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Sunburn for March 9 – Budget is on the desk; Marco’s incredible shrinking campaign; Trump Steaks on display

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray, and Jim Rosica

SUPER TUESDAY – ROUND 2: HILLARY CLINTON WINS BY LOSING; DONALD TRUMP SCORES 3 WINS 

Donald Trump is spoiling for the big fight ahead, especially in Florida, now that he’s fresh off victories in the industrial Midwest, the South and Hawaii. Hillary Clinton has pushed over the halfway mark in delegates needed for the Democratic presidential nomination, showing she can win even by losing.

A late-night cliffhanger in Michigan ended in Bernie Sanders‘ favor, giving him bragging rights to a big race Clinton was expected to win. She progressed regardless, thanks to an earlier victory in Mississippi on Tuesday night and a close split of delegates shared with Sanders in Michigan.

Trump took Mississippi, Michigan and Hawaii while yielding to Cruz in Idaho.

Florida and Ohio are coming up next Tuesday, and they are crucial for Republicans.

The Republican contests will be winner-take-all for the first time. Trump is itching to take out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, with whom he’s had a venomous feud, and a Florida victory would accomplish that. He’s bidding for Ohio, too, hoping to dispense with its governor, John Kasich, and turn the wild GOP contest into a head-to-head battle with Ted Cruz.

Trump looks strong in both states. Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina Republicans also vote.

Democrats vote next week in the same five states. In all 691 delegates will be at stake. The Democratic delegates will be allocated in proportion to the vote.

But first, there’s three days left to the 2016 Legislative Session, so let’s close that out…

$82.3 BILLION BUDGET SET FOR FRIDAY VOTE BY LAWMAKERS; BUT SCOTT’S VETO PEN LOOMS via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – An $82.3 billion state budget including a modest boost in school spending, $400 million in tax cuts, plenty of Palm Beach County projects, but little of what Scott wanted …  The 447-page spending plan for the year beginning July 1 was distributed to state lawmakers at 2:53 p.m. That started a constitutionally required 72-hour cooling-off period before a final vote on the budget can take place.

Legislators are on track to end the session on schedule, Friday, with leaders looking to quit well before nightfall. Scott, though, looms large over the budget – with the governor widely expected to veto millions of dollars in lawmakers’ priorities … it’d represent at least some form of payback from the Republican governor to fellow GOP legislative leaders who appear to have stiffed him on his wish list. “There’s going to be things in there the governor doesn’t like and there’s going to be things in there that the governor does like,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. “It’ll be his prerogative if he’s going to veto the different things that he does.” Senate President Andy Gardiner … wasn’t fearing the governor’s reaction. “We’re focused in on finishing Friday … The governor will have his say and the Legislature can decide where we go from here.”

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ALIMONY, CHILD CUSTODY CHANGES HEADED TO GOVERNOR via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post – The bill ends permanent alimony and a host of other traditional payment plans, instead giving judges guidelines and a formula for determining the amount and length of alimony. There also are conditions when modifications can be made to an award. The measure also creates a new legal standard that directs judges to work with the premise that a minor child should spend roughly equal amounts of time with each parent. “When families can’t stay together, this bill gives them what they need,” said Rep. Colleen Burton sponsor of the legislation (CS/SB 668). But opponents derided the measure as harmful to women, especially those who have stayed home and out of the workforce to raise children before being confronted with divorce.

BILL REQUIRES ARREST BEFORE POLICE CAN SEIZE MONEY, PROPERTY via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press – Florida is one step closer to overhauling laws that allow law enforcement agencies to take property, cars and cash from suspected criminals after lawmakers sent Scott a bill that would give more protection to citizens targeted by police. The House unanimously passed the bill that would require an arrest before police can seize assets. It’s designed to prevent abuses under the current law, which allows law enforcement agencies to take money and property based on the mere suspicion of illegal activity. “What we’ve shown is law enforcement groups can work with the property rights groups and the civil libertarians and we can find a compromise that works with everyone,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg. “This is a substantial change. This really moved the needle as far as protections for Floridians.” The bill (SB 1044) also requires law enforcement agencies to file reports each year documenting asset seizures and what they do with money and property taken. There are other protections for citizens, such as requiring law enforcement agencies to pay $1,000 in court fees upon seizing property and put up a $1,500 bond that would go to the property owner if a court decides assets were improperly seized.

CONTROVERSIAL DENTAL BILL HEADS TO GOV’S DESK via Christine Sexton of POLITICO – A controversial bill that eliminates dental care from the list of mandated benefits that HMOs must offer Medicaid patients passed the Florida Legislature and is headed to Scott desk. Backed by Senate President Designate Joe Negron, the bill, HB 819, passed the Legislature with overwhelming support, clearing the House by a 100-15 vote and the Senate by a 35-2 vote. It is supported by MCNA Dental, a Fort Lauderdale-based company, and opposed by the Florida Association of Health Plans, which aggressively lobbied against the measure throughout the regular 60-day legislative session … as the session kicked off, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry illegally lobbied Scott on the bill because Perry never registered as a lobbyist. The legislation would eliminate dental services from the list of health care services managed care plans are required to offer beneficiaries. It also requires the Office of Program Policy and Government Analysis to conduct a report that examines how effective the Medicaid managed care plans have been in improving access, satisfaction, delivery and value in dental services. The report must be submitted by December 2016.

CRACKDOWN ON GAS STATION SKIMMERS GOES TO GOV’S DESK via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald – SB 912 passed the House unanimously … after unanimously clearing the Senate last week. It now goes to Scott‘s desk for his signature. “Skimmers” are devices that steal credit and debit card information. The legislation requires gas pumps to have certain security measures to better thwart criminals’ attempts to install the devices and steal customers’ financial information. It also increases law enforcement’s ability to make arrests and prosecute criminals with harsher potential penalties. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores and House Majority Leader Dana Young with support from state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regularly inspects the state’s nearly 8,000 gas stations and has found more than 190 skimmers since the start of 2015 … This past week, inspectors found one device in Pompano Beach, two in Tampa and one in Orlando, the office said.

EARLY START AGAIN IN 2018? via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The bill (SB 7076) passed the House Tuesday on an 89-28 vote. It moves the start of the 2018 session up to January. In odd-number years, the state constitution requires the Legislature to begin on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. The constitution also allows the Legislature to set the dates in even-numbered years. Lawmakers did that in 2014, when they decided to start the 2016 session in January. Under the current bill, the 2018 session would convene Tuesday, Jan. 9. Lawmakers in support, many of whom have children, have said they wanted to be able to go on spring break with their families. (Skeptics said those legislators really want more time to campaign in what are also election years.) Moreover, Tallahassee hotel and restaurant operators have said the early session has been a mixed bag for business.

LEGISLATURE AGREES TO PAY FOR REBURIALS OF CHILDREN FOUND AT DOZIER via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Families of the more than 50 children found at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys would be eligible for up to $7,500 each to give proper burials for the children and find family members of those yet to be identified. In addition, the state would create a task force to become making a decision on what type of memorial should be erected at the school in Marianna, a small North Florida town just west of Tallahassee. The Florida House voted 114-3 for the bill sponsored by Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Rep. Ed Narain. The same bill passed the Senate last week. The Legislation now goes to Scott for his review.

PAY RAISE FOR ELECTION SUPERVISORS GOING TO GOV, BUT JUST BARELY via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – The [House] vote … was 58-54, with 46 Republicans and eight Democrats opposing the bill. If two more voting members had changed from yes to no, the bill would have died. Supporters called the bill “pay parity” for supervisors, a majority of whom are women and who historically have been underpaid compared to other constitutional officers like sheriffs and court clerks. The bill gives them average raises of about $20,000 a year under a formula tied to county population. Opponents called the bill “politicians feeding politicians,” as Rep. Matt Gaetz argued. Nine lawmakers who voted against the bill are from Tampa Bay. Among those voting no were Republican Reps. Richard Corcoran … Blaise Ingoglia … and Dana Young … House majority leader. One of the seven Democrats who voted no, Rep. Alan Williams … is a candidate for supervisor of elections in Leon County.

— “Shameful shenanigans of the police radio variety” via Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News

EDITORIAL OF THE DAY – RICK SCOTT SHOULD ACCEPT DEFEAT ON BUDGET via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Republicans in the Florida Legislature have produced a budget that even Democrats might vote for. It isn’t great, but it’s far better than what Scott proposed. The governor wanted nearly $800 million in corporate tax cuts for manufacturers and retailers. Those cuts aren’t in the roughly $80 billion budget that has emerged after House-Senate negotiations. The governor also wanted $250 million for Enterprise Florida to recruit and retain businesses. The Senate was willing, but the House wasn’t, so there is no new money for Enterprise Florida. In both cases, the Legislature is right. No credible study shows that the tax cuts would create jobs. Multiple news reports have shown that few of Enterprise Florida’s promised jobs actually happen. Scott also hurt his case by ignoring forecasts by state economists of a smaller budget surplus. The governor and his staff kept insisting there was plenty of money for his priorities. There never was. Scott’s plan could have led to budget deficits in the next two years. Wells Fargo just reported that the stronger dollar and weaker international growth are starting to slow Florida’s economy. Most relevant to the budget debate is Scott’s veto last year of $461 million in what the Legislature calls “member projects” and others call “pork.” Some vetoes made sense. The governor filled his veto message, however, mostly with praise for himself.

LEGISLATURE POISED TO PASS BAN ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT BANS ON STYROFOAM CONTAINERS via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – The measure, added to a broad agriculture department bill, HB 7007, is being pushed by retailers like Publix, which relies on Styrofoam trays for everything from raw meat to repackaged fruits and vegetables. The Florida Senate approved two minor amendments to the House bill …  and the measure is poised for passage in both chambers in the final days of the legislative session. If approved, it would allow seven South Florida cities that have adopted bans before January 2016 to keep them in place but communities — like Coral Gables and Orlando — which adopted bans this year or are in the process of adopting bans would have their measures reversed. The Florida bill requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which does not currently regulate polystyrene containers, to conduct a study about whether regulation of plastic bags and foam trays is needed but, until then, any new regulation would be prohibited … another reason for the legislation was to avoid food borne illnesses since Styrofoam is considered a “very safe product” for sale of meats and bakery items.

SENATE POISED TO VOTE ON ABORTION RESTRICTIONS via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – The bill (HB 1411) would: Prevent state contracts for non-abortion services like STD and cancer screenings from going to clinics that perform elective abortions … Require doctors at abortion clinics to have transfer agreements or admitting privileges at a nearby hospital .. Make clear the definition of “trimester” in state law so that it validates state regulators’ argument in a series of complaints filed last year against Planned Parenthood … if it does pass, it would have to go back to the House — which OK’d it on a 74-44 vote last week — because senators changed the bill. They removed language taken from a bill that would have banned all abortions in Florida. Sen. Kelli Stargel … said she was concerned it could make a court challenge easier.

DECOUPLING MEASURE QUIETLY FILED IN SENATE via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – A bipartisan, last-ditch effort to pass a “decoupling” measure this Legislative Session took the form of an amendment tacked on to a deregulation bill late Tuesday… Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, and Joe Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat – filed the amendment to a Department of Business and Professional Regulation bill (HB 1187), deleting language now in state law requiring dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling such as cardrooms. Pari-mutuels want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline every year. Horse and dog interests say it will kill their industry. Current law says that “for a cardroom license to be renewed the applicant must have requested, as part of its annual pari-mutuel license application, to conduct at least 90 percent of the total number of live performances” that were run the previous year. The amendment removes that language, but leaves untouched a provision that tracks run a minimum of 100 races yearly, Diaz de la Portilla told FloridaPolitics.com.

ROB BRADLEY COMMITS TO CHANGE VENDOR LANGUAGE IN TRANSPARENCY BILL via Christine Jordan Sexton of POLITICO Florida – The Senate on Tuesday tackled a health care transparency bill, including a controversial provision in the bill that would have guaranteed the Health Care Cost Institute receive a contract from the state. [S]ponsor Rob Bradley… said that before the Senate votes on HB 1175 Wednesday, he will have different language regarding a multi-year contract the state Agency for Health Care Administration must ink with a vendor for a price transparency platform. “I hear you loud and clear,” he said after senators pushed him on the issue and pointed out that the vendor language is very specific and only one company, HCCI, meets the requirements laid out in the amendment. “There will be better vendor language that is of greater comfort to this body,” he said.

JAX PENSION TAX BILL IS CLEAR FOR SENATE FLOOR VOTE via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics – The Senate briefly discussed the Discretionary Sales Surtax bill (SB 1652) on “Second Reading” ahead of a vote on this bill, which would allow Jacksonville to impose a pension tax via referendum if the bill passes. The bill, if made law, would allow a referendum in Duval County later this year regarding extending, until 2060, the 1/2 cent Better Jacksonville Plan infrastructure sales tax from its sunset date, which is no later than 2030, to help defray the $2.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In the process, the current defined benefit plan would be closed, and a defined contribution model would extend to all new hires going forward. A 10 percent employee contribution would be required … the Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees would be barred from collective bargaining negotiations of pension benefits, which actually accords with practice in Jacksonville since June 2015’s pension reform.

EVERYONE LOVES EVERYONE TWEETS

— @PGillespie1918: Congrats @cissy_proctor on the Senate confirmation. You’ll do great!

— @AdamPutnam: After Senate passed it last week, the House just passed legislation 2 crack down on card skimmers. Congrats @repdanayoung & @Senator_Flores!

— @DCruzFLC: Congrats to @gregsteube and @gregevers for passing @FLCities priority bill on public-private partnerships!

— @FloridaAlliance#FLLeg passed law to enhance military protections against payday and predatory lenders! Thx @DannyBurgessFL and Sen. Gaetz #StopTheDebtTrap

— @FloridaRetail: FRF applauds passage of SB964! Provides delegation authority for pharms checking PDMP! Thanks @denisegrimsley & @PilonForFlorida!

— @JohnThompsonFL: Thank you Senator @JackLatvala! Congratulations on passage of SB1274!Paving the way and solving problems with free market solutions!

— @LHB131 to empower Floridians to save pets, children and the disabled from hot cars was approved by the Governor today! @repdanayoung gr8 job!

— @nfib_fl: Thx to @mattcaldwell_fl and @JeffreyBrandes for protecting small biz owners private property and passing civil forfeiture reform.

— @PACECenter: Thank you @FLGovScott for approving HB 545 and 241. Florida is a stronger state because of it

— @Shawnfor63: A worthy adversary on many of my bills, and a good friend, Rep John Wood gives his farewell address

— @AdamHasner: Congratulations to my friend @Alan4Florida on his 8 great years of service in @MyFLHouse

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— BACK TO THE 2016 CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

DONALD TRUMP WINS MISS., MICH. HAWAII — Trump’s easy victories in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii left his rivals with shrinking opportunities to slow his momentum in the Republican primaries and little indication that a flurry of intense efforts to undermine his credibility are pushing voters away from the brash billionaire.

Democrat Bernie Sanders surprised front-runner Hillary Clinton in Michigan, a victory that breathed new life into his White House bid and forecast a long Democratic contest. But Clinton, who won Mississippi, padded her delegate lead and is now halfway to the number needed to clinch the nomination. Clinton glossed over her contest with Sanders as she addressed supporters, choosing instead to focus her attention on Republicans and the general election.

Marco Rubio suffered another brutal drubbing, failing to pick up any delegates in Michigan and Mississippi. He faces a sudden-death contest in Florida next week. Similarly, Ohio Gov. John Kasich desperately needs to win his home state Tuesday to stay in the race.

TRUMP DISPLAYS STEAK, WATER, WINE TO DEFEND BUSINESS RECORD via Jill Colvin of the Associated Press – After winning the day’s two biggest prizes in the Republican race for president, Donald Trump was in the mood to celebrate. No, not his wins in Michigan and Mississippi. The front-runner for the GOP nomination wanted to celebrate his skill selling things to eat and drink, among other things, defending business ventures that have increasingly come under attack in ads and in debates.

Before Trump’s arrival at a news conference at his golf course in Jupiter, Florida, club staff set up displays of Trump-branded products on either side of his podium. There were bottles of Trump red, white and rose wine, cases of Trump water and two butcher blocks heaping with stacks of giant, well-marbled “Trump Steaks.” And it wasn’t long after Trump started that he moved past Tuesday night’s election results and began to focus on the foodstuffs on display.

“I brought some things up because, he said, ‘Water company is gone.’ I said, ‘It is?’ I didn’t know that,” Trump said. Trump was referring to a scathing speech delivered last week by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who sought to undermine Trump’s success in this year’s campaign by outlining what he called the billionaire’s business failures.

A VERY BAD NIGHT FOR MARCO RUBIO AND HIS ‘INCREDIBLE SHRINKING CAMPAIGN’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – This is how bad things were for Rubio Tuesday night: As the first results came in from Mississippi, the Florida Republican was trailing Ben Carson. Rubio surpassed the former presidential candidate, but it didn’t change the brutal results: Rubio was swamped by Trump in Mississippi and in Michigan.

Delegate haul: Zero.

“THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING CAMPAIGN,” blared an all-caps tweet from Matt Drudge.

More bad news came after midnight. Rubio was running a distant third in Idaho behind winner Cruz and Trump.

Rubio, who has won only two nominating contests and is already facing growing pressure to withdraw, said it all comes down to his home state. “I believe with all my heart that the winner of the Florida primary next Tuesday will be the nominee of the Republican Party,” he said in Ponte Vedra Beach.

But results like tonight only sow more doubt in the mind of voters and give Trump — the winner of both big Tuesday events — more inevitability.

 ***Florida hospitals are on a mission. A mission to increase access to health care, improve the quality of care and reduce costs for patients. Find out more about the Florida Hospital Association’s “Mission to Care” and its new website that provides hospital prices and quality ratings in a consumer-friendly, searchable format.***

DEBATE NIGHT IN AMERICA (FROM FLORIDA)

Tonight at 9:00 p.m. at Miami Dade Community College’s Kendall campus, Sanders and Clinton will debate for the ninth time this campaign, and the second time in four days.

Univision will broadcast the debate in Spanish, but it will be simulcast in English on CNN. Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos of Univision and Karen Tumulty from the Washington Post will be the moderators.

If it’s anything like Sunday night’s forum in Flint, Michigan, it could get contentious early.

The Clinton campaign spent the 24 hours after that debate complaining that Sanders was sexist in his manner of telling Clinton to stop interrupting him.

More problematic going into last night’s Michigan primary was Clinton’s charge that Sanders had opposed the auto bailout that rescued carmakers General Motors and Chrysler from oblivion during the economic crisis.

Sanders said on Monday in Kalamazoo that, “There was one vote in the United State Senate on whether or not to support the auto bailout and protect jobs in Michigan and around this country. I voted for the auto bailout.”

The debate takes place six days before the Florida Democratic primary, where Clinton is leading Sanders in some polls by as much as thirty percentage points.

This could be the last primary for a while. There are currently none scheduled for the future.

HAPPENING TODAY: The Democratic National Committee opens Its #Democratas Hispanic Summit in Miami before the Univision/WP Democratic Debate. Event will be at the Florida international University Main Concert Hall, Werheim Performing Arts Center, 10910 SW 17th Street in Miami. Schedule begins 7 a.m. with a continental breakfast hosted the Florida Democratic Party, followed by an 8 a.m. fireside chat with campaign surrogates – Julian Castro, representing Hillary Clinton, and Arturo Carmona for Bernie Sanders. At 9:45 a.m., there will be a “Somos Milenios” meeting of Hispanic Millennials, followed by a Hispanic Power Panel at 10:45 a.m., moderated by Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post. A panel on bilinguals in political media will begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by a 12:30 p.m.discussion on Donald Trump and the rise of “ugly and divisive politics.” Closing remarks will be at 1 p.m.

***In Marion County alone, the horse industry’s annual economic impact is $2.62 billion and nearly 20,000 jobs–completely dwarfing any Seminole Compact estimates.  Totally opposed by horsemen, the “partial decoupling” plan now in play would put horsemen on forced welfare with an artificial “set aside purse pool,” wiping out free enterprise and Florida’s ability to compete for horse racing business with other states.  United Florida Horsemen want legislators to know that “Partial Decoupling” is being peddled by casino-only interests, the goal of which is to channel money directly into their corporate bottom lines that would have normally been circulated into Florida’s economy.***

EPILOGUE — SUPER PAC CONSULTANT WHO SPENT $100 MILLION ON JEB BUSH IS UNAPOLOGETIC via Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times – No one can argue that Mike Murphy didn’t try. The political strategist who spent more than $100 million to get Bush the presidential nomination … it was all for naught. Murphy, a Los Angeles-based Republican consultant with dozens of major wins, has accomplished a lot in unexpected places: He got a Hollywood action hero elected governor of California. He got a wealthy Republican businessman elected governor in heavily Democratic Massachusetts. For all those victories, though, he’s known these days for his role in the Bush super PAC, Right to Rise … Murphy has defended himself and Right to Rise, which spent most of the $119 million it raised to boost Bush’s candidacy. He dismissed the criticism, saying it comes from unnamed sources and rivals. “The truth is I don’t care. There’s nothing lower in my book than second-guessing,” he said in an interview. “There are a lot of people in the cheap seats with a lot of opinions. What have they done?”

SUPER PAC THAT BACKED BUSH SAYS IT WILL REFUND $12M to donors via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – Right to Rise, the super PAC political committee supporting Bush is preparing to refund about $12 million in unspent money to donors who gave at least $1,000. “We could not be more proud of Jeb, the campaign he ran, and the hopeful and optimistic message of conservative reform that he communicated throughout this primary for the Republican presidential nomination,” CEO Mike Murphy and Finance Director Mason Fink wrote in a letter to donors received this week. “Because Governor Bush has suspected his campaign, Right to Rise USA is now proceeding with an orderly shutdown or activities. Once we have a comprehensive calculation of our remaining resources (including legal and FEC compliance reserves), we will distribute the contribution refunds to our donors on a pro rate basis.” Out of the nearly $119 million Right to Rise raised, a summary included with the letter says $89.8 million on “voter contact” of all sorts, $5.98 million on fundraising costs, $3.77 million on polling and data analytics, and $1.17 million on research and political direction. Of the TV advertising, Right to Rise says nearly 52 percent went for pro-Bush, nearly 15 percent for “oppose Trump ads,” and 33.4 percent for “other candidate contrast ads,” aka anti-Rubio, anti-Kasich and anti-Christie ads.

GEORGE W. BUSH HAS NO PLANS TO ENDORSE via Daniel Lippman of POLITICO – “While I would never rule anything out, he definitely doesn’t have any plans to make an endorsement,” said an aide to the former president. “He and Mrs. Bush voted early in Texas for Jeb. Now, like a lot of voters, they are watching to see who can unite the party, represent conservative values and serve as president of all the people.”

POLL: TRUMP LEADS GOP RACE NATIONALLY BUT WITH WEAKER HOLD ON THE PARTY via Dan Balz and Scott Clement of The Washington Post –According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll … Trump maintains the support of 34 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, compared with 25 percent for Cruz, 18 percent for Rubio and 13 percent for Kasich. Trump’s margin over Cruz has narrowed from 16 points in January to nine today. As a succession of Republican candidates quit the race, Cruz’s position has ticked up four points since January, Rubio’s has risen by 7 and Kasich’s grew by 11. Trump’s has dipped by three points, within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

NBC NEWS/WSJ POLL: TRUMP AND CRUZ LOCKED IN TIGHT RACE NATIONALLY via Mark Murray of NBC News –Trump and Cruz are locked in a tight Republican race – separated by just three … Trump is the first choice of 30 percent of Republican primary voters – followed by Cruz at 27 percent, Kasich at 22 percent and Rubio at 20 percent. The poll – conducted mostly after last Thursday’s raucous GOP debate and Mitt Romney‘s blistering anti-Trump speech – differs from the weekly national NBC|SurveyMonkey online poll, which showed Trump leading Cruz by 19 points, 39 percent to 20 percent. The NBC|SurveyMonkey poll was conducted Feb. 29-March 6, so half before the debate and Romney’s speech. The new NBC/WSJ poll also shows Trump trailing his rivals in hypothetical one-on-one match-ups. Cruz and Kasich best Trump by an identical 17 points, 57 percent to 40 percent, while Rubio beats Trump by 13 points, 56 percent to 43 percent.

RUBIO: I’M NOT DROPPING OUT BEFORE FLORIDA via Eliza Collins of POLITICO – Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt … the Florida senator was asked about a CNN story that said some of his advisers were encouraging him to drop out to avoid an embarrassing loss in his home state. (The Rubio campaign has fiercely denied the story, while CNN told POLITICO it stands by its reporting.) “So, under no circumstances, regardless of how Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii vote … You are in this race through Florida?” Hewitt asked … “Absolutely, 100 percent. I mean, there’s no doubt about that,” Rubio said. “And beyond that, I would tell you that when it comes to Florida, we feel real good about our operation here and the work we’re putting in, and we’ve really started to focus in basically on Florida.”

SHOT: “Rubio drops to 1% odds in political prediction market” via CNN

CHASER: I shorted him when he was at 38%. Thank you, PredictIt.

MITT ROMNEY RECORDS PHONE MESSAGE FOR RUBIO’S CAMPAIGN via Jonathan Martin of The New York Times – Offering Rubio a much-needed boost, if not an outright endorsement, Romney has recorded get-out-the-vote calls for Rubio’s presidential campaign that are being sent to voters in the four states voting Tuesday. Romney indicates, at the beginning and end of the message that he is calling on behalf of Rubio but only urges voters to cast ballots for “a candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton and who can make us proud” … The explicit point of the message from Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, is less about helping Rubio than it is about sowing doubts regarding Donald Trump. “If we Republicans were to choose Donald Trump as our nominee, I believe that the prospects for a safe and prosperous future would be greatly diminished — and I’m convinced Donald Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton,” Romney says in the call.

RUBIO AD SAYS HIS PARENTS ‘FLED DICTATORSHIP’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – A new super PAC ad for Rubio blurs the lines about his parents’ reason for leaving Cuba, suggesting they “fled dictatorship.” Rubio’s parents are not exiles in the classic Cuban Miami sense; They left Cuba in 1956 for standard economic reasons. Fidel Castro took over in 1959. Batista was dictator but that’s not what triggered Mario and Oriales to leave.

— “Marco races to preserve Miami edge” via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

— “Rubio assails Donald Trump in Sarasota visit via Sarasota Herald-Tribune

— “Rubio to visit Pensacola on Saturday via Tom McLaughlin of the Panama City News Herald

— “Darrell Issa to attend opening of Rubio’s Fort Myers campaign office” via Jenna-Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

MARCO RUBIO’S CAMPAIGN ECHOES 07 TAX REVOLT: A BIG PLAN WITH LITTLE PAYOFF via Michael Barbaro of The New York Times – In many ways, the episode, in 2007, foreshadowed Rubio‘s faltering campaign for the White House. Today, those who counted on Rubio to emerge as the Republican standard-bearer and usher the party into a new era talk about the same shortcomings that doomed his sweeping [rewrite of the Florida tax code]: an overconfidence in the power of his charisma; an emphasis on inspiring messages, rather than nuts-and-bolts tactics; and a lack of finesse at crucial moments.

— “Rubio: The Republican John Edwards?” via Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post

— “Rubio needs to get out now because #NeverTrump is becoming #TrumpGuaranteed” via Erick Erickson of the Resurgent

EDITORIAL: MARCO RUBIO NOT READY TO BE PRESIDENT via the Tampa Bay Times – Throughout his political career, Rubio has focused on promoting himself and preparing for his next move rather than providing leadership to effectively address the challenges of the moment. Relying on a charming personality and a smooth speaking style, he has been more talk than action, more gimmick than substance, more opportunist than committed public servant. The result is a thin resume, a reputation for failing to pay attention to detail and a tendency to bend when the political winds shift. Let’s remember that as the second-youngest speaker of the Florida House, Rubio’s big gimmick was a blank book that he filled with 100 ideas that ranged from education reforms to promoting alternative energy. Yet during his speakership between 2006 and 2008, less than a quarter of those ideas became law. He gave up on his boldest idea, a regressive proposal to eliminate property taxes on primary homes in exchange for a gradual 2.5-cent sales tax increase, when the Senate wisely refused to go along. Even Rubio’s argument that Florida Republicans should vote for him Tuesday as the best way to stop Trump rings hollow. Cruz has more convention delegates than Rubio. Kasich has broader appeal and a better shot of winning his home state. A vote for Rubio may be a protest vote — but it won’t be a vote for someone who is prepared to be president.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

DEATH THREATS, VITRIOL ALL IN A DAY’S WORK TO BLOCK DONALD TRUMP’S PATH TO NOMINATION via Susan Page of USA TODAY – Katie Packer, organizer of the group Our Principles, now airing millions of dollars in TV ads in Florida and elsewhere targeting the real-estate mogul … calls the flood of emails and tweets threatening to kill her, her family and her dog “the most hateful vitriol that I’ve ever encountered in 25 years in politics,” worse than the anti-Mormon messages she received when she was deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012.

TRUMP UNIVERSITY PLAINTIFF SEEKS TO WITHDRAW FROM LAWSUIT via Elliot Spagat of the Associated Press – Tarla Makaeff has had enough of Donald Trump after spending six years fighting him in court. The Southern California yoga instructor wants to withdraw from a federal class-action lawsuit that says Trump University fleeced students with an empty promise to teach them real estate. Her lawyers said the Republican presidential front-runner and his team have put her “through the wringer” and made the prospect of a trial unbearable. A judge will consider the request Friday, four days before Florida and Ohio hold their primaries. Trump’s attorneys say the lawsuit should be dismissed if Makaeff is allowed to withdraw, arguing that their trial strategy centers on her. They deposed her four times and identify her as “the critical witness” in a court filing. Makaeff’s attorneys say Trump’s argument that their client is indispensable to the billionaire’s defense “is illogical to the point of being nearly incomprehensible.” They note the judge allowed two plaintiffs to withdraw last year; three others would remain.

FROM BANE TO THE JOKER, THE BATMAN VILLAINS THAT BEST EXPLAIN DONALD TRUMP via Sonny Bunch of The Washington Post – Bane (Tom Hardy), the masked villain from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), hews much closer to Trump’s ideology. It’s not just that Bane is the vanguard of a movement designed specifically to destroy the establishment of America’s greatest city — taking out politicians and business leaders alike as he does so. It’s that he’s also a rather naked populist … Trump’s not quite Bane. It often feels more like he’s an agent of chaos — a wild card added to the mix that makes us reconsider everything we thought we knew about the established order. Perhaps Trump is more like Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight” (2008). “You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you,” the Joker taunts Batman … “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.” And Trump has done his best to create a political world without rules, one in which debates revolve around the size of his hands (and his manhood), one in which protesters at rallies are shoved and kicked and stripped of their jackets before being sent into the cold night, one in which consistency and principles and purity tests are thrown out the window because one charismatic individual utterly lacking a core philosophy upsets the natural order. Still, Ledger’s Joker was never really able to gather the support of the people. Enter Jack Nicholson’s Joker, the heavy in Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) … A promise of something for nothing. A childish insult. And a crowd eating it all up. Sounds familiar. Of course that scene ends with the crowd being gassed. Let’s just hope the Donald doesn’t gain access to a cache of Smilex before the convention in Cleveland.

THOSE SALUTES AT THE DONALD TRUMP RALLY WERE NOT WHAT YOU THINK via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – You’ve seen the memes and the shocked reports (from journalists whom I suspect were not there) suggesting this all was reminiscent of Nazis thrusting “Heil Hitler!’ salutes. I saw one media report in which someone asked a holocaust survivor for her reaction to what Trump had done. It was nothing like that. I was there Saturday. And other reporters who were there, whom I spoke with since then, agree. One said it reminded him of people raising their hands in worship in his church. The audience response on Saturday was a far more innocent campaign speech moment in which Trump made the argument that people needed to actually vote, and then asked the crowd to raise their hands and promise to get out and vote, and to vote for him.

— “David Duke impostor files federal case in Tampa seeking to bar Trump from Florida primary” via Patty Ryan of the Tampa Bay Times

***SUNBURN is brought to you in part by Bascom Communications & Consulting, LLC, a top-notch public affairs, political communications and public relations firm. Visit www.bascomllc.com to read about their growing team, success stories and case studies.***

LATEST FLORIDA VOTER FIGURES – As of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, 1,240,857 Floridians have cast either vote-by-mail or early in-person ballots: 658,095 Republicans, 532,606 Democrats and 50,156 other. There were 932,047 total mail ballots returned so far (495,001 Republican, 399,793 Democrats and 37,253 other). With early in-person voting, 308,810 ballots have been cast (163,094 Republicans, 132,813 Democrats and 12,903 other). Early voting turnout is now at 14.7 percent of all Republican registered voters in Florida (4,466,963); for Democrats the turnout is at 10.7 percent of the total number of registered voters (4,999,538).

TED CRUZ IS COMING TO MIAMI via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – The Republican presidential candidate will hold his first Miami campaign rally … at Miami Dade College. That’s a day before the GOP debate at the University of Miami — and a mere hours before Rubio‘s rally in Hialeah. Cruz had said he would “vigorously” contest Florida, even though he has yet to advertise in the state’s 10 media markets ahead of next Tuesday’s primary. His campaign opened 10 offices across Florida last week but they appeared thinly staffed early on. The Texas senator has held a single public event in Florida, in Orlando last November. An online invitation says Cruz’s rally will begin at 10 a.m. at Miami Dade College’s Chapman Conference Center in downtown Miami.

KATHY CASTOR BASHES TED CRUZ, MARCO RUBIO FOR OPPOSING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – In 2013, Cruz and Rubio were among the 22 U.S. senators who voted against a reauthorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which included protections for the LGBT community, and for Native American and immigrant populations. “There’s been a lot of debate in this presidential election, but people are not aware of this issue, and they should be,” Tampa Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said in a conference call set up by the Democratic National Committee. “They were in the minority,” she said. “They stalled this bill for a long time. They stood in the way of getting it done. It’s languished for entirely too long and they left those families in the lurch.”

CHELSEA CLINTON TO CAMPAIGN FOR HILLARY CLINTON IN FIVE FLORIDA CITIES via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – On Friday she will be on a whirlwind tour, starting in Tallahassee, moving to Sarasota and St. Petersburg, and ending in Orlando. She starts Friday with an 8 a.m. appearance at the Tallahassee Woman’s Club called “Tallahassee Women for Hillary Coffee and Conversation,” followed by a 9:45 appearance billed as the “Tallahassee African-American for Hillary Event,” at Earley’s Kitchen. From there she will go to Sarasota for a get-out-the-vote event at The Francis, at 11 a.m. At 2:15 p.m. she’s slated for another get-out-the-vote event at (Swah-Rey) in St. Petersburg. She wraps up at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista resort for a 4:45 appearance at the NEA Education Support Professionals Conference.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: “Jon ‘Bowzer’ Bauman stumps for Hillary Clinton in Florida”

WITH A WEEK TO GO BEFORE FLORIDA PRIMARY, BERNIE SANDERS SHOWS UP TO CAMPAIGN via Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times – Even with three campaign events this week and a debate … in Miami — his first trip to Florida as a presidential candidate — there have been few signs of the Vermont senator on the state’s campaign trail. Political analysts say that’s no accident. “To say it’s a pipe dream would imply he actually thinks he has a shot,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett. “I suspect he realizes he doesn’t have a shot in Florida, but to be taken seriously as a candidate, you have to basically compete in the biggest battleground state.” As of Tuesday, Sanders was 26 points behind Clinton in Florida, with just 32 percent of Democrats’ support, according to a RealClearPolitics.com average of state polling data.

***Step back from the hustle and bustle of the work week and come by The Edison on your lunch break. Dishes from our newly-reinvented lunch menu, like the beer-battered fish sandwich, make for a delicious and quick mid-day escape. Plus, we make it even easier to get in and out in a flash with our free valet service. Rejuvinate your lunch break today.***

CARLOS LOPEZ CANTERA UNVEILS FINANCE TEAM FOR SENATE BID via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News –… Including fellow former state House Majority Leaders Adam Hasner and Seth McKeel. Statewide chairs: Norman BramanNick IarossiFred KarlinskyBernie NavarroTrey Traviesa and Dr. Peter A. Wish.

ALEX BARRIO FILES TO RUN IN ORLANDO-BASED HD 48 via Florida Politics – Longtime Democratic staffer and union organizer Barrio will run for the House seat currently held by Rep. Victor Torres, who is running for Senate District 15. The move sets up a primary between Barrio and Torres’ daughter Amy Mercado, who is seeking to succeed Torres in the heavily Democratic HD 48 seat. Barrio [said] his experience as a district aide to Sen. Darren Soto and later an analyst for the Senate Democratic caucus – drafting bills and amendments on behalf of former Leader Sen. Chris Smith and other minority party senators – gives him an advantage over his opponent.

HD 59 ASPIRANT RENE FRAZIER SAYS SHE CAN BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER IF ELECTED TO SERVE IN TALLAHASSEE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics – Frazier says she’s running to become a member of the Florida Legislature because she’s tired of Tallahassee failing to address important issues. At the top of her list is the refusal to expand Medicaid. “We’ve had 800,00 Floridians without health care – 40,000 of them who are vets,” she says. “Several sessions ago, the Legislature refused to expand Medicaid, walked off without passing a budget that cost the taxpayers $1.5 million, and I think people are getting fed up with that.” Frazier is a Brandon-based real estate attorney and one of two Democrats vying for the House 59 seat that has been represented by Republican Ross Spano since 2012.

***Capital City Consulting, LLC is a full-service government and public affairs firm located in Tallahassee, Florida. At Capital City Consulting, our team of professionals specialize in developing unique government relations and public affairs strategies and delivering unrivaled results for our clients before the Florida Legislature and Executive Branch Agencies. Capital City Consulting has the experience, contacts and winning strategies to help our clients stand out in the capital city. Learn more at www.capcityconsult.com.***

GOVERNORS CLUB WEDNESDAY BUFFET MENU – For the final Wednesday of Session, it’s Italian Day at the Governors Club, with a buffet spread that includes Creamy Roasted Chicken & Gnocchi soup; Antipasti Flatbread Sandwich Board: Montebello, Prosciutto Ham, Capicola, Salami, Provolone, Roasted Peppers, Olives, Pesto Artichokes & Crackers; Caprese & Italian Salad Bar; Sliced Beef Sirloin with a Gorgonzola Rosemary Demi; Naples Stuffed; Shrimp Carbonara with Bucatini Pasta; Fried Calamari; Italian Vegetables; and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, finishing with a selection of Assorted Mini Desserts. As they say in Italian: “buona mangiata!”

IF YOU NEED MORE SCHORSCH — “Peter Schorsch shares his perspective on legislative winners and losers, who will win the Florida Presidential Preference Primary, and election year politicking on the latest edition of The Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line. Click here to hear Schorsch discuss elections, the presidential race and his thoughts on the least week of Florida’s 2016 Legislative Session.”

MOORE COMMUNICATIONS GROUP RECOGNIZED FOR PROMOTING EMPLOYEE WELL-BEING via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat – The communications firm received the 2016 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award on Feb. 27 in Washington D.C. by the American Psychological Association. Moore Communications was among six recipients to receive the award. The firm was recognized for its in-house wellness coordinator, career mentoring, parent leave and staff recognitions. “Our priority has always been to foster a healthy and productive environment where employees are able to do their best work and succeed in their career at Moore Communications Group,” Karen Moore, founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Happy and healthy employees do great work, and we all reap the benefits.”

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: City of Flagler Beach

Dean Cannon, Capitol Insight: Weyerhaeuser Company and Its Affiliates

Steven Geller, Greenspoon Marder: American Ambulance; Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters; Fort Lauderdale Fraternal Order Police, Lodge 31; Las Olas Recovery

Cynthia Henderson, Cynergy Consulting: General Dynamics Information Technology

Paul Lowell, Foley & Lardner: Ride2MD

Tamela Ivey Perdue: Associated Industries of Florida

Alan Suskey, Suskey Consulting: Florida Association of Insurance Agents

Leigh Tuner: Indivior

Stephen Wise, Stephen Wise Consulting: Beaver Street Enterprise Center

***LECRAE – LECRAE is heading back to school in 2016. The two-time Grammy® Award-winning hip-hop artist, known for his music message frequently at odds with his hip-hop peers, has fans buzzing with excitement at the announcement that he’ll be hitting the road in February 2016 for his HIGHER LEARNING TOUR including a Friday, April 8 show at Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. Joining Lecrae in Tallahassee will be DJ Promote and Swoope. Tickets are on sale now at TuckerCivicCenter.com!***

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Bush loyalist Kristy Campbell and The Rubin Group’s Melissa Akeson.

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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