South Florida Dems didn’t turn out in 2014, giving Scott that second term as governor. What they do this time, therefore, is a huge put up or shut up issue for 2016, affecting races all the way up to president. Their participation could guarantee that the morning after Election Day brings the headline Democrats long to see:

“Hillary Shuts Up Trump.”

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Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida.

Marco Rubio in Iowa as questions grow about early-state efforts

With a nationally focused campaign that leans on strong debate performances and television advertising, Marco Rubio isn’t going all out in any one of the early voting states.

That’s raised eyebrows among Republicans in states such as Iowa, where people are used to being lavished with attention in a presidential campaign.

As 2015 wanes, the Florida senator is back in Iowa on Tuesday for a multi-day swing, hoping to shore up support and finish in the top tier of candidates in the Feb. 1 caucuses.

But he is continuing to spread his time and money across the early states, showing no indication he will choose just one to make his mark.

That’s unlike Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has set his sights on Iowa, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is pushing hard in New Hampshire.

While supporters say Rubio just needs to stay in the top cluster in the first few states, some see the approach as risky.

“The caucuses are about organize, organize, organize and get hot at the end,” said Iowa Republican strategist Doug Gross, who has not endorsed a candidate. But as for Rubio and his people, “I think they’ve intentionally tried to run a different campaign.”

In another early voting state, South Carolina, former Republican Party chair Karen Floyd described Rubio’s approach as “curious,” saying his organization there has not been as visible as several of his rivals.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said the campaign has no plans to “give up on states we can win.”

But it is risky to be seen as having to win a particular state a month before the voting, he said. “We see four states where Marco can succeed,” Conant said, referring to the four earliest ones — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

In Iowa, recent polls have found Cruz and Donald Trump battling for first, with Rubio usually a distant third. He’s seen as competing most directly with others considered part of the GOP establishment — Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Most agree he doesn’t actually need to win the caucuses, but must emerge as the leader of that group.

“As 2016 starts, Iowa feels it’s Cruz’s to lose,” said Matt Strawn, a former Iowa Republican Party chairman. “A lot of Senator Rubio’s success will be determined by whether he can blunt the momentum or not allow any of his New Hampshire competitors to build momentum.”

A good organization is important in Iowa because caucuses take more effort than a primary, requiring voters to show up at a fixed time on a winter night. The Republican caucuses drew about 120,000 voters in 2008 and 2012 — roughly 20 percent of registered Republicans.

Cruz has perhaps the strongest traditional organization in Iowa, with backing from churches, an active volunteer network and some key endorsements.

Rival Ben Carson has been wooing churches and Bush and Rand Paul have had staff in the state for months. The biggest wild card remains Trump, who has been drawing massive crowds, but must translate that into caucus voters.

Rubio has less paid staff than some competitors and his state director hails from Arkansas.

He draws large, enthusiastic crowds and has done at least 49 public events in the state this year — more than Bush or Christie, but significantly fewer than Cruz, who has done at least 80. Iowa Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, who is backing Rubio, said the pace will pick up in the next month with “a more traditional Iowa campaign.”

Iowans have been exposed to more commercials promoting Rubio than they have almost any other candidate.

Rubio’s campaign and two outside groups helping him, including one that keeps its donors secret, together aired about 4,000 ads on broadcast TV in 2015, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG. That’s second only to Right to Rise, a super political action committee backing Bush, which had about 5,600 ads up this year. Bush’s own campaign didn’t do any Iowa broadcast advertising, CMAG shows.

Cruz broadcast only about 800 commercials in the state, and groups helping him have put just a few more on Iowa TV. Trump hasn’t had any local commercials.

There’s much more to come.

Information from CMAG shows some $18 million in commercials already on deck for January. Rubio’s campaign, so far, plans to spend the most in the state, with the Bush super PAC close behind. But because the ad rates are so much higher for outside groups than for the candidates themselves, Rubio will probably get much more airtime for his money.

Questions about Rubio’s organization efforts are being echoed in other early voting states, including New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Christie, Bush and Kasich have spent far more time in New Hampshire than Rubio.

Rubio has taken one major step in South Carolina, picking up the endorsement from Rep. Trey Gowdy, nationally known among conservative activists and the lead congressional figure on the murders of four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012. Gowdy is scheduled to appear with Rubio in Iowa this week.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pope’s comments on global warming top notable quotes list

Pope Francis‘ comments that human activity is mostly to blame for global warming top a list of the most notable quotes of 2015, as compiled by a Yale Law School librarian who also included several sound bites from the U.S. presidential campaign.

Fred Shapiro, an associate librarian at the law school, said the 10th annual “Yale Book of Quotations” list of most notable quotes, released Tuesday, doesn’t necessarily contain the most “eloquent or admirable quotations,” but rather ones that were chosen because they were famous, important or particularly revealing of the spirit of the times.

Making the list is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders saying how “sick and tired” the American people are of hearing about the emails of Hillary Clinton, his rival in the Democratic presidential race.

Donald Trump made the list twice for disparaging comments about fellow Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. did not make the list, Shaprio said, because it was presented in a statement that referred to Trump in the third person and did not lend itself to being quoted.

The yearly list is an update to the “Yale Book of Quotations,” which was first published in 2006.

The list:

1. “Scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … released mainly as a result of human activity.” — Pope Francis, “Laudato Sí” encyclical letter, June 18.

2. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” — Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential debate, Las Vegas, Oct. 13.

3. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?” — Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Fox News Network “Hannity” show, Sept. 29.

4. “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” — Donald Trump on fellow Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, quoted in Rolling Stone magazine, Sept. 24.

5. “He’s not a war hero. … He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” — Donald Trump on John McCain, interview at Family Leadership Summit, Ames, Iowa, July 18.

6. “A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there?” — Ben Carson, Republican presidential candidate, on whether homosexuality is a choice, CNN “New Day” show, Mar. 4.

7. “These men and women … ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court opinion on gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, June 26.

8. “What, like with a cloth or something?” — Hillary Clinton, response to a reporter’s questions about whether she wiped her server, North Las Vegas, Nevada, Aug. 18.

9. “Three things happen when they (female scientists) are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.” — Nobel medicine laureate Tim Hunt, remarks at World Conference of Science Journalists, Seoul, South Korea, quoted in The Guardian, June 10.

10. “He’s, of course, one of the real leaders on this team and he earns it and he earns it with respect from all of his teammates and that’s the kind of thing that inspires a football team.” — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on controversial player Greg Hardy, remarks to reporters, East Rutherford, New Jersey, Oct. 25.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Ben Carson suggests campaign shake-up is coming

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is pointing toward a major shake-up in his struggling campaign six weeks before early voting begins in Iowa.

Carson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he is considering “personnel changes” in his campaign. He did not name specific aides, but the interview occurred without the prior knowledge of his campaign manager, Barry Bennett.

Told of Carson’s remarks, Bennett declined to comment immediately. He says he is “getting ready to have a conversation” with Carson later Wednesday.

Carson’s longtime business manager Armstrong Williams said that any potential changes by Carson indicate that he is “back in charge.” Williams has publicly criticized Bennett and other paid political professionals running Carson’s campaign.

The latest rift comes after Carson’s weeks-long slide in many national and early state polls.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Half of U.S. voters embarrassed with Donald Trump as president, Quinnipiac poll finds

Six weeks before the Iowa Caucuses open the 2016 presidential race in earnest, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz lead the Republican field nationally, but Trump trails either Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and 50 percent of American voters say they would be embarrassed to have Trump as president, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll released Tuesday.

Trump has 28 percent of the GOP pack, with Cruz of Texas at 24 percent. Sen. Marco Rubio has 12 percent and Dr. Ben Carson has 10 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds. No other candidate tops 6 percent with 8 percent undecided. But 58 percent of those who name a candidate might change their mind.

Among Democrats, Clinton tops Sanders 61 – 30 percent. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has 2 percent, with 6 percent undecided and 41 percent who might change their mind.

Among Republicans, 28 percent of voters say they “would definitely not support” Trump, with 24 percent who would not back Bush.

Only 23 percent of all voters would be proud to have Trump as president.

If Clinton is elected, 33 percent of all voters would be proud and 35 percent would be embarrassed.

“Half of American voters say they’d be embarrassed to have Donald Trump as their commander in chief and most Americans think he doesn’t have a good chance in November, but there he is still at the top of the Republican heap,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Hillary Clinton tops him. Sen. Bernie Sanders hammers him and Sen. Ted Cruz is snapping at his heels. Can a candidate that half the American electorate thinks is an embarrassment win in November?”

American voters back Clinton over Trump 47 – 40 percent. In other matchups:

•  Clinton gets 44 percent to Rubio’s 43 percent;

•  Clinton and Cruz are tied 44 – 44 percent. Sanders tops Trump 51 – 38 percent.

In other matchups:

•  Rubio gets 45 percent to Sanders’ 42 percent;

•  Cruz gets 44 percent to Sanders’ 43 percent.

Clinton has a negative 43 – 51 percent favorability rating. Other favorability ratings are:

•  Negative 33 – 59 percent for Trump;

•  40 – 31 percent for Sanders;

•  37 – 28 percent for Rubio;

•  35 – 33 percent for Cruz.

Clinton has the right kind of experience to be president, American voters say 63 – 35 percent, while Trump does not have the experience, voters say 67 – 29 percent. But Clinton and Trump are close on several key qualities. American voters say:

•  59 – 35 percent that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy;

•  58 – 40 percent that she has strong leadership qualities;

•  50 – 46 percent that she does not care about their needs and problems;

•  55 – 42 percent that she does not share their values.

Looking at Trump, voters say:

•  58 – 36 percent that he is not honest and trustworthy;

•  58 – 39 percent that he has strong leadership qualities;

•  57 – 38 percent that he does not care about their needs and problems;

•  61 – 34 percent that he does not share their values.

Clinton is ahead on another key measurement:

Voters say 59 – 32 percent, including 86 – 10 percent among Democrats, that she has a good chance of defeating the Republican nominee next November.

Voters say 53 – 41 percent that Trump does not have a good chance of winning in November. Republicans say 70 – 24 percent that Trump has a good chance of winning.

From Dec. 16 – 20, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,140 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points. Live interviewers call landlines and cellphones. The survey includes 508 Republicans with a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points and 462 Democrats with a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points.

Interest in Donald Trump spikes in Florida, based on Google searches during debate

If there were any doubt about Donald Trump’s rising popularity in Florida, crunching numbers of Internet searches statewide during last night’s presidential debate might just put those doubts to rest.

Tallahassee-based Strategic Digital Services (SDS) released figures Wednesday morning examining Google Trends in the top Florida media markets during the final Republican Party debate for 2015. Search engine volume is one factor in gauging a candidate’s relative strength in a particular region.

SDS looked at numbers for Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as well as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Preliminary numbers suggest that among Florida voters, Trump, the real estate billionaire and current Republican front-runner, is moving from what many saw as a “fringe” candidacy squarely into the mainstream.

“The Google search data from last night’s debate solidifies that Donald Trump is absolutely no longer the sideshow candidate,” said SDS co-founder Joe Clements. “It also shows that Floridians are doing their homework. Though with top related searches ranging from questions about spouses to their height, what interests users is far different from what a candidate wants you to be interested in.”

Curiosity over Trump took the search engine lead in six of the 10 top Florida media markets (as of early Wednesday morning) – West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Panama City. Cruz was the leader in two – Miami and Gainesville (where he tied with Bush). Marco Rubio was the most searched name in West Palm Beach (where he also tied with Trump). Carson was tops in Tallahassee and Pensacola.

google searches GOP debate

“What we see in the data is people engaged in this election are taking the initiative to educate themselves instead of allowing others to dictate their support,” said Matt Farrar, co-founder of SDS. “The search data also illustrates the importance of candidates owning the content in those top Google searches. Controlling the digital narrative is a powerful accelerator.”

SDS also looked at specific numbers, which help to provide insight on how the Republican presidential race in shaping up in Florida.

One takeaway was that Trump dominated search engine activity early on in the debate, which started at 8:25 p.m., and remained on top throughout the evening. Being the most searched Republican candidate in the Sunshine State, Trump had more than seven times the volume of Cruz, the next most searched candidate.

Google searches during the debate corresponded in two important ways: on-screen time of a particular candidate, and how often an opponent was named, creating what SDS calls a “feedback cycle.” For example, when Trump answered a question and mentioned Cruz, Google searches for both spiked.

In addition, SDS found people in Florida were evaluating candidates based on personality and how comfortable they are with them, not necessarily on individual policy positions. Top search terms tended to be more about the candidate – his or her net worth, spouses and height – as opposed to just the candidate’s name.

SDS, a Republican-led technology firm providing digital insight for campaigns and causes, will also be researching similar data for Democrats during the next debate, set for Saturday, Dec. 19.

 

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