Sunburn for 10/15 — A morning read of what's hot in Florida politics

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***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Tucker/Hall — a top-notch public affairs and public relations firm. Visit TuckerHall.com to read about their team, success stories and case studies.***

CONTINUED THANKS for the well-wishes for Baby Ella. Special thanks to Lizbeth Benacquisto, Brett Doster, Chris and Jack Latvala, Helen Levine, David Pantin and the rest of the team at Image Media, Ron Pierce, Brian Shuford, and Joy Reid.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the Florida Chamber’s Edie Ousley.

IT’S 22 DAYS UNTIL ELECTION DAY!

WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK

1. President Obama must be aggressive at Tuesday night’s debate. But doesn’t Mitt Romney know this already? Doesn’t Obama know that Romney knows this? Doesn’t Romney know that Obama knows that Romney knows this … ad infinitum.

2. Friday’s Times/Herald poll showed Connie Mack within striking distance of Bill Nelson. Is Mack’s surge for real or is this poll the outlier Democrats claim it to be? The upcoming debate in this race is becoming increasingly important.

3. The GOP is surging in Florida’s once-competitive congressional races, while Democrats like Jessica Ehrlich and Keith Fitzgerald appear to be running out of gas. What these and other down-ballot Democrats fear most is any indication this week that the Obama camp intends to re-allocate resources away from Florida.

4. Where does the Florida Democratic Party puts its limited resources, in State House races in Tampa Bay or throughout the rest of the state? Will the party keep up its line of attack in HD 42, where it continues to invovke Mike Horner’s name in ads on behalf of Eileen Game.

5. Have your DVR programmed and keep an eye on your mailboxes. With three weeks left to go before Election Day, the ad onslaught is really about to begin. You think it’s been bad enough already. There is tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in campaign and committee accounts which have to be spent before November 6.

MITT ROMNEY CONTINUES TO CLOSE THE GAP…

Mitt Romney continues to surge in both national and swing state polls and Nate Silver now gives him a 38.9% chance of winning the presidential election.

“The only really good news for Democrats is that Mr. Obama had built up a large enough cushion that he could withstand a lot of damage without becoming the underdog,” writes Silver. “The forecast model still has him clinging to narrow leads in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nevada, states that in some combination would give him 270 electoral votes.”

…PLANS TO BURY OBAMA WITH ADS

Romney and his allies “are banking heavily on a high-risk, high-reward media strategy in the final weeks of the campaign, hoping that burying President Obama in ads will give them a crucial edge on Election Day,” the Washington Post reports.

Ad purchases in the presidential race doubled or in some cases tripled last week in swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Virginia, tracking data show. The surge is being driven by Romney and well-funded allies, who decided against running more ads earlier in the campaign in favor of a big bang at the end.

CONFIDENCE OR HUBRIS?

“It’s fair to say that Governor Romney’s got a three-point lead in some polls, Mason-Dixon had him with a seven-point lead. I think it’s in the three to four-point rate. But this election maybe could not be close.” —  Former Florida GOP Chair Al Cardenas

NEW YORK TIMES INVESTIGATION: ROMNEY WAS AN ABSENTEE GOVERNOR

“During Romney’s four-year term as governor of Massachusetts, he cumulatively spent more than a year — part or all of 417 days — out of the state, according to a review of his schedule and other records. More than 70 percent of that time was spent on personal or political trips unrelated to his job.”

“Romney, now the Republican presidential nominee, took lengthy vacations and weekend getaways. But much of his travel was to lay the groundwork for the presidential ambitions he would pursue in the 2008 election, two years after leaving office.”

DAVID PLOUFFE SAYS OBAMA IS IN GOOD SHAPE IN FLA.

“We like what we see in terms of absentee ballot requests, not just the D’s versus R’s, but importantly how the independents have requested,” said Obama campaign adviser David Plouffe, who dismissed the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald poll showing the President trailing Romney by 7 points as an outlier. “It’s going to be an extremely close race. It’s going to end up in a range I think of 2 or 3 points at the most. We think the exchange we’ve had over Medicare is one that we profited from in Florida. We believe we’ve done a good job under tough circumstances of registering voters in Florida. The electorate of 2012 is not going to be the electorate of 2010 obviously and we think it’s going to closely resemble 2008.”

CLOSING ARGUMENTS HIT THE AIRWAVES

“The endless presidential campaign is about to enter its last lap, and with it will come a final fusillade of TV ads as both Romney and Obama seek to make closing arguments for why the country would be better off with them, and worse off with the other guy,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“If you live in a battleground state, brace yourself. Another couple hundred million dollars in ad spending is about to rain down on your living rooms in the last weeks of the campaign.”

DEBATE AT LYNN COULD GIVE LOCAL ECONOMY A SHOT IN THE ARM by Susan Salisbury of the Palm Beach Post

The 9,000 people expected to swoop in next week for the final presidential debate at Lynn University will be providing an economic boost during Palm Beach County’s off-season.

“It’s perfect timing. It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He’s expecting the debate to pump $5 million to $6 million into the economy.

MEET FLORIDA’S BIG-TIME DONORS TO SUPER PACS by Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

In Florida’s vast political orbit, Barbara Stiefel hardly registers. Yet if President Barack Obama wins re-election, the 59-year-old retiree from Coral Gables will have played an outsized role.

Stiefel this year has written checks for $50,000 and $1 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, one of the new breed of “super PACs” using unlimited donations to scramble the rules of political campaigns.

Her money — a mountain compared to the $5,000 she was legally allowed to give directly to Obama — helped produce an onslaught of TV ads portraying Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider.

Stiefel, whose family made money in the pharmaceutical business, is not alone in Florida, but she is the only Democratic super donor. Ten residents have given at least $500,000 to super PACs.

“There are some very wealthy people on both sides who are looking to make a statement,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida GOP fundraiser. “The super PAC steps it up another notch.”

SCRUTINIZING ABSENTEE BALLOTS

Herald: Absentee ballots: easy to cast, open to fraudHerald: Signature a must for absentee ballotsTCPalm: Possibility of double voting a real concern in Florida

MY TAKE: Absentee voting is easy, but is it right. Op-ed here.

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ARE YOU SITTING DOWN? TAMPA BAY TIMES ENDORSES BILL NELSON FOR US SENATE

Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers has run an uninspiring campaign and is not a viable alternative.…His deficit reduction plan to cut spending and then apply an overall spending cap is simplistic, unworkable and harsher than Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget passed by the House. And Mack’s work habits in Washington are questionable.”

“U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is a centrist who works across partisan lines and understands the art of compromise, and that is the kind of voice that needs to be heard in Washington. The Democrat reflects the mainstream values needed for Congress to break the gridlock on reducing the federal deficit and other pressing issues. Nelson has served Florida well, and he deserves to be elected to a third term…That is the kind of pragmatism that is needed to move the nation forward.”

SENATE RACE IN SUNSHINE STATE FALLS INTO SHADOWS by William March of the Tampa Tribune

The race has dived under the political radar, notable only for attack ads, many paid for by outside groups more interested in control of the closely balanced Senate than in either candidate.

“It’s been a fairly issueless campaign and isn’t getting much attention,” said University of Central Florida politics watcher Aubrey Jewett.

Experts say the race has drifted toward oblivion partly because it’s overshadowed by the Barack Obama-Mitt Romney battle in Florida, but also because of the political personalities of the two candidates.

CONGRESSIONAL RANKINGS FOR WEEK OF OCT. 15 by Kartik Krishnaiyer of the Political Hurricane

With the movement in the polls recently all favoring the GOP at the top of the ticket, down-ballot races are being profoundly affected. The combination of growing Romney strength on the Treasure Coast as well as Allen West’s negative ads have moved this race into the “Leans Republican” column. The Republican turnout apparatus in the area is far more advanced and impressive than the Democratic turnout infrastructure and in a close race they must be favored. Now that West’s ad campaign has raised Murphy’s negatives, West will have an advantage, though not an overwhelming one heading into the final weeks of the campaign.

Similarly, in the Orlando based 10th district, despite Dan Webster’s negatives seems to be slipping away as a pick-up opportunity for the Democrats. Val Demmings has run an impressive campaign to date, but this district having been drawn largely to unite Republican leaning areas of Central Florida is not ready just yet to elect a Democrat it appears.

Several other races are worth monitoring and could see a shift in rating next week in favor of the GOP. These include HD-9 where Alan Grayson is struggling in an overwhelmingly Democratic district against conservative Republican Todd Long. Grayson’s profile is defined and he seems to have a ceiling of support he can reach. Still he remains favored.  The Boca Raton based HD 22 is another seat where strong Democratic performance numbers would favor the Dem candidate, Lois Frankel, but her momentum seems to have stagnated in recent weeks despite a great fundraising quarter. Adam Hasner the ideologically conservative Republican nominee is trying to redefine himself as a moderate with some success thus far.

HD 2 and HD 26 are headed potentially in the other direction with the Democrats, Al Lawson and Joe Garcia respectively carrying momentum into the last few weeks of the election. If Garcia polls strongly for another week, we will move this race into the “Leans Democratic” column.

TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF JESSICA EHRLICH’S SPOTTY VOTING RECORD Full story at SaintPetersBlog.com

A candidate for Congress should have a near-perfect, if not perfect, record of participation in the electoral process, right?

Well, by that standard, what does Jessica Ehrlich’s questionable, spotty voting record say about her readiness to serve in Congress?

According to Nancy Whitlock of the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections’ office, Ehrlich did not vote in Florida in 2010, in either the primary or general election.

Ehrlich also missed voting in primary elections in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

DAVID RIVERA DEFENDS HIMSELF IN SIT-DOWN via The Miami Herald

In his first sit down English-language television interview in weeks, U.S. Rep. David Rivera defended himself Sunday against a federal grand-jury investigation into his alleged involvement in a primary campaign against his Democratic opponent.

At one point, Rivera pulled out a black Sony tape recorder and held it up against his lapel microphone to play a recording of what he said was a telephone message from an FBI witness in the case.

The FBI is investigating whether Rivera illegally funneled secret money to Justin Lamar Sternad, who lost in the Aug. 14 primary to Joe Garcia. Garcia now faces Rivera.

“No federal agency has ever stated or confirmed that I am under investigation for anything,” Rivera told WPLG-ABC 10’s Michael Putney on This Week in South Florida.

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CHRIS DORWORTH HAS A NEW TV SPOT AND A NEW POLITICAL COMMITTEE by Aaron DeSlatte of the Orlando Sentinel

The 30-second spot is being paid for by the “Florida Enterprise Foundation,” an electioneering communication organization that was founded late last month.  The chairman and founder is Will Lenihan, a director at the engineering firm ECS Florida LLC who, according to its website, “advocates the reduction of burdensome government regulations and believes in aggressive economic development in our state.” Dorworth is authorized to raise money for the foundation.

The foundation’s first donation: A $25,000 check from “Citizens for an Enterprising Democracy,” the committee of continuous existence through which Dorworth has raised roughly $1 million.

NEWSPAPER ENDORSEMENTS

The Miami Herald endorsed Holly Raschein for House District 120.

The Sun-Sentinel endorsed Ellyn Bogdanoff for Senate District 34.

The Tampa Tribune endorsed the retention of three Florida Supreme Court justices.

TWEET OF THE DAY: @ProgressFlorida: Even one of FL’s most conservative newspapers says vote “YES” for judges merit retention.

TWEET, TWEET: @adamsmithtimes: In 4 of 5 US House races TB Times edit board recommends Republicans

MARIA SACHS TO HOLD PRESSER ON NURSING HOMES

Democratic Senate District 34 candidate Maria Sachs holds a news conference with Florida Alliance for Retired Americans President Tony Fransetta to discuss nursing home deregulation legislation that she says was supported by her opponent, Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff.

SEN. AUDREY GIBSON FILES ETHICS COMPLAINT OVER MAILERS

Sen. Audrey Gibson has filed a complaint with the state ethics commission against a group that has pretended to be a Democratic-leaning organization while sending out mail pieces in Senate races, The Florida Times-Union reported.

Gibson contends that the group, known as “Progressives,” has received contributions but has not reported them as required by state law. The group has been linked to Republican operatives and has sent out critical mailers about several Democratic Senate candidates, including Gibson. It is registered with the state as what is known as an “electioneering communication organization,” which requires it to disclose money it receives and spends.

INCUMBENT KEITH PERRY LEADING ANDREW MOREY IN DEMOCRATIC-LEANING HD 21

To win House District 21, Republican Rep. Keith Perry of Gainesville must seek votes in a redrawn district that differs dramatically from where he first got elected in 2010. His efforts so far appear to be paying off.

According to a new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls, Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Andrew Morey, 47.1% to 40.4%, with nearly 12.5% of voters undecided. The poll of likely voters was conducted Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.5%.

During the most recent fundraising period, Perry widened his fund-raising lead over Morey. Perry got $49,000 from the Republican Party of Florida and also received contributions from a wide range of businesses and groups, such as several political committees linked to the Florida Retail Federation. Perry has raised an overall total of $271,406, while Morey raised $24,065 during the period and has a total of $40,475.

CAMPAIGN PROFILES

>>>U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who is running for his 11th term, has no Republican opponent and seems almost certain to survive the challenges he is facing from two minor candidates in newly drawn Congressional District 20.

>>>In Senate District 35, the first female president of the State Senate is facing a well-financed challenger in her South Florida seat, putting more than three decades of experience against a youthful neophyte saying the district needs new leadership.

>>>Higher ed funding key issue in House District 7 race.

>>>Ray Pilon faces challenge in redrawn District 72.

***SUNBURN is brought to you in party by Kevin Cate Communications. I’ve called Cate one of the smartest guys in any room, but that was last year. His firm continues to change the way public relations works in Florida. Believe me, you want www.CateComm.com on your side.***

ETHICS COMMISSION LOOKS TO REVAMP LAWS via The News Service of Florida

The Florida Commission on Ethics is trying to build support for legislative changes that include better enforcement of fines and allowing other agencies to refer ethics-related cases to the panel.

Commissioner Matt Carlucci, a former Jacksonville City Council president, has written a letter to newspapers that spells out legislative priorities. They include using property liens to help enforce fines that are levied against officials for not filing financial-disclosure information. Currently, some officials take advantage of a four-year statute of limitations to avoid paying the fines. Also, the letter proposes allowing the governor’s office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, state attorney’s offices and the state chief financial officer to refer cases to the commission. Carlucci’s letter said those agencies sometimes handle cases that fall short of criminal conduct but could merit review by the commission. Another proposal would change a standard that allows officials who win ethics cases to recover their legal costs from people who file complaints. The letter said officials should be required to show “actual malice” to recover such costs.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Charlie Crist got pushed out of the Republican Party for reaching across the aisle — which is what the people want. Charlie Crist advertised himself as the people’s governor. He was the people’s governor. I’m not endorsing him, but he’s a friend, a very good friend, and I regretted he had to bear the brunt of excessive partisanship.’’ — Former Governor Reuben Askew during the “Conversation with Florida Governors” sponsored by the UF law school’s Law Review as part of the Allen L. Poucher Legal Education Series.

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE nails the Vice Presidential debate. Watch here.

SHOPFab.com just opened a pop up shop filled with great gear for the political season. A big seller … the Democratic Dream Mug Set.

STEPHEN COLBERT MEETS THE PRESS: “I don’t really watch the news so much. … I come in around 6:30 and then I just say the opposite of whatever Rachel Maddow said the night before. And I’m usually good.”

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.