Sunburn for 10/11 — A morning read of what's hot in Florida politics

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CONTINUED THANKS for the well-wishes for Baby Ella. Special thanks to Jay Beyrouti, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Chris Dudley, Nick Hansen, Joe Henderson, Mark Mills, Kirk Pepper, Jim Rimes, John Romano (again).

DEBATE NIGHT IN AMERICA

The one and only debate between Vice President Joseph Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan takes place tonight at Centre College in Kentucky. Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz will moderate.

My preview and live blog here.

COULD BIDEN BE RUSTY TONIGHT? That’s what POLITICO”s James Hohmann is wonders: The vice president hasn’t debated since 2008, but he also has not given a national TV interview since May. He’s stayed off the air since the “Meet the Press” sit-down that forced the president’s hand on gay marriage and cost the White House a week. The last national print interview he gave was to New York’s John Heilemann for a cover story. In the period he’s avoided national press, he’s made a number of unforced errors on the stump.

INSIDE RYAN’S PREP: “From the first mock debates in a Washington, D.C., hotel to the run-throughs at Wintergreen, Ryan and [Ted] Olson have been seated at a conference-room table, just as they will be in Danville, Ky., under the bright lights…Olson has mastered Biden’s mannerisms, down to his long-windedness and hand gestures.”

>>>Tampa Bay Times‘ Adam Smith’s 5 things to watch here.

WHY A HANDFUL OF RYAN ALLIES ARE WORRIED: “One longtime Ryan friend tells [National Review] that Ryan’s biggest challenge will be appearing to ‘meet the threshold’ for executive office. The friend says Ryan may be president one day, but, for now, in his early forties, he has to make sure he doesn’t come across as too numbers-oriented and distant. Two Ryan advisers tell me that Ryan is aware of this, and he has talked about it with his top aides. To combat that impression, Ryan will probably stick to two or three themes on Thursday instead of bombarding Biden with data.”

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OBAMA’S INTERNAL POLL STILL SHOW LEADS IN SWING STATES

Major Garrett reports the first batch of Obama internal polls came back from key swing states today and “revealed that Obama was not in free fall, as some feared, but that his support has returned to where it was in July and August.”

“Internal Obama polling data show that all swing states have tightened up and that Romney is within the margin of error in states like Ohio and Virginia and Florida. It’s now a dogfight across the swing-state battlefield and any sense of pre-debate complacency that some Obama hands feared was creeping into both turnout and fundraising has vanished.”

“What’s important is the fundamentals of what this race is about haven’t changed,” said President Obama to ABC News.

UNF POLL OF FLORIDA: OBAMA 49%, ROMNEY 45%

A new University of North Florida poll reveals President Barack Obama has a four-percentage point lead over Mitt Romney, 49 – 45 percent.

The key to the Obama lead is support from African-American voters (96 percent to 3 percent) and Hispanic voters, 59 – 33 percent).

Also of interest, 37 percent of likely voters “haven’t heard enough about” Paul Ryan, Republican vice presidential candidate,to have an opinion of him, which highlights the importance of his performance in the vice presidential debate Thursday.

PAUL RYAN GRABS A COUPLE OF SCOOPS BEFORE LEAVING ST. PETE by Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Ryan wrapped up his debate prep in St. Petersburg Wednesday and left headed to Kentucky for Thursday night’s debate – but not without ensuring he generated a little local publicity in the battleground of Tampa Bay.

The Vice Presidential motorcade stopped at Old Farmer’s Creamery on Fourth Street North, where he for a couple scoops of Moose tracks for himself and some cookie dough scoops, for Politico’s Juana Summers, who just celebrated a birthday. The store was customer-free, but still a zoo with all the reporters and cameras with the travelling press corps.

ANN ROMNEY FUNDRAISING IN SARASOTA TODAY

There will be a return of a Romney in Sarasota on Thursday, and this time it’s Ann Romney’s turn.

The wife of Gov. Mitt Romney will be the special guest at a breakfast fundraiser for Congressman Connie Mack, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate, according to the Republican Party of Sarasota County. Mitt Romney had appeared at a large grassroots fundraiser at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in September.

The fundraiser is scheduled for 8 a.m. Thursday at the Hyatt Regency.

THIS COULD DECIDE THE ELECTION: A new Esquire/Yahoo! News poll finds that Americans would trust President Obama more to look after their dog when they’re out of town than Mitt Romney, 52% to 27%.

AMERICAN CROSSROADS UP WITH $2.2 MIL SPOT IN FLA.

American Crossroads launched a new ad in Florida attacking President Obama’s economic policies and arguing that another term would mean “another four years focused on everything but jobs.”

Supported by a $2.2 million television buy, the new 30-second ad will run for one week in the Sunshine State.  The spot, entitled “Four More,” hits Obama for not focusing on economic matters for the first four years of his presidency, and asks why voters would want four more years of the same.

DEMOCRATS HOLD VOTER REGISTRATION EDGE IN 4 OF 6 BATTLEGROUND STATES

Bloomberg analysis finds that Democrats hold the registration advantage over Republicans in four of six battleground states that will play a key role in the presidential election.

“Democrats have the edge over Republicans in Florida, Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina. In Colorado and New Hampshire, Republicans outnumber Democrats, according to the analysis of state data. Three other battlegrounds — Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — don’t report registration statistics by party.”

IN FLORIDA, 76,000 HAVE ALREADY CAST AN ABSENTEE BALLOT via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

The absentee-ballot breakdown:

Requested    Party
894,500        Republican
821,000        Democrat
374,000        Independent

Voted           Party
33,000        Republican
31,000        Democrat
12,000        Independent

The county-by-county numbers are intriguing. Democrats are leading in the crucial I-4 corridor counties of Hillborough, Pinellas and Orange counties. They have smaller leads in the Democrat-heavy counties of Broward and Miami-Dade. Republicans are dominating in North Florida, rolling up comfortable leads in Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa and Duval counties.

MACK TOPS NELSON IN QUARTER, BUT NELSON HAS MONEY LEAD

Both Florida U.S. Senate candidates are reporting what they raised in the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, with U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, the Republican topping Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the period but still far behind him in overall fundraising. Mack’s campaign said Wednesday that it will report raising $2.7 million, the campaign’s highest quarter to date. Nelson’s campaign said it will report bringing in $2.3 million. The totals are much farther apart. Nelson has raised $16.2 million overall while Mack has raised about $6 million. The announcements come ahead of the Oct. 15 reporting deadline.

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TAMPA BAY TIMES ED. BOARD: NO ON AMENDMENTS, YES ON JUSTICES

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board is keeping it simple: Just say no on all 11 state constitutional amendments. And in Thursday’s paper it will do the same: Just say yes on merit retention for all Florida Supreme Court justices and appellate judges.

BLOG POST OF THE DAY – DEMOCRATS DON’T GO COUNTING YOUR CHICKENS JUST YET by Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News

(N)ot only is Florida’s 45th governor politically alive and well, he probably has his lineup of limp-wristed potential opponents exactly where he wants them.

Never mind Scott’s approval numbers, voters have said in surveys they like his policies. And now the Wall Street Journal and the libertarian Cato Institute say they do, too.

… Floridians don’t have such short memories as perhaps the liberals hope. I’m betting that in 2014, having absorbed the worst of the pain, voters won’t want to shift into reverse and return a big spender to the governor’s office. I’m betting that Scott’s approval numbers will rise, and that he will stand a good chance of surviving a challenge.

IN CD 2, AL LAWSON VS. STEVE SOUTHERLAND BECOMING MARQUEE RACE by Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida

As the race for the White House tightens, Republicans and Democrats are battling for every congressional seat they have a chance of winning. And in a north Florida district, Democrats are targeting first-term U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in an increasingly competitive clash with former state Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson.

The race had not been widely considered up for grabs. Southerland, a tea party favorite from Panama City, has a money advantage over Lawson and upset seven-term Congressman Allen Boyd, D-Monticello, to take the seat in 2010.

But last week Politico listed the race among its “5 potential House upsets,” noting a growing consensus among strategists from both parties that “Southerland is suddenly in a dogfight” for re-election.

Also last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee made its first ad buy in the district, spending nearly $150,000 for television ads in the Panama City and Tallahassee markets.

NEW TV AD PRAISES DAN WEBSTER’S FAMILY VALUES by Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel

A new TV ad now running in Florida’s 10th District features Sandy Webster praising her husband U.S. Rep.Dan Webster’s dedication to his family.

Like Webster’s previous spots, the 30-second ad sticks to a positive tone and focuses on Webster himself. It features visuals of the Republican congressman playing Monopoly with his children and grandchildren, and Sandy Webster speaking directly to the camera.

>>>Webster’s opponent, Democrat Val Demings, sent out a fund-raising email saying her campaign has learned that “a Super PAC will be targeting me with deceptive and dishonest tv ads distorting my record.”

KEITH FITZGERALD HIRES NEW COMMS DIRECTORS AFTER LAST ONE DIDN’T WORK OUT SO WELL

Matt Harringer has left his job as a legislative assistant to Republican state Senator Paula Dockery to work as communications director for Sarasota congressional candidate Keith Fitzgerald.

The Fitzgerald campaign recently ran into some hot water over partisan comments posted by their former spokesperson, Ana Maria Rosato, on her personal blog.

Fitzgerald is trailing in the polls against Republican incumbent Congressman Vern Buchanan.

“Vern Buchanan’s constituents are fed up with partisan politics and their corrupt congressman,” Harringer said. “Keith Fitzgerald is the best candidate to represent all of the district’s voters, Republican or Democrat. And I’ll be working hard to share that message.”

MURKY GROUP ATTACKS DEMOCRATS BUT WON’T DISCLOSE DONORS by Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel 

Since the beginning of September, a murky political committee set up by some prominent Republican strategists has been sending mailers attacking Democratic candidates in at least eight state Senate races around Florida.

And yet the group — known only as “Progressives” — claims in state filings that it has not yet raised or spent a single dime.

Democrats accuse the group of flouting Florida campaign-finance laws, which are designed to ensure voters can find out who is paying for any political advertisements. Independent legal experts agree.

One target — Sen. Audrey Gibson — has lodged a formal complaint with the state’s Elections Commission, which hasn’t yet responded.

“This is totally against everything that regular candidates have to do. If you raise money and you spend money, you have to report it,” said Gibson, who said she has been the subject of half-a-dozen negative mailers sent by Progressives.

SPOTTED: Rep. Matt Gaetz on the set of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

LUNCHTIME FUNDRAISER FOR CHRIS DORWORTH today at the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee. Invite here.

ORLANDO SENTINEL ENDORSES KAREN CASTOR DENTEL FOR HD 30 but it’s behind a paywall, so who cares?

TWEET OF THE DAY: @ChrisDorworth: Orl Sentinel ed board w no republicans writing 4 it endorses Dems running against me and @scottplakon #Shocker #SeeYouAtOrgSession

REP. DANA YOUNG ON THE GROUND IN HD 30: @RepDanaYoung: Gearing up to campaign door to door in Orlando for Repub. colleague @scottplakon! Joined by @ChrisDorworth @jasonbrodeur &30 others.

ANOTHER DEMOCRAT IS SET TO DROP OUT OF A STATE HOUSE RACE

Jose Vazquez, the Democratic state House District 58 candidate who has voiced plans to quit the race, said Tuesday he awaits word from the party’s headquarters.

The 38-year-old Brandon man, whose Republican opponent is Plant City Commissioner Dan Raulerson, said withdrawal hinges on the party’s response to his inquiry about whether it plans to replace him on the ticket.

“If they give me a guarantee the party won’t fill the seat, I’ll step out,” Vazquez said in a telephone interview. Because the Hillsborough County Democratic Party never recruited a candidate for the seat, it has no right to fill it, he said.

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BATTLE TAKES SHAPE OVER LOCAL GUN LAWS

 Leon County circuit judge Wednesday said two South Florida counties can pursue a legal challenge against Gov. Rick Scott about a state crackdown on local gun restrictions, though the House and Senate will be dropped from the case, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Palm Beach County commissioners late last year filed a constitutional challenge to a 2011 law that subjects city and county officials to personal fines and possible removal from office if they try to stiffen gun regulations. Broward County was allowed to formally intervene in the case Wednesday.

Circuit Judge John Cooper said during a hearing that the counties can continue suing Scott over part of the law that would give the governor the power to remove local officials for violations — a provision that Palm Beach and Broward say exceeds the governor’s constitutional authority.

But Cooper went along with state requests to dismiss other parts of the case, including the House, Senate and Attorney General Pam Bondi as defendants. That decision also would effectively prevent a challenge to the constitutionality of the fines that could be imposed on local officials.

KENYA CORY ELECTED TO KEEP FLORIDA BEAUTIFUL BOARD

Cory has been elected to the 2012 Keep Florida Beautiful Board of Directors for a three year term.  The mission of Keep Florida Beautiful is to engage and educate citizens, visitors and communities to improve Florida through litter prevention, increased recycling and beautification efforts.  There are 38 Keep Florida Beautiful affiliates and over 250,000 volunteers.

POLICY NOTES

>>>The state Acquisition and Restoration Council meets Thursday and Friday. The council hears public testimony Thursday on the ranking of Florida Forever land-buying projects. On Friday, the council will consider items including land management plans for parks and preserves and removing three substantially complete projects from the Florida Forever purchase list.

>>>The Agency for Health Care Administration will hold a meeting to continue discussions about changes in the way hospitals are reimbursed to care for Medicaid patients. The changes involve moving to what is known as a “diagnosis related group,’’ or DRG, system.

>>>The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hosts a workshop to get input on Gulf of Mexico gag grouper.

>>>The Florida State Boxing Commission meets at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to consider Florida Administrative Code concerning boxing, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts professional and amateur rules.

>>>The initial citrus crop forecast for 2012-2013 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is out Thursday.

REST IN PEACE: Sam Gibbons, a “true American hero” who fought at Normandy and served as a Tampa Bay area lawmaker for more than four decades in the Legislature and Congress, died at age 92, his son Cliff announced Wednesday morning. Obit here.

VETERAN INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL EXEC JOINS FSC

Gov. Rick Scott and the Financial Services Commission appointed Drew Breakspear to the commission this week. The longtime executive in international banking and management consulting was most recently executive vice president and general auditor at State Street Corporation. “My goal is to continue promoting a stronger, healthier financial industry, combating fraud, and showcasing the exceptional work at this agency,” Breakspear, of Naples, said in a statement following his appointment. Breakspear, who will start Nov. 5, also has worked as a senior vice president at First Nationwide Bank in San Francisco and has experience in auditing, risk management and finance. He has his MBA from Harvard University and his undergraduate degree from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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GEORGE COSTANZA VISITED FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY YESTERDAY.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the finest political reporter of them all, Lucy Morgan.

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.