Sunburn for 10/18 — A morning read of what's hot in Florida politics

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***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.***

MOST WATCHED DEBATE IN HISTORY?

Hollywood Reporter notes that Early ratings for cable network coverage of Tuesday’s presidential debate have numbers surging ahead of the first showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney earlier this month.

Nielsen figures have FNC’s telecast of the town hall debate matching its highest ratings ever (Sarah Palin and Joe Biden’s 2008 vice presidential debate) with 11.1 million viewers. On par with that record, FNC also scored a demo win with 3.46 million adults 25-54. Though its returns are shy of broadcast competition in NBC and ABC, it also topped CBS.

ROMNEY WILL JOIN RYAN IN DAYTONA ON FRIDAY

Romney will appear at a rally Friday evening in Daytona Beach, adding to a previously announced event featuring Paul Ryan.

The event will be held at Daytona Beach Bandshell. Doors at 6 p.m., program at 8 p.m. Entertainment by John Rich.

ROMNEY OPENS UP BIGGEST LEAD YET

The Gallup daily tracking poll shows Mitt Romney has opened up a six point lead over President Obama among likely voters, 51% to 45%.

500,000 FLORIDIANS HAVE ALREADY VOTED via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

More than 1.8 million additional voters have requested the ballots, which are typically mailed in. The heaviest voting so far is taking place in Tampa Bay, Miami-Dade and the so-called I-4 corridor.

Overall, Republicans lead Democrats in the number of voted absentee ballots so far, 45 to 40 percent. That’s despite the fact that registered Democrats exceed Republicans by 4 percentage points.

Democrats, however, say they’re happy with their absentee-ballot program, which is typically a Republican strength. Democrats trailed Republicans by 16 percentage points relative to this point in the 2008 election. So both sides are claiming victory.

MEDICARE MESSAGING WARS TARGET FLORIDA SENIORS via The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald

The attack ads arrive in the mailboxes of Florida voters and pierce the television airwaves with the rapidity of tracer bullets. “Medicare Advantage could vanish,’’ reads a flyer from the conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform. “Seniors could pay $6,000 more a year,’’ warns an ad supporting Obama. Politicos have a shorthand for the chatter: Mediscare.

ORLANDO, WEST PALM BEACH IN TOP TEN MARKETS FOR POLITICAL ADVERTISING

A new study by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit campaign tracker, shows that the Orlando and West Palm Beach media markets ranked second and fourth in the nation when it comes to the number of political ad spots airing. Florida is living up to its reputation as the nation’s biggest toss-up state in the presidential race by being the only state that has two cities in Sunlight’s top 10.

INTRADE

Likelihood of … Obama winning: 63.7%; Romney winning: 36.3%

Likelihood of … Nelson winning 77.2%; Mack winning: 25.0%

NATE SILVER

Likelihood of … Obama winning: 64.8%; Romney winning 35.2%

Likelihood of … Democrats keeping the Senate: 86.4%

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DEBATE NIGHT IN FLORIDA

Connie Mack and Bill Nelson went head-to-head in their first and only debate Wednesday night.

Mack accused Democratic Nelson of voting to raise taxes 150 times and casting the deciding vote on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, while Nelson said his challenger is distorting his record.

Mack immediately criticized Nelson on several issues. Nelson calmly said that everything his opponent said is not true.

“In Washington DC, we’ve been on a spending spree,” Mack said. “And we’ve seen year after year after year, we’ve added a trillion dollars to new debt every year. Now some of us, myself included, believe that we need to cut spending and we need to reign in our debt and our deficits. Now Senator Nelson serves on the budget committee and for almost four years has failed to pass a budget.”

“Right off the bat, I have to explain that what he said about the budget is not true,” Nelson said. “Not only did we pass a budget, we passed it in law last year.  This wasn’t a budget resolution that doesn’t have the force of law.  This was an actual act signed into law by the President.”

HOW THE DEBATE PLAYED: AP – Nelson, Mack tussle; Palm Beach Post – Nelson and Mack trade heat in lone Senate debate; Sunshine State News – Finger Pointing Dominates Bill Nelson-Connie Mack’s Only Debate; Tampa Bay Times – Feisty Senate debate between Bill Nelson, Connie Mack short on substance

POLITIFACT CHECKS OUT MACK & NELSON’S CLAIMS here.

TWEETS OF THE NIGHT

@amy_hollyfield: This debate was only an hour long, but somehow doesn’t feel short.

@GoMeteoric: Max Headroom + Foghorn Leghorn = Bill Nelson.

@NickensFL: Thank god there is only going to be one US Senate debate.

@ryanaclarke: Sadly, I missed the #FLSen debate. Sorry, but I had to break up a bar fight. I’m sure Connie Mack would understand.

MACK’S PATH TO VICTORY by William March of the Tampa Tribune

The Mack campaign has released an analysis by his political adviser, Arthur Finkelstein, suggesting that Mack is tied or may even have a narrow lead in polls. That seems implausible – the Real Clear Politics web site’s average of polls in the race gives Nelson a 6.7-percentage point edge, with recent polls showing Nelson leading by 1 to 13 points.

But Finkelstein, a legendary and reclusive New York-based Republican strategist, attributed that to the “skewed polls” logic advanced by Republicans who charge that polls in the presidential race are oversampling Democrats, basing their samples on a “turnout model” from 2008, a year when there was an unusually large turnout of Democrats to vote for President Barack Obama.

Finkelstein cites a Public Policy Polling survey that showed a 12-point Nelson lead, 45-37 percent. He said its sample was “+4 Democrat,” meaning the number of Democrats was four points higher than the number of Republicans, plus “a stunningly wrong” 12-point advantage for women, and 18 percent undecided – not a realistic turnout for election day, he said.

NEW AD HIGHLIGHTS KEITH FITZGERALD’S SUPPORT FOR NANCY PELOSI

Vern Buchanan’s campaign launched a new TV ad today highlighting what it describes as “Democrat Keith Fitzgerald’s support for the failed economic policies of Nancy Pelosi, including Medicare cuts, tax hikes and the wasteful $800 billion stimulus.”

The ad also scolds Fitzgerald for “running a relentlessly negative campaign that has been knocked by the media for ‘misleading’ ads and by a local charity for ‘dishonestly’ attacking Buchanan. Watch here.

JIM CLYBURN TO RAISE CASH FOR AL LAWSON

Congressman Jim Clyburn, the assistant Democratic leader in the House, will be in Tallahassee Thursday to help raise money for CD 2 Democratic aspirant Al Lawson, who is trying to unseat Republican Rep. Steve Southerland. The fundraiser is at the home of Tallahassee super lawyer Barry Richard.

BILL YOUNG OPENS 17-POINT LEAD OVER JESSICA EHRLICH IN CD 13

Whatever momentum Democratic challenger Jessica Ehrlich was building for her bid to unseat Republican incumbent Bill Young has come to a halt, according to new poll numbers taken after media reports raised questions about Ehrlich’s work history.

According to a new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls, Young is at 53.9% in the polls, while Ehrlich is at 37.3% among “active” voters defined as those who have voted in at least one election during the last four years.

For Young, these new poll numbers represent an improvement since the last time the district was polled. A week ago, Young led Ehrlich, 49% to 40%.

Since then, questions have arisen about Ehrlich’s work history and voting record.

FRANKEL, HASNER LAY IT OUT IN DEBATE by Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post

Lois Frankel and Adam Hasner squared off for the first time today at The Palm Beach Post District 22 congressional debate. Before they talked about Medicare and the housing crisis, they immediately went after each other on more touchy issues — Digital Domain and Super PACs.

“(Former Digital Domain CEO) John Textor donated $20,000 to (Frankel’s) campaign,” Hasner said. “It goes along the lines of a long culture of corruption we’ve seen in West Palm Beach for far too long. … Why did John Textor get money from the city of West Palm Beach and was it in response to the $20,000 he gave to Frankel’s campaign?”

Digital Domain was the visual effects company that recently went bankrupt after receiving money and grants from the state, West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie. Frankel was mayor of West Palm Beach when the city entered into an agreement with Digital Domain. West Palm Beach has already spent $2 million and is fighting in court to get $10 million in land back that it gave to Digital Domain.

Frankel shot back that she wasn’t running for office when the deal with Digital Domain was signed (Frankel announced her congressional campaign four months later).

Frankel said it’s Hasner who’s receiving support from questionable places.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Here’s a deal. I’ll consider your pledge. I want you to consider mine. My pledge is to not privatize Medicare. My pledge is to not give the ultra-rich more tax breaks at the expense of taking loans from students. My pledge is to never take away the right of choice. If you can promise that, if you can take that pledge, I’ll consider yours.” — Lois Frankel

FRANKEL WITH NARROW THREE-POINT LEAD OVER HASNER IN CD 22

The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling, found Frankel leading Hasner by a 47 percent to 44 percent margin with nine percent undecided. The poll’s findings are the latest indication that the Democratic-leaning district, which stretches from northern Palm Beach County to mostly eastern Broward County, could be a pick-up opportunity for Republicans.

The same poll found President Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney in District 22 by a 51 percent to 44 percent margin.

Frankel is viewed favorably by 34 percent of those surveyed while 31 percent have an unfavorable view of the Democrat. Meanwhile, 31 percent of likely voters polled have a favorable opinion of Hasner and 27 percent have an unfavorable view of the Republican congressional hopeful.

>>>Sunshine State News also has poll numbers – Frankel 47%, Hasner 47%. Details here.

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STATE OF PARANOIA: IN FLORIDA, 60% OF GOP, 55% OF DEMS THINK OTHER SIDE WILL COMMIT VOTER FRAUD TO WIN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

The other side will probably cheat anyway. That’s what more than half of Florida voters on both sides of the partisan split say, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey highlighted by the News Service of Florida. Most Republicans and Democrats think the other side will basically steal the election.

At least some of the respondents appear to be either intellectually honest or particularly jaded – because several of them appear to acknowledge their own side will likely cheat as well. For example, nearly a third of those who described themselves as very liberal said Democrats likely would commit voter fraud to help President Obama.  On the conservative side, 13 percent who are “very conservative” and 14 percent who are “somewhat conservative” think the GOP will commit fraud. Also, women are more jaded than men.

IS GOP ABSENTEE ADVANTAGE SHRINKING? MAYBE, MAYBE NOT by William March of the Tampa Tribune

This year, Republicans are leading again in absentee requests, 900,321 to 838,865, or a margin of 61,456, Walker said, citing Florida Division of Elections figures.

But at this point in 2008, she said, Republicans led by almost 250,000.

Romney Florida spokesman Jeff Bechdel didn’t dispute the accuracy of the figures, but said the comparison isn’t apt.

Because early voting hours have been cut, the Obama campaign is asking supporters to go to local elections offices and request mail-in ballots, then submit them on the spot. That increases the Democrats’ absentee numbers, but the increase could be coming from voters who otherwise would be Democratic early voters, Bechdel said.

DEMOCRATIC HOPES FOR A FRANK BRUNO WIN IN SD 8 BEGIN TO FADE by Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel

With less than three weeks remaining until the Nov. 6 election, the Florida Democratic Party has yet to buy any advertising time on Orlando broadcast networks to promote Frank Bruno.

Republicans appear supremely confident. Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz told reporters in Tallahassee yesterday that he expects Hukill will win “handily.”

Strategists say Bruno, who is the highest-profile elected official in Volusia County, has held up well in his home county, which accounts for about three-quarters of the district. But he appears to have fallen far behind in Marion and Lake counties, where he is largely unknown.

Democrats say they remain optimistic. “We aren’t going to dictate our strategy, but it’s clear that Republicans are spending at Congressional levels to prop up embattled incumbent Dorothy Hukill,” said Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan. “Frank Bruno is strong candidate and he has the full backing of the party. We are confident he will have the resources he needs heading into the final weeks of the campaign.”

MARCO RUBIO ENDORSES MELANIE PETERSON IN INCREASINGLY INTERESTING SD 25

“Melanie Peterson is a hometown candidate who demonstrates clear understanding of the issues that matter most to Floridians,” said Senator Rubio. “Her experience as a small business owner of nearly 2 decades gives her a competitive edge in helping grow Florida’s economy and getting our neighbors back to work.  Palm Beach County will be greatly served by Melanie Peterson and I am excited to endorse her for State Senate.”

DCA TO HEAR TODAY MACK BERNARD APPEAL via The News Service of Florida

The 1st District Court of Appeal has scheduled arguments for Thursday in Rep. Mack Bernard’s challenge to his narrow defeat in August’s Democratic primary in Senate District 27. Bernard filed the appeal after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis last month upheld Rep. Jeff Clemens’ victory in the primary. Lewis ruled that Palm Beach County elections officials were justified in rejecting 40 absentee ballots. Clemens won the primary by 17 votes. The winner of the primary in the heavily Democratic district faces only write-in candidate Travis Genard Harris in the Nov. 6 general election.

MIAMI HERALD ENDORSES MARIA SACHS OVER ELLYN BOGDANOFF

“Democrat Maria Sachs, 63, a lawyer from Boca Raton would better represent constitutents’ concerns in this district. Those who have worked with her in the House (she served from 2006-2010) and later in the Senate the past two years say she is a pro-business moderate who works well across the aisle.

Ms. Sachs points to a bill that would outlaw texting while driving — legislation Ms. Bogdanoff has blocked in the past — as an example of unnecessary partisan gridlock.

We are puzzled, too, by Ms. Bogdanoff’s TV ads attacking Ms. Sachs and trying to make the case that Ms. Bogdanoff is the moderate here. It’s unfortunate that Ms. Bogdanoff cannot simply run on her own record.

In this race, we give Ms. Sachs the edge and believe she would be a better fit for this district.”

IS CHRIS DORWORTH IN TROUBLE?

A new poll paid for by the Florida Democratic Party shows Republican state Rep. Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary in a surprisingly tight race, reports Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel.

Dorworth, who is line to become speaker of the Florida House in 2014, leads Democratic challenger Mike Clelland, 40 percent to 37 percent, according to a summary of the results prepared by The Kitchens Group, a Maitland-based polling firm.  That’s within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points. The remaining 23 percent are undecided.

One-in-four respondents — 25 percent — had an “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” opinion of Dorworth … Only 16 percent had a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of him and 59 percent had no opinion.

LATEST POLL: DEMOCRAT DWIGHT DUDLEY 47.3%, FRANK FARKAS 43.1%

ust a week ago, polling showed Republican Frank Farkas with a narrow 1.5% lead over Democrat Dwight Dudley in House District 68.  But that was without accounting for NPA candidate Matt Weidner, a libertarian who could siphon votes away from Farkas.

This appears to be the scenario in the latest survey from St. Pete Polls. Farkas now trails Dudley 43.1% to 47.3% among “active” voters who have participated in at least one election over the last four years. Weidner pulls 4.8% of the vote, with the same amount of voters undecided.

Among registered voters, regardless of voting history, Farkas is at 44.1%, while Dudley is at 44.2%.

A week ago, Farkas was at 45.5% in the polls, with Dudley at 44.0%.

WATSON OVER JULIEN AGAIN IN HD 107, THIS TIME IN COURT via Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida

A Tallahassee judge Wednesday rejected a challenge to a razor-thin victory in the Democratic primary for a seat representing North Miami in the state House of Representatives.

Chief Judge Charles A. Francis of the Second Judicial Circuit upheld Rep. Barbara Watson’s 13-vote win over Rep. John Patrick Julien on Aug. 14.

Julien based his case on absentee ballots that he charged were obtained fraudulently – mostly from the residents of two nursing homes. On Tuesday, Francis reviewed the absentee ballots from the precincts in which those nursing homes were located, finding six on which the signatures were suspicious.

But fraud, he said Wednesday, is a tough standard to meet.

“There was not any evidence of payment for a vote,” Francis said. “I was listening and looking for that.”

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RICK SCOTT TO WORK AT FDLE FOR A DAY

Gov. Scott will do a “work day” on Thursday at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The governor has spent a number of days trying out jobs done by various Florida residents, from serving doughnuts to working on a shrimp boat to carrying backs at an airport. Scott will work for about four hours on Thursday at the FDLE’s regional office in Orlando, according to his schedule.

AHCA SEEKS MONEY FOR MANAGED CARE CHANGES

As it waits for federal officials to approve an overhaul of Florida’s Medicaid program, the Agency for Health Care Administration is seeking millions of dollars in the 2013-14 state budget to help carry out the changes. AHCA submitted a budget request this week that includes money for the transition to a statewide managed-care system in Medicaid. As an example, the budget request includes nearly $1.5 million to beef up an automated system that would help in the verification and oversight of managed-care networks. Also, the request includes about $6.9 million for what are known as “enrollment broker services,” which involve providing help to Medicaid beneficiaries as they choose health plans and transition into managed care. Also, the budget request reflects an anticipated move of four programs that currently provide home- and community-based services to seniors. Those programs would become part of one long-term care program, known as a “waiver,” in the new system.

DON GAETZ WANTS TO BE LIKE KEN PRUITT by Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News

A reporter had asked the incoming Senate president how he would change his management style from outgoing President Mike Haridopolis’.

“I’m more like a Ken Pruitt kind of manager,” Gaetz said. “He believed a Senate president has what he called just ‘a thimbleful of power’ — so you have to be careful how you use it. You have to use it sparingly, and that’s what he did.”

The Niceville Republican said that in spite of the troubling economy Pruitt inherited when he took over in 2006, he never abused his authority. “He never forced his will down our throats, he just offered his guidance whenever we asked for it.

“I was just a freshman back then,” Gaetz, a former superintendent of schools, explained. “It was so impressive to me. He made me committee chairman, said ‘put your agenda together, if I’ve got any thoughts for you, I’ll offer them, but it’s all yours to make happen.’  In the whole of his two years, Ken Pruitt only asked me one time to vote for a bill.”

ENVIRONMENTAL PANEL DISCUSSES WATER STANDARDS

The state Environmental Regulation Commission will discuss water-quality issues, including “numeric nutrient standards” that are part of a long-running legal dispute.

PSC TO DISCUSS CRYSTAL RIVER NUKE PROJECT 

The state Public Service Commission has scheduled an Oct. 30 meeting to discuss Progress Energy Florida’s Crystal River nuclear power plant, which has been shut down since 2009 because of damage to a containment building.

The meeting likely will be the first public discussion since Progress’ parent company, Duke Energy, released a consultant’s report indicating it would cost at least $1.5 billion to repair the plant. In releasing the report Oct. 1, Duke said it had not decided whether to repair the plant or shut it down for good. In a notice posted on the PSC website, the Oct. 30 meeting is described as a status conference that will include discussion of “Progress Energy Florida’s repair or retire decision” along with issues such as the scheduling of any repairs to the idled reactor. Consumer and business groups are closely watching the case, at least in part of the potential costs.

TAMPA TAKING AIM AT REGULATING SWEEPSTAKES CAFES

The City Council will vote again Thursday on whether to impose a temporary ban on new Internet-based sweepstakes cafes in the city. Today’s vote will open the way for next month’s workshop session where council members will discuss how to govern what’s known as “simulated gaming.”

With few state rules to go follow, city officials are crafted an ordinance modeled on rules applied by the City of Jacksonville.

Tampa’s new rules won’t apply to already established businesses, which will be grandfathered in, assistant city attorney Julia Cole has said.

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NO PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE WHOSE NAME FIRST NAME CONTAINS A ‘K’ HAS EVER LOST: XKCD illustrates the problem with predicting election winners based on precedents.

PRAYERS: The family of former Sen. George McGovern says the 90-year-old is “no longer responsive” in hospice care, NBC News reports.

VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Congressman Dennis Ross.

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.