Sunburn for 10/16 — 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.***

IT’S 21 DAYS UNTIL ELECTION DAY

DEBATE NIGHT IN AMERICA

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama meet for the second of three scheduled debates in the race for U.S. president. This week’s debate, moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley, will be in a town hall format, with the candidates fielding questions on foreign and domestic issues.

…CANDY CROWLEY UNDER FIRE: “In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of the Tuesday town hall has publicly described her role,” Mark Halperin reports.

EXPECTATIONS: A new Pew Research poll finds 41% of voters surveyed say President Obama will do better in this week’s presidential debate, while 37% expect Romney to prevail.

A HISTORY OF PRESIDENTIAL DEBATESThe Week summarizes everything you need to know about the long tradition of presidential showdowns.

TAMPA BAY BREWERY HOSTING DEBATE WATCH PARTY: What’s better than beer and politics? Join NFIB at the acclaimed Tampa Bay Brewery (600 East 8th Avenue, Tampa) to hear reactions from local small business owners as we watch the second Presidential debate. The event will be an opportunity for small business owners to react to each candidate’s economic platform and discuss the important federal issues facing the small business community.

***Today’s SUNBURN is also sponsored by Corcoran & Johnston Government Relations. With more than 45 years of combined legislative and regulatory knowledge and experience, Corcoran & Johnston’s ability to navigate through the processes and politics of government and deliver for their clients is unmatched.***

OBAMA, ROMNEY COMBINE TO RAISE $350 MILLION DURING SEPTEMBER

Mitt Romney’s campaign said Monday that it had raised $170.4 million in the month of September, falling just short of the staggering $181 million monthly total reported by President Obama’s reelection campaign.

Spencer Zwick, Romney’s national finance chairman, said in an e-mail to top donors Monday that the campaign and the Republican National Committee’s joint fundraising committee brought in $170 million in September, by far the Republicans’ biggest haul of the campaign cycle. The Romney campaign later announced that the campaign, RNC and state party participants have approximately $191 million cash on hand.

ABC/WASHINGTON POST POLL: OBAMA STILL AHEAD NATIONALLY, 49% TO 46%

Obama leads Romney among likely voters, 49% to 46%, “basically unmoved from the poll two weeks ago, just before the two candidates met in Denver for their first debate.”

“Nearly two-thirds say they do not need any more information before Election Day, and barely one in eight is undecided or says there is a chance he could change his vote. Even as voters overwhelmingly perceive that Romney won the first debate, the vast majority say their opinion of the president did not shift as a result.”

“But more people changed their views of Romney, largely in a positive direction. Overall, more than twice as many say their opinions of the former Massachusetts governor improved than say they worsened as a result of the debate. The strongest reaction is among Romney backers, 70 percent of whom say Denver made them think more highly of the GOP nominee.”

OBAMA HOLDS BIG NATIONAL LEAD AMONG EARLY VOTERS

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows President Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 59% to 31% among those who have already voted. With the November 6 election just more than three weeks away, 7% of those surveyed said they had already voted either in person or by mail.

TRACKING POLLS 

Gallup: Romney 49%, Obama 47%; IBD/TIPP: Obama 47%, Romney 47%; Rand/American Life: Obama 50%, Romney 45%; Rasmussen: Romney 49%, Obama 48%; Reuters/Ipsos: Obama 47%, Romney 45%

PPP POLL OF FLORIDA: ROMNEY LEADS BY 1

PP’s newest Florida poll finds a 5 point gain for Romney over the last three weeks; he now leads Obama by a 49/48 margin, after trailing 50-46 in late September. The shift in the race is largely attributable to independent voters shifting their preferences. Where before Obama had a 51-40 advantage with them, now Romney’s taken the lead by a 51/43 spread. When it comes to the biggest issue in the election, the economy, Romney’s edge over Obama expands to 51/46 on who voters trust more.

>>>There’s been a fairly large shift among white voters over the last three weeks. They’ve gone from favoring Romney by 11 points at 53-42 to 17 points at 57-40.

>>>Obama has a small advantage with voters under 65, but Romney erases that with a 52/45 advantage among seniors. Likewise Obama’s up with women (51-47) but Romney’s ahead by even more with men (52-44).

ABSENTEE BALLOTS POURING IN

Nearly 328,000 absentee ballots already returned in Florida, reports Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times. Republican: 145,187, Democrat: 132,139, No Party Affiliation: 50,647

RICK SCOTT SAYS HE’D BE SHOCKED IF ROMNEY WERE UP BY 7 IN FLA.

Scott said Monday he believes Romney is leading Obama in Florida, but doesn’t necessarily believe the difference is as much as the most recent major poll. A Tampa Bay Times poll released this past Thursday by Mason-Dixon Polling showed Romney ahead of Obama 51-44 with 4 percent undecided. “I think (Romney) is leading in Florida,” Scott, a Republican, said Monday morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “I’d be shocked if it was seven.”

ROMNEY NARROWS GAP WITH HISPANIC VOTERS IN FLORIDA

A new Florida International University/Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald poll shows Romney is closing the gap on Obama among likely Hispanic Florida voters.

Obama is ahead of Romney 51% to 44% among Hispanics, “a relatively narrow lead that could spell trouble for a Democratic campaign that’s counting on minority support as non-Hispanic white voters flock to the Republican ticket in droves.”

TWEET, TWEET: @SandyAdams4FL07: Team FL has made 6 times more phone calls & knocked on 61 times more doors than this time in ’08. Great job!

VP BIDEN WILL VISIT SUN CITY CENTER ON FRIDAY: Details here.

INSIDERS SEE OBAMA WINNING

New York Magazine poll of political insiders, asked to predict the winner of the presidential election, finds President Obama overwhelmingly favored over Mitt Romney, 82% to 18

INTRADE

Likelihood of … Obama winning: 62.5%; Romney winning: 37.6%

Likelihood of Romney winning Florida: 62.5%

Likelihood of … Nelson winning 80%; Mack winning: 12.6%

NATE SILVER

Likelihood of … Obama winning: 63.3; Romney winning 36.7%

Likelihood of … Democrats keeping the Senate: 86.4%

SO MANY EMAILS: “Get This” from Democrats 2012; “Plain and Simple” from Debbie Wasserman Schultz; “Latest Polls” from Andy Stone, House Majority PAC; “Make No Mistake” from Chris Van Hollen; “Make Sure You Read This” by Robby Mook, DCCC Executive Director; “Must Be Why They Call It the Comeback Team” by Ben LaBolt; “Peter, do me a favor” from Joe Biden; “This Race is Tied” from Barack Obama; “What Matters” from Gabby Giffords;

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “The Burger Joint Election Update; Romney Burger Leads The Week But Obama Burger Retains Lead Nationally”

***To learn the facts about Florida’s new university, Florida Polytechnic University, and the growing group of supporters that make up Poly Vision, visit www.floridapolyvision.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @FLPolyVision.***

PPP: BILL NELSON 45%, CONNIE MACK 37%

Bill Nelson leads Connie Mack 45-37 in the US Senate race, little different from a 46-37 spread three weeks ago.

Nelson’s got a good amount of crossover support, taking 17% of the Republican vote. And even though Obama’s lost the lead with independents, Nelson still has a narrow advantage with them at 42-39.

Nelson’s not terribly popular, with a 38/41 approval rating. But Mack continues to be far more unpopular with only 32% of voters rating him favorably to 45% with a negative opinion.

TWEET, TWEET: @amy_hollyfield: What if both Connie Mack and Mary Bono Mack lose their races?

GENERIC CONGRESSIONAL BALLOT TIED IN FLORIDA 

The generic Congressional ballot in the state is a tie at 44%, a 4 point improvement for Republicans from last month when they trailed 47-43.

IN CD 2, DEMOCRATS, SOUTHERLAND SWAP CHARGES OF HYPOCRISY

The Florida Democratic Party Monday accused U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland of hypocrisy in accepting federal stimulus dollars as chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida – shortly before he ran for Congress and called the stimulus a “boondoggle.”

Southerland, a Republican first-termer from Panama City and a tea party favorite, is running for re-election in Congressional District 2 against former state Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson. The race appears tighter than anticipated, with the National Republican Congressional Committee jumping in earlier this month with a $150,000 television ad buy.

“Congressman Southerland said he’d change Washington — but it’s becoming clear that all he’s done is gone Washington,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman David Bergstein. “Just like the typical, hypocritical Washington politician he’s become, Southerland railed against the stimulus program — just one year after he accepted millions of dollars in stimulus funding himself.”

DAN WEBSTER CAMPAIGN ISSUES CEASE-AND-DESIST LETTER OVER DCCC AD

Over the weekend, lawyers for Daniel Webster’s campaign submitted a cease-and-desist letter to area television stations calling for an end to airing ad paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Once again, Mrs. Demings and her liberal supporters such as the DCCC, Nancy Pelosi and Emily’s List focus efforts on tired lies and distractions rather than offering any plan for restoring our economy or protecting our most vulnerable citizens,” said Webster spokeswoman Katie Patchett.

The ad characterizes Webster as spending $100,000 on sofas, flat screen TVs, and spiral staircases in a lounge built for lobbyists. Politifact Florida recently debunked these lies stating, “The room cost nothing to create, and was a converted windowless office with a threadbare couch and House archived photos on the wall.” Webster never spent $100,000 on a lobbyist lounge.

The letter demands stations immediately cease airing the “false and misleading ads”, and requests stations reject the purchase of time for future airings. Webster’s lawyers argue that “the false claims by the DCCC do not constitute a ‘candidate use;’ therefore, stations are not obligated to air advertisements by third parties.”

ALLEN WEST’S BLUNT TALK AT CRUX OF RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN via POLITICO

The bombastic freshman has spent the past two years taunting Democrats — he called President Barack Obama “probably the dumbest person walking around in America right now,” dubbed 80 of his Democratic House colleagues “communists” and told Debbie Wasserman Schultz she was “not a lady” — to name just a few of his put-downs.

Yet three weeks out from Election Day, West, an Afghanistan war vet, has the look of a survivor. The freshman’s smash mouth brand of politics might seem like a poor fit for the moderate, Treasure Coast district. But West’s outsized TV presence gave him practically universal name ID out of the gate — and an enormous cash advantage — in his nasty reelection battle against 29-year-old construction firm executive Patrick Murphy.

Democrats concede that West could well win reelection; privately, some of them say they expect he will.

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I-4 CORRIDOR AT HEART OF LEGISLATIVE RACES by Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida

From Frank Bruno and Dorothy Hukill in Volusia County to Frank Farkas and Dwight Dudley in Pinellas County — and with key Orlando-area races in between — the two parties and interest groups are pouring time and money into trying to win competitive districts.

… Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks the Plakon-Dentel battle in District 30 is the most-competitive race in the I-4 corridor. She said both parties want to win the seat, while teachers unions back Dentel and business groups support Plakon.

… Democrats see districts 47 and 49 as the types of areas where they hope to make inroads against the huge Republican advantage in Tallahassee. Both districts went for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010 and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, but the House races are widely seen as competitive.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Pinellas County is a very unique place. They are not driven by the party. They are driven by the person.” — Incoming Speaker of the Florida House Will Weatherford.

DEMOCRATS LAUNCH TOUGH AD IN SD 4 CRITICIZING DOROTHY HUKILL

The Florida Democratic Party is out with a tough new ad that seizes on a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal story that found Republican state Rep. Dorothy Hukill, who is now running for Senate District 4, has paid $100,000 to her son as a campaign consultant. Watch here.

IN HD 30, PLAKON SUPPORTER FILES COMPLAINTS AGAINST CASTOR DENTEL by Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel

The complaint accuses Castor Dentel, a public-school teacher at Dommerich Elementary in Maitland, of misusing her position by “leveraging her anticipated future position” as state lawmaker to win a new job from Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.

The allegation is based on a letter Castor Dentel sent Jenkins alerting her, per school district policy, that she had qualified to run for a seat in the Florida House and that she would be taking a leave of absence from Dommerich for the fall. In it, Castor Dentel says she plans to return to Dommerich if she loses — but that she would also like to remain with the school district even if she wins.

CANDIDATES MAKE PITCHES IN PINELLAS HOUSE RACES

The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club will hold a forum with candidates in three state House races. They are Republican Rep. Peter Nehr and Democrat Carl Zimmerman in District 65; Republican Rep. Larry Ahern and Democrat Mary Louise Ambrose in District 66; and Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and Democrat Ben Farrell in District 67.

SPOTTED (ACTUALLY MISSED): Reps. Richard Corcoran, Matt Gaetz and Dana Young at my haunt, Cassis American Brasserie. Corcoran and Young are organized major walks for House candidates Frank Farkas and Kathleen Peters.

***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.***

ABSOLUTE MUST-READ: BUSH IN THE WILDERNESS 

For many in his party and for most of this year, Jeb Bush was the ghost of what might have been. When Romney was spiraling downward, the party was in such dire straits, the thinking went, that the Bush political brand, as battered as it was, looked respectable again. “I believe the Bushes are true north,” says Mark McKinnon, the former aide to the 43rd president, “and we’ve got to get that back.”

For a party with clear fissures, Jeb Bush is an insurance policy against a Romney loss to Barack Obama. Many Republicans believe losing in November would create an epic struggle between the hard right of the party and the moderates who believe that to win, the GOP has to make a credible effort to court Hispanics. Jeb is the obvious leader of the moderate wing. The people in Jeb’s orbit have been supporting Romney, but with significant reservations because of the extreme positions Romney had to take to secure the nomination. One told me that nobody who decides to build an indoor elevator for their car can get elected in America. Even after the first debate, these people remain convinced a Romney loss is considerably more likely than not. “I don’t see how the math works for him right now,” says a close associate of Jeb’s.

RICK SCOTT STILL UNPOPULAR

Rick Scott continues to be unpopular with only 37% of voters approving of him to 46% who disapprove, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. But he trails a generic Democrat only 45-43. His standing has improved quite a bit compared to a year ago.

BUDGET REQUESTS

Legislative budget requests from state agencies were due Monday for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

COMMUNICATIONS SERVICES TAX

The Department of Revenue’s Communications Services Tax Working Group meets to discuss tax issues in preparation of a report that is due to the Legislature by Feb. 1. It’s the fourth meeting of the group, which has been asked to review national and state tax policies relating to the communications industry, the amount generated under the tax and the extent to which this revenue has been relied on to secure bonded indebtedness.

COUNCIL OF INDEPENDENT COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES MEETS 

The Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) Council of Presidents will hold their monthly meeting in Orlando today. Agenda items will cover higher education in Florida including virtual learning, the Florida Resident Access Grant, collaborative insurance programs and purchasing programs, accountability metrics, education finance and other issues.

>>>New to the Twitters: @JamieMongiovi, the latest addition to the already-solid Core Message team.

DARRYL ROUSON TO SEEK MINORITY LEADER, ERR, SPEAKERSHIP IN 2014 via Steve Bousquet of the Miami Herald

The St. Petersburg Democrat has filed a notice of intent to seek the speakership of the Florida House in the 2014-2016 term. While Rouson is technically announcing his candidacy for speaker, his true goal is to be a future minority leader, since it is exceedingly remote that his party will win enough seats to get back in the majority again.

But Rouson, a 58-year-old lawyer who is one of the best debaters in the House, says Democrats have to start somewhere.

“I would like to see the Democratic members be a relevant minority, since we represent the majority of registered voters in the state of Florida,” Rouson said. (Democrats are a plurality of voters; neither party has a majority on the voter rolls).

ELECTIONS COMMISSION MEETS TODAY

The Florida Elections Commission’s review committee meets 1:30 to 5 p.m. today to review applications to fill its executive director position and make a recommendation to the commission.

FLORIDA INSTITUTE, DISABILITY RIGHTS FLORIDA SETTLE DISPUTE

The Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR) and Disability Rights Florida settled a lawsuit in a Tampa court last week after Disability Rights Florida alleged that FINR was blocking its efforts to investigate instances of patient abuse.

Prior to the hearing Jay Adams, regulatory counsel for FINR, had said that “FINR has always allowed Disability Rights Florida immediate and unlimited access to investigate abuse allegations,” and that “it has also been the practice of FINR that when an advocate from Disability Rights Florida requests to see or speak to a patient, unrelated to an abuse investigation, that they make an appointment 24-hours in advance to assure that the patient is available at the time the advocate comes.”

FINR and Disability Rights Florida came to an agreement that FINR would continue to provide the organization with unfettered access to the facility and patients when an allegation of abuse or patient mistreatment is made.  In turn, Disability Rights Florida agreed to make an appointment 24-hours in advance when they are making a routine visit to the facility.

HIRING COMEBACK WILL WAIT UNTIL 2019

Florida’s job market won’t erase losses from the recession until 2019, when payrolls are expected to cross the 8 million threshold again, according to a forecast by Jones Lang LaSalle. The Sunshine State currently has about 7.3 million people working, according to the latest federal labor report. That’s down 9 percent from the peak of just over 8 million workers hit at the end of 2006 and the start of 2007.

JAMES MADISON INSTITUTE DEBATE

The James Madison Institute is hosting a debate on the role of government in economic growth and job creation led by Michael Grunwald, senior national correspondent for TIME Magazine, and Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks. This event is free and will be held Thurs., Oct. 25, 2012 starting at 7 p.m. at the Rose & Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center at Nova Southeastern University. Following the debate, both speakers will be available for a book signing of their most recent releases; Grunwald, “The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era;” Kibbe, New York Times bestseller “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.”

LEGOLAND’S FORST YEAR EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS

Birthdays are a big deal to the Legoland Florida demographic. When you’ve only had 2 or 8 or 12 of them, they still rate as special. Legoland Florida has a birthday of its own to celebrate. Monday marked one year since the theme park opened at the former Cypress Gardens property in Winter Haven.

STAND YOUR GROUND TASK FORCE MEETS IN JACKSONVILLE

The Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, set up to look into the state’s Stand Your Ground law in the wake of the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case, meets Tuesday in Jacksonville. About four hours of the eight hour meeting is set aside for public testimony. The Florida Channel will stream live.

TWEET OF THE DAY: @SenChrisSmith: Finishing up my 8th meeting in Tallahassee realizing that the Lord has truly blessed this bastard child of a teenage mother.

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2016 WATCH: “If Hillary runs, she walks away with the nomination and then beats whichever Republican. It’s lights out.” — Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, quoted by the AP, on the 2016 presidential race.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Florida Channel’s Beth Switzer.

MILLION MUPPET MARCH on the National Mall is being planned online for November 3 to protest Mitt Romney’s comments about Big Bird and PBS.

NEW TUMBLR is called Paul Ryan Cuts Carbs and Benefits.

PRAYERS: Former Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate who lost to President Richard Nixon in a historic landslide, has moved into hospice care near his home in South Dakota, the AP reports.

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.