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Sunburn for Dec. 29 – ‘Tis the season

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

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

FIRST AND FOREMOST — HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my good friends, Rep. Chris Latvala and Charlie Dudley, managing partner of Floridian Partners and chronicler of high school basketball. Both men share more than a birthday, they are both also dedicated friends with oversized, generous hearts. If only Chris enjoyed Charlie’s love of good red wine…


‘Tis the season — no, not THAT season.

It’s that point in the presidential election cycle when speculation starts swirling that the primaries won’t produce a clear winner and one of the parties’ big nominating conventions will dissolve in chaos.

This time, it’s the Republican side of the race that’s looking particularly unsettled.

After a crazy year in which Donald Trump‘s ability to stay on top in a supersized pack has repeatedly confounded the conventional wisdom, the what-if chatter is wilder and louder than usual.

What if no one gets a majority of delegates in the primaries and caucuses? What if Trump leads the delegate count but party elites want to derail his route to the nomination? What if delegates to the Cleveland convention deadlock on multiple votes and then try to turn to someone completely new, perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan?!?

Ridiculous, says Ryan.

Silly, says Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” says Trump.

Veteran politicos agree such scenarios are unlikely.

The outlook will clarify once people start voting in February, they insist.

But they also acknowledge that the chances of an unsettled outcome are higher than usual in the current unconventional political environment.

Ben Ginsberg, the lawyer who served as counsel to the Mitt Romney and George W. Bush presidential campaigns, says that because this GOP election cycle offers three lanes of candidates instead of two — a “Trump” lane in addition to the traditional “establishment” and “conservative” lanes — “it becomes more likely that no one will have a majority of delegates.”

“The odds are still really small,” Ginsberg continues, then offers this caveat: “I did say on the day before the 2000 election that there would never be another presidential recount.”

This from the man who went on to play a central role in the Florida recount at the heart of the Bush v. Gore battle for the presidency.

The large field of GOP candidates and Trump’s wildcard candidacy aren’t the only factors at play in speculation that the 2016 primaries could end in uncertainty.

The GOP in recent years has been shifting to a more proportional way of allocating delegates from each state than the old winner-take-all approach.

And that means the momentum Romney achieved after winning a couple of big states in 2012 “is just not going to be as likely” this time, says Mark Stephenson, a Republican consultant who handled delegate strategy for Scott Walker’s short-lived presidential campaign and worked on the Romney campaign in 2008.

Even if the field of candidates has been winnowed to three or four after the first four states award 130 delegates in February, the winner in the big Super Tuesday round of voting on March 1 still might come up with just 300-400 delegates of the 600-plus to be awarded that day, says Stephenson. That’s a far cry from the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNDECLARED VOTERS COULD BE A KEY WILD CARD IN THE PRIMARY via Michael Memoli of the Los Angeles Times – Undeclared voters represent a significant wild card here, and campaigns will work overtime to monitor their changing attitudes in the final weeks before the first ballots are cast. “You have to recognize there’s always going to be shifting ground because of the nature of New Hampshire,” said Joel Benenson, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign. “’You have to be vigilant and staying on top of it, and looking for changes and asking as many questions as you can to assess who’s going to vote where.” … Many undeclared voters are not truly independents and vote consistently in one primary or the other, analysts stress. The true swing, independent vote here might be as little as 4% of the final electorate, said Andy Smith, a University of New Hampshire pollster … But in a close primary contest, those voters can make a significant difference. So can undeclared voters who lean toward one party or the other but don’t vote in every election. Both groups add another unpredictable element to a state where more than a third of voters often make up their minds in the final three days before the primary, according to exit polls taken over the years.

SUPER PAC SPENDING SURGES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE OVER IOWA via Brianne Pfannenstiel and Jeffrey C. Kummer of the Des Moines Register – Spending from super PACs and other independent expenditure groups has surged in New Hampshire, surpassing the level of spending in Iowa by nearly $10 million … Through Dec. 12, those groups … have poured $36.4 million into New Hampshire, compared with about $26.6 million into Iowa … At the start of August, just $1.7 million had been spent in New Hampshire and about $3.8 million in Iowa … That shift of money away from Iowa is due almost entirely to organizations supporting six Republican presidential candidates focusing the majority of their efforts — and dollars — on the Granite State.

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JEB BUSH BACKERS ASKED TO WRITE LETTERS TO UNDECIDED NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTERS via Ashley Parker of the New York Times – Right to Rise is asking Bush supporters to revive the lost art of writing letters, in the form of hand-written appeals to undecided voters in New Hampshire. In a preholiday mailer, the group thanked its supporters for their financial support, and asked them to make “a different kind of gift to Jeb by giving a few minutes of your time.” The mailer included stationery and pre-addressed envelopes for five undecided voters in New Hampshire. It urged donors to dash off a quick missive explaining why Bush deserved their vote. “We are asking you to personally reach out and let these voters know why you support Jeb,” said the mailer, which also includes a sample note to send voters.

BUSH DISHES ABOUT DONALD TRUMP AND BARACK OBAMA AT WEST PALM BEACH FORUM CLUB EVENT via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – Bush laid out familiar criticisms … in a speech in West Palm Beach … to about 900 people at the Forum Club. “Our president can’t even call it what it is,” Bush said, a veiled reference to Obama avoiding the term “radical Islamic terrorism” … Obama “brags about containment and then within hours the Paris attacks take place and then the San Bernardino attacks takes place.” In response to a question on immigration, Bush snuck in an attack on some of his GOP rivals … “I haven’t changed my views. Candidates seem to go into the witness protection about this issue” … t could have been a veiled attack on … Rubio, who backed comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 and now calls for a piecemeal approach. Ted Cruz has also changed part of his message on immigration.

BUSH: I’LL DEBATE TRUMP ANYTIME, ANYPLACE via David Sherfinski of The Washington Times – Bush was asked what he would like to say to Trump if he walked into the room. “[I’d] say, Donald, I’ll take you on, one-on-one in a debate — anytime, anyplace … You name it and I’ll do it.” Bush has been a frequent target of Trump, including in a series of Christmas Eve tweets Trump fired out last week. “Poor @JebBush spent $50 million on his campaign, I spent almost nothing. He’s bottom (and gone), I’m top (by a lot). That’s what U.S. needs!” Trump tweeted. “Wow, even lowly Rand Paul has just past @JebBush in the new @CNN Poll. Jeb is at 3%, I’m at 39%. Stop throwing your money down the drain!” Trump also tweeted.

BUSH SUCCUMBS TO SELFIE CRAZE AND OFFERS TIPS ON SELFIE ETIQUETTE via Ashley Parker of the New York Times – Bush … who once promised to run for president joyfully … added a new social media twist to his campaign — Jeb Bush 2.0 will even take selfies joyfully … “The selfie is now the 11th amendment of the Bill of Rights,” he said. “It’s inspired by our framers and founders, apparently. It is a requirement that you take one, and I do it with great joy in my heart.” Bush … spent his early Monday at a restaurant in Hialeah mobbed by eager selfie-takers — before being mobbed by the Miami press corps, who at one point he admonished by saying, “No violence” — wasn’t done just yet. “Look, it wasn’t that long ago that people wanted signatures on things, and now, forget that,” he said, before mimicking modern voters: “I want my damn selfie. I’m not leaving until I get it.”

DONALD TRUMP PLOTS BIG TV AD BLITZ THAT COULD CHANGE CAMPAIGN LANDSCAPE via Howard Kurtz of Fox News  Sources in the Trump camp say they will soon launch a major ad blitz that could cost at least $2 million a week, and possibly several times that. … The initial wave of ads will focus on Trump’s vision and his stance on key issues—no bio spots necessary for the celebrity candidate—but that could change if any GOP rivals target him with negative commercials. “If you attack Trump, he will attack you 10 times as hard,” an adviser says. “We will not allow any attack to go unanswered.”

The Trump camp is working with a Florida-based advertising firm, as widely reported, but also with several other media companies, some of which are well-known in the political community, the sources say.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: MARCO RUBIO SHOULD RESIGN HIS SENATE SEAT via Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed News – “You’ve got a member of the U.S. Senate who is running for president who didn’t even have the courtesy to show up and make a vote on the budget,” said Corey Lewandowski on the John Fredericks Show. “There’s something fundamentally wrong with that. If you don’t want to do your job as a U.S. Senator, then please resign your seat and stop taking taxpayer money for a job you’re not doing anymore … You can be opposed to a lot of things, but at the end of the day, you are being paid by the taxpayers to do a job and that job is to show up in Washington D.C. and represent your constituents to the best of your ability … And I think it’s fair to say an individual who has missed 40% of the votes in the U.S. Senate this year is not doing that. And I understand he wants to be the next president of the United States, but does current performance equate to future performance? Potentially.”

MARCO RUBIO STEPS UP IOWA VISITS WITH BUS TOUR, BUT PLENTY OF GROUND LEFT TO COVER via Josh Haskell of ABC News – [Rubio] visits to the state have increased significantly over the past two months: 23 events and the launching of a two-day, six-stop bus tour … It’s a clear sign that his campaign is committed to doing everything it can to win the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses … “While other candidates have been largely absent from Iowa in December, Marco is spending time meeting voters and doing what we need to do to succeed in February,” Rubio’s director of communication Alex Conant told ABC News, while taking a swipe at Iowa co-front-runner Ted Cruz, who hasn’t been in the state for nearly a month. “Five weeks [until the caucuses] is a long time in presidential politics and Iowa caucus-goers are famous for taking their time. Our soul focus is doing as well as possible and that means spending a lot of time in Iowa over the next few weeks,” Conant added.

— “Iowa voters have given up on ethanol; presidential candidates are following suit” via Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times

BEN CARSON ON THE BRINK: ‘A PROCESS LIKE THIS IS PRETTY BRUTAL’ via Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa of the Washington Post – On attacks, Carson said “it’s not pleasant … But it’s discouraging to know that we’re at that stage in our country where people don’t care so much about the truth. It’s just what’s sensational, what’s the shiny object. It’s all ‘Who’s in the football game? Who’s on ‘Dancing With the Stars’? Who’s yelling the loudest?’ And I’m not sure that’s what we need right now because we’ve got some real big problems in our country.” He his decline in the polls is because a narrative is being pushed that “if you’re soft-spoken and mild-mannered, there is no way you can deal with terrorism, with national security, that you’re not a strong person … We want to be comforted, we want to be comforted quickly, and we go for the bright, shiny object as the solution rather than being a little more cerebral … What I’ve been emphasizing on the road lately is that strength is not defined by the decibels of which you say something or by the gesticulations associated with it, but by the accomplishments of one’s life. What have you faced, and how have you faced those things?”

MEANWHILE … WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT HILLARY CLINTON IN 2015: SHE’S STUBBORN AND TOO COOL FOR BROOKLYN, BUT ALSO KINDA BORING via Annie Karni of POLITICO – 3. She doesn’t need a script: Clinton suffers from an authenticity problem with voters – but an October video of her meeting privately backstage with Black Lives Matter protesters did more to show off ‘the real Hillary’ than any canned appearance on the late night talk show circuit … 4. Bill Clinton jokes are now fair game. The most surprising joke Clinton signed off on before her appearance on “Saturday Night Live” … Clinton plays a down-to-earth bartender named “Val,” who acts as a sounding board for the former secretary of state, played by comedian Kate McKinnon. ‘Sounds like you need a vacation,’ Val tells her. Enter Bubba. ‘Did somebody say vacation?’ Bill Clinton impersonator Darrell Hammond says, bursting into the bar with glee that turns to horror when he spies the two Hillarys gabbing at the bar. ‘Oh my god, they’re multiplying,’ he cries out before running away. … 5. She’s still deeply risk-averse – more a Fallon than a Colbert. … 6. She doesn’t sweat. For real. She can stand over a hot grill flipping steaks in Iowa on a scalding hot day, dressed in a thick, forest green sweater – and won’t sweat a bit. … [S]he has lost weight and often seems more energetic than the 20-something embeds who travel with her – just like 2008. She doesn’t take naps on the plane, much to her staffers’ chagrin, and then she still wants to hang out in the evening. “It seems like the longer the day, the more likely she is to want to have a beer with staff at the end,” said communications director Jennifer Palmieri. … 8. She’s still gaffe prone. Clinton’s strong performances in the three debates has turned her campaign around – and propelled her national dominance. But she can be stubborn, and often sticks with lines of argument that make her aides cringe. … 9. She reverts to a self-destructive crouch when attacked. … 10. Huma can do whatever she wants.

CHELSEA CLINTON TO FUNDRAISE IN ST. PETE via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Clinton will attend a fundraiser for her mother in St. Petersburg on Jan. 29, according to the campaign. The event will be held at the home of Kathy and Joe Saunders and costs $250, or $1,000 to co-host and get a photo.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Ready for New Year’s Eve” via Darren Soto.

ANOTHER EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Will Peter help with Carlos (Guillermo Smith)’s birthday gift?”

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RICK SCOTT’S $1B IN TAX CUTS MET WITH SKEPTICISM via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – Simply put, Scott wants most of $1 billion in tax relief to be recurring or permanent, as in forever. That would take that tax money out of the treasury for good, because future lawmakers could not repeal a tax cut without being accused of raising taxes, and that’s not going to happen. The three big pieces … are a permanent repeal of corporate income taxes on retailers and manufacturers, worth $770 million a year; reducing by 1 percent the sales tax on commercial rents, for a two-year savings of $339 million; and repealing the sales tax on manufacturing equipment at $77 million a year. [Near] the end of a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee … Tom Lee … had some things to say. “We need to be cautious … Frankly, our economy isn’t growing fast enough in this state to sustain the levels of tax cuts that we’ve had an appetite for.”

SCOTT: FLORIDA’S PRIVATE-SECTOR JOB GROWTH TOPS LARGE STATES via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics –   Florida’s private-sector growth rate of 3.6 percent in November was the highest among the country’s 10 most-populous states … marked the ninth consecutive month Florida was tops among large states. The state’s private-sector job growth rate was also higher than the national growth rate of 2.1 percent. “Florida businesses have created more than ONE MILLION jobs in only five years, and just last week we learned Florida’s population surpassed 20 million residents,” Scott said … “As more and more people continue to move to our state, we need to make sure that Florida is first for job creation.” November also marked the eighth month in a row that Florida has created more private jobs over the year than Texas. Scott has called Texas the state’s “biggest competitor.”

REVENUE DEPARTMENT HEAD MARSHALL STRANBURG SAYS HE’S RESIGNING via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Stranburg [is] quitting the post to take a position in Washington … he accepted a position as Deputy Executive Director of the Multistate Tax Commission, an intergovernmental agency that works on uniformity in taxes among states. His last day with DOR will be April 1.

AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY SENDS ‘THANK YOU’ TO SIX LAWMAKERS via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Americans for Prosperity-Florida sent out mailers … in six legislative districts to say thank you to state House and Senate members who sponsored legislation aimed at health care reform and eliminating government overreach. “We believe that Floridians will be better off because of these policies and the efforts of these members,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of AFP-FL. “I hope their constituents will join us in thanking them for fighting for Florida’s taxpayers, families and entrepreneurs” … Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr.Fred CostelloHeather FitzenhagenCary Pigman and Chris Sprowls, and Sen. Greg Evers.

— “New law would force secondhand dealers to return stolen items free” via Kristine Gill of the Naples Daily News

— “Flagler County, Palm Coast at odds over bill to modify ambulance certification process” via Matt Bruce of the Daytona Beach News-Journal

HUNTING, GRAZING, LOGGING AT FLORIDA STATE PARKS? 2016 FIGHT LOOMS via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – Scott’s bottom-line focus on state government is stirring environmentalists across Florida wary of the upcoming legislative session and another wave of efforts to make state parks help pay for themselves … Department of Environmental Protection chief, Jon Steverson, sparked a firestorm of opposition earlier this year by discussing park management plans that could include expanding hunting, grazing and logging activities at some of Florida’s 174 state parks … Steverson said he stands by the approach, and he has a supporter in state Rep. Matt Caldwell … who sponsored legislation in last spring’s session that could have opened parks and other conservation lands to “low-impact agriculture” … “Do I think it would be good if we could make some more money off parks, and make them a little more self-sustaining? Sure,” Caldwell said.  “But we’re not talking about doing this at a park with a lake and picnic tables. Some parks are huge and this kind of activity may be just good land management,” he said … [Adding] the opposition has been “hyperbolic.”

FLORIDA PANTHER HABITAT NEEDED, CONGRESSMAN INSISTS via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News – U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan … doubled down on his call for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate a “critical habitat” for the official animal of the Sunshine State.  “Each year, the Florida panther population continues to shrink in size as more big cats are hit and killed by cars because they lack a safe habitat,” Buchanan said … “Although these panthers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they face extinction because they have no protected area to live and repopulate … We should not stand by and do nothing as yet another endangered species is wiped off the earth … We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

STATE WILDLIFE AGENCY MAY TIGHTEN RULES FOR VENOMOUS REPTILES via the Associated Press – … or possibly banning ownership altogether. “We have had a couple of escapes of venomous reptiles – of cobras – in the last few months,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said … “It does make the news; it gets people nervous. I just want you to know that we’re on that. We’re taking a close look at that issue.” In November, wildlife commission officers captured a 5-foot Asian monocled cobra after it escaped from its owner’s home in the Fort Meyers area. In October, an 8-foot king cobra was found one month after escaping from its home in the Orlando area. In both cases, the owners held a commission-issued permit to keep venomous reptiles.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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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