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Sunburn for Dec. 16 – The Force Awakens, as does Jeb Bush

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray, Jim Rosica, and material from the Associated Press.

WHAT DEBATE? THIS IS WHAT WE CARE ABOUT THE MOST: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (OPENING TONIGHT) IS FUN FAN SERVICE  J.J. Abrams may not elevate the language of “Star Wars,” but he sure is fluent in it. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is no more and no less than the movie that made us love it in the first place. In fact, it’s basically the same thing. Isn’t that what we all wanted anyway?

It’s hard to talk rationally about “Star Wars.” It is a deeply silly thing, with a genuine, undeniable hold on our culture. Chalk it up to nostalgia, collective arrested development or the ineffable. But for many, the magic of “Star Wars” is inseparable from the magic of the movies and, hey, that’s no small thing.

These movies make us lose ourselves in the spectacle. They make us forget our best instincts. They make us love the advertising as much as the art. They make us kids again.

In this way, “The Force Awakens,” the seventh movie in this improbable yet inevitable series, delivers.

It’s a movie made by someone who loves “Star Wars” deeply. Someone who can see more clearly than even its creator what made it so special to so many people. Abrams has taken everything that we adore about that first film, delicately mixed up a few elements, and churned out a reverent homage that’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

From the opening scroll to the sequel-setup ending, he manages to hit each beat of its 38-year-old predecessor.

Abrams has essentially passed the torch on to its new cast by making them amalgamations of the originals. You’ll know it when you see it. Who cares if it’s “Star Wars” Mad-Libs?

There’s the resistance-affiliated droid, who ends up stranded on a desert planet carrying a secret message (BB-8). There’s the nobody with the dead-end job and a Jedi obsession (Daisy Ridley’s Rey), who has a life-changing encounter with said droid. There’s the reckless kid uncertain of his allegiances (John Boyega’s Finn). There’s the cocky pilot (Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron). There’s the powerful, masked villain, too (Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren).

The plot is as unwieldy and MacGuffin-filled as one might expect. It almost serves no purpose to go into the specifics at this point beyond the fact that the galaxy is in disarray, an evil army is growing (as is a resistance), and a series of coincidences help Rey collect a “Wizard of Oz”-worthy posse to help get BB-8 back to its rightful owners.

Loving “Star Wars” without reserve isn’t an easily justifiable thing, and neither is the fun of “The Force Awakens.” They are intrinsically linked. To love the original is to love this one. On its own, “The Force Awakens” probably isn’t much. It’s not likely to convert anyone, either. But for the rest of us — even the most casual of fans — it fits the bill just fine.

PROGRAMMING NOTE — Michelle, Ella, and I will be visiting the happiest place on Earth for some holiday fun. Sunburn will be off Thursday, returning Friday.

Now, on to politics…

DEBATE TAKEAWAYS: TED CRUZ, MARCO RUBIO MIX IT UP, AS DO DONALD TRUMP AND JEB BUSH  Nine Republican presidential candidates took the stage Tuesday night for a debate that focused almost exclusively on foreign policy.

But the gathering of White House hopefuls in Las Vegas shaped up as a pair of mini-match-ups: One debate unfolded between the 44-year-old senators, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. And in a surprise rumble, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush went hard after Donald Trump. … And Trump, by the way, promised anew he’d stick with the GOP. He says he’ll pass on running as a third-party or independent candidate.

Here’s a look at five key takeaways from the last GOP presidential debate of the year.

— CRUZ AND RUBIO RUMBLE —

The back-and-forth between Cruz and Rubio erupted at several points throughout the evening.

First, the duo tangled over the federal government’s bulk collection of phone data via a program that began after the 9/11 attacks and was recently ended by Congress. Cruz defended his vote against the program, saying it gave law enforcement too much unchecked power.

When Rubio responded by calling the program a necessary tool to protect the country, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul jumped in to retort that he is “completely wrong.”

Cruz and Rubio also sparred over how best to combat the Islamic State. Cruz reiterated his position that the U.S. needs to use “overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS.” Rubio dismissed that plan by saying that doing so “is not to lead at all.”

Rubio said terrorists cannot be defeated only by air strikes, arguing a ground force primarily made up of Sunni Arabs is also needed to beat back the Islamic militants.

The two also tussled over immigration, with each accusing the other of changing his tune on the contentious topic. “I understand that Marco wants to raise confusion,” Cruz charged.

— BUSH GOES AFTER TRUMP —

As the two-hour-plus debate opened, Bush said Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. is “not serious” and would make the country less safe. Then came a punch: “Donald is great at one-liners, but he’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.”

The audience “oohed” at the jab, and a visibly agitated Trump responded that Bush was only attacking him “because I’m leading and his campaign has been a total disaster and nobody cares.”

The two candidates later ended up in a tense exchange that wandered far from the foreign policy questions at issue. “If you think this is tough and you’re not being treated fairly, imagine dealing with Putin,” Bush said, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s reaction was to remind Bush of the wide gulf between them in preference polls. “You started off here,” Trump said, gesturing to his place at the center of the stage where the leaders in the polls stand. “You’re moving further and further. Pretty soon you’re going to be off the end.”

Bush leveled one more insult at Trump later in the debate, saying the political novice bones up on foreign policy by watching television.

“Just two months ago he said that Hillary Clinton would be a great negotiator with Iran,” Bush said. “And he gets his foreign policy experience from the shows. That is not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through. That can lead our country to safety and security. “

— OTHERS PASS ON POKING TRUMP —

Despite enticements from the CNN moderators, both Rubio and Cruz pointedly declined to go after Trump — even on his proposed Muslim ban. Both said they understood where he was coming from, but that the policy simply wouldn’t work.

“Everyone understands why Donald has suggested what he has,” Cruz said. He promoted his own legislation as more appropriate and narrowly focused. His bill would suspend for three years welcoming refugees from countries where the Islamic State has a large footprint.

Asked about recent statements they’ve made about each other, Trump and Cruz both played nice. Trump said Cruz has a “wonderful temperament,” reaching over to give him a little pat on the back. And Cruz said it’s up to voters to decide if Trump is capable to serve.

— TRUMP PLEDGES LOVE TO THE GOP —

Trump’s debate performance was like that of his first four — not particularly splashy. However, near the end of the debate, Trump delivered a series of assurances that he’s a Republican. “I’m totally committed to the Republican Party,” he said. “I’m honored to be the front-runner.”

That’s a drastic change from the first debate, when Trump alone raised his hand to show that he wasn’t willing to swear off running as an independent. Even in recent days, Trump has warned that he might do so if he feels the Republican Party isn’t showing him enough respect.

A third-party or independent run from Trump would be a nightmare for the GOP, providing a huge boost to the Democratic nominee in the general election.

— CHRISTIE REACHES FOR THE SPOTLIGHT —

After his relegation to the undercard debate last time out, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sought to make the most of his return trip to the main event stage.

Christie frequently addressed the cameras directly — a different strategy than most of the others. He also repeatedly referenced his time as a federal prosecutor, saying he was the only one who’d dealt with issues related to terrorism.

He said New Jersey was constantly under threat of attack in the years after 9/11 and he had to make decisions about “whether to use actionable intelligence.”

Christie mocked the senators running against him, and the Senate in general, for “endless debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

ANALYSIS: JEB BUSH STRONG IN DEBATE BUT IT MAY NOT MATTER via Steve Peoples of the Associated Press – Bush finally delivered a powerful debate performance. But it may not matter. … Bush called the billionaire businessman “the chaos candidate,” insisted Trump couldn’t “insult his way to the presidency,” and dismissed Trump’s proposal to block all Muslims from entering the country as dangerous and “not serious.” … Yet with little more than six weeks before voting begins, Bush is struggling for relevancy in a presidential election that has begun to leave him behind.

“I think it’s interesting that none of the other candidates saw fit to challenge Mr. Trump,” Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz said after the debate. “From our perspective, we wanted to highlight the difference between the candidates: one who is prepared, one who has a depth of knowledge for the job and one whose erratic behavior and reckless rhetoric raises real questions.” Yet as the crowded 2016 Republican contest continues, Bush increasingly seems like a candidate whose time has passed.

BUSH SCORES TOP DEBATE MOMENT ON FACEBOOK via Hadas Gold of Politico – According to the social media site, which co-hosted the debate along with CNN, Bush telling Trump he “can’t insult your way to the presidency” was the top social moment of the debate on Facebook.

WATCH this clip of Trump lose his cool when Bush did something he didn’t do in previous debates — interrupt him. H/t Henry Jackson of Politico.

INBOX — “They all came at Marco” via Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan

VINE OF THE NIGHT (Watch here) – Fiorina evokes Angela Merkel after Rubio patted her on the back during the debate’s opening.

RAND PAUL NICKS RUBIO ON IMMIGRATION via Kyle Cheney of Politico – Paul swung hard at his Senate colleague … accusing his steadily climbing GOP primary rival of siding with liberals on border security. “He is the one for an open border that is leaving us defenseless,” Paul said. “Marco has more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and to the liberals than he does to conservative policy.”

TWEET, TWEET: @JonFavs: Look, in the White House, we were very appreciative of all the good work Marco Rubio did on that immigration bill

REDSTATE’S WINNERS AND LOSERS (Blog post here): Winners: Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Bush (honorable mention); Losers: Carson, Trump, Christie

DNC REACTION via Debbie Wasserman Schultz: “Tonight’s debate in Las Vegas was a complete disaster for the Republican Party.  It was clear that not a single one of their candidates has what it takes to keep our country safe. From suggestions to shut down the Internet, to calling for punching Russians in the nose, to confusion about how to target ISIL — or even where they are — there were no serious proposals presented tonight. From Donald Trump on down, the Republican Party’s candidates have allowed their dangerous rhetoric to get them in way over their heads on national security.”

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PRE-DEBATE POLLS: Two more polls suggest Cruz and Trump are the candidates to beat in Iowa. A Quinnipiac University poll finds Trump at 28% in the first caucus state, compared to 27% for Cruz, 14% for Rubio, 10% for Carson and 5% for Bush. Meanwhile, Loras College’s latest poll shows Cruz on top with 30%, followed by Trump with 23%, Carson and Rubio with 11% each, and Bush with 6%. Trump also hold a comfortable lead over the GOP field nationally, according to two additional polls. Trump stands at 38% in an ABC News/Washington Post poll, followed by Cruz with 15%, Carson and Rubio with 12% each, and Bush with 5%. And a Monmouth University poll puts Trump even further ahead with 41%, followed by Cruz is next with 14%, Rubio with 10% and Carson with 9%.

PRO FORMA — FLORIDA PRIMARY BALLOT SET: 13 GOP AND 3 DEMOCRATS via The Associated Press – Florida Republican voters will choose between these candidates: Bush, Carson, Christie, Cruz, Graham, Fiorina, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Paul, Rubio, Santorum and Trump. Democratic primary voters will have three Democrats … Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders.

INSIDE THE SECRET MEETING WHERE CONSERVATIVE LEADERS PLEDGED ALLEGIANCE TO TED CRUZ via National Review – [S]everal dozen of the nation’s most prominent conservative leaders,” led by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, met earlier this month in Tysons Corner to vote on an endorsement for a presidential hopeful. “It didn’t take long for the participants to winnow down their list. They eliminated the weaker contenders: Mike HuckabeeRick Santorum and Ben Carson among them. This facilitated the Cruz-Rubio duel many had been anticipating. … [O]n the fifth ballot, several votes swung unexpectedly to Cruz. … Cruz had the supermajority of votes, and the group had its consensus candidate. … A decision was made before the vote that members would roll out their endorsements individually rather than issuing a collective statement.

CAITLIN CONANT JOINS HUSBAND ON MARCO RUBIO’S CAMPAIGN TEAM via Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post – Conant is leaving her role as Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman‘s communications director to head up regional and surrogate communications for team Rubio beginning in 2016 … Conant’s husband, Alex Conant, is Rubio’s communications director. … [The couple] temporarily moved to Iowa to advise now-Sen. Joni Ernst in her successful 2014 campaign. Both also worked on the presidential campaign of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty in 2011.

SHOWTIME STARTING A WEEKLY SERIES ON CAMPAIGN via David Bauder of The Associated Press – it will air a weekly documentary series giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the 2016 presidential campaign. “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth” will premiere the week before the Iowa caucus, which is scheduled for Feb. 1 … making it together with Bloomberg Politics, and it will be hosted by that company’s Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, along with campaign strategist Mark McKinnon. Halperin and Heilemann are the authors of the political books “Game Change” and “Double Down.”

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Terrorists in Kansas” via John Bolton

AL LAWSON ANNOUNCES RUN FOR CONGRESS via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida – Former state senator … Lawson announced … he’ll run for Florida’s newly drawn 5th Congressional District, putting more pressure on Rep. Corrine Brown to seek the seat or else run for a new one based in Orlando … he’ll officially file in January to run for the district, which now stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, where Lawson lives. “North Florida needs a strong, progressive voice in Washington to protect those issues important to our families,” Lawson said … “I fought for our communities while serving in our state Capitol, and I will continue to fight for North Florida’s working families in Congress.”

TWEET, TWEET: @MarcACaputo: If 3 black Democrats (Lawson, Gillum & Brown run for CD5) it makes a bid more attractive for Rep Graham, who’s white

ENDORSEMENT EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “LCV Action Fund Endorses Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for Re-Election”

FIRST IN SUNBURN — LOIS FRANKEL ENDORSES SUSANNAH RANDOLPH IN CD 9 – “I am pleased to endorse Susannah,” Frankel said. “She has a long history of fighting for our working families, seniors and women in Florida. She will be a great friend and ally in Congress.” Frankel has … represented Florida’s 22nd Congressional District since 2012 … the first woman elected to represent the district, after serving 14 years in the Florida state legislature, and before that, eight years as mayor of West Palm Beach. “I am proud and honored to have the support of a woman with such a strong commitment to public service,” Randolph said. “I look forward to working with Congresswoman Frankel to ensure that our working families, women, and seniors have the best shot at success.”

CHARLIE CRIST GOES AFTER MARK BIRCHER IN FUNDRAISING NOTE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Bircher … will hold his first event as a candidate for the 2016 CD 13 race Tuesdaynight in Clearwater … That prompted Crist … to fire off this missive to supporters: “… here’s the deal. Mark Bircher is about as Tea Party as it gets. He wants Medicare, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act repealed. You read that right … That’s unconscionable … How do you want to welcome him to the race? How about a contribution, of any amount, to the right side of history?”

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WRANGLING OVER MINORITY DISTRICTS TOPS SECOND DAY OF SENATE TRIAL via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – The second day of a trial on Senate district boundaries quickly turned … into wrangling over which proposed maps best served minorities in Florida. Baodong Liu, a University of Utah political scientist, was a Senate expert who in testimony before Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds defended the Senate plan which creates two districts with a majority black voting age population. Proposals from a voters’ coalition only carve out one such seat. Liu … said reducing the two majority black districts that currently exist to only one would run afoul of federal courts. “The League’s plan…is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

EMAIL THAT SCARED ME TOO MUCH TO OPEN: “Report: How prepared is Florida for an infectious disease outbreak?”

JEFF ATWATER SAYS RICK SCOTT LIKELY TO GET MOST, BUT NOT ALL, OF HIS TAX-CUT WISH LIST via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun Sentinel – Asked to predict the fate of the governor’s tax cut proposal … Atwater opined that “it’s a good question,” prompting laughter from the audience of 600 at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches … Stalling further, to craft a diplomatic answer about the governor and his party’s leader, Atwater said state legislators would answer by spring, explained the state’s economy needs continued diversification and said “I’m going to get back to the question, I promise.” Ultimately, Atwater said, the proposals for business tax cuts and proposed business incentives would use up all the expected growth. Though the “idea of the governor is right,” he said the Legislature has a long list of requests. Any final tax cut package probably won’t be as large as the governor wants, though it may be “somewhere near.”

ADAM PUTNAM BACKS ANTI-ID THEFT LEGISLATION via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Putnam … got behind two bills (HB 761/SB 912) filed … by House Republican Leader Dana Young … and state Sen. Anitere Flores …  “Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about having their identity stolen as they fuel up” … the “Protection at the Pump” bills would: Require self-service fuel dispensers to use certain security measures, including tamper-evident security tape, to deter placement of skimmers; Increase enforcement authority against those who have or try to sell stolen credit card info; Reclassify the crime of “unlawful conveyance of fuel” to a second-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years.

DON’T EXPECT MAJOR EDUCATION BILLS IN 2016, JOHN LEGG SAYS via Florida Politics – As noted by LobbyTools, testing legislation was one of only a handful of substantive bills that ultimately passed in the 2015 session. And for the upcoming session, set to begin next month, Legg said education does not seem to be gaining any traction. “I am talking to fellow senators, and they are not talking about their priorities in education … They are not advocating for big changes This year.”

HONK NOW IF YOU WANT TO KILL FLORIDA’S COSTLY NO-FAULT CAR INSURANCE via Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post – After more than 40 years, Florida’s no-fault car insurance system would end by 2019 under a bill filed by state Sen. Jeff Brandes …  “The system is broken and rife with fraud and abuse … There is no amount of tweaking that will fix PIP. Florida can do better, and this repeal will force policymakers to address this important issue impacting every driver in our state.” SB 1112 … would repeal the law requiring drivers to buy Personal Injury Protection coverage for injuries regardless of who is at fault in an accident. The system was designed to reduce lawsuits and get claims paid quickly, but it has been plagued by overflowing lawsuits of its own, fraud and high premiums for relatively little coverage despite a series of reform attempts.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: State Rep. Bill Hager, state Sen. Jeff Clemens, Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein, Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) president John Lehman, and Neal McGarry, Executive Director of the Florida Certification Board will hold a joint news conference to announce legislation filed to strengthen consumer protection laws in Florida in regards to treatment centers and sober homes. The event begins 1 p.m. at the Delray Beach City Hall 100 NW. First Ave. in Delray Beach.

FIRST AMENDMENT FOUNDATION, POYNTER INSTITUTE MAY TEAM UP via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – … the two groups are working on an agreement in which Poynter, a nonprofit journalism education organization, “will assume all of the Foundation’s administrative responsibilities.” That will include handling future production of the organization’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual, updated yearly and hosting its website.

SEMINOLE TRIBE POURS MILLIONS INTO STATE POLITICAL DONATIONS via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Over the last three years, the Tribe has given more than $2.7 million to more than 90 politicians, a dozen political committees lawmakers control or the two major parties. That’s more money than the Tribe gave out in the previous 12 years combined and far outpaces political donations by other gambling interests, state campaign finance records show. … The biggest recipient of the Seminole Tribe spending spree has been the Republican Party of Florida, which collected $100,000 in checks from the Tribe in 2015 and $1.1 million in the previous two years. Another $75,000 went to the to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee earlier this year. … The Florida Democratic Party hasn’t been overlooked, collecting $115,000 in 2015 to go along with $590,000 it received over the previous two years.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Rob Fields, One Eighty Consulting: Absolute Software; Informatica Corporation

Lori KillingerMartin Christopher Lyon: Lewis Longman & Walker: Seasons Inc.

Brad Swanson: Florida Transportation Commission

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of our faves, Rep. Holly Raschein.

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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