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GOP hits Patrick Murphy in Florida Senate race, and Barack Obama hits back

Republicans aren’t waiting until the primary to start attacking Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy in an effort to define him before he can define himself, a sign they believe that the U.S. congressman will be the nominee and the tougher candidate to beat in November.

The race in Florida is being closely watched since it could it tilt the U.S. Senate back to Democrats. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio initially said he wasn’t going to run for a new term, but changed his mind at the last minute.

The GOP focus so far has largely targeted Murphy as someone who embellished his resume by highlighting his work as a certified public accountant and a small business owner who helped clean the Gulf oil spill. Murphy was only licensed as a CPA in Colorado, not Florida, and the small business he refers to was set up by his wealthy father and only had a minuscule role in the Gulf cleanup.

But Murphy has some big supporters helping him fight back. President Barack Obama has recorded radio and television ads for Murphy, one of which tells viewers to not believe the attacks.

Murphy’s campaign ran them at a perfect time – during the Democratic National Convention when the most devoted party faithful were glued to their televisions. Vice President Joe Biden is also planning his third Florida stop on behalf of Murphy this week and a PAC attached to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is also plunking down $1 million in ads to boost Murphy.

“There’s millions of millions of dollars being spent against me by outside groups,” Murphy said. “They decided that they were going to attack me, and I’m sure from here on out, because they would probably love to run against Congressman (Alan) Grayson, but that doesn’t change who I am, that doesn’t change what I’m fighting for and what I want to do for Florida.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $1.5 million and the Senate Leadership Fund PAC has spent $1 million on Murphy attack ads, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent a much smaller amount on ads hitting Murphy in the Washington area. A PAC attached to Reid has spent $1 million defending him and the Murphy campaign spent about $1.7 million on ads featuring Obama, who told viewers not to believe the attacks against Murphy.

The Obama ad was a smart strategy, said Democratic pollster David Beattie, who isn’t working for either campaign.

“Obama is very popular with Democratic primary voters,” he said. “It’s saying, ‘Don’t believe the other things that you’re hearing’ and it’s delivered by a credible messenger.”

Still, Grayson’s campaign is grateful for the assist ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

The negative ads will hurt Murphy even though they may boost his name recognition, said Grayson campaign manager Mike Ceraso.

But Grayson, a Democrat from Orlando, has troubles of his own.

While he’s been popular with progressives, last week he was hit by allegations from the mother of his children that he abused her for two decades. Grayson denied the allegations, and said that she is the one who hit him and their five children. Still two progressive groups have rescinded their endorsements.

He’s also been dogged by ethics complaints over an offshore hedge fund he managed.

Republicans would rather face Grayson, a firebrand liberal, than Murphy, a moderate who has the backing of the party establishment and the resources that come with it. But considering how large Florida is – there are nearly 12.3 million registered voters – the GOP strategy is to try to knock Murphy down now before he gets a boost from a primary victory. He’s still largely unknown, and Republicans want to cast a negative light before voters pay more attention to him.

“Republicans are going to use every tool we have to make sure voters know Patrick Murphy is a fraud,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Marco Rubio focuses on national security in first re-election campaign ad

Marco Rubio is focusing on national security in his first Senate campaign advertisement.

The advertisement calls Rubio as a “national security leader,” and highlights opposition to, among other things, the Iran nuclear deal.

“Clinton, Grayson and Murphy. Three liberals with dangerous ideas on fighting terror. All three support the disastrous Iran deal, and would close Guantanamo. Standing in their way? Marco Rubio,” an announcer says in the 30-second spot. “A national security leader, Rubio wrote the toughest sanctions on Hezbollah ever passed. He led the fight against the Iran deal, and took on Obama, to block refugees from terrorist counties. Marco Rubio. Fighting to keep America safe.”

POLITICO Florida on Wednesday reported the campaign’s first ad buy was nearly $800,000 in ads in five media markets across the state.

Rubio announced last month he was running for re-election, and has spent the past two weeks campaigning across the state. He has a significant lead over Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County Republican challenging him, and is widely believed to come out on top in the Aug. 30 primary.

“Considering Marco Rubio’s record of missing votes and ignoring his duties as Senator, it’s no surprise his campaign and his establishment allies in Washington would have to make things up,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the Beruff campaign about the new ad. “But his record is clear: Marco Rubio just can’t make up his mind on the issues that matter to Floridians and only fights the Obama Administration when it is politically convenient. Florida voters are fed up with this kind of failed leadership.”

Beruff, according to POLITICO Florida, has spent nearly $6 million in television ads thus far this election cycle.

Carlos Beruff unveils immigration plan that includes ban on travel from Middle East

Build a wall. Ban travel from the Middle East. Stop funding for sanctuary cities.

Those are just some of the proposals included in Carlos Beruff’s plan to fix the immigration system. The plan, released Tuesday, focuses on three areas, securing the border, modernizing the legal immigration system, and ending abuses of the system.

“A country without borders is not a country. We must fix our immigration system, so we control who comes and goes, and that starts by securing our southern border,” said Beruff.

The first priority, Beruff said, is to secure the borders. In order to do that, Beruff proposes building a wall along the southern border — a proposal championed by Republican Donald Trump. In his proposal, Beruff said those who “mock the idea of building a wall do not want a secure border for our country.”

The Manatee County Republican also said the country needs to “temporarily ban all travel from from Middle East countries known to be a base for ISIS and other terrorist groups.” Beruff said Israel would be excluded from the temporary ban. So would Christians fleeing persecution, as long as their “personal histories can be verified by church records.”

“Many people from around the world want to come to this country to build better lives for themselves and their children. We should embrace America’s place in the world, but we must do so in a strategic, common-sense way,” said Beruff. “ISIS and others intent on doing us harm are looking to use any means possible to get into this country.  We need to be vigilant.”

Beruff also calls on lawmakers to modernize the legal immigration system. To do that, Beruff said he would implement an entry-exit visa tracking system and implement private sector solutions.

The plan also calls for a crackdown on H1-B visa abuses, cuts funding to so-called sanctuary cities, creates a mandatory E-Verify system, and creates a system where information is shared with state law enforcement officers. Beruff also calls on lawmakers to enact Kate’s Law, which creates mandatory minimum sentences for undocumented immigrants who were deported and then reenter the country.

“It is essential that we take our country back, and that starts by common sense reforms to our immigration system,” he said.

Beruff faces Marco Rubio in the Aug. 30 primary. Rubio, who announced he was running for re-election, currently leads in the polls and is widely expected to win the primary.

America’s future space policy still a mystery from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

With wars, terrorism, gun violence, economic problems, national debt, immigration issues and other national crises, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton might be excused for focusing on them, yet many Floridians and particular Central Floridians are eagerly waiting to hear what they aren’t yet talking about, space.

The futures of NASA, commercial space initiatives, and defense programs are critical to the economy and future of Florida’s Space Coast and Central Florida, and by extension to the entire state, and to a rapidly evolving space industry that includes players ranging from giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin to tiny space entrepreneurs trying to make a go on the Space Coast, in an uncertain political economy.

By this time in the 2012 presidential race Republican vice presidential designee Paul Ryan already had come to Orlando to deliver a major speech on the future of space, and the Mitt Romney campaign had issued a detailed white paper about the goals, objectives, and priorities of what his administration would pursue beyond Earth. President Barack Obama‘s space policies were official national policies, so they too were well-known.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Connie Mack also had talked extensively about space policy, and the issues were being robustly debated in key congressional races.

This year? Neither Trump nor Clinton has addressed space, except, reportedly, in occasional, short, simple answers to left-field questions at press conferences, while most Senate and congressional candidates haven’t said much more.

The Republican National Committee did add a space plank to its platform last week – the Democrats so far have not. The Republican space plank declares, “we must sustain our preeminence in space, launching more science missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and maintaining a source of high-value American jobs.” Yet it offers no specifics.

Lost in those specifics is the potential for sweeping federal policy changes, as there are significant political differences about where America’s space priorities ought to be, and the implications can be profound.

“I don’t think we know what the platforms are,” said Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition For Deep Space Exploration, which put out a white paper last month on space policy, suggesting what the federal candidates’ platforms should be, but haven’t heard back yet. “I wish we did have more information.”

Another white paper has been issued by an ad-hoc coalition, loosely competing with some of the deep space coalition’s interests. That group includes such players as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, the Aerospace Industries Association, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Astronautical Society, and Space Florida.

Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, Florida’s space industry development arm, said he expects the candidates’ space platform details to emerge as the candidates begin considering how to win Florida.

“The success we’ve had in the past in promoting space policy during a presidential campaign really has only gained traction late in the campaign, late August … September … when the campaigns are beginning to hone their messages to geographic areas,” Ketcham said. “The closer we get to election day, the more those campaigns refine their messages to specific regions. No region has been more important than the I-4 corridor. So we’re continuing to work that communication between the four purple states, Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado [which all have huge NASA, DoD and private space communities,] because as those messages refine we should be able to gain more position in discussing space policy.”

There is ample room for debate, even between the two big space industry coalitions’ white papers.

The Obama administration has several major space policies with which not everyone agrees. For human space exploration, NASA has set its sights on Mars and is investing much of its research,  energy and tens of billions of dollars to get there in about 20 years. For that to happen, NASA is turning over almost all lower-Earth-orbit activity to the private sector, including not-to-distant-future ferrying of American astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

To do that, NASA is investing billions of dollars in private space companies, to make them viable until they can profitably take over all that activity.

Meanwhile, NASA’s non-human exploration programs, including sending orbiters and rovers all over the solar system, using satellites to study the Earth and cosmos, and developing particular sciences and technologies aboard the space station, all are in me-first tugs-of-war for scheduling and funding.

Not everyone in politics or the space industry thinks NASA should be abdicating lower-Earth dominance to private businesses. Not everyone thinks Mars is all that good of an idea. And what about the moon? What’s this plan NASA has for sending astronauts to an asteroid?

Meanwhile, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are being turned into a multi-user, public-private-military spaceport, where government space projects become a small part of the action. Yet competing spaceports in Texas, California, Virginia and potentially a dozen other states are positioning themselves to compete.

And internationally? Europeans, Russians, Chinese and Indians all are trying challenge America’s space leadership in various segments of the future market, with heavy subsidies or state ownership of the companies competing.

It’s not just Trump or Clinton, though clearly one of them will be setting the stage.

“We have three branches of government. They’re not expected to see things eye-to-eye. But with regard to space policy, cohesion between the White House and Congress is very helpful,” said Dittmar, whose group includes big players such as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. “There is some disconnect. The White House and NASA have made requests for the budget that are not consistent with where Congress was coming down.”

In Philly, Keith Ellison compares Marco Rubio to Donald Trump

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison gave a fiery speech to the Florida Democratic Party delegation Tuesday morning, where he slammed Marco Rubio, unfavorably comparing him to GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump.

“A lot has been made about Trump’s hatred all the time, but some of you might want to remember that he wasn’t the only one pumping out hate all the time. He was not the only one talking hate — I remember a guy named Marco Rubio talking a lot of hate. I have not forgot the hate of Marco Rubio talking about Syrians and kicking them out of our country and they can’t come here, and they’re bad and we don’t want them.”

“This guy — Marco Rubio — he’s not different than  Trump; he’s just not as slick. He should not get credit just because he’s not as slick a salesman as Trump. He is the same kind of guy,” Ellison continued.

In 2015, Rubio did give qualified support to accepting Syrian refugees, but then reversed his position after the Paris bombing attacks last November, with the exceptions for certain groups like young orphans and elderly widows.

Still on a roll, Ellison then recalled how Rubio had said on numerous occasions last year he would not run again for his U.S. Senate seat. “I don’t know why he would want to run again, he said he didn’t like the job. He didn’t show up for it very much. “

“I’m telling you right now: He. Must. Go. The whole lot of them must go!,” Ellison said of the Florida senator, who is running against Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff in the Republican Senate primary. The winner will take on the Democratic candidate in the fall.

Marco Rubio disappointed by ‘politicization of Zika’

Marco Rubio said he was disappointed a $1.1 billion Zika funding plan did not clear the Senate before summer recess, as the number of cases in Florida rose to more than 300 this week.

“One of the most disappointing things I’ve ever seen is the politicization of Zika,” said Rubio, a Miami Republican, during a stop in Fort Myers Monday. “I voted for every Zika bill. Every one of them. I just want the money to flow so we can get ahead of this.”

The U.S. Senate left for summer recess last week without passing a $1.1 billion bill to combat the Zika virus. The House-approved bill included a provision to block Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rick from receiving money to fight the virus. Democrats opposed the measure, saying Republicans were playing politics with Zika funding.

The mosquito-borne illness can also be sexually transmitted, and has been shown to cause birth defects in children. During a Senate foreign relations subcommittee hearing last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer said lawmakers restricted “funding for birth control, even though they know it is the first line of defense.”

“There’s no room for politics,” she said during the hearing.

Rubio echoed that this week, saying both sides need to come together to act on the issue. Funding, he said, would allow federal officials to provide “more money for mosquito control, more research to help us get a vaccine, and the ability to make commercially available a test.”

“Today the only way to get tested for Zika is to send it to the state Department of Health, which means a lot of people who potentially have it aren’t being tested,” he said.

There are 319 cases of travel-related Zika in Florida. Of that number, 43 cases involve pregnant women regardless of symptoms. Nationwide, there are more than 1,305 cases of travel-related Zika.

While the administration has some Zika funding at its disposal, inaction on the issue could lead to delays in developing a vaccine and advanced mosquito-fighting techniques. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to Washington, D.C., until after Labor Day.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Marco Rubio announces $2.1 million nine-day fundraising haul

After less than two weeks, Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign is showing major momentum.

Politico is reporting that Rubio has flexed his fundraising muscle with more than $2.1 million raised since re-entering the race, according to an email Friday morning to supporters.

“Thanks to a tremendous effort lead by Ambassador John Rood and several others,” wrote Rubio finance director Anna Rogers, “we’re thrilled to tell you we raised over $2.1M in just nine days!”

Rogers added that one of Rubio’s Democratic rivals, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, raised about the same amount — $2.4 million — during the “entire” first quarter. Murphy faces fellow Congressman Alan Grayson in the Senate Democratic primary.

“This is a great story for us to tell and is a testament to Marco and to you, the supporters driving this campaign,” Rogers said.

With more than tens of millions of dollars to be raised on both sides, many expect Florida’s Senate contest to be among the nation’s costliest and most competitive.

Bill Nelson urges Mitch McConnell to bring back Senate’s $1.1B Zika funding proposal

Sen. Bill Nelson is urging Senate leaders to bring back a $1.1 billion proposal that would help fight the spread of Zika.

The request comes just one day after the Florida Department of Health announced 11 new cases of Florida, bringing the total number of travel-related cases in the Sunshine State to 263.

In a letter Thursday, the Florida Democrat asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bipartisan $1.1 billion bill the Senate passed back to the floor for a vote as a standalone bill. Last week, the Senate voted down a $1.1 billion House proposal.

Democrats blocked the GOP-drafted measure by a 52-48, short of the 60 votes required to advance it. The party faulted Republicans for packing the bill with provisions designed to deny new funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico and ease rules on pesticide spraying.

Nelson told McConnell reminded that “both sides of the aisle came together on the Senate Floor” to pass its version of the $1.1 billion funding proposal.

“I strongly urge you to advance a bipartisan bill that provides emergency funding, and is free of misguided policy riders,” said Nelson in his letter. “Time is of the essence.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 930 cases of travel-related cases of Zika reported in the United States. So far none of the cases have been locally transmitted.

Last week, the Florida Department of Health announced it had confirmed its first case of microcephaly in an infant born in Florida whose mother had a travel-related case of Zika. The mother contracted Zika while in Haiti.

In his letter, Nelson said lawmakers need to stop using funding as a vehicle to advance politics and take a bipartisan approach to funding.

“Funding our nation’s Zika response is something that simply cannot wait any longer and it cannot be used as a vehicle to advance partisan, ideological positions,” he said. “Surely, this is something that members of both parties can agree to.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Carlos Beruff takes aim at Marco Rubio in new advertisement

Carlos Beruff is taking aim at Marco Rubio in a new digital advertisement.

The 35-second spot — called “Unequivocal” and released Monday morning — splices together clips of Rubio, who announced last week he was running for re-election, responding to questions of whether he would commit to a full six-year term in the Senate with clips of broadcasters calling him robotic.

In each of the clips, Rubio is saying essentially the same thing — that he will no longer make unequivocal statements.

“The voters of Florida deserve a Senator who is committed to doing the job he’s been hired to do, but that’s not what they’ll get with Marco Rubio, who won’t even commit to serving a full six-year term or deny he won’t use the seat to run for president again,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Beruff campaign, in a statement. “Floridians are tired of Marco’s robotic responses and Washington-approved talking points. It’s time for a change. We can’t afford six (or less) more years of the same old Marco.”

Rubio repeatedly said he was not going to run for re-election, and that he planned to return to private life at the end of his term. On Wednesday, he reversed course and announced he intends to run for re-election.

Rubio will face Beruff in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

Jac VerSteeg: How Marco Rubio might get Hillary Clinton elected

Marco Rubio says he decided to run for reelection because it will be imperative to have people like him in the U.S. Senate if Hillary Clinton is elected president.

“There’s [a] role for the Senate that could end up being its most important in the years to come: The Constitutional power to act as a check and balance on the excesses of a president.”

But it is worth asking: Does Rubio’s decision to run make it more likely that Clinton will become president?

It’s easy to envision a scenario in which it does. Eagerness to drive a political stake through Rubio’s heart could increase Democratic turnout in Florida, throwing the most important swing state – and therefore the election – to Clinton.

Think about it. Democrats hardly would be whipped into a frenzy by a desire to defeat, say, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Most voters probably still are fuzzy at best on who, exactly, Lopez-Cantera is. But Rubio? He’s become a high-profile target.

The wish to stick it to Rubio also plausibly would be a better election-day mobilizer than any positive feeling toward either Rep. Patrick Murphy or Rep. Alan Grayson, who are battling it out to be the Democratic senatorial nominee.

Rubio’s insinuation that the Orlando massacre influenced his decision to seek reelection only heightens Democratic anger toward him. Before, the biggest knock on Rubio was that he was a slacker who couldn’t be bothered to show up to work in the Senate. Damaging, yes, but not something to make Democrats get out and vote.

Now, though, Rubio is the hypocrite who steadfastly has opposed LGBT equality and common sense gun control yet has the gall to imply he’s running in response to the assault-weapon massacre perpetrated at a gay night club?

How epically self-serving.

Rubio’s anti-LGBT record is exactly the kind of issue that could motivate young Democrats and Independents who otherwise might have stayed home to make the effort to vote. As a group, they might not even have been that enamored of Clinton. But if they take the trouble to vote against Rubio in remembrance of Orlando, they might just vote for Clinton while they’re at it.

For Clinton to win in November, she’ll need a big turnout of Democrats in the Orlando area – precisely the area that ought to be most offended by Rubio’s decision to use the Pulse horror as his excuse to run. Democratic turnout in South Florida also is a key, and that’s also an LGBT-friendly venue.

Plus, Rubio’s flip-flop on immigration is a double-whammy in those two regions. Not only does it anger Hispanics who feel he stabbed them in the back by abandoning immigration reform, it angers those who remember that gay Hispanics were targeted in the Pulse attack.

Current polls show Rubio beating either Murphy or Grayson. But if Democrats exploit Rubio’s Pulse hypocrisy with skill, Rubio might just help them beat Trump.


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

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