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Bill Rufty: Polk becoming a two-Party county?

Polk County will likely never return to the Democratic bastion that was home to four U.S. senators, three governors, and four presidents of the Florida Senate.

But from Tuesday’s primaries and the fielding of candidates for the Nov. 8 general elections, Polk Democrats are slowly learning to make the now-GOP bastion a two-party county again.

There was a big Democratic Primary in eastern Polk County for Florida’s 9th Congressional District, but not one of the four candidates were from Polk.

However, for the first time in a decade, there was a Democratic Primary for Florida House District 41, which is fully contained within the county’s borders.

As the I-4 corridor begins to turn Democratic in performance, eastern Polk County appears to be following the trend. But the western side, which includes Lakeland, Bartow and Mulberry, is still the Republican stronghold it has been since 1996.

The highest level race in the county and much of Central Florida was a congressional race where a Democrat is almost certain to win a general election run after court-ordered redistricting.

State Sen. Darren Soto’s win over former Alan Grayson aide Susannah Randolph, Grayson’s wife Dr. Dena Grayson, and former Osceola County Democratic Party Chair Valleri Crabtree can be credited to the significant margin in Osceola County, a Democratic stronghold among the three counties making up the district. He barely won the Orange County section and came in third in the Polk County section of his district.

Democrats in Polk County are hoping to win a Florida House seat in Polk County for the first time since 1998.

Former Circuit Court Judge Bob Doyel handily won the Democratic Party’s nomination over Nicholas Garcia in the primary and now faces former contractor and Republican fundraiser Sam Killebrew, a formidable Republican activist.

Killebrew won the GOP nod by a narrow margin over former 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Charles Davis.

It was Davis’ first run for a partisan political office and, although running as a Republican, he failed to adhere to what has become a tenant of the GOP: get the absentee voters first.

Davis won at the polls Tuesday, but longtime political planner and activist Killebrew won the race with the mail-in and early vote ballots.

The anticipated overhaul of the sometimes intransigent and stagnant Polk County School Board wound up about 50-50. After a scandal involving the then-superintendent and a top aide and the board’s slowness to do anything, many believed there would be tight contests for the four school board seats up for election this year.

One board member drew no opposition, while another, perhaps in part sensing public anger, did not seek re-election. That left two seats with incumbents and an open seat for the nonpartisan election in Tuesday’s primary.

Incumbent Lori Cunningham received more than 50 percent of the vote and was returned for her fourth four-year term.

But the other incumbent, Hunt Berryman, was a very distant second to the first-time candidate and school board critic Billy Townsend in the three-way race. Still, Townsend must now contend with Berryman in a runoff.

Becky Troutman, wife of former Florida House member and potential 2018 Cabinet candidate Baxter Troutman, led by 9,000 votes in the four-way race for the open school board seat, but did not get the required 50 percent of the vote. She will face Sara Beth Reynolds in the general election.

The most surprising win from a vote-margin standpoint was the re-election of Polk County Judge Susan Flood Barberdisciplined for an alleged romantic relationship with her bailiff.

She had been the target of some Republican leaders, who released photos of her looking at state attorney’s evidence against her while a deposition was in recess. Barber apparently didn’t realize the room’s security cameras were on, they said. It is a nonpartisan race, but so what? Parties don’t care when trying to elect one of their own.

But Barber was returned to the bench, winning by a margin of 5,500 votes over challenger Carson Bassett, due in part to a last-minute Facebook post from a well-known local attorney who endorsed her.

The results of Tuesday’s Primary elections in Polk County:

Polk Democratic Primary 9th Congressional District

Susannah Randolph – 4,791/34.67 percent

Dena Grayson – 4,534/32.81 percent

Darren Soto – 3,526/25.52 percent

Valleri Crabtree – 968/7 percent

Democratic Primary Entire 9th Congressional District

Darren Soto – 14,496/36.26 percent

Susannah Randolph – 11,267/28.18 percent     

Dena Grayson – 11,122/27.82 percent

Valleri Crabtree – 3,093/7.74 percent

Polk Republican Primary 9th Congressional District

Wayne Liebnitzky – 9,662/66.33 percent

Wanda Rentas – 4,904/33.67 percent

Republican Primary Entire 9th Congressional District

Wayne Liebnitzky – 22,725/67.56 percent

Wanda Rentas – 10,911/32.44 percent

Polk Republican Primary Florida House District 41

Sam Killebrew – 5,134/51.26 percent

Charles Davis – 4,881/48.74 percent

Polk Democratic Primary Florida House District 41

Bob Doyel – 5,360/64.95 percent

Nicolas Garcia  2,892/35.05 percent

Polk County Commission (Universal Ballot)

Bill Braswell – 40,889/66.21 percent

J.C. Martin – 20,868/33.79 percent

Polk County Judge

Susan Barber – 36,026/54.13 percent

Carson Bassett – 30,530/45.87 percent

Polk County School Board District 1

Billy Townsend (Runoff) – 27,978/42.64 percent

Hunt Berryman (Runoff) – 21,500/32.77 percent

Ed Shoemaker – 16,135/24.59 percent

Polk County School Board District 2

Lori Cunningham (Elected)  33,391/51.99 percent

Ronnie L. Clark – 17,202/26.78 percent

Kevin J. Kitto – 7,000/10.90 percent

Tim James – 6,634/10.33 percent

Polk County School Board District 4

Becky Troutman (Runoff) – 25,105/38.26 percent

Sara Beth Reynolds (Runoff) – 16,466/25.10 percent

Ed Smith – 16,085/24.52 percent

Rebekah Ricks – 7,956 /12.13 percent

Paul Stanton ousts Augustus Sol Invictus from Libertarian Senate primary

Libertarians have rejected goat-blood-drinking, LSD-dropping, neo-nationalist candidate Augustus Sol Invictus of Orlando and picked Paul Stanton of Deland to be their nominee this year for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

Stanton beat Invictus 74 percent to 26 percent in Tuesday’s Libertarian Party primary for the U.S. Senate.

Stanton, a computer programmer and “pro-peace” Army veteran, entered the race in May after Invictus’s penchant for shocking people with his behavior and statements became too much for Libertarian Party leaders. Stanton quickly picked up almost all Libertarian endorsements, starting with presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Stanton pushes much of the Libertarian Party’s general platform, including ending U.S. military involvements in the Middle East, decriminalizing drugs, and overhauling the tax system.

jolly

Charlie Crist waits for winner of David Jolly v. Mark Bircher GOP primary

He’s been Florida’s Republican governor, was considered a potential vice presidential candidate and almost became a U.S. Senator. But Charlie Crist is aiming a bit lower for his political comeback in 2016, running for the U.S. House after switching his party to Democrat.

The always smiling, always suntanned Crist is running against U.S. Rep. David Jolly in a redrawn district including his hometown of St. Petersburg, following a redistricting process widely seen as eroding advantages of incumbents and possibly allowing Democrats to gain a few seats.

He will be unopposed in the Democratic primary Aug. 30. But the two Republicans competing for their party’s nomination on the same day feel the former governor’s complicated political past will make him vulnerable. Crist – who once called himself a Reagan Republican – now gives opening speeches for Hillary Clinton when she campaigns in town .

At least one political expert says the district is Crist’s to lose – but then again, he’s been up in polls before, and lost.

“He’s got universal name recognition and most people who meet him, like him a great deal. He’s got as great political skills as any candidate in the state of Florida,” said Darryl Paulson, an emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida.

Crist, 60, never seems to forget a name or fail to shout “I love you back” when a supporter expresses admiration.

“His downside is his political ambition. He has seldom held a job that he’s run for a second time. He’s developed an image for someone who is always looking for the next position,” Paulson said.

Crist, an attorney who was Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011, was cited as a possible VP pick for John McCain in 2008. He ran for Senate as a Republican in 2010 but lost to Marco Rubio in the primary. Crist then switched parties, ran in the general as an independent and lost. He then switched parties again, becoming a Democrat, and ran unsuccessfully for governor against Rick Scott in 2014.

Jolly, 43, who has been in office only two years, earlier had announced he would run for U.S. Senate. But when Marco Rubio dropped out of the presidential race and said he would run for re-election, Jolly got out of the race .

First, Jolly must defeat a challenger in the Republican primary. His race against Mark Bircher is something of a microcosm for Republican races around the country: Jolly is among the incumbents who are uneasy, or unwilling, to endorse the controversial top-of-the-ticket candidate, Donald Trump.

Jolly isn’t supporting Trump. But Bircher, a retired Marine Corps Reserve brigadier general, commercial pilot and lawyer, favors the New York Republican.

Jolly says his biggest accomplishments are taking on campaign finance reform and backing a bill that would prohibit members of Congress from directly soliciting campaign contributions. He also knows that his views on Trump are setting him apart.

“It is obvious we are a divided party. Anybody who says otherwise is disingenuous,” he said. “Party matters a little bit less than community does. I have not endorsed Trump, nor do I defend him. He is not somebody that I am supporting.”

Bircher, 63, spent most his life outside of the political realm. He first ran for office in 2014. He came in third in the primary, receiving 25.5 percent of the vote in the election Jolly won.

He says Jolly hasn’t been conservative enough, citing Jolly’s votes for immigration amnesty, the Affordable Care Act and his bill to prohibit people on the FBI’s watch list from buying a firearm in the United States.

Bircher says he will donate his net salary to Pinellas County charities if elected.

He endorsed Trump in the summer, writing in a statement that he welcomed “the change he has brought to the political process run by the establishment.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio, Patrick Murphy look confident before Florida’s Senate primary

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy are campaigning as if Tuesday’s primary was already over and they won their parties’ nominations for U.S. Senate.

And it may be for good reason. Rubio’s main challenger, Carlos Beruff, appeared to throw in the towel, essentially shutting down the campaign he’d sunk $8 million of his own money into. And Murphy’s main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, has been damaged by ethics and domestic abuse allegations, leaving Murphy to focus on Rubio.

That leaves congressional races as some of the more exciting to watch during Tuesday’s primary, the first since court-mandated redistricting undid advantages for some incumbents and prompting one of the liveliest campaigns in many seasons. Congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is receiving an unexpectedly strong challenge from a Bernie Sanders-backed political novice.

Voters will also decide whether to amend the state constitution to allow a property tax break to promote solar power. And many of the state’s congressional primaries almost certainly assure the victor will be elected in November because of the political makeup of the district.

Republican primaries to replace retiring GOP Congressmen Jeff Miller, Ander Crenshaw, Curt Clawson and Richard Nugent will likely decide who is sent to Washington in November. The same goes for the Republican primary to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who is exploring a run for governor after her district was redrawn in a way that favors the GOP. Democratic primaries to replace Grayson and Murphy will also likely choose the next members of Congress in those districts.

Still, the Senate race is the main event, and one that took several twists along the way. Rubio wasn’t even supposed to be on the ballot, declaring he’d run for president instead of seeking a second term. Rubio dropped out of the presidential race when Donald Trump trounced him in Florida, but he still said he was done with the Senate. Then, two days before the deadline to get on the ballot, he changed his mind, chasing all Republicans but Beruff out of the race.

The Democratic primary pits former Republican and party establishment favorite Murphy against Grayson, a fiery liberal whose outspoken candor makes him unelectable in the minds of party leaders. Despite voting with Republicans far more often than Grayson, Murphy is backed by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Grayson has run a maverick campaign, condemning his party’s leaders and saying Murphy will be a puppet for leadership and special interests.

With comfortable leads in the polls, Rubio and Murphy took a similar strategy: Ignore the primary opposition. Both declined to debate their opponents, choosing instead to attack each other.

Rubio said he didn’t debate Beruff because there wasn’t enough time.

“He didn’t really seem that interested in debates not that long ago,” Rubio said in the days leading up to the primary. And when asked about the primary, Rubio turned the subject to Murphy, saying, “I take every race seriously. I’ll have more events today than Patrick Murphy will have all week.”

Rubio’s campaign has been issuing near-daily attacks on Murphy while virtually ignoring Grayson.

It was clear, though, that Beruff wanted a debate, particularly investing so much money trying to build his name recognition. He repeatedly criticized Rubio for not agree to an exchange, saying he should “man up” and calling him a coward.

Murphy called off the only debate schedule with Grayson after the mother of Grayson’s children said he abused her over the two decades they lived together, an accusation he has denied. Instead, Murphy focused nearly all is attention on Rubio. Murphy’s second ad of the campaign, released four weeks before the primary, attacks Rubio for missing votes while running for president.

During a phone interview, Murphy said Rubio is more concerned about his political ambition.

“He constantly says ‘I’m in this for Florida,’ but he’s clearly not running for Senate for Florida. He’s never been there for Florida; he’s never been there for a local issue; he’s never shown up for work. He’s in this for himself,” Murphy said.

It’s a similar message Grayson has made about Murphy, that there is no substance behind the candidate. Grayson repeatedly points out that Murphy was a Republican until he decided to run for Congress. He has voted with Republicans on bills that would have weakened Obama’s health care overhaul and he supported a committee to investigate Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attacks that killed four Americans at a compound in Benghazi, Libya.

“They’re desperately trying to take this empty suit and make him into a plausible candidate for U.S. Senator and they’re failing,” Grayson said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio schedules four city campaign swing ahead of primary

Marco Rubio is making a final push to the primary.

Rubio will meet with activists and volunteers to rally support ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

“I look forward to meeting with supporters throughout the state of Florida on Monday,” said Rubio in a statement. “The final days leading up to the primary are the most crucial and I am excited to talk to voters about why I am the clear choice to serve as Florida’s U.S. Senator.”

Rubio will kick off the four-city tour at 9 a.m. at the Cape Coral Military Museum in Cape Coral.

From there, he’ll head to Bay County where he’ll hold an event at 12:30 CST at Robert’s Hall in Lynn Haven. He’s then scheduled to hold an event at 3 p.m. CST at Seville Quarter in Pensacola.

Rubio will round out the day with an event in Miami at 8:45 p.m.

The Miami Republican faces Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder, in Tuesday’s primary. He is widely believed to win the primary, with recent polls showing him with a double-digit lead over Beruff.

Marco Rubio calls for lawmakers to pass Zika funding bill

Marco Rubio said Congress should immediately pass a bill to help combat the spread of Zika when it returns to work next month.

“Our job is to make sure the funding is available to not only fight Zika, but to get a vaccine,” said Rubio during a stop in Fort Myers on Wednesday.

Rubio said House and Senate leaders should have called lawmakers back to Washington, D.C. to approve a Zika funding bill.

The Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion funding package earlier this year, much higher than the version passed by the House. House budget negotiators came to an agreement that would set aside $1.1 billion, but came with strings attached. That bill was blocked by Senate Democrats, who accused Republicans of playing politics.

Rubio said he has supported every funding proposal that has come before the Senate, and was an early supporter of President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion funding package. Rubio said he asked the president to use the $300 million diverted from other programs to help fight Zika.

The Miami Republican’s comments came as another case of locally acquired Zika was discovered in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that a locally acquired case had been discovered in Palm Beach County.

Scott called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send 5,000 antibody tests to Florida. So far, the CDC has sent less than 1,200 tests to the Sunshine State.

“It is disappointing that these requests have not been fulfilled. Florida now has 43 cases of locally acquired Zika and the Obama Administration must quickly fulfill our entire request so that we can continue to provide the resources our state needs to combat this virus,” said Scott in a statement.

There are 636 cases of Zika in Florida. That number includes 43 locally acquired cases and 70 infections involving pregnant women.

Patrick Murphy campaign gets million-dollar boost, as father cuts check to Senate super PAC

Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy received another financial bump to his U.S. Senate campaign this week in the form of a million-dollar check from his father to a Senate super PAC.

The Hill reports Florida homebuilder Thomas Murphy gave $1 million to the Senate Majority PAC, the largest donation the Harry Reid-linked committee received in July.

The elder Murphy had also made a six-figure super PAC contribution supporting his son’s successful 2012 congressional campaign.

Two days after the July donation, Senate Majority PAC announced it will launch a one-million-dollar ad buy in Florida. Patrick Murphy, 33, faces liberal firebrand Alan Grayson, who has been openly opposed by Democratic leadership, in the Aug. 30 primary.

The Washington Post notes the ad buy was unusually early for the top Democratic Senate Super-PAC to intervene, calling it the “first-ever television ads in a Democratic primary, as it seeks to shepherd a top recruit through a competitive intraparty contest.”

 Murphy is in a tight race with incumbent Marco Rubio, who is leading by about 6 percent in recent polling.

Retailers, health care gives Rick Scott committee big boost in August

The political committee backing Gov. Rick Scott has raised $135,000 in the second week of August, according to newly filed reports.

Since Aug. 6, “Let’s Get to Work” brought in $50,000 apiece from Sovereign Healthcare Disbursements and Wal-Mart, with an additional $25,000 coming from the Florida Retail Federation and $10,000 coming from Bradenton-based BI Services.

The income was offset by just $3,500 in expenditures between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12, including $1,882 in printing expenses to Gandy Printers and $1,565 for accounting services from Carroll and Company CPAs.

The haul shows a slight uptick from the last reporting period, covering July 30 through Aug. 5, when the committee brought in $112,500 and spent about $60,500.

The new numbers show “Let’s Get to Work” with about $1.67 million on hand Aug. 12.

Florida candidates and committees face a Friday deadline for filing reports for the period.

Scott cannot run for re-election due to term limits, though the two-term Republican may be eyeing a 2018 run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bill Nelson.

Marco Rubio campaign reports raising more than $3 million since July 1

Add another $3 million to Marco Rubio’s campaign coffers.

The Rubio campaign announced it had raised $3.25 million since July 1, boosting the total raised to $5.5 million since announcing he was running for re-election in late June. The Miami Republican, according to the campaign, had $4.6 million in the bank as of Aug. 10.

Rubio faces Carlos Beruff in the Aug. 30 U.S. Senate primary.

According to campaign finance documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Beruff has loaned his campaign more than $4.1 million through June 30.

While Beruff spent a significant amount of money on early ad buys, it hasn’t appeared to make much of a difference. He’d trailed in the polls, in some cases by double-digits, since Rubio got in the race. He continues to spend on advertising, releasing an advertisement this week slamming Rubio over his attendance record.

Rubio is also on the airwaves, releasing a new advertisement Thursday focused on work Rubio did to help a Florida mother get medication for her daughter.

In the 30-second spot, Blanquita Trabold applauds Rubio for his help on her family’s case.

“My daughter was diagnosed with cancer of the breast. And it got worse and worse and worse. I called Senator Rubio. I said, this drug has not been approved by the FDA, but if you can get it perhaps we can save my daughter’s life,” she says in the 30 second spot. ““He got me the medication within a week. Thanks to Marco, I had three more months with my daughter. Marco Rubio was there for me when I needed him most. “

Joe Henderson: In Florida U.S. Senate race, it’s liar versus slacker

It won’t show up on the ballot this way, but the parameters of a likely November showdown between Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy for a U.S. Senate seat are becoming clear.

Place your “X” for the liar or the slacker.

Rubio will try to win re-election by framing Murphy as a serial fibber who can’t be trusted.

Murphy will try for the upset by framing Rubio as someone who didn’t show up for work because he wasn’t interested in the job he was elected to do, and so he can’t be trusted.

First, there is the matter of the Aug. 30 primary where both candidates face challenges. They appear to have moved well past those skirmishes to the main event, though. The polls indicate that is a safe strategy at this late hour.

At a gathering Monday in Tampa, Murphy wasn’t drawing distinctions between himself and Alan Grayson, his primary opponent. As Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com reported, it was all about Rubio – even though Murphy said, “We don’t take anything for granted.”

Oh yes, he does. Otherwise, he probably wouldn’t have followed that by saying, “Everyone I talk to, whether they’re Republican, Democrat or independent, tell me: Patrick, I want a senator who at least wants the job. Who at least wants to be there to solve our problems.”
In case anyone didn’t get that message, Murphy piled on and said of Rubio, “He’s in this because he wants to run for president again.”

It’s not a bad seed for Murphy to plant in voters’ minds. Rubio’s voting record in the Senate, along with his oft-voiced frustration about the job, is legit fodder for an opponent. As Murphy will repeatedly remind voters, Rubio at first said he wasn’t running for re-election but changed his mind a couple of months ago after Republicans begged him to get into the race.

Rubio’s camp quickly counter-punched Monday with a liar, liar, pants on fire missile.

“Patrick Murphy was caught lying about being a small-business owner himself, making him the last person to know what it takes to help Florida’s entrepreneurs succeed,” campaign spokesman Michael Ahrens told Perry.

Rubio spent part of Saturday in Brandon, a Republican stronghold. He needs to do more of that. Bob Buckhorn, Tampa’s Democratic Mayor, has pressed the attack that Rubio is an absentee representative of the people.

When Rubio was in the process of being routed in the state’s Republican presidential primary, Buckhorn made the point to me that despite his taking several trips to Washington on Tampa’s behalf, Rubio never made time to meet with him. Buckhorn is a staunch supporter of Murphy.

So, who do you trust?

Put another way, who do you distrust least?

The liar?

The slacker?

It’s game on and now we know the plan.

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