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Jacob Smith says intensity of electorate will help Rick Kriseman win re-election

Rick Kriseman will make his case re-election this year, mostly based upon the progress St. Petersburg has made since his inauguration as mayor in January 2014.

“We came in with a lot of really big, sort of thorny projects, and the mayor has taken a lot of them by the horns and made them happen,” says Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s newly minted campaign manager.

Among those “thorny” projects are a pathway toward a new Pier, the upcoming groundbreaking for a new police station and what Smith dubs ‘The Kriseman infrastructure plan’: the $304 million investment to fix the city’s aging pipes and sewage plants.

Smith says the mayor looks forward to having a “public conversation” with voters on infrastructure overhaul. Kriseman is also poised to give details about how the money will be spent, where the revenues to pay for it will come from, and what shape the project will ultimately take.

“A lot of people will say that they don’t know — they know we’re spending that money, but they don’t know exactly what the mechanics of that project are,” Smith said.

The infrastructure plan emerged after what is inescapably Kriseman’s lowest moment as mayor — his handling of the sewage situation late last summer.

After a whistleblower had come forth September alleging the mayor falsely claimed millions of gallons of wastewater spilled from a treatment plan wasn’t a safety hazard, lawmakers called for more oversight. That resulted in the Department of Environmental Protection laying down a mandate for fixing the problem or pay a significant penalty.

Smith prefers to look at the sunnier side of that imbroglio, saying that the mayor deserves props for finally acting on a decades-in-the-making problem in regards to sewage management.

The 27-year-old Smith is a Fort Lauderdale native who was Kriseman’s field director during the 2013 campaign and has added a lot more to his CV since then.

After the mayor’s decisive victory over Bill Foster in November 2013, he went to work immediately on Alex Sink‘s bid for Congress in the special election against David Jolly.

In 2014, he worked as a field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial effort and then began work from the start in early 2015 on Hillary Clinton‘s run for the White House. He was living in Brooklyn before moving down to St. Petersburg recently to devote all his energies to the mayor’s race.

Discussion about the sewage situation segues quickly into more positive news, such as an online Fiscal Times report published in January that of the most fiscally stable cities showed that St. Petersburg was listed as the 23rd best city in the country (of cities of more than 200,000 population) and first in Florida.

“Since Mayor Kriseman has taken office, St. Petersburg’s credit rating has gone up, and we’ve become a city more attractive to lenders,” says Smith. “We’ve been called the most financially responsible city in the state.”

Conventional wisdom has it that only one man stands between Kriseman and another four years in office — former Mayor Rick Baker.

There is no bigger guessing game in St. Pete politics than figuring out what Baker will do. Smith says it won’t matter who his main opponent is, Kriseman continue to do his thing.

A favorite criticism among Republicans is that Kriseman has been too partisan.

“Since 2013 Mayor Rick Kriseman has shown he is committed to progressive, left wing policies that have done nothing to improve the quality of life the City of St. Petersburg has come to expect,” says Nick DiCeglie, chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

“This absent leadership has led to an infrastructure failure that has resulted in raw sewage being dumped into Tampa Bay. This is unacceptable and change must and will occur in city hall later this year.”

Referring to his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality and respect for immigrant rights, Smith says that the mayor represents the values that St. Pete residents believe in. “What the mayor really wants is a city that is welcoming to all, that respects everyone and that we are living up to our best potential and our best values,” he says.

There is no question that the Democratic left has been energized since last fall’s election. In January, Kriseman took part in the Women’s’ March, an event that drew more than 20,000 to the downtown area, the largest such rally in the city’s history.

Smith predicts the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest and appears to have Baker on his mind when he thinks of who their main opponent will be.

“At the end of the day, Rick Kriseman has always stood by Barack Obama, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Campaigned for her,” he says. “Any opponent he gets is going to be on the other side of the issue, right?”

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah PalinPaul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” he says. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

Whether it’s Baker, Foster or another Republican who will step up and try to take down the incumbent, it’s getting close to the time when that candidate will have to step up.

The Kriseman campaign announced this week he has the backing of half the current City Council in November and has already raised $260,000.

White House distances Donald Trump from Paul Manafort after AP report

The White House is distancing itself from former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying his secret work for a Russian billionaire detailed in an Associated Press report happened during “the last decade.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says nothing in Wednesday’s AP report references any action by the president, the White House or any Trump administration official.

Spicer says Trump was not aware of Manafort’s clients from the past decade and there are “no suggestions” Manafort did anything improper.

Spicer also says former presidential rival Hillary Clinton had her own Russia ties. He says Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of a Russian-based energy company and Hillary Clinton was “the face of a failed Russia reset policy.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The social gospel of Andrew Gillum

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to make good on his promise to campaign in and compete for all 67 Florida counties during his campaign for governor.

Following up a well-received speech in Tampa, where he cautioned against a “Democrat lite” approach, Gillum hit Jacksonville on Sunday.

Jacksonville’s major challenge for Democrats: bridging the divide between various intraparty groups, including younger people inspired by Bernie Sanders and the older establishment types who reflexively backed Hillary Clinton a year ago in the presidential primary.

Finding a way to excite Democrats down-ballot locally has been tough for statewide candidates of late, despite a Democratic edge in party registration.

With that trend in mind, Gillum is smart to get going early.

Putting in the work in Jacksonville, including engaging young grassroots supporters, is key. And in Jacksonville, he found himself evangelizing for a brand of social justice absent from local politics and politicians.

It is a message activists have yearned to hear for a while now. And in Gillum, they have a ready exponent.

But the trouble comes in getting people to hear it. During a day in Jacksonville, Gillum made three stops and worked a national TV hit in. But he didn’t draw much local media interest.

For them, 2018 is remote. However, for Gillum – who regularly talks about his “18-month strategy,” – the time to launch and to get attention is now.

With that in mind, Gillum made many stops: the first at a popular Jacksonville church.

“I don’t know if we’re in a bad reality show or another season of 24,” Rudolph McKissick, Jr., the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church said about this “strange political season,” by way of introducing Gillum at the 7:45 a.m. service.

The pastor referenced VP Mike Pence and Gov. Rick Scott being in town Saturday, saying “the only thing that changes anything is a vote … seems like anytime we have the chance to shift things in the right direction, we don’t vote.”

“Anything I can do to get him elected the next governor of Florida, I will do,” the pastor said, noting Gillum’s family ties locally.

After a spot on MSNBC, Gillum’s next public stop was at the New Town Urban Farm near Edward Waters College.

The Urban Farm took an unused plot of land and turned it into a community garden – a real need in a food desert.

The land, founder Diallo-Sekou told us, was a vacant lot that had rubble in it previously.

The neighborhood is still transitional: an interesting backdrop to the speech was a pickup truck blaring Barry White as it trolled the block, with a sign on the side soliciting donations of clothes for military veterans.

But the Urban Farm is an oasis in the middle of an area always on the news for the wrong reasons, and it was an appropriate venue for Gillum talking about subjects at the heart of his appeal: finding ways to ensure that people have the leg up they need so they don’t end up a statistic.

“There’s a budget director in Washington, D.C. who said that there is no evidence that after school food assistance programs did anything to change the outcomes for kids,” Gillum said.

“That’s what I want as an educator: a hungry kid – attempting to get them to learn a lesson, understand, comprehend … if I’m that kid, and all of us have been there, if your stomach is growling, you can’t think of anything but the sound,” Gillum said.

His thirty-minute Q&A wasn’t one with applause lines or rah-rah moments: it was Obamaesque in its relating policy to real life for those in this state trapped by poverty and its myriad incapacitations and indignities.

Gillum spoke of a farm in his own youth, on his grandparents’ property in South Dade, where collards, squash, tomatoes, and fruit grew in a residential area.

“We lived off the land. Literally. In a place as urban as this, Miami-Dade, Florida. Here, you’ve got land and opportunity,” Gillum said, to do the same thing.

In much of Jacksonville, the physical hunger is palpable. But so too is the hunger for civil rights. Gillum addressed an issue close to his heart: the re-enfranchisement of the state’s 1.5 million who have lost their rights to vote.

“They paid their debt to society. Yet they come back into communities, and they still lack the ability to participate fully in our democracy. The majority of these individuals have committed crimes that are nonviolent – largely, drug-related crimes,” Gillum said.

“We cannot be tried twice for the same crime,” Gillum says. “Yet it seems you can be punished forever for having made a mistake.”

In addition to the vote, re-entry, such as through Ban the Box, is a Gillum priority.

And it’s personal.

“I’ve got brothers who have lost their rights. They’ve committed wrongs, and they have to pay the penalty for that. When they got back out and started trying to reintegrate into society, it was very difficult for them to find a job,” Gillum said.

“I’ve got some real entrepreneurial brothers. But actually, it’s survival. If they had a choice, they’d probably be working somewhere with somebody making a decent, honorable wage to take care of themselves and their families. But because door after door after door got shut to them, they had to create a way for themselves,” Gillum said.

“And that meant, for my brother Chuck who lives here in town, opening up a carwash. And going around with his mobile detailing unit and power-washing businesses and cars and sidewalks, and hiring other former felons,” Gillum said, emotion driving his voice.

Then he dialed it back.

“I think it’s a no-brainer … felon re-enfranchisement … to democratize those brothers and sisters,” Gillum said.

Leaving the Urban Farm behind, Gillum’s next stop was a fundraiser/meet-and-greet at a downtown art gallery 3 miles away.

A different venue and largely a different crowd.

Gillum smiled and posed for selfies, looking relaxed, as people like Sen. Tony Hill and other local political types mixed and mingled.

There was no charity truck blasting slow jams inside the gallery space. However, wine was available.

The key to Gillum’s viability is going to be bridging environments like the Urban Farm with the fundraising circuit, succeeding in both spheres – especially while he’s the most prominent Democrat in the race.

And, before it’s too late, ensuring that local market media in the state is paying attention to his message.

Young Americans: Most see Donald Trump as illegitimate president

Jermaine Anderson keeps going back to the same memory of Donald Trump, then a candidate for president of the United States, referring to some Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

“You can’t be saying that (if) you’re the president,” says Anderson, a 21-year-old student from Coconut Creek, Florida.

That Trump is undeniably the nation’s 45th president doesn’t sit easily with young Americans like Anderson who are the nation’s increasingly diverse electorate of the future, according to a new poll. A majority of young adults — 57 percent — see Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, including about three-quarters of blacks and large majorities of Latinos and Asians, the GenForward poll found.

GenForward is a poll of adults age 18 to 30 conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

A slim majority of young whites in the poll, 53 percent, consider Trump a legitimate president, but even among that group 55 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing, according to the survey.

“That’s who we voted for. And obviously America wanted him more than Hillary Clinton,” said Rebecca Gallardo, a 30-year-old nursing student from Kansas City, Missouri, who voted for Trump.

Trump’s legitimacy as president was questioned earlier this year by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.: “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

Trump routinely denies that and says he captured the presidency in large part by winning states such as Michigan and Wisconsin that Clinton may have taken for granted.

Overall, just 22 percent of young adults approve of the job he is doing as president, while 62 percent disapprove.

Trump’s rhetoric as a candidate and his presidential decisions have done much to keep the question of who belongs in America atop the news, though he’s struggling to accomplish some key goals. Powered by supporters chanting, “build the wall,” Trump has vowed to erect a barrier along the southern U.S. border and make Mexico pay for it — which Mexico refuses to do. Federal judges in three states have blocked Trump’s executive orders to ban travel to the U.S. from seven — then six — majority-Muslim nations.

In Honolulu, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson this week cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the travel ban, citing Trump’s own words calling for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

And yes, Trump did say in his campaign announcement speech June 6, 2015: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He went farther in subsequent statements, later telling CNN: “Some are good and some are rapists and some are killers.”

It’s extraordinary rhetoric for the leader of a country where by around 2020, half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group, the Census Bureau projects. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to be a minority by 2044.

Of all of Trump’s tweets and rhetoric, the statements about Mexicans are the ones to which Anderson returns. He says Trump’s business background on paper is impressive enough to qualify him for the presidency. But he suggests that’s different than Trump earning legitimacy as president.

“I’m thinking, he’s saying that most of the people in the world who are raping and killing people are the immigrants. That’s not true,” said Anderson, whose parents are from Jamaica.

Megan Desrochers, a 21-year-old student from Lansing, Michigan, says her sense of Trump’s illegitimacy is more about why he was elected.

“I just think it was kind of a situation where he was voted in based on his celebrity status versus his ethics,” she said, adding that she is not necessarily against Trump’s immigration policies.

The poll participants said in interviews that they don’t necessarily vote for one party’s candidates over another’s, a prominent tendency among young Americans, experts say. And in the survey, neither party fares especially strongly.

Just a quarter of young Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and 6 in 10 have an unfavorable view. Majorities of young people across racial and ethnic lines hold negative views of the GOP.

The Democratic Party performs better, but views aren’t overwhelmingly positive. Young people are more likely to have a favorable than an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin. But just 14 percent say they have a strongly favorable view of the Democrats.

Views of the Democratic Party are most favorable among young people of color. Roughly 6 in 10 blacks, Asians and Latinos hold positive views of the party. Young whites are somewhat more likely to have unfavorable than favorable views, 47 percent to 39 percent.

As for Trump, 8 in 10 young people think he is doing poorly in terms of the policies he’s put forward and 7 in 10 have negative views of his presidential demeanor.

“I do not like him as a person,” says Gallardo of Trump. She nonetheless voted for Trump because she didn’t trust Clinton. “I felt like there wasn’t much choice.”

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The poll of 1,833 adults age 18-30 was conducted Feb. 16 through March 6 using a sample drawn from the probability-based GenForward panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The survey was paid for by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, using grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Tampa City Councilmembers ponder their own political future — now that Bob Buckhorn has decided his

Tampa City Council Chair Mike Suarez says Bob Buckhorn‘s decision to opt out of a statewide run in 2018 should mean a lot less drama associated with the election for council chair next month, a development he says “is a good thing.”

There was plenty of such drama surrounding the election of a council in 2015 and 2016, due to the uncertainty around Buckhorn’s political ambitions.

But his announcement that he will forgo a run for governor and instead fulfill the last two years as Mayor of Tampa rejiggers the political calculus among some of the councilmembers who may be considering a run themselves for mayor in 2019. That’s because if Buckhorn had decided to run, it would mean that he would have likely relinquished his office well before his term was up. And under the city charter, if there are fewer than 15 months remaining in the mayor’s term, the current chairman serves as mayor.

That was a fact overshadowing last year’s council chair election, as well as the rumors that were floating that the mayor was ready to exit City Hall and work in a Hillary Clinton administration.

“I mean, obviously if the president asks you, you would consider,” Buckhorn said in the days immediately preceding last year’s council chair vote.

That possibility led to an excruciating contest for council chair between Suarez and incumbent Frank Reddick that ultimately took the council 14 ballots before choosing Suarez to lead them.

That was the same meeting where Reddick alleged that Vincent Gericitano, the president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, made a throat-slashing gesture to Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, an indication, Reddick charged, that he was warning her not to vote for him for chairman. Ultimately, the Tampa Police Department Internal Affairs Department cleared Gericitano of that charge.

“It’s been a great honor and privilege to serve as chair of council the last year,” Suarez told SPB earlier this week. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m very appreciative that I’ve had the chance to serve in this role.”

The thought that Buckhorn might have to leave his seat early also was an issue in 2015. Months before Buckhorn was re-elected that year, he opened up his own political action fundraising committee, considered a first step toward a potential statewide run.

That year’s council chair election resulted in then incumbent Charlie Miranda losing out to Reddick, after having served the previous four years. Miranda tells SPB he has no interest in serving as chair this year.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing now. More time for life,” he says. And if his colleagues nominated for the position? “No, I would tell them, thank you very much, but I pass,” he says.

Reddick seems a bit ambivalent about becoming chair again. He says if his colleagues were to “honor” him by nominating him, “I would not turn them down.”

On the other hand, “it doesn’t give you any special privileges,” he says. “It’s more of a ceremonial type of event, and that’s it, but if your colleagues recognize you for that leadership role, then you have to feel honored and appreciate it.”

Yolie Capin currently chairs the monthly Community Redevelopment Agency meetings. She says the fact that Buckhorn isn’t going anywhere is going to take “a lot of stress off of everyone for those that were vying for that seat,” and says she is now interested in the chairman position.

On the current council, Suarez, Reddick and Capin’s names have all been floated as potential mayoral candidates in 2019 (Harry Cohen‘s has as well, but there is now more speculation that he will run to succeed his friend Pat Frank as Clerk of the Hillsborough Courts in 2020).

Reddick says flatly he has no interest in running for mayor, but is very interested in staying in public service, saying that a run for county commission or the state legislature is something he’s thinking about.

And Capin?

“As far as the Mayor’s race, I think I am leaving my options open,” she emailed SPB earlier this week. “Everyone knows I can definitely run a campaign.”

Suarez appears to be primed for a run for mayor, if a speech he recently gave to the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee is any indication. Other names being bandied about in town to run in 2019 include former Police Chief Jane Castor, architect Mickey Jacobs, businessman Topher Morrison, County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan.

Former state representative Ed Narain told this reporter several weeks ago that several people have called to ask about his interest, but he says that’s not something he’s actively pursuing at this time.

Then again, the election is two years away, meaning there’s plenty of time for him or others to think about running for the office.

Five special elections for House may send message about 2018 midterm contests

The postelection dominoes of President Donald Trump‘s administration picks and a California Democratic appointment have created five openings in the House, and that means five special elections in the coming months.

It will take some Democratic upsets for this trial heat for 2018 to dent GOP control of the House, where Republicans have a 237-193 edge.

Republicans are defending four GOP-leaning seats. Democrats are protecting territory in a liberal California district. Republicans say that puts pressure on Democrats to prove they can capitalize on widespread opposition to Trump. Democrats counter that it’s merely a free opportunity to pick up a seat, maybe two, ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

A look at the five congressional contests:

GEORGIA’S 6th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

This wealthy district spanning many of Atlanta’s northern suburbs has elected former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Johnny Isakson and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, all Republicans. But Democrats believe they have a shot, based on Trump’s underperformance and the early fundraising success of a 30-year-old former congressional staffer, Jon Ossoff.

Price won 68 percent of the vote in November, while Trump only edged Democrat Hillary Clinton, 48-47 percent.

Ossoff is trying to thread the needle, condemning Trump and highlighting the oversight role of Congress, yet styling himself as a business-friendly centrist. “I believe voters are tired of the partisanship and ready for something fresh,” he says, convinced he can win GOP-leaning moderates.

Television airwaves in this expensive market already are filled with Ossoff ads criticizing Trump and also a Republican super PAC ad criticizing the upstart Democrat, a clear sign Republicans aren’t taking any chances.

Ossoff’s path depends on advancing to a June 20 runoff from an April 18 “jungle primary” that will have more than a dozen candidates from both parties on the same ballot. In the likely event that no one captures a majority in April, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, move on. Republicans say Ossoff, even if he advances, won’t stand up against one of several Republican candidates who are well-regarded in the district.

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MONTANA’S AT-LARGE CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

Republican multimillionaire Greg Gionforte will try again to win over Montana voters after losing the 2016 governor’s race. This time, he’s talking up Trump.

“This election will be a referendum on Donald Trump and this administration,” Gianforte said after last week’s GOP nominating convention. Gianforte won 46 percent of the vote in November against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, double digits behind Trump’s 57 percent.

Gionforte will face musician and political newcomer Rob Quist, also chosen by a state party convention. Quist, a Democrat, already is the target of attack ads from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the same Republican super PAC that has been going after Ossoff in Georgia.

The winner of a May 25 special election will succeed Ryan Zinke, who now leads Trump’s Interior Department. Zinke won re-election with 56 percent of the vote before being tapped for the Cabinet post.

Montanans lean conservative, but they are willing to elect Democrats. Bullock, now in his second term, succeeded two-term Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and Jon Tester is in his second Senate term. Still, Montana’s single House seat has been in GOP hands since 1997.

Gionforte can self-finance his campaign, having made a fortune when Oracle paid $1.8 billion to acquire the technology firm he started. Quist has backing from Schweitzer, who remains popular in the state.

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KANSAS’ 4th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

This reliably Republican district anchored by Wichita has an April 11 special election to pick a successor to Mike Pompeo, now Trump’s CIA director. In a party nominating convention, Republicans tapped state Treasurer Ron Estes, who twice won huge margins statewide and held local office in Wichita for years before that.

Democrats, also in a convention, chose Wichita attorney Jim Thompson. Democrats took Thompson’s long odds over the former state treasurer whom Estes defeated in 2010. Republicans have held the seat since their 1994 sweep.

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SOUTH CAROLINA’s 5th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

The seat opened up when Trump tapped tea party lawmaker Mick Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget.

Candidates for May 2 party primaries can officially qualify only after March 13, but several Republicans are in. Among them: state legislative leader Tommy Pope and former state Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly, who spent the last several years coordinating the national GOP’s outreach to evangelicals. So far, two Democrats are in the race: Archie Parnell, a Goldman Sachs senior adviser, and Alexis Frank, an Army veteran who is now a student.

The rapidly growing district includes the suburbs on the southern edge of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the college town Rock Hill, a profile that had South Carolina Democrats quietly hopeful they could threaten Mulvaney in November. But he won easy re-election.

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CALIFORNIA’s 34th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

This Los Angeles County district is the most lopsided of the special-election contests. Clinton swamped Trump here. The opening came when Gov. Jerry Brown elevated Rep. Xavier Beccera to state attorney general, replacing Kamala Harris, who ascended to the U.S. Senate. The district’s liberal leanings likely mean two Democrats — out of 19 who qualified — will advance from an April 4 jungle primary to a June 6 general election.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Search for Florida Democratic Party’s next Executive Director continues

An official with the Florida Democratic Party says that while the search to find a successor to Scott Arceneaux as executive director of the Florida Democratic Party does include Jonathan Ducote and Josh Wolf, it is by no means limited to those two candidates.

Juan Penalosa, who is working with newly elected FDP Chair Stephen Bittel on his transition team, tells FloridaPolitics that the search to replace Arceneaux remains a national search, and goes beyond Ducote and Wolf. He does say that the two are definitely in the mix, however.

On Sunday, FloridaPolitics had reported that sources said that the race to replace Arceneaux was down to Ducote and Wolf. Penalosa says that that there are several other candidates being considered.

Ducote has served as political director for the Florida Justice Association since 2014. He previously served as campaign manager for Loranne Ausley’s unsuccessful 2010 bid for CFO, as financial director for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s 2011 election victory, and as campaign manager for Barbara Buono’s unsuccessful challenge to Chris Christie in the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.

Wolf most recently served as campaign manager for Patrick Murphy‘s U.S. Senate bid. Prior to that, he served as campaign manager for Steve Grossman’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign for governor in Massachusetts. In 2012, he managed U.S. Rep. Ami Bera‘s successful campaign in California.

Arceneaux’s departure after more than seven years as Executive Director was announced in January, shortly after Coconut Grove developer and fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected as chairman. Arceneaux’s tenure had been contentious in recent years, as some Democrats openly wondered why he had maintained his position while the state party continued to lose statewide elections.

Arceneaux was initially hired during Karen Thurman‘s term in 2009. He lasted through the regimes of Rod Smith and Allison Tant.

2016 proved to be another desultory year for Florida Democrats. After being a blue state for two successive presidential elections, Republican Donald Trump eked out a narrow, but clear-cut victory over Hillary Clinton, while Marco Rubio easily defeated Murphy to maintain his seat in the Senate.

Donald Trump looking to Sarah Huckabee Sanders in tough moments

Faced with aggressive on-air questioning about the president’s wiretapping claims, Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t flinch, she went folksy.

Speaking to George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America,” she pulled out a version of an old line from President Lyndon Johnson: “If the president walked across the Potomac, the media would be reporting that he could not swim.”

The 34-year-old spokeswoman for President Donald Trump was schooled in hardscrabble politics — and down-home rhetoric — from a young age by her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Her way with a zinger — and her unshakable loyalty to an often unpredictable boss — are big reasons why the deputy press secretary is a rising star in Trump’s orbit.

In recent weeks, Sanders has taken on a notably more prominent role in selling Trump’s agenda, including on television and at White House press briefings. As White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s public profile has fluctuated in recent weeks amid criticism of his performance, Sanders has increasingly become a chief defender of Trump in some of his toughest moments.

Sanders’ rise has fueled speculation that she’s becoming the president’s favored articulator, a notion she disputes. “It’s hard for any one person to maintain a schedule of being the singular face all day every day,” she said. She argued that more than one press aide spoke for President Barack Obama.

“When Eric Schultz went on TV did anybody say Josh Earnest is getting fired?” Sanders asked. “Was that story ever written?”

Spicer echoed that message: “My goal is to use other key folks in the administration and the White House to do the shows.”

Indeed, speaking on behalf of this president is a challenging and consuming job.

Trump often presents his own thoughts directly on Twitter in the early hours of the morning and is known to closely follow his surrogates on television, assessing their performances. He has been happy with Sanders’ advocacy, said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president.

“She understands America. She understands the president. And she understands how to connect the two,” said Conway, who noted that Sanders had appeared on television throughout the campaign as well. “The president has a great deal of trust in Sarah.”

On some days recently Sanders has been the administration’s messenger of choice, even when news outlets aren’t thrilled. Last Sunday, NBC’s Chuck Todd said on-air that “Meet the Press” had sought a “senior administration official or a Cabinet secretary,” but that the “White House offered a deputy press secretary. And so we declined.”

Sanders credits her larger-than-life dad with helping her learn how to deliver a message. Huckabee, a frequent political commentator, has long been famed for his pithy rhetoric. The two speak most mornings before 6 a.m.

“I’ll call and say, ‘What do you think if I say this?’ He’ll say, ‘That’s really good. You might try to say it a little bit more like X,'” she said.

On advocating for the unconventional Trump, Sanders admits that even in the press office, they don’t always get a heads up before Trump tweets. But she says part of Trump’s appeal is that he “directly communicates with the American people on a regular basis.”

Arkansas-raised, Sanders moved her young family to Washington to be part of the administration. She is married to a Republican consultant and they have three young children. She joined the Trump campaign not long after her father’s second presidential bid — which she managed — fizzled out in the 2016 Iowa caucuses. She said she was drawn to Trump’s message of economic populism and his outsider attitude.

“One of the big things my dad was running on was changing Washington, breaking that cycle,” Sanders said. “I felt like the outsider component was important and I thought he had the ability to actually win and defeat Hillary.”

She also said she was drawn to the Trump family’s close involvement in the campaign, “having kind of been in the same scenario for my dad’s campaign.”

Being part of an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton had extra significance for Sanders, whose father entered the Arkansas governor’s mansion just a few years after Bill Clinton exited and who shared advisers and friends in the state. Sanders said at times it was difficult to be aggressive, but she “so disagreed” with Hillary Clinton’s policies, that she kept on.

Sanders entered politics young, helping with her father’s campaigns as a child and then working her way up the ranks until she had the top job in 2016. In 2007, she moved to Iowa to run her father’s operation in the leadoff caucus state, where he was the surprise winner. She has also served in the Education Department under President George W. Bush and worked on a number of Senate and presidential campaigns.

Mike Huckabee said his daughter was always a natural.

“When most kids at 7 or 8 are jumping rope, she’s sitting at the kitchen table listening to Dick Morris doing cross tabs on statewide polls,” said Huckabee, referring to the adviser-turned-adversary to President Bill Clinton.

Those Arkansas ties continue to hold strong. Sanders has consulted with friends from the state about her new role, including Mack McLarty, the former Clinton chief of staff, who she said counseled her to appreciate the “historic opportunity” to work in the White House.

Her rising profile has come with ups and downs. Sanders says she is turning off social media alerts because she has been flooded with criticism. For now, she has not been treated to a portrayal on “Saturday Night Live” — like Spicer and Conway. But her dad says that if that comes next, she should roll with it.

“One of the great honors of life is to be parodied,” Huckabee said. “It’s kind of an indication that you’ve arrived at a place of real power.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

An angry weekend follows on heels of frustrations for Donald Trump

President Donald Trump started his weekend in Florida in a fit of anger over his young administration getting sidetracked just days after his most successful moment in office. He returned to the White House late Sunday derailed — again.

Trump’s frustration appeared to be both the symptom and the cause of his recent woes. Angry about leaks, errant messaging and his attorney general landing in hot water, he fired off a series of tweets that only ensured more distractions.

His staff had hoped to build on the momentum generated by his speech to Congress by rolling out his revamped travel ban and, potentially, unveiling his health care plan. Those efforts rapidly unraveled, sparking more staff infighting and enraging a president loath to publicly admit a mistake and eager to shift the blame onto others.

And now, as Trump begins one of the most pivotal weeks yet for his presidency, his staff is facing the fallout from another allegation of close ties to Russia and the president’s unsubstantiated claims that his predecessor ordered him wiretapped during the campaign.

Trump simmered all weekend in Florida before returning to Washington ahead of signing new immigration restrictions, according to associates who spoke to the president and, like others interviewed, requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. Those close to Trump said it was the angriest he’s been as president, his rage bursting to the surface at his senior staff Friday afternoon in the Oval Office.

Trump was furious about the negative impact of the flap over Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. He told one person he personally felt let down that his senior staff were unable to fight back against the story. He also suggested he felt that Sessions’ move to recuse himself from any investigation into administration links to Russia felt like an admission of defeat, said the person who spoke to the president over the weekend but declined to be named discussing private conversations.

Sessions’ decision particularly infuriated a president who promised repeatedly during the campaign that he’d “win so much the American people would be tired of winning” and he felt that it was a sign of weakness, the person said.

White House chief of staff Reince Preibus, scheduled to travel with Trump to his coastal Palm Beach estate, was told to stay behind. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon also remained in Washington but later flew to Mar-a-Lago.

Those close to Trump have said he has had his happiest days as president at Mar-a-Lago. He didn’t cool off there this weekend.

Many West Wing staffers who stayed behind in Washington awoke Saturday morning to the chiming of their cell phones. The president was tweeting just after dawn to hurl the extraordinary accusation that President Barack Obama had ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped, a charge for which Trump provided no evidence.

Trump had stayed disciplined on Twitter for days surrounding his congressional speech, but no more. Staffers planning to spend the weekend preparing for the president’s new executive orders were instead sent scrambling to deal with the incendiary tweetstorm, their carefully laid plans again wrecked 140 characters at a time.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, an honored guest at Saturday night’s annual white-tie Gridiron Dinner, a night of witticisms delivered by reporters and politicos alike, spent most of the night with his head buried in his phone, missing many of the jokes, several at his expense. Sessions had been slated to attend the event but canceled after the revelations about his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The first travel ban, which was hastily written with little outside consultation, was struck down by a federal court. Weeks of planning and delays have gone into the second order, one that is also sure to face legal challenges and, were it to suffer a second legal defeat, could have a devastating political impact.

Some Trump allies have been frustrated by his conspiracy-mongering about the inauguration crowd size and claims of widespread voter fraud, believing those accusations had become distractions to their agenda. Afraid to upset the mercurial president, they scrambled to fulfill his request to probe the alleged wiretapping.

On Sunday, the White House asked Republicans in Congress to search for evidence. Obama’s intelligence chief would soon say no such action was ever carried out, and a U.S. official would confirm that the FBI had asked the Justice Department to dispute the allegation.

“I think the bigger thing is, let’s find out. Let’s have an investigation,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on ABC. “If they’re going to investigate Russia ties, let’s include this as part of it. And so that’s what we’re asking.”

Other Republicans seemed baffled by the charges, which could prove a distraction in the week ahead.

“The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on CNN.

But Trump told friends that he was certain he’d be vindicated.

“I spoke with the president twice yesterday about the wiretap story. I haven’t seen him this pissed off in a long time,” wrote Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend and head of NewsMax. “When I mentioned Obama ‘denials’ about the wiretaps, he shot back: ‘This will be investigated, it will all come out. I will be proven right.'”

The president, accustomed to a culture of corporate loyalty enforced by iron-clad nondisclosure agreements, also continued to rage about the leaks that have plagued his White House. He blames the leaks, rather than any of his own decisions, for his administration’s shaky start and is threatening to make changes if they continue, according to one person who spoke to him. That could include making the administration’s public case for policies, as he did in a lengthy news conference and his congressional speech, both performances praised by his backers.

Trump has been particularly incensed over the leaks about Russia ties, which have dogged him since his election. During the transition, he ripped the intelligence community for being behind the leaks and even compared them to Nazi propaganda. Lately, he has blamed Democrats, suggesting that they were using them as an excuse for Hillary Clinton‘s defeat.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump claims Barack Obama had phones wiretapped; Obama denies it

President Donald Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of having Trump Tower telephones “wire tapped” during last year’s election, a startling claim that Obama’s spokesman said was false.

Trump did not offer any evidence or details, or say what prompted him to make the allegation.

Trump, whose administration has been under siege over campaign contacts with Russian officials, said in a series of early morning tweets that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!’

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered in any Justice Department investigations, which are supposed to be conducted free of political influence.

“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” Lewis said, adding that “any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

The White House did not immediately reply to inquiries about what prompted the president’s tweets.

Trump, who used to speak of having a warm relationship with Obama, compared the alleged activity by his predecessor to behavior involving President Richard Nixon and the bugging of his political opponents.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” he tweeted, misspelling ‘tap.’

Trump said the wiretapping occurred in October. He ran the presidential transition largely out of Trump Tower in New York, where he also maintains a residence.

Trump’s tweets came days after revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, during his Senate confirmation hearing, didn’t disclose his own campaign-season contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Sessions, a U.S. senator at the time, was Trump’s earliest Senate supporter.

Trump’s opening tweet Saturday mentioned Sessions and claimed the first meeting Sessions had with the Russian diplomat was “set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 Ambs …”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign with the goal of helping elect Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton — findings that Trump has dismissed. The FBI has investigated Trump associates’ ties to Russian officials. Congress is also investigating.

Trump has blamed Democrats for leaks of information about the investigation and the contacts.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that Trump was making “the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them.”

Schiff added: “No matter how much we hope and pray that this president will grow into one who respects and understands the Constitution, separation of powers, role of a free press, responsibilities as the leader of the free world, or demonstrates even the most basic regard for the truth, we must now accept that President Trump will never become that man.”

It was unclear what prompted Trump’s new charge. The president often tweets about reports he reads on blogs and conservative-leaning websites.

The allegations may be related to anonymously sourced reports in British media and blogs, and on conservative-leaning U.S. websites, including Breitbart News. Those reports claimed that U.S. officials had obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to review contacts between computers at a Russian bank and Trump’s New York headquarters.

The AP has not confirmed these contacts or the investigation into them. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, is a former executive chairman of Breitbart News.

FISA is a 1978 law that created a system to hear requests to surveil foreign intelligence agents. It differs from a regular criminal warrant because it does not require the government to provide probable cause that a crime has occurred. Instead, under FISA, the government must simply provide evidence that the target of an investigation is an agent of a foreign power.

Such targetable agents would include Russian diplomats such as Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador who spoke with a number of Trump aides. But a FISA warrant could also include others for whom investigators could muster probable cause, potentially including entities directly connected to Trump.

Obama could not order a FISA warrant. Obtaining one would require officials at the Justice Department to seek permission from the FISA court, which is shrouded in secrecy. Judges could order prosecutors to share FISA information with defendants if they deem it necessary for challenging a search’s legality, but courts have consistently agreed with the government that disclosing the material could expose sensitive intelligence secrets.

One exception to this practice is the president himself, who has the authority to declassify records. In Trump’s case, he could confirm any such surveillance of his campaign or business undertaken before he took office in January.

Trump is spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his waterfront estate in Palm Beach, and he spent several hours at his golf club in nearby West Palm Beach on Saturday.

Trump also tweeted about Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s decision to leave “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Schwarzenegger replaced Trump as host of the show while the president remained its executive producer.

Trump was scheduled to have dinner Saturday at Mar-a-Lago with Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has a home in Palm Beach, Bannon and other White House advisers.

The president planned to return to the White House late Sunday.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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