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Sunburn for February 15: RIP, Nino; WWE at the GOP; Alan Grayson doesn’t heart Patrick Murphy; the ghost lobbyist

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray and Jim Rosica

ICYMI (BUT HOW COULD YOU MISS IT) SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA FOUND DEAD IN TEXAS via The Associated Press – U.S. Marshals Service in Washington confirmed Scalia’s death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of South Texas … Scalia had retired the previous evening and was found dead in the morning after he did not appear for breakfast. Scalia’s impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus, although he was held in deep affection by his ideological opposites Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Scalia and Ginsburg shared a love of opera. He persuaded Kagan to join him on hunting trips. His 2008 opinion for the court in favor of gun rights drew heavily on the history of the Second Amendment and was his crowning moment on the bench.

– “Florida politicians react to death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia” via Florida Politics

MUST-READ – “Antonin Scalia, Sandy D’Alemberte and the pack of Marlboros” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics

ANTONIN SCALIA’S DEATH UNDERCUTS CONSERVATIVE HOPES ON UNIONS, ABORTION via Greg Stohr of Bloomberg Politics – The clearest impact may come in [a] union dispute, which has threatened to end requirements that public-sector workers in 20-plus states pay fees to their collective-bargaining representatives. Scalia’s absence means that, even if union foes can win over swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, they probably won’t do better than a 4-4 split.

THE SHORT LIST via The New York Times – Merrick B. Garland, 63: Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [nominated by Bill Clinton] … Padmanabhan Srikanth, 48: A judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was nominated by President Obama and confirmed to the federal bench by the Senate in May 2013 by a 97-0 vote … Patricia Ann Millett, 52: A judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Her nomination in 2013 by Obama (to fill the seat vacated by John G. Roberts Jr. after his elevation to the Supreme Court) was one of three nominations caught up in a Senate debate over the use of the filibuster. … Jacqueline Nguyen, 51: A judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She was nominated by Mr. Obama and confirmed in May 2012 … Kamala D. Harris, 51: California attorney general, an elective post she has held since 2011. She is the first African-American, Asian-American and woman to hold the job. [Currently running to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)] … Cory Booker, 46: A first-term Democratic member of the United States Senate [D-N.J.].

GOP 2016 CONTENDERS URGE SENATE TO STOP A LIBERAL COURT NOMINEE via Eli Stokols of POLITICO – Scalia’s death is certain to spark a prolonged partisan fight over a nomination that will reshape the Court for decades … there was little disagreement here among Republican presidential candidates: The GOP-controlled Senate should block any liberal President Barack Obama puts forward. “We’re not going to give up the Supreme Court for a generation by allowing Barack Obama to make one more appointee,” said Cruz. “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year,” he said after acknowledging the president maintains the constitutional authority to nominate a justice to the court until the end of his term. Trump brushed past the question of whether Obama should submit an appointee to the Senate, also putting the onus on the Senate to stop any Obama appointees to the Court. “If I were president now, I would certainly want to try to nominate a justice … I think he’s going to do it whether I’m OK with it or not. I think it’s up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It’s called delay, delay, delay.” Bush also called for a consensus choice.

MARCO RUBIO: SENATE HAS OBLIGATION TO TAKE UP ANTONIN SCALIA REPLACEMENT, ‘BUT NOT NOW’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Rubio on Sunday stood by his contention that the Senate should not take up President Obama’s choice for a successor to Antonin Scalia. “We have an obligation to do it, but not now,” Rubio said on Meet the Press. “The court can function with eight justices, it does it all the time, especially when justices have to recuse themselves.” He was more blunt on Fox News Sunday. “The president can nominate whoever he wants, but the Senate is not going to act, and that’s pretty clear. So, we can keep debating it but we’re not moving forward on it, period.”

HOW THE SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS BROKE NEWS OF SCALIA’S DEATH via Benjamin Mullin of Poynter – To break news this big, they needed at least two sources … They began assigning staffers who worked feverishly to confirm the news. A reporter and a photographer who were covering a feature in West Texas’ Big Bend area were diverted to the resort to get confirmation. When they arrived, they glimpsed a hearse. Gary Martin, the government and political editor for the San Antonio Express-News, and reporter Guillermo Contreras began writing background material for a story in anticipation of a second source. Reporters Vianna DavilaTyler WhiteRichard Marini and John MacCormack began working the phones. Finally, just after 3 p.m., the team got confirmation from a second source they trusted. It had been about two hours since the original tip. The Express-News published the story at about 3:30 p.m. … coverage of Scalia’s death shows the rewards that come with cultivating experienced, well-sourced journalists. In the days of dwindling ranks in the newspaper industry, there’s no replacement for having reporters on the ground whom people trust.

TWEET, TWEET:

– @craigtimes: Justice Antonin #Scalia‘s record on the environment. He loved duck hunting but not where the ducks lived.

– @TheRickWilson: 1/ Not to put too fine a point on this, but this is the most consequential political battle of the last 20 years

– @anamariecox: Aaron Sorkin wrote this election cycle up for a West Wing season but it was discarded as too far-fetched.

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DEBATE NIGHT IN AMERICA

Saturday’s Republican presidential debate was the perfect spot for GOP candidates to try and project legal gravitas after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

That was a fairly civil discussion.

Then came the brawls: Then it was back to Trump v. Bush for Round Two. Next up: Trump v. Cruz.

John Kasich tried to stand above the fray.

It was the smallest GOP field on the debate stage yet, after the departures of Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina. But the six surviving candidates filled the void — and then some.

Court politics: No surprise here: Most of the Republicans on the stage said it should be up to the next president (i.e., one of them, they hope) to fill the vacancy created by Scalia’s death.

Bush, the son and brother of a president, was the outlier here. “The president, by the way, has every right to nominate Supreme Court justices,” Bush said. He added that President Barack Obama should take a “consensus orientation” toward that nomination, but added: “There’s no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick when he submits that person to the Senate.”

The two lawyers and the only senators in the group — Rubio and Cruz —both said Obama should leave the selection to the new president.

It was a perfect forum for Cruz, who has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, to show off his legal credentials. He made it a point to mention he’d known Scalia for 20 years.

Trump vs. Bush: Trump was back in attack mode toward Bush, repeatedly saying “Jeb is so wrong” on national security and more, and laying into former President George W. Bush for failing to keep the nation safe from the 9/11 terror attacks.

Bush, revived by a stronger-than-expected showing in New Hampshire, showed more spark than he had in past debates.

He said he could care less about Trump’s endless insults but declared himself “sick and tired of him going after my family.”

“While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe,” Bush said. He also faulted the billionaire for having “the gall to go after my mother.”

Trump shot back: “She should be running.”

The audience got into the mix, too, with plenty of heckles and boos for Trump.

Trump dismissed that as nothing but “Jeb’s special interests and lobbyists talking.”

Cruz vs. Rubio: In a lull from the Trump theatrics, Cruz and Rubio got into their own fistfight. The two senators each found a reason to find weakness in the others’ record on illegal immigration.

Cruz was the initial aggressor, saying Rubio had backed a “massive amnesty plan” in the Senate for those living in the country illegally.

Rubio, trying to recover after a disastrous debate performance in New Hampshire, countered that Cruz had shown his own moments of weakness on illegal immigration, adding, “he either wasn’t the telling the truth then or he wasn’t telling the truth now.”

The heated exchange between two Cuban-American candidates quickly devolved in a spat over their Spanish language skills.

Trump vs. Cruz: The two candidates with victories so far — Trump in New Hampshire and Cruz in Iowa — have been engaged in an increasingly bitter duel in recent days, and they took it to a new level Saturday.

Cruz began the round by questioning Trump’s conservative credentials, saying “For most of his life, his policies have been very, very liberal.”

That set Trump off: “You are the single biggest liar,” he said, “you probably are worse than Jeb Bush.”

“This guy will say anything,” Trump continued. “He’s a nasty guy.”

There was much shouting over one another, and boos from the audience, prompting one of the debate moderators to observed, “Gentlemen, we are in danger of driving this into the dirt.”

Kasich the Optimist: The Ohio governor, hoping to build on his surprise second-place finish in New Hampshire, tried to present himself as the voice of reason and positivity.

At one lull in the slugfest, he declared: “This is just crazy. This is just nuts. Geez, oh man.”

“I think we’re fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this,” he said.

Carson chimes inBen Carson, who’s been lagging in the polls and struggling to get into the conversation, was happy just to have a more prominent turn at the mic.

When he got a second question 20 minutes into the debate, it was cause for celebration.

“Two questions already, this is great!” he said.

7 TENSE EXCHANGES

Trump to Bush: “The World Trade Center came down under your brother’s reign. Remember that.

Rubio about Cruz: I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision. He doesn’t speak Spanish.

Trump to Cruz: You’re worse than Jeb Bush. You are the single biggest liar.

Cruz retortsAdults learn not to interrupt each other.

Bush to Trump: It’s weak to disparage Hispanics … It’s weak to denigrate the disabled, and it’s really weak to call John McCain a loser because he was … that is outrageous. That is an American hero.”

Cruz to Trump: I will say it’s fairly remarkable to see Donald defending Ben after he called him pathological and compared him to a child molester,” Cruz said. “Both of which were offensive and wrong.

Audience to Trump: “Booooooooo!

WINNERS & LOSERS

Red State via Leon Wolf: Winners: Cruz, Bush; Losers: Trump, Rubio, Carson

Washington Post via Chris Cillizza: Winners: Rubio, Bush, John Dickerson, CBS video editors, professional wrestling; Losers: Trump, The Republican Party, Carson, Closing statements

Washington Post via Jennifer RubinWinners: Bush, Rubio, CBS moderators (for informed, well-formulated questions); Losers: Trump, Cruz, Kasich

REAX

FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE GOP DEBATE via Glenn Thrush of POLITICO – 1. W. is still the most important Republican in America. 2. Cruz hearts Mitch McConnell. 3. Spanish Fry. One of the charming, historically heartening aspects of an otherwise nasty primary process is the emergence of two talented and viable Hispanic candidates in a party that has a serious diversity problem. 4. Bush finally beat Trump. It took him eight tries, but the substantive and polite former Florida governor (by “polite,” I mean he lets his super PAC do the lead-pipe wet work) finally got under Trump’s armor. 5. It was a bummer. That’s all, folks.

EVERYONE’S A CRITIC: DONALD TRUMP’S DEBATE PERFORMANCE via Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post – Trump was “very bitter” … “He took a risk in being as open and often contemptuous as he was, but I don’t think it’s going to shake his support. The question is, will it limit his support?” McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed – “The hostile crowd reaction seemed to take a toll on the longtime showman. Trump, his face reddening, erupted at even the faintest prompt or mildest pushback. When a moderator pressed him on a question about Social Security, he grew increasingly defensive and disproportionately upset and by the end of the exchange, he was shouting his answer.” Will Rahn of the Daily Beast – “If the Donald somehow starts to slip — if his lead in South Carolina narrows, if a clear alternative to his slow march to the nomination develops — this debate will likely be seen as the turning point, the moment when the man who’s thrown out every rulebook in politics finally learns that a few rules still apply. Or, more likely, no clear alternative rises from tonight’s pileup, as Trump continues his divide-and-conquer undoing of the modern Republican Party.” John McCormack of The Weekly Standard – “People who follow politics a lot are used to Trump’s unhinged moments, but debate audiences haven’t seen 2-hour meltdown like this.” Chuck Todd of Meet the Press – “Trump is testing the limits of whether he can ever grow his support enough to be the conservative party’s nominee … unless SC has changed, I think he hurt himself.”

– “After last week’s stumbles, Rubio probably needed the debate of his life this week. He got it” via Steven Haynes of the Weekly Standard

– “Does Rubio still talk a little too fast and sound a little too rehearsed? Yes. But, he clearly helped himself” via Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post

– “Rubio had to prove himself … And he rose to the occasion … [he] found his footing again in the CBS debate and evangelicals leaning toward Rubio have every reason to see how he trends in South Carolina. He was the candidate who turned issues toward family, and I think he got the better of Cruz in the immigration exchange” via Erick Erickson of The Resurgent

– “I didn’t expect to be saying Jeb is winning a debate, but he’s winning a debate … A lot of people who don’t even care for Jeb have to be admiring how he bloodied Trump’s nose there” via David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner

– “Jeb really took it to Trump tonight. But as we saw w/ Christie last week, the aggressor doesn’t always benefit. & Trump’s been bulletproof.” via Eli Stokols of POLITICO

– “My God, if this Jeb showed up day one he would have won by now” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post

– “Who won the debate? Florida candidates bask in Sunny reviews” via Alan Rappeport of The New York Times

– “What does Ted Cruz look like, Google users want to know” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post

– “Ben Carson used an apparently fake Josef Stalin quote — and the Internet loved it” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post

TWEET

– @FrankLuntz: For the first time ever, a #GOPDebate audience booed more than they cheered. This isn’t just insane, this is suicidal. This is pathetic.

– @GlennBeck: This is an embarrassment.The debate in Iowa where the Game Show Host didn’t show wasn’t like this. I can’t let my kids watch this

– @IngrahamAngle: This debate is actually pretty damned entertaining. Pig-pile on Trump, audience jeering, candidates straining voices to be heard.

– @RichLowry: As we learned in NH, it doesn’t matter if audience is booing Trump

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DATELINE OF THE DAY: “INSIDE A BULLETPROOF SUV” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

DONALD TRUMP CALLS JEB BUSH “GUTLESS” IN TAMPA SPEECH via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – “They said this is a modern day phenomenon,” he said, looking at the packed audience in the USF Sun Dome. Referring to a recent Time magazine story that referred to the anger of the populace that has fueled his campaign, he said that anger isn’t a bad thing at all. “We’re angry because we’re run by incompetent people.” The mention of Bush brought out the comic in Trump, who mocked him mercilessly. “He’s asleep at the wheel, folks. Can you imagine Jeb negotiating with China? I feel guilty, but I spend by far the least, and I’m in the No. 1 place. Jeb has spent like $140 million and he’s down at the bottom of the pack! He’s a vicious guy, and he’s a gutless guy. He’s got a vicious streak. He’s taking ads. $20 million worth of negative ads. What the hell did I ever do to him?”

HOW TRUMP’S VISIT TO TAMPA PLAYED  Naples Daily News, Trump wows more than 10,000 in Tampa with tirades against Obama, Clinton and Jeb Bush – “… the flaxen-haired New Yorker saved special venom for Bush, whom Trump labeled ‘gutless’ and ‘a total stiff” … ‘Jeb, ugh. He’s asleep at the wheel … Can you imagine Jeb negotiating with China?” Creative Loafing TampaTrump rally at USF was…something – “A handful of top supporters warmed up the crowd: a pastor, a mother whose son died in combat, a xenophobic talk-radio host and a retired colonel — not an elected official among them.” CNNTrump says he is running campaign of ‘great optimism’ – “Make America Great Again, that’s optimism … Some people say, ‘Oh, such negativity.’ It’s just the opposite. We’re going to fix things up; we’re going to make this country better than it’s ever been before.” Daily MailTrump says Bernie Sanders is a ‘communist’ and Jeb Bush is ‘gutless’ and ‘asleep at the wheel’ – as he wows 11,000 at Tampa rally – “… Trump took his first serious notice of Bernie Sanders … ‘We’re going to have a communist against the entrepreneur. I like the entrepreneur. Don’t you think?’” Tampa Bay TimesExclusive Interview: Donald Trump talks Cuba, oil drilling and ‘badly hurt’ Marco Rubio – “Gov. Scott, on the other hand, is an excellent friend, he says. Trump and the governor speak about once a month. ‘He’s very underrated. I don’t think he gets a fair shake. He should get more kudos than he’s gotten.’” The GuardianDonald Trump recycles the hits in arena gig to the Tampa thousands – “Inside, things got friendlier. In Trump world, numbers inflate as a matter of showmanship. Like the WWE wrestler who stands at 6ft 5in and is billed as a towering 7ft, 10,000-person arenas swell to 20,000, and a robust press pool of 50 turns into ‘230 members of the press,’ not all of whom, it is only grudgingly admitted, are terrible.” Lakeland LedgerGOP candidate Trump rallies Tampa, heralds involvement in Florida – “The candidate pointed to his purchase of Trump National Doral Golf Club, noting ‘a lot of people work there, a lot of Florida people, a lot of Hispanics are working there … I’ve employed thousands and thousands of Hispanics.” Tampa Bay Business JournalTrump talks immigration at Tampa rally – “With every reference to immigration, the crowd chanted ‘Build the wall, build the wall.’ Any mention of his opponents was met with equally loud boos and expletives.”

fhca

TRUMP LEADS IN SOUTH CAROLINA BY 22 POINTS, FOLLOWED BY TED CRUZ, MARCO RUBIO: CBS via Ben Brody of Bloomberg Politics – Trump leads in South Carolina poll from CBS News at 42 percent, according to comments from John Dickerson, host of network’s “Face the Nation.” Cruz is second at 20 percent, Rubio at 15 percent, Kasich at 9 percent, Bush and Carson tied at 6 percent.

FLORIDA GOP STATE COMMITTEEMAN CALLS ON JOE GRUTERS TO DECIDE BETWEEN DONALD TRUMP OR THE RPOF via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Eric Miller, a State Committeeman from Martin County, has now written an open letter calling on Gruters to “respectfully” choose between his position with the RPOF or the Trump campaign. “Joe, I know you well enough to say that you are not the unprincipled shell of a man that Donald Trump is,” Miller writes. “Nor do you wish to bring harm to the name Republican. However, your position as Florida Co-Chairman of the Donald Trump for President Campaign is doing just that.” Miller insists that it’s not personal, writing that, “You are not the issue. Your title and how it is being viewed are the matter at hand.”

TWEET, TWEET: @murphymike: Source I trust sends these SC tracking numbers from a non-Jeb campaign; Trump 34, Cruz 17, Jeb 12, Rubio 10. Kasich in single digits.

GOP MEGA-DONORS FROZEN IN FRUSTRATION via Kenneth Vogel of POLITICO – Big money stops flowing as donors question its effectiveness, worry about Trump … Many of the donors are urging the deep-pocketed groups they’ve already funded [including Koch network] to begin spending against Trump, even as some recognize the potential for such spending to backfire, and are increasingly questioning the efficacy of big-money advertising campaigns more generally.

TRUMP AND BERNIE SANDERS: ARE THEY KILLING THE STOCK MARKET? via John Kimelman of Barron’s – The rise of outsider presidential candidates Trump and Sanders is more than a fascinating political story. Their ascendancy — Trump’s in the Republican Party, and Sanders’ among Democrats — could be one more reason stock markets are under pressure and could remain so for a while. Trump … could … punish China and other trading partners with tariffs to level the playing field. … And that’s when he isn’t trying to deport millions of undocumented immigrants – a view that most Republicans view as highly impractical and likely to cause tremendous civil strife. If … Sanders … were to win, … the U.S. would have a professed democratic socialist at the helm, with a long list of ambitious but expensive goals, such as single-payer national health care, free tuition at public colleges, and a major federal bridge- and highway-construction effort. … Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research and a longtime market commentator, [says] that when investors are in a bearish mood, they keep adding to their worry list. … [A] nonestablishment figure in the West Wing might not be such a bad thing in the long run … [I]nvestors … have long been comfortable with political gridlock.

JEB BUSH SUPPORTERS RUN BRUTAL AD AGAINST TRUMP via Maggie Haberman of The New York Times – The super PAC supporting Bush is running a brutal ad against Trump in South Carolina, the latest in a string of negative spots to take on the Republican candidate who is leading the polls. The ad even takes a shot at Rubio, putting his face on a robot – a reference to the candidate’s widely panned debate performance.

ALLIES OF BUSH, JOHN KASICH SPAR OVER MILITARY SPENDING via Kathleen Ronayne of The Associated Press – Kasich proudly cites his efforts while in Congress to cut what he believed was wasteful defense spending. But allies for Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential rival, see a potential vulnerability for Kasich in military-minded South Carolina and are trying to slow the Ohio governor’s momentum after a strong showing in New Hampshire. An outside group backing Bush has begun airing a television ad … using Kasich’s own words. It’s an effort to undermine Kasich in a state that’s home to Fort Jackson and Parris Island, massive training installations for the Army and Marine Corps, as well as a number of air bases and a naval training school for nuclear submarine officers … Bush’s team sees defense spending as a key area to draw distinctions. Right to Rise, the outside group backing Bush, launched the ad … it begins with a narrator saying “threats to America are growing,” over photographs of foreign leaders and the Islamic State group. It plays a clip of Kasich from his time in Congress saying he wants to turn the Pentagon into a “triangle,” adding “I spent a whole career trying to rein in defense spending.”

BEWILDERED BY WILD RACE, GEORGE W. BUSH ROLLING UP HIS SLEEVES TO BOOST BROTHER JEB via Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post – In private and among friends, Bush and his wife, Laura, express amazement at an election season that has been hijacked by Trump. At a get-together last month, Clay Johnson, a lifelong friend, recalled that he and Bush said to each other, “Can you believe what’s going on? … He, like everybody else in America, is taken aback,” Johnson said. He and Bush chewed over the race for 30 minutes, including the rise of Bernie Sanders … Bush told him he thought expectations for his brother, Jeb, were so low that he could rebound by springing a surprise in an early state — a place like South Carolina. On Monday — Presidents Day — Bush will try to help Jeb do just that. After deliberately avoiding politics throughout his post-presidency, Bush is stepping back into the arena for an evening rally in North Charleston. Bush’s appearance is an urgent mission to energize Jeb’s struggling candidacy ahead of next Saturday’s primary.

— “Jeb Bush outshines GOP field with solid conservative bonafides and pragmatism” via the Houston Chronicle

— “San Antonio paper: Jeb Bush the ‘obvious choice for constructive conservatives’” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

MARCO RUBIO’S EXTREME TAX PLAN via Derek Thompson of the Atlantic Magazine – Rubio has … called for higher military spending, delayed cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and a Balanced Budget Amendment. To appreciate the impossibility of balancing the budget while raising military spending and slashing taxes at unprecedented levels, try running a marathon while fasting.

PRO-RUBIO SUPER PAC TARGETS TED CRUZ IN SOUTH CAROLINA via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – In South Carolina, where national security is a key Republican primary topic, Conservative Solutions PAC is contrasting Rubio to Cruz. The 30-second spot, called “Different,” says: “Ted Cruz voted to undermine our national defense. Marco Rubio is different. He knows how to keep us safe.”

WATCH THE FUNNIEST AD OF THE 2016 CAMPAIGN via Christina Wilkie of HuffPost Politics – The Cruz campaign … released a spoof of the iconic printer beating scene from the 1990s cult-classicThe movie “Office Space.” Originally set to the Geto Boys‘ “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” the Cruz version of the scene borrows the music and changes the lyrics to “Damn it feels good to be a Clinton.”

JIM GILMORE ENDS CAMPAIGN FOR PRESIDENT via Daniel Chaitin of the Washington Examiner – “My campaign was intended to offer the gubernatorial experience with the track record of a true conservative, experienced in national security, to unite the party.” Gilmore said in a statement …”My goal was to focus on the importance of this election as a real turning point, and to emphasize the dangers of continuing on a road that will further undermine America’s economy and weaken our national security … Nonetheless, I will continue to express my concerns about the dangers of electing someone who has pledged to continue Obama’s disastrous policies … And, I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that our next president is a free-enterprise Republican who will restore our nation to greatness and keep our citizens safe.”

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HILLARY CLINTON SKIPPING SOUTH FLORIDA EVENT, HEADING TO NEVADA via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Faced with a critical need to stall Sanders in the next Democrats’ next big test, Clinton canceled her scheduled rally in Riviera Beach … so she can campaign in Nevada. She’s sending her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to Riviera Beach instead … citing “additional events in Nevada.” The Republican Party of Florida pounced on Clinton’s change in plans. “Hillary Clinton’s last minute decision to skip Florida is a clear sign that her campaign is in a crisis after her devastating loss to Bernie Sanders. No matter how much the Clinton machine tries to spin their crisis, Floridians will continue to see the catastrophe of dishonesty, scandals and negative headlines that plague her campaign,” spokesman Wadi Gaitan said.

SUPER PAC MAKES BIG PLAY TO LIFT HILLARY CLINTON IN PRIMARY STATES via Matea Gold of The Washington Post –The main super PAC supporting … Clinton is making its first significant foray into the 2016 primary, launching a radio campaign in South Carolina and spearheading a $4.5 million effort to drive early turnout of African-American, Latino and female voters in states that hold contests in March. The early engagement by Priorities USA Action — which originally planned to hold its fire for the general election — marks the first major infusion of super-PAC money on Clinton’s behalf and underscores how crucial South Carolina has become in her battle with Bernie Sanders. The Priorities group is rolling out the early vote campaign Friday in partnership with the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy organization, and EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women. Separately, Priorities USA is spending $500,000 to launch the radio ad in South Carolina beginning Friday, casting Clinton as the candidate to build on President Obama’s legacy.

FLORIDA VOTERS CAN CAST BALLOTS NOW, BUT IT’S RISKY via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Ballots are starting to arrive at the homes of voters who signed up to vote by mail. Voters can fill out the ballots and mail them back right away. But that’s risky, unless your crystal ball is 100 percent accurate and you’re convinced your favorite candidate is infallible and won’t have a cringe-inducing debate performance leading people to wonder if he’s up to the job. Just ask anyone who voted for Rick Perry, then the governor of Texas, or Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, in Florida’s 2012 Republican presidential primary if it pays to vote too soon. And once that ballot goes back in the mail to the county elections office, it can’t be changed even if the person you’ve voted for has dropped out.

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HARRY REID CALLS ON ALAN GRAYSON TO DROP OUT OF SENATE RACE via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – [The] U.S. Senate Minority Leader … called for Grayson to drop out of the race … but Grayson angrily denounced the move and said he has no plans to follow Reid‘s suggestion. Reid said in a statement that Grayson claims to be progressive but seems to have “no moral compass.” He said Grayson used his office to unethically promote a hedge fund that until recently had been based in the Cayman Islands. “These deeply troubling allegations should disqualify anyone from a seat in the U.S. Senate,” Reid said. “His actions aren’t just disgraceful to the Democratic Party; they disgrace the halls of Congress.” Grayson … said Reid is relying on a “false and misleading hyped story to try to pressure me out of this race … I never used my Congressional office to advance any business interest or for personal gain, and to say so is utterly deceitful … I resent the attack on my ‘morality,’ and I question the morality and judgment of any elected official, much less one in my own party, who would sink so low as to engage in such a smear.”

SHOULD GRAYSON RESIGN HOUSE SEAT OVER HEDGE FUND CONTROVERSY? PATRICK MURPHY SAYS YES, IF TRUE via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – Grayson‘s hedge fund problems could become the fatal flaw of his Senate campaign, at least in the eyes of an increasing number of congressional colleagues. Harry Reid wants Grayson out of the Senate race, saying that the Orlando congressman has “no moral compass.” And Grayson’s chief primary opponent, Patrick Murphy, has his own criticisms, suggesting that Grayson needs to close his hedge funds immediately. Grayson may need to resign his House seat in light of the scrutiny (if this story continues to build), and probably should look at suspending his Senate campaign while he’s at it. “Floridians need to be able to trust their leaders,” Murphy said, and “Grayson has violated trust,” by mixing Congressional duties with his questionable hedge fund, including its “offshore tax loopholes” and “Congressional travel.”

— “Florida’s U.S Senate candidates Murphy and Grayson trade insults on Valentine’s Day” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO

CLC PUSHES BACK AGAINST CELEB LETTER via Ben Kamisar of The Hill – Carlos López-Cantera has written an open letter to the Hispanic community defending Republican values after a group of celebrities bashed the party’s presidential field in its own letter … Says he’s “offended” by the letter “supported by a liberal group with a liberal agenda” in his response … “It has been because of Republican policies for greater choice and accountability in education that more Hispanic children are receiving a better education. It’s because of Republican leadership that more minorities are pursuing higher education. And it’s because of Republican policies that more Hispanics trust our states’ economic climate and are taking the risk to open-up small businesses,” he writes … a letter from Hispanic celebrities posted by the liberal advocacy organization People for the American Way accused the GOP presidential field of “capitalizing on negative stereotypes and inaccurate information about our community.” The group of signers includes musician Carlos Santana, actresses Aubrey Plaza and Zoe Saldana, and actor Benjamin Bratt.

MEDICAL POT FOES NOT YET ON BOARD FOR ROUND TWO via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel –Tre’ Evers, spokesman for the Drug-Free Florida Committee, which marshaled opposition in 2014, said, “Our efforts did not start in 2014 until later in the year, and I suspect that will be the case this time as well.” Two years ago, Amendment 2’s language faced legal challenges from a coalition of critics and Attorney General Pam Bondi before it was approved for the ballot. This time, however, there was no legal fight … Florida Sheriff’s Association … has yet to take a stance on the amendment … sheriffs discussed the ballot initiative at their winter conference last week but opted against declaring a position yet … Florida Chamber of Commerce, has decided to oppose once again Amendment 2, said executive vice president, David Hart. “We were in good company, and I think that we are proud to be part of a coalition that defeated it last time,” Hart said. However, he said the chamber’s board hasn’t decided “what will be our level of engagement” in 2016. Other familiar foes of Amendment 2 have already come out swinging … Drug-Free Florida Committee called the 2016 ballot language “deja vu all over again.”

ADAM PUTNAM POLITICAL COMMITTEE TALLIES $144K FOR JANUARY via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Florida Grown, the fundraising committee that likely will fuel Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s 2018 bid for governor, posted $144,925 in contributions for January … The latest haul brings total money raised to more than $4.1 million, with total expenditures now at about $891,000, for a cash-on-hand balance of about $3.2 million. Disney, Florida Phosphate and U.S. Sugar Corp. tied for the top contributor, chipping in $25,000 each. Other big contributors include banker Syd Ghermezian of Woodhaven, New York, with $15,000. He’s chairman and CEO of New York’s Community Federal Savings Bank.

WITH SAFE DISTRICTS GONE, TWO FLORIDA LAWMAKERS TAKING THEIR TIME ON 2016 DECISION via Eli Yokley of Roll Call – “It is a little weird,” Florida-based Democratic consultant and pollster Steve Vancore said of the waiting game being played by Reps. Gwen Graham and Daniel Webster. Although Democrats lost ground in districts such as Graham’s, they made it up in ones like Webster’s 10th District. There, they expect smooth sailing in the mainly urban district that includes Orlando. Webster won a third term in 2014 with 62 percent of the vote, but his seat is now rated Safe Democrat by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. Webster is considering another district to call home – or an unplanned retirement … Graham does not have a simple fallback option … Her best option could be to sit out a couple of years. A prominent attorney and daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, she has made no secret of her statewide ambitions. A Florida Democratic official said Graham is considering a run for governor in 2018, while Vancore said she might also be looking at running for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson that year if he decides not to run.

IS COURT-APPOINTED REDISTRICTING ALREADY MODERATING FLORIDA SENATE via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – The Florida House is racing ahead with what some are calling a red meat menu of election-year bills aimed at luring Republican voters, but fellow GOP leaders in the Senate have emerged suddenly as a wall of resistance. Many of these senators will be running for re-election this fall in newly redrawn districts, where Republicans no longer hold overwhelming dominance. “I think the Republicans realize that much of their raw meat, far-right political agenda is not what moderate Republicans want in the Senate,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford.

DENNIS BAXLEY SHIFTS SENATE CAMPAIGN TO NEWLY REDRAWN SD 12 via Florida Politics – Baxley said he’s shifting his Senate campaign to newly redrawn District 12, because of incumbent Republican Sen. Alan Hays’ decision to run for the Lake County elections supervisor post. “This district is my home. It is where I have done business, raised children and served the public. I am honored to have the opportunity to now represent them in the state Senate,” Baxley said. “Florida is on the verge of a new era of prosperity, and this district needs a senator who has the experience and leadership skills to make sure that our area is not left behind. I believe that I am the person best prepared to be that leader.” The third-term House District 23 representative is unopposed.

NANCY WATKINS WILL NOT RUN FOR THE TAMPA HD 60 SEAT via Florida Politics – The South Tampa CPA, who has served as campaign treasurer for hundreds of local and national Republicans, will not run for the House District 60 seat being vacated this fall by Dana YoungWatkins, who has never run for public office before, had been rumored to be seriously considering running for the seat, which encompasses South Tampa, northwest Hillsborough County, and a slice of South Hillsborough.

FUNDRAISING STORIES

– “Aaron Bean’s campaign account jumps in January” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

– “January another big month for Rob Bradley fundraising machine” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

– “Sheri Treadwell closes HD 11 fundraising gap in January” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

– “HD 12 money picture muddled in January” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

– “Katherine Van Zant widens cash lead in HD 19 in January; Leslie Dougher in trouble” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

– “Eric Eisnaugle raises more than $20,000 in January for HD 44 re-election” via Florida Politics

– “Byron Donalds raises more than $10K in January” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

SAVE THE DATE: Republican candidate Jayer Williamson is holding a meet-and-greet luncheon reception Thursday, Feb. 18, in support of his campaign for House District 3. The event begins 11:30 a.m. the Governors Club, 202 South Adams St. in Tallahassee. RSVP with Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 and katie@kballardconsult.com.

***In Marion County alone, the horse industry’s annual economic impact is $2.62 billion and nearly 20,000 jobs—completely dwarfing any Seminole Compact estimates. Totally opposed by horsemen, the “partial decoupling” plan now in play would put horsemen on forced welfare with an artificial “set aside purse pool,” wiping out free enterprise and Florida’s ability to compete for horse racing business with other states. United Florida Horsemen want legislators to know that “Partial Decoupling” is being peddled by casino-only interests, the goal of which is to channel money directly into their corporate bottom lines that would have normally been circulated into Florida’s economy.***

SESSION DISPUTES SIMMER RATHER THAN BOIL THIS YEAR via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Disputes between the Florida House and Senate are more subdued this year, but a philosophical rift between Republicans remains even as leaders look to turn the page on the dysfunction of 2015. “We all have to compromise, and I think we’re in a much better place because of what went down last session,” said Senate budget chief Tom Lee. The House has passed bills to allow licensed gun owners to carry openly and on college campuses, but both are stalled in the Senate. The same goes for legislation to clamp down on “sanctuary” cities that don’t comply with federal immigration orders and a bill preempting local governments from banning fracking for oil and gas. And while Senate committees have passed bills to ensure churches aren’t legally targeted for refusing to participate in same-sex marriages and to increase standards for abortion clinics, they have ignored some of the more strident proposals that have House panel approval.

IN THE HALLS OF TALLAHASSEE’S CAPITOL, RARE PUSH BACK OVER PERMANENT TAX CUTS BUT MODEST HELP FOR SAFETY NET via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times – With a budget flush with more than $1 billion of additional revenue, lawmakers are locked in a debate over whether to back a budget that restores $1 billion in cuts to the state’s tattered safety net for the state’s most vulnerable children, disabled and elderly — as the state Senate proposes — or returns it to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, as the House and Scott propose. For Republicans who came to office reflexively touting less government and lower taxes, it’s an uncommon debate to have, but Senate leaders are also arguing something so unthinkable that few Republicans have uttered it before: They are calling the governor’s tax cut proposal unsustainable and irresponsible. “Who is the most conservative, who is the most responsible individual — the person who cuts the most taxes, or the person who lives within their means?” asked Senate budget committee chairman Tom Lee … as he defended his chamber’s $81 billion spending plan. The proposed Senate budget includes no tax cuts but has $1 billion more in child welfare, education and prevention programs than the House.

‘COMPETITIVE WORKFORCE ACT’ IS DOWN, NOT OUT, IN THE LEGISLATURE via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat – When the deadlocked Senate Judiciary Committee spiked his bill to include sexual orientation in Florida’s civil rights laws, Sen. Joe Abruzzo commended Equality Florida and some businesses for at least getting the idea taken seriously. The battle was lost for this year, Abruzzo said, but the fight is not over. That the committee voted 5-5 on the bill was progress, he said. Not long ago, it wouldn’t have been introduced, much less politely discussed in committee with a lot of off-stage work on compromise language. It certainly wouldn’t have had a Republican co-author in the House (albeit one from the gay-friendly Florida Keys), nor two GOP cosponsors in the Senate.

WAITING FOR CLAIMS BILL RELIEF A PAINFUL PROCESS FOR VICTIMS IN NEED via Jane Musgrave of the Palm Beach Post – A 3-year-old mentally disabled Pahokee girl is raped by an older student on a Palm Beach County school bus. A Wellington boy is sexually assaulted by a foster child who his parents agreed to raise, not knowing the abuse the abandoned boy suffered had turned him into an abuser. Separate Palm Beach County juries in 2013 agreed government agencies, charged with protecting children, failed both youngsters. The juries ordered the School Board and the Florida Department of Children & Families each to pay the youths more than $1 million to help them right their torn lives. Both are still waiting. However, like dozens of others throughout Florida who convinced juries they were horrifically injured by government workers, [they] are ultimately at the mercy of state lawmakers … the most that victims of government wrongdoing can collect in Florida is $200,000 even if juries award them far more. “This process may last two more years or five more years or could take a decade,” attorney Jack Scarola said. Even if local governments, such as the school board or sheriff’s office, agree to pay up, people must persuade the Florida Legislature to pass what are known as claims bills to waive the cap.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS DRAWS DISPUTE OVER HEALTHCARE CONTRACT THAT AWARDS $31 MILLION ANNUAL FEE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times – The Florida Department of Corrections’ attempt to restore normalcy to its troubled prison healthcare system is now tangled in a legal dispute over the agency’s decision to award up to $31 million in fees to a politically well-connected company as part of a $268 million no-bid contract. The contract between the prison agency and Centurion of Florida was signed Feb. 1 after Corizon Health told FDC Secretary Julie Jones in December that it planned to walk away from its five-year, $1.2 billion contract three years early. The company had complained it had been losing $1 million a month on its contract to provide mental, physical and dental healthcare for 82,000 of the state’s inmates and was under fire from the agency to improve its performance. Three companies submitted proposals — Wexford, the company that serves 18,000 inmates in the South Florida region, Centurion and Armor.

UNLIKE JACK LATVALA, MOST PINELLAS LAWMAKERS MUM ON NRA LOBBYIST’S ATTACK ON SWIFTMUD via Craig Pittman and Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – “It’s irresponsible to talk about shutting Swiftmud down,” said Latvala … the lone Tampa Bay Republican lawmaker to call [NRA lobbyist MarionHammer out for her tough talk. Hammer, the famed and feared 78-year-old lobbyist, asked Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to abolish Swiftmud over an ongoing dispute involving lead pollution from a Pinellas Park shooting club that has landed them both in court. Hammer called Swiftmud “a malignant state agency that uses unlimited tax dollars in what I can only call an evil attempt to steal private property and destroy a small private business.” She added: “They clearly think they are above the law.” Sen. Jeff Brandes … laughed off the controversy. “She certainly knows how to open up with both guns blazing,” chuckled Brandes. “It’s ludicrous for Ms. Hammer and the NRA to think that their Second Amendment right trumps all the rights of the people to be free from lead poison contamination and all the attendant horrors that could result from it,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner … Rep. Dwight Dudley … was more measured, saying that Hammer was full of “bombast” and should leave the issue alone.

***Looking for a way to lighten up after a long day at work? Stop by during Happy Hour at The Edison’s Beer Garden for daily appetizer specials and half off craft beers from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.! After happy hour, stick around for a delicious internationally-inspired dinner. Get a taste of our menu here: www.EdisonTally.com/cuisine***

PERSONNEL NOTE: LAKEISHA HOOD NAMED HEAD OF FDACS NUTRITION DIVISION via Florida Politics – Adam Putnam this week announced the promotion of Hood from assistant director to Director of the Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness. “Lakeisha is a proven leader and has worked tirelessly to ensure that children in Florida benefit from nutritious meals that foster better learning and a lifetime of good health,” Putnam said.

APOPKA’S HIRED LOBBYIST NOT REGISTERED TO LOBBY FOR CITY IN 2014, 2015 via Bethany Rogers of the Orlando Sentinel – From late 2014 through 2015, Apopka shelled out $165,000 in taxpayer money to retired employee Richard Anderson to lobby state and the federal government on behalf of the city he knew so well. But state records show there was no registered Apopka lobbyist for that period. For 15 months straight, while Anderson was accepting $11,000 sums for his lobbying services, Orange County’s second-largest city had no registered advocate, either in Tallahassee or Washington, D.C. The law requires those who lobby Florida lawmakers or agencies to register with the state and to disclose the interests they represent. Anderson was not registered as a state lobbyist in 2014. He was registered the following year, but only to advocate for a software and service company and not for the city of Apopka.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Samuel Ard, Ard Shirley & Rudolph: Kings Court Key

Carole Joy Barice, McGee & Mason: Homosassa Special Water District

David Bishop, Solaris Consulting: Jackson County Board of County Commissioners

James DaughtonGregory BlackAimee LyonAndrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: Donate Life Florida

Ron Book, Ronald L. Book: Clean Energy; Equifax

Paul BradshawSarrah CarrollMercer FearingtonClark SmithJim Smith, Southern Strategy Group: Jackson County Board of County Commissioners

William Helmich, Helmich Consulting: Town of Pembroke Park

Brecht Heuchan, The Labrador Company: American Progressive Bag Alliance; Florida Association of Health Plans

Michael HueyJason Unger, GrayRobinson: Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure

Amanda Yvonne Jones: Agency for Health Care Administration

Jack PeeplesWinn Peeples, The Peeples Group: Kings Court Key

Joseph Salzverg, Capitol Insight: Florida Municipal Insurance Trust

Rodney Smith, Avera & Smith: Shands Hospital and Clinics

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: Tampa Bay Innovation Center

Susan Lane Swayze: Susan B. Anthony List

Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: Frontier Communications Corporation

SPOTTED at the 11th Annual ForEverglades Benefit at The Breakers Palm Beach: U.S. Reps. David Jolly and Patrick Murphy, Sen. Wilton Simpson, Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen and Jose Javier Rodriguez, Jillian and Adam Hasner, Nick Iarossi, Trey McCarley, Kris Money.

ON THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF THE ROTUNDA  Trimmel Gomes’ latest episode of The Rotunda explores the impact of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on the presidential campaign. Gomes also talks with Politico’s Matt Dixon about the Legislature’s budget divide along with other hot-button issues at session’s midpoint.

What does it mean to be a Conservatarian? Gomes chats with National Review staff writer Charles C.W. Cooke about his book, The Conservatarian Manifesto.

Also, with tax season in full swing, the president of the Florida Institute of CPAs Deborah Curry offers up important tips for filing taxes in 2016.

WHAT BILL CARLSON IS READING – U.S. TO RESTORE COMMERCIAL AIR TRAVEL TO CUBA via Jake Sherman of POLITICO – “This arrangement establishes scheduled air service of up to 30 daily direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba, will facilitate authorized travel, enhanced traveler choices and strengthen people-to-people links between the two countries,” according to the notice sent by the Department of Transportation to congressional offices … The department later clarified the agreement allows for up to 110 daily flights total — not 30 — between the U.S. and Cuba: 20 between the U.S. and Havana, and ten flights to nine other Cuban airports, according to media reports. Airlines will apply to fly between the two countries, and DOT will select which airline will operate the service, according to the notice.

WHAT MICHELLE TODD IS READING – 2016 WHITE HOUSE ORNAMENT COMMEMORATES 1929 WHITE HOUSE WEST WING FIRE via POLITICO – Honoring the presidency of Herbert Hoover, the ornament is a vintage fire truck design commemorating the 1929 Christmas Eve four-alarm fire of the West Wing. Montserrat College of Art student Kayla Whelan, the winner of the Association’s national art school design competition, created this year’s design.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Bobby DuBose.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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