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Chief of staff Reince Priebus? Some Donald Trump loyalists still dubious

When President-elect Donald Trump tapped Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, Republican leaders cheered the prospect of a close ally having a top White House job.

But as Priebus tries to wield his influence and bring more structure to the president-elect’s freewheeling political organization, he’s frustrating some longtime Trump allies who see him as too conventional a pick for an unconventional president. Others fear being left behind as Priebus fills out West Wing jobs.

The dismay over Priebus stems in part from a belief among some Trump loyalists that the outgoing Republican National Committee chairman expected Trump to lose the election. They resent the president-elect “rewarding people who thought he wasn’t going to win,” according to one top adviser.

Still, Priebus appears to have Trump’s trust. He’s been given wide authority to name senior White House staff, according to people involved in the transition, and in shaping the decision on who will succeed him at the RNC, though deliberations over that post continue.

“Reince Priebus has done an outstanding job,” Trump said in a statement to The Associated Press. “All you have to do is look at all of the Republican victories and one in particular.”

If Trump runs his White House like past presidents — and that’s hardly a sure thing — Priebus, 44, could hold enormous sway over what issues reach the Oval Office. Chiefs of staff also typically control who has access to the president — no easy task given Trump’s penchant for consulting a wide network of associates before making key decisions.

Priebus, a Wisconsin native and father of two young children, comes to the White House with no significant experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has close ties with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP congressional leaders. And he’s seen by those who have worked with him previously as a well-organized manager with little appetite for drama.

“One of the things he’ll bring to the White House is an ability to work well with people, to be inclusive, not to get in to intrastaff squabbles,” said Henry Barbour, an RNC member and Priebus ally.

Yet internal squabbling and competing factions are a hallmark of Trump’s political and business organizations. He cycled through three campaign managers during his White House run, with the feuds that led up to each shake-up playing out messily in the media.

In tapping Priebus as chief of staff, Trump appeared to be setting up another rivalry. He put Steve Bannon, the controversial conservative media executive, at the White House as a senior adviser and called him an equal partner with Priebus. Trump’s influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also weighing a White House role, but will remain a personal power center even without a formal position.

Transition officials say Priebus and Bannon have a respectful relationship, and there’s no outright control struggle underway. But Trump’s deliberation over whom to name as secretary of state is seen as an indicator of a tug-of-war, with Bannon among those said to be against Mitt Romney. Priebus is seen as an advocate for Romney and was notably the only adviser who joined Trump for a private dinner with the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

Several Trump advisers described Priebus’ role only on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the chief of staff.

Josh Bolten, who served as President George W. Bush‘s final chief of staff, said he was concerned by the description of Bannon as Priebus’ equal. While presidents usually have multiple influential advisers, Bolten said, it’s imperative for the lines of authority to be clear.

“If that were to mean that there’s more than one chief of staff, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Bolten said.

Bolten is among several former chiefs of staff Priebus has consulted since the election. He’s spoken at least twice with Denis McDonough, President Barack Obama‘s chief of staff, as recently as last week.

Priebus was frequently by Trump’s side in the final weeks of the campaign. After the release of a videotape in which the businessman was heard bragging about predatory behavior with women, Priebus stood by Trump and made clear the RNC would not abandon the party’s nominee.

But some Trump advisers contend Priebus and the RNC believed he would lose the election. Indeed, on the Friday before Election Day, top party officials told reporters their data showed Trump falling short by about 30 electoral votes.

Some Trump advisers have also blamed Priebus for the messy spectacle around the president-elect’s interview with The New York Times. Trump accused the Times of changing the terms of the interview and tweeted that he would cancel. Then the Times said the terms had not changed, and the interview was back on.

One person involved in the situation said it was Priebus who incorrectly led Trump to believe the Times had changed the terms of the interview.

“No matter how loyal the overall collection of personalities is to the president, there are always internal rivalries and tugging and pulling,” said John Sununu, who served as chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush and has spoken with Priebus in recent weeks. “It’s up to the chief of staff to deal with all of that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Jon Hunstman Jr. in late running for secretary of state

President-elect Donald Trump, still mulling key Cabinet positions, attended a lavish costume party Saturday night hosted by some of his biggest donors at their palatial Long Island mansion.

Trump, who did not sport a costume, reveled with guests at the Mercer family estate for the annual Christmas party; the theme was “Villains and Heroes.” An invitation to the annual December party is a coveted ticket in Republican circles, never more so than this year. Several strategists who helped engineer Trump’s upset win were attending, including incoming White House senior counselor Stephen Bannon and senior aide Kellyanne Conway.

Both Conway and Bannon have close ties to Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. The younger Mercer became Trump’s leading and most influential donor and urged him to bring Bannon and Conway into the campaign in August.

Rebekah Mercer, who ran a pro-Trump Super PAC, had compared the electoral race between Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to an “apocalyptic choice,” so the night’s “Villains and Heroes” theme was perhaps fitting.

Trump’s sojourn to the party was his only expedition on Saturday outside the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name. He is expected to lie low the remainder of the weekend, before returning to transition meetings in New York on Monday and the next stop of his “thank you” tour in North Carolina on Tuesday.

Trump is also still mulling his choice to lead the State Department, one of the most powerful and prominent Cabinet positions.

According to two people close to the transition, Trump is moving away from two of the front-runners for the job, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee. Giuliani’s international business ties and public campaigning for the job are said to have rankled Trump. And while Trump has met twice with Romney, he’s said to be aware of the risks of angering his supporters by tapping a Republican who was among his fiercest critics.

Former CIA director David Petraeus is still in the mix, though both people close to the transition said Trump’s prolonged decision-making process has left the door open to other options.

One of the sources said Trump was open to expanding his short list of secretary of State prospects. Among the possibilities: Jon Huntsman, a former Republican Utah governor who also served as the ambassador to China and speaks Mandarin.

The people close to the transition insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private process publicly.

Trump also made no mention Saturday of his decision to speak on the phone with Taiwan’s leader, a breach of long-standing tradition that risks enmity from China.

Trump’s conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen drew an irritated, although understated, response from China, as Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the contact was “just a small trick by Taiwan” that he believed would not change U.S. policy toward China, according to Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.

Chinese officials said they lodged a complaint with the U.S. and reiterated a commitment to seeking “reunification” with the island, which they consider a renegade province.

After the phone conversation Friday, Trump tweeted that Tsai “CALLED ME.” He also groused about the reaction to the call: “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump taps Tom Price to lead HHS, plans 2nd meeting with Mitt Romney

President-elect Donald Trump moved to fill out his Cabinet Tuesday, tapping Georgia Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Aides signaled that at least one other Cabinet nomination was imminent.

The president-elect appeared to still be torn over his choice for secretary of state. He summoned former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to New York for dinner Tuesday night to discuss the post for a second time. He was also meeting with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was getting new attention from Trump’s team. On Monday, Trump spent an hour with retired Gen. David Petraeus, another new contender.

Trump’s decision to consider Romney for the powerful Cabinet post has sparked an unusual public backlash from some of his closest aides and allies. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has warned that it would be a “betrayal” to Trump supporters if he selected Romney, who was a fierce critic of the president-elect.

Three people close to the transition team said Trump was aware that Conway planned to voice her concerns about Romney in public and they pushed back at suggestions that the president-elect was angry at her for doing so.

Even as he weighed crucial Cabinet decisions, Trump appeared distracted by outside forces — or eager to create distractions himself. He took to Twitter early Tuesday to declare that “nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag.” He warned that those who do should face “perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Trump offered no context for his message. The Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment.

The president-elect spent the weekend tweeting his opposition to a recount effort in up to three states that is led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton‘s team. He also falsely claimed that millions of people had voted illegally in the presidential election and provided no evidence to back up the baseless charge.

Trump won praise from Republicans Tuesday for his pick of Price to serve as health and human services secretary. A six-term congressman and orthopedic surgeon, Price has been a leading critic of President Barack Obama‘s health care law. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll be a leading figure in Republican efforts to repeal the measure.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Price “has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want” for programs that help seniors, women, families and those with disabilities. His nomination, Schumer said, is “akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Trump’s team also announced Tuesday that Seema Verma had been chosen to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Jason Miller, a transition team spokesman, said at least one other Cabinet post would be announced in the afternoon. He did not elaborate.

Transition aides said Trump was likely at least a few days away from a decision on secretary of state. Romney has supposed from Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition efforts.

Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign, including his preparedness for the foreign policy and national security decisions that confront a president. Still, he is said to be interested in serving in the administration and held a lengthy initial meeting with Romney before Thanksgiving.

Other top Trump allies, notably Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign against a Romney nomination. Conway’s comments stirred speculation that she is seeking either to force Trump’s hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a loyal Trump ally, was initially seen as the leading contender to helm the State Department. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as his public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.

Trump is now said to be considering Giuliani to head the Homeland Security Department, according to those close to the transition process.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump drama rolls on: Disputes, falsehoods hit transition

The drama, disputes and falsehoods that permeated Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign are now roiling his transition to the White House, forcing aides to defend his baseless assertions of illegal voting and sending internal fights spilling into public.

On Monday, a recount effort, led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton‘s campaign also marched on in three states, based partly on the Stein campaign’s unsubstantiated assertion that cyberhacking could have interfered with electronic voting machines. Wisconsin officials approved plans to begin a recount as early as Thursday. Stein also asked for a recount in Pennsylvania and was expected to do the same in Michigan, where officials certified Trump’s victory Monday.

Trump has angrily denounced the recounts and now claims without evidence that he, not Clinton, would have won the popular vote if it hadn’t been for “millions of people who voted illegally.” On Twitter, he singled out Virginia, California and New Hampshire.

There has been no indication of widespread election tampering or voter fraud in those states or any others, and Trump aides struggled Monday to back up their boss’ claim.

Spokesman Jason Miller said illegal voting was “an issue of concern.” But the only evidence he raised was a 2014 news report and a study on voting irregularities conducted before the 2016 election.

Trump met Monday with candidates for top Cabinet posts, including retired Gen. David Petraeus, a new contender for secretary of state. Trump is to meet Tuesday with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is also being considered more seriously for the diplomatic post, and Mitt Romney, who has become a symbol of the internal divisions agitating the transition team.

Petraeus said he spent about an hour with Trump, and he praised the president-elect for showing a “great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there.”

“Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said. A former CIA chief, Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information relating to documents he had provided to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort, teased “a number of very important announcements tomorrow” as he exited Trump Tower Monday night.

Pence is said to be among those backing Romney for State. Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign but is interested in the Cabinet position, and they discussed it during a lengthy meeting earlier this month.

Other top Trump allies, notably campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign to warn the president-elect that nominating Romney would be seen as a betrayal by his supporters. Conway’s comments stirred speculation that she is seeking to either force Trump’s hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.

Three people close to the transition team said Trump had been aware that Conway planned to voice her opinion, both on Twitter and in television interviews. They disputed reports that Trump was furious at her and suggested his decision to consider additional candidates instead highlighted her influence.

Conway served as Trump’s third campaign manager and largely succeeded in navigating the minefield of rivalries that ensnared other officials. Trump is said to have offered her a choice of White House jobs — either press secretary or communications director. But people with knowledge of Conway’s plans say she is more interested in serving as an outside political adviser, akin to the role President Barack Obama‘s campaign manager David Plouffe played following the 2008 election.

The wrangling over the State Department post appears to have slowed the announcements of other top jobs. Retired Gen. James Mattis, who impressed Trump during a pre-Thanksgiving meeting, was at the top of the list for Defense secretary, but a final decision had not been made.

Trump was also considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Homeland Security secretary, according to those close to the transition process. Giuliani was initially the front-runner for State and is still in the mix. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as the mayor’s public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.

Those close to the transition insisted on anonymity in commenting because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the private process.

Even as Trump weighs major decisions that will shape his presidency, he’s been unable to avoid being distracted by the recount effort. He spent Sunday on a 12-hour Twitter offensive that included quoting Clinton’s concession speech, in which she said the public owed Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead.”

His final tweets challenging the integrity of an election he won were reminiscent of his repeated, unsubstantiated assertions during the campaign that the contest might be rigged. Those previous comments sparked an outcry from both Clinton and some Republicans.

Clinton lawyer Marc Elias said the campaign has seen “no actionable evidence” of voting anomalies. But the campaign still plans to be involved in Stein’s recount to ensure its interests are legally represented.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. All three would need to flip to Clinton to upend the Republican’s victory, and Clinton’s team says Trump has a larger edge in all three states than has ever been overcome in a presidential recount.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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In wake of loss to Donald Trump, Hillsborough County Democrats get surge of requests to join their party

At their first event since being devastated by the results of the presidential election, there was literally not enough room to contain the number of Democrats who showed up at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in Ybor City Monday night. A second room adjoining the main boardroom at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County facility was opened to contain the overflow crowd.

“We’ve been inundated since the election,” said Ione Townsend, the chair of the Hillsborough County DEC.

Although officially only 14 people were sworn in as new members of the Executive Committee Monday, there were several dozen more people who were first-time visitors to a DEC meeting. Townsend said those 14 people had already completed applications in advance of the meeting. In addition, she said party officials received a “number” of completed applications on Monday, with other applications distributed to people in the last two weeks who weren’t in attendance at Monday’s meeting. A number of other people left the meeting taking an application form with them.

“There’s a great deal of disappointment in the national election with Hillary’s loss and the election of Trump,” she said about the interest over the past two weeks. “People are saying, ‘maybe I should have been more involved, I need to be involved.’ There were people who said ‘I sat this out and I shouldn’t have’ and, whatever their reasons are, we’re just glad that they want to be engaged.”

Although it wasn’t a perfect night by any stretch for Hillsborough Democrats, the county did vote strongly for Clinton. The voters also voted in support of all the constitutional officers on the ballot (such as Clerk of the Court Pat Frank, Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez) re-elected, as well as Andrew Warren defeating Mark Ober for state attorney.

Townsend is running for re-election to the party chair position on Dec. 5, and no one is challenging her. She was elected in January, after serving as vice-chair in the previous year.

One factor that certainly has helped the party is the fundraising prowess unleashed by Mark Hanissee, the former Pinellas County DEC chair who lost his bid for re-election there to Susan McGrath two years ago.

Under Hanissee, the Hillsborough Democrats have created two fundraising vehicles — one being the Hillsborough Society, created in 2015 by Alex Sink and Tucker/Hall co-founder Tom Hall. That group was able to raise $40,000 in the past year to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, including slate cards, digital media, phone banking, website upkeep, and social media.

Then there is their Victory Fund. Hannisee said when he was originally hired by the party in the fall of 2014, his goal was to bring in $200,000 by this past election to that fund. In fact, he said, they raised more than $309,000.

During the meeting, Townsend said the party also did a great job in registering voters. On April 30 the Democrats had 305,887 registered in Hillsborough County. They then registered 32,113 between May and Oct. 18, increasing their numbers to over 338,000.

“We actually delivered the vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said to cheers from the audience.

But obviously, Clinton’s loss in Florida was pivotal in the Democratic nominee’s failure to win the state’s 29 electoral votes. After the 2012 presidential election, when Barack Obama won re-election days before the final vote in Florida was counted (he ultimately defeated Mitt Romney here by less than one percentage point), Democrats’ attitude was that while Clinton could afford to lose Florida, Trump could not. Yet that was going by the old Electoral College map, which had states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin going for Clinton. They didn’t, however.

“We share your pain. We share your disappointment,” Townsend told the dozens of new members in the audience. “I encourage you to stay engaged. We can turn out more Democratic voters with more hands for sure.”

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Donald Trump auditions Cabinet prospects high above Manhattan

Donald Trump held court from his perch high above Manhattan on Monday, receiving a line of former rivals, longtime allies and TV executives while overseeing a presidential transition that at times resembles a reality show like the one he once hosted.

Trump met with nearly a dozen prospective hires, all of whom were paraded in front of the cameras set up in the Trump Tower lobby as they entered an elevator to see the president-elect. Out of public view himself, he fell back on his TV star roots by filming a video that touted his legislative goals once he takes office.

Trump; did not immediately announce any appointments after the meetings, which came on the heels of a two-day whirlwind of interviews at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Unlike his predecessors, who often spoke with Cabinet candidates under a cloud of secrecy, Trump has turned the search into a very public audition process. The extraordinary exercise took on a routine feel on Monday: First, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown stepped off the gold-plated elevator into the marble-coated lobby after his meeting to declare to waiting reporters that he was “the best person” to become Veterans Affairs secretary.

Next, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a candidate for interior secretary, did much the same, striding off the lift to say she had “a wonderful discussion” with Trump. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry declined to speak to reporters, but he did take time for a photo with the Naked Cowboy, the underwear-sporting, guitar-strumming New York institution who is normally a fixture at Times Square but has spent recent days camped out at Trump Tower singing about the president-elect.

Democratic Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who resigned her post on the Democratic National Committee after endorsing Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, also met with Trump but entered and exited out of sight. She later defended crossing party lines to meet with Trump about U.S. involvement in Syria, saying in a statement she would never “play politics with American and Syrian lives.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump ally, also arrived with his wife, Callista, and told reporters that he indicated to Trump that he was interested in being a “senior planner” to coordinate long-term political efforts among the Republicans in control of all three branches of government.

Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said of the visitors, “Not all of them will be in his Cabinet and his federal government, but they are all incredibly important in offering their points of views, their experience and certainly their vision of the country.”

No one was saying whether Trump would announce more appointments before heading to Florida for Thanksgiving. He was planning to leave Tuesday or Wednesday to spend the holiday at his Mar-a-Lago estate, while Vice President-elect Mike Pence will spend Thanksgiving in Mississippi, where his Marine son is stationed.

Trump has largely remained out of sight since winning the election, save for a flurry of brief public appearances over the weekend, often with Pence at his side, to flash thumbs-ups and provide quick updates on his progress in building a government. He remained in the upper floors of his skyscraper Monday, seeking counsel on the phone and interviewing candidates all while keeping an eye on the cable news coverage of the day’s events.

He appeared in a two-and-a-half minute video released late Monday in which he pledged to the American people that he was appointing “patriots” to his administration and reiterated a number of his campaign promises, including plans to renegotiate trade deals, scrap excessive regulations and institute a five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists.

The video — which made no mention of key pledges to build a border wall with Mexico or repeal the Affordable Care Act — continues the president-elect’s practice of trying to go over the heads of the media and take his case directly to the American public. Since Election Day, he has twice ditched the group of reporters designated to follow his movements and has so far eschewed the traditional news conference held by the president-elect in the days after winning.

Trump has not held a full-fledged news conference since July.

But the media were clearly on his mind as he met with executives and on-air personalities from TV networks. He frequently singled out the media — declaring them “so dishonest” — for criticism during the campaign, but it’s not unusual for presidents to hold off-the-record meetings with journalists when trying to promote policies or programs.

Among the attendees were NBC anchor Lester Holt and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, ABC’s “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos and anchor David Muir, CBS’ “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and several executives at the networks.

None of the attendees would discuss the meeting with reporters in the lobby, though Conway said it was “very cordial, very productive, very congenial.”

Those Trump met with over the weekend included former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a former critic now being considered for secretary of state; retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who Trump dubbed an “impressive” prospect for defense secretary, and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who is under consideration for Commerce secretary.

“We’ve made a couple of deals,” Trump said Sunday. He gave assurances that “incredible meetings” would be bringing “incredible people” into the government.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Jonny Torres to challenge Deb Tamargo for chair of Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee

Jonny Torres, currently vice chair of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, has announced he will challenge incumbent chair Deborah Tamargo when the party holds elections next month.

Although the GOP had a big night nationally and in Florida last week, Torres said the results out of Hillsborough were disappointing, and he believes it’s time for a change in leadership.

“Today, we bear little resemblance to the organization we once were,” Torres wrote to party members on Wednesday. “Those of you who don’t miss a meeting know that we’ve been struggling month-to-month to make quorum. We are losing more members than we are adding every month. And we have lost the influence and relevance in the community and among our elected officials that we once had. While we can certainly celebrate our national and statewide victories, locally we did not gain a seat we didn’t already hold, and we have lost an incredibly important seat in State Attorney Mark Ober. As an organization, what do we have to show for the last two years? We have no gains in membership or elected offices, and Hillsborough County was delivered to Hillary Clinton by 31,000 votes.”

“Jonny’s opinions are just — opinions,” Tamargo responded. “They aren’t based in fact. Analytically, we gained votes in the presidential race even though we still lost Hillsborough to Hillary.”

Hillsborough did go big for Clinton last week, but unlike most recent presidential elections, it was not a bellwether for the state, as Donald Trump edged out Clinton by 1.2 percentage points in Florida. Trump received 266,281 votes in Hillsborough County, 18,259 more votes than Mitt Romney received  in the county in  2012.

And while upstart Andrew Warren did defeat Ober in the biggest surprise of the night as Torres noted, the Democrats failed in two big House races they thought they had a legitimate shot at winning in the county — with Shawn Harrison defeating Lisa Montelione in House District 63 by 2 percentage points, and Dover’s Ross Spano easily vanquishing Rena Frazier in the House District 59 race.

In the biggest state Senate race in Hillsborough, Republican Dana Young defeated Democrat Bob Buesing by nearly 7 percentage points in the SD 18 seat.

In the only open County Commission seat, Democrat Pat Kemp beat Republican Tim Schock. Schock had easily defeated former longtime commissioner Jim Norman in the August primary. GOP District 1 Incumbent Sandy Murman won another four years by beating Democrat Jeff Zampitella.

Tamargo has led the Hillsborough Republicans since December 2014, when she defeated former chair Deborah Cox-Roush. She said she welcomes all challengers.

“Two years ago, when I decided  to run, I and the other board candidates were denied meeting time to declare our intention to  run, and denied time to speak about our platforms,” she said. “We were only allotted five minutes at the December election meeting to speak, which included a nomination and second. That was one thing I wanted to change, and did change, to offer new candidates time for their background and platform to be known and understood by the membership.”

Torres works in marketing and advertising. He served as digital director of the Republican National Convention in 2012, was the the regional field director for the Republican Party of Florida, and worked on Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s successful campaign victory over Alvin Brown in 2015.

He said he intends to soon unveil his plan to recruit and develop candidates with a nine-course candidate training, “featuring local, state, and national experts.”

The election will take place Dec. 20.

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Ed Narain the latest name to be floated as potential chair of Florida Democratic Party

In the 72 hours since Allison Tant announced she would not run for another term as Florida Democratic Party chair, all sorts of names have been floated as possible successors.

DNC Committeeman Alan Clendenin, former House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, former Congressman Patrick Murphy, former lawmaker Dwight Bullard and former lieutenant governor candidate Annette Taddeo are just some of Florida Democrats being mentioned in the conversation.

Another is Ed Narain, the outgoing head of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, whose ascendancy in the Legislature was snuffed in August when he narrowly lost a run for the state Senate District 19 race to Darryl Rouson. Narain was elected to the Florida House District 59 seat in 2014 and would have easily won re-election to the seat this year, but opted to run for the open Senate seat.

“It’s an honor for my name to be discussed with other Democratic leaders from around the state but I’m an outsider when it comes to party politics and I’m not sure leading the party is where I can best contribute,” Narain wrote to FloridaPolitics on Sunday night about the his interest in the position — not completely rejecting a possible candidacy.

Meanwhile, former legislator and state education commissioner Betty Castor suggests a positive move for the FDP would be to move their headquarters outside of Tallahassee.

“It is obvious that the Democratic Party needs to build its bench,” Castor emailed to FloridaPolitics. “There are others far more intricately involved, but the Dems should start where there are opportunities. Democrats did well in Hillsborough and Orange with positive growth in Osceola as well as South Florida. Municipal elections are always prime areas. My own hope would be to see the state headquarters moved to a population center, perhaps Tampa.”

Former CFO Alex Sink said Tant did a relatively good job during her tenure, but thinks four years is long enough for any party chair.

“I think she’s done extremely well under challenging circumstances and let’s not forget the fact that we did carry the state for President Obama in 2012, when everybody in the country thought that Romney would win,” she said on Friday.

“I think that some of the other significant things that have been accomplished is this whole change of the politics of Orange and Seminole counties, and a very successful effort in energizing and registering Latinos, which is something that we’ll be able to build on in years to come, and the numbers of Latinos officeholders who were Democrats. There are lots of accomplishments that Allison can point to.”

Sink admits that having Florida go red for Donald Trump was extremely disappointing, but says that, in reality, Florida has been a red state over the past couple of decades, making it challenging for any party chair.

“It’s a burnout job,” she says of the position. “It’s thankless. It’s mainly fundraising, and when you don’t control the levers of power in Tallahassee, which we don’t, it’s tough. Not a single state office holder and almost super majorities in both houses of the Florida Legislature. You just don’t have a lot of leverage.”

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Mitch Perry Report for 11.14.16 — Questioning the exit poll data

Among the significant factoids produced by the exit poll conducted by Edison Research from last Tuesday’s election was that Donald Trump actually did better than Mitt Romney when it came to winning the Latino vote.

It wasn’t by much, but according to that information, Trump received 29 percent support from Hispanics, better than Romney’s 27 percent in 2012. That seems counterintuitive to some, considering that while Romney’s most egregious comment when it came to immigration was that people would need to “self-deport,” Trump went much further in his language.

Late last week a Latino polling firm totally questioned the data from Edison, raising a larger question, which is — with 47 million people voting BEFORE Election Day, how accurate is all the exit poll information, period?

Specifically, the group Latino Decisions simply doesn’t believe Edison regarding the Latino vote number. You can go to its blog post to get their full indictment of the plan, but part of their argument is that Trump’s 29 percent number was at odds with other high-quality, large-sample pre-election polling. Univision/Washington Post had him at 19 percent; NBC/Telemundo oversample 17; NALEO/Telemundo tracking poll 14; FIU/New Latino Voice 13.

Latino Decisions’ Election Eve poll (in the field Nov. 4-7) found 79 percent of Latinos backed Hillary Clinton, compared to 18 percent for Trump.

“Skeptics might say that all the polls were off this year, but actually, whatever the reason, the national polling miss was only around 1-2 percent compared to what the popular vote margin will eventually be. These Latino numbers are off by 10-15 percent,” the Latino Decisions authors write. “That requires a plausible explanation, and secret support for a man who described Latinos as rapists and criminals does not pass the sniff test. That’s why we see all these speculative stories. We suggest that if the exit poll numbers seem inexplicable, maybe they are wrong.”

An official with Edison argued in POLITICO last Friday that they stand by their research. I urge you to read their response to make up your own mind.

Edison interviewed 100,000 people on Election Day to come up with their findings: That 12 percent of Obama voters supported Trump, that Clinton led Trump among women by 12 percentage points, that Trump got 31 percent of voters who said they hadn’t been born as U.S. citizens. You can read these statistics in hundreds if not thousands of stories, treated as gospel. But, if nothing else, the Latino Decisions post makes you question whether all of this data is completely accurate. Something to think about as we move forward.

In other news …

Allison Tant will soon be out as chair of the Florida Democratic Party, leading to a rash of rumors regarding possible successors. Others wonder if it’s just rearranging chairs on the Titanic.

Officials with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative were able to provide permanent housing to 25 military veterans on Friday.

And a recount will start shortly in Miami-Dade County for the House District 118 seat between Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera.

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In White House math, certain places offer clues on outcome

Did Donald Trump succeed in at last winning over college-educated whites uneasy with the billionaire reality TV star? Did he drive a wave of working-class white voters? Did Hillary Clinton rebuild Barack Obama‘s winning coalition – young voters, urban liberals and minorities – while picking off moderate Republicans?

Those questions are central to who will win Tuesday’s presidential election, and a handful of locales could provide some early answers on election night.

The Associated Press has identified 10 counties seen as bellwethers for the Trump and Clinton strategies. All come from battleground states in the eastern time zone, where polls close the earliest. Their importance was determined from conversations with Republicans and Democrats, as well as AP’s own analysis.

A look at the 10 counties:

FLORIDA: In 2012, Obama won by about 74,000 votes (0.9 percentage points):

DUVAL

This Republican-leaning county, home to Jacksonville, has a solid white majority and sizable black minority, making it look more like the Deep South than south Florida. So a movement in Trump’s favor would mean returns closer to 2004, when George W. Bush won by 60,000 votes, than 2012, when Mitt Romney finished just 16,000 ahead of Obama.

HILLSBOROUGH

Bush and Obama each won Hillsborough (Tampa) twice, and both are two-term presidents. What makes Hillsborough stand out in 2016 is a growing Mexican-American population. There are already signs that Trump’s hard-line immigration stance is driving up the Hispanic vote: A quarter of the Hispanics who cast ballots in the opening days of early voting hadn’t voted at all in 2012. An expanded electorate (543,000 voted here in 2012) that is less white would benefit Clinton.

MIAMI-DADE

In Florida’s most populous county, older Cuban-Americans fuel Republicans (333,000 votes in 2012), while younger Cuban-Americans, other Hispanics and black voters drive Democratic totals (541,000 in 2012).

If Clinton lags Obama’s vote totals with black voters, it could show up here. Trump, meanwhile, could struggle to match the usual Republican performance among Cuban-Americans. Watch for whether Trump’s Miami-Dade vote totals lag far behind those of Sen. Marco Rubio, a favorite among his fellow Cuban-Americans.

NORTH CAROLINA: In 2012, Obama lost by 92,000 votes (2 percentage points):

NEW HANOVER

Registered Republicans and Democrats are split almost evenly in Wilmington and surrounding New Hanover County, while independents have risen by 10,000 voters since 2012 to outnumber both parties. Obama lost here by 1.5 percentage points in 2008 and slipped to a 4.5 percentage point deficit in 2012. The margin Tuesday could signal how independents are breaking statewide and beyond North Carolina.

WAKE

In the state’s most populous county, the ranks of voters with no party affiliation have grown by almost 50,000 or 24 percent since 2012, while Republican and Democratic registrations have remained roughly level. How those new voters break in a county Obama won by 56,000 votes (11 points) will help determine the statewide outcome and could portend the leanings of urban independents elsewhere.

WATAUGA

This is one of the few nearly all-white counties in the country that split on Obama’s two elections. He won by 4 percentage points in 2008, but his vote totals slipped 13 percent in 2012, resulting in a 3-point loss.

Appalachian State University in Boone anchors the population, which is more educated than the broader North Carolina electorate and includes thousands of students – key Clinton targets. Beyond campus, Watauga has lower income averages and a higher poverty rate, offering Trump an opening.

OHIO: In 2012, Obama won by 166,000 votes (3 percentage points)

BELMONT

This is one of three Ohio River counties Obama won in 2008 but lost in 2012. The county is more than 90 percent white. Fewer voters are college-educated than in the general population and median incomes are lower than the national marks – all factors that play to Trump’s strengths. He won here easily in the Republican primary, trouncing home-state Gov. John Kasich.

Obama’s vote slipped 13 percent to about 14,000 here in his re-election campaign, while the Republican total climbed 8 percent to almost 17,000. Those totals alone won’t flip Ohio to the Republican column, but an uptick for Trump in Belmont could herald gains in similar-profile counties across the state, which has a higher proportion of working-class whites than other battlegrounds.

HAMILTON

This diverse county, home to Cincinnati, has pockets of everything both candidates are looking for. The city has a large black population. The surrounding areas have college-educated independent and Republican whites Clinton wants, along with working-class whites likely to back Trump. Obama got 225,000 and 220,000 votes here, winning each time by about 6 percentage points. A tighter margin would bode well for Trump.

PENNSYLVANIA: Obama won in 2012 by 310,000 votes (5.4 percentage points):

CHESTER

Obama lost by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, the only metro Philadelphia county he lost after sweeping the metro area in 2008. The Chester population is overwhelmingly white, almost half have college degrees and median income exceeds the national mark. All that makes this county a prime indicator of how Trump is faring among suburban voters who typically back Republicans but are skeptical about Trump.

PHILADELPHIA

In Obama’s re-election, his margin in Philadelphia County was much wider than his statewide margin. As rural and small-town counties trend more Republican, the pressure will be on Clinton to replicate that roughly 6-to-1 cushion approaching a 500,000-vote advantage.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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