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Candidates for Florida governor pick lieutenant governor running mates

Republican DeSantis selects State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez; Democrat Gillum picks primary rival Chris King

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ORLANDO (CFP) — The major party candidates for Florida governor have announced picks for their running mates for lieutenant governor.

The Republican nominee, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis from Ponte Vedra, has picked State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Cuban-American legislator from Miami. The Democratic nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, picked Chris King, an Orlando businessman who ran against him in the primary.

State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Florida

The selection of Nuñez is noteworthy because of her previous criticism of President Donald Trump, who has been a close ally of DeSantis.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, when she was supporting U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, she called Trump a “con man,” described herself as “never Trump” and accused him of supporting the Ku Klux Klan.

Asked about those critical comments while campaigning with DeSantis in Orlando after the running mate announcement, she said, “We’re here talking about moving forward. Elections are elections. It is what it is.”

“That election is done, and I’m looking forward to this election,” she said.

DeSantis, whose primary victory was fueled by supportive tweets from Trump, described her comments as part of a primary “tussle” in which she was supporting a hometown candidate.

“To support Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, if I were in her shoes I probably would have been supporting Marco as well,” he said.

In a show of Republican unity, the man DeSantis defeated in the primary, State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, was on hand to campaign with the new ticket.

Nuñez, 46, was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, working her way up through the GOP leadership to become speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 position, in 2016.

As a legislator, she worked for passage of a bill that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities, a position contrary to the hard-line stance on illegal immigration embraced by both Trump and DeSantis.

If elected in November, she would become the first Cuban-American woman to serve as lieutenant governor. The current lieutenant governor, Carlos López-Cantera, is also Cuban-American, a community that has long been an important faction in Florida Republican politics.

Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Chris King, D-Florida

On the Democratic side, Gillum picked King, who came in fifth place in the Democratic primary for governor that Gillum narrowly won.

The pairing was announced in a Facebook video in which both men said the personal relationship they developed on the campaign trail led to King’s selection.

“I developed a friendship with Andrew Gillum over 18 months as we were competing,” he said. “I came to care for him. I came to admire him.”

King, 39, is a lawyer and real estate investor whose run for governor was his first foray into the political arena.

In picking King, Gillum passed over the woman he narrowly defeated for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, who had been considered the favorite in the race before Gillum’s surprise victory.

In Florida, the office of lieutenant governor is not independently elected, and candidates for governor pick running mates after the primary.

Though 17 states use the same system, running mates are uncommon in the South, with only Florida and Kentucky selecting lieutenant governors this way.

Florida Primary: DeSantis wins GOP governor’s nod; Gillum is surprise winner among Democrats

Three Democratic U.S. House incumbents survive; Donna Shalala wins race for Miami seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — November’s election for Florida governor will pit a Donald Trump acolyte against a Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat trying to become the first African-American ever elected to lead the Sunshine State.

In the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis easily defeated State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who started the campaign as the front-runner but saw his chances fade after DeSantis got Trump’s endorsement.

But the biggest surprise of the August 28 vote came on the Democratic side, where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came from behind to defeat two self-funding millionaires and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who comes from a prominent Florida political family.

Meanwhile, three Democratic incumbent U.S. House members who faced primary challenges survived, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who easily defeated former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand trying to make a political comeback.

Also, Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, won her primary in a GOP-held district likely to flip in November.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida

In the Republican race for governor, DeSantis, 39, from Palm Coast, beat Putnam by 20 points, carrying all of the state’s large cities.

“I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish here as long as we have the courage to lead,” he told supporters at a victory party in Orlando. “And I pledge to you as governor to work my but off to accomplish great things for this state.”

DeSantis also offered his thanks to Trump “for viewing me as someone who can be a great leader for Florida.”

The result was a significant stumble for Putnam, 44, who spent 10 years in Congress and two terms as agriculture commission with his eye on the governor’s mansion.

Putnam

Speaking to supporters in Lakeland, Putnam said he would do “any and everything we can” to help DeSantis win in November.

“He’s a veteran, he’s a solid conservative, and he will need our help,” Putnam said.

On the Democratic side, Gillum, who was vastly outspent and did not lead in a single public pre-election poll, took 34 percent to 31 percent for Graham. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine came in at 20 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 10 percent.

Florida does not have primary runoffs, so Gillum won the nomination without a runoff.

Combined, Levine and Greene put more than $20 million of their own money into the race, to no avail.

Gillum was outspent by all of his major competitors, although he did get an infusion of cash near the end of the campaign from liberal megadonorrs George Soros and Tom Steyer. He was also endorsed by Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist who ran an insurgent presidential campaign in 2016.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum

“There were just a few people who said that this moment would not be possible,” Gillum told cheering supporters in Tallahassee. “And then there were a few more who believed this day was possible.”

“This thing is not about me. It never has been. It never will be,” he said. “This race is about every single one of you.”

Gillum’s victory upsets the political equation on both sides. Democrats had been hoping for a DeSantis win, seeing him as a weaker candidate against Graham, who had a moderate record during her one term in Congress. Now, both campaigns will have to adapt to a race pitting the most conservative candidate in the race against the most liberal.

Gillum is also the first African American candidate in either party to win a gubernatorial nomination in Florida and would become the state’s first black governor if he beats DeSantis in November.

One cloud on the horizon for Gillum is an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government. He has insisted that he is not implicated in the probe, although photographs have surfaced of the mayor traveling with two FBI agents who were working undercover.

Gillum, like DeSantis, won all of the state’s major cities. The key to his victory was a collapse in Graham’s vote in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where she didn’t break 20 percent.

Graham

Speaking to her supporters in Orlando, Graham pledged her support to Gillum, relating a phone call she had with the primary winner.

“I said, ‘Now Andrew, go out and win this damn thing because this is too important to the state of Florida,” said Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.

In the U.S. Senate race, both Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott easily won their party’s nominations for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.

In U.S. House races, three Democratic incumbents also easily turned back primary challengers.

In the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee took 60 percent of the vote to defeat former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Soto easily dispatched Grayson, 66 percent to 44 percent. Grayson was trying to make a comeback after giving up the seat in 2016 to make an ill-fated bid for the U.S. Senate.

In another Orlando-area district, the 7th, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy crushed Chardo Richardson, an attorney who was running as a “progressive” alternative to Murphy, taking 86 percent of the vote.

Tuesday’s primaries also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House.

In the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, Shalala, a Clinton cabinet secretary and former president of the University of Miami, took the first step in her quest to launch a political career at age 77, winning with 32 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates.

She will face Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV news anchor, who won the GOP race with 41 percent of the vote.

The district, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by nearly 20 points in 2016, making this one of the Democrats best pickup opportunities nationally.

However, the population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. Salazar is a Cuban-American born in Miami; Shalala, of Lebanese descent, was born in Ohio and moved to Miami in 2001.

In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. He will face Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer who easily won his party’s nomination.

Shapiro has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports. However, Buchanan has raised $2.2 million.

In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, the Democratic nominee will be Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She will now take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.

In the 26th District which takes in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, Democrats chose Debbie Murcasel-Powell, a consultant for non-profit groups, to face Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Republicans also picked nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.

In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, Republicans chose Mike Waltz, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. In November, he will face Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Bill Clinton aide who served as deputy U.N. ambassador.

In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, State Rep. Ross Spano won the Republican nomination and will now face Democrat Kristen Carlson, former general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus.

And the 17th District, a rural district south of Orlando, Republicans chose State Senator Craig Steube, while Democrats chose April Freeman, a TV producer and political consultant from Cape Coral.

Southern primary season concludes with contests in Florida, Oklahoma

Wide-open governor’s races top ballot in Florida; Republicans pick governor nominee in Oklahoma

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — The Southern primary season draws to a close Tuesday with competitive races in both parties for Florida’s open governor’s seat and a runoff for Oklahoma Republicans to pick their gubernatorial nominee.

Adam Putnam

Ron DeSantis

The marquee race in Florida is the GOP contest for governor between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who carries the imprimatur of President Donald Trump, and State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was considered the front-runner in the GOP race until DeSantis announced his run in January and got Trump’s endorsement.

The Democratic race for governor features a three-candidate battle between former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from Tallahassee, the daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene.

Florida does not have primary runoffs, so the first-place finisher on Tuesday will get the nomination.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott are expected to easily win their party’s nomination for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.

Also in Florida, three sitting Democratic U.S. House members are trying to survive primary challenges, while Republicans will pick their nominees for three open GOP-leaning seats.

Tuesday’s primaries will also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House, including in the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, where Donna Shalala, President Clinton’s health secretary and former president of the University of Miami, is trying to launch a political career at age 77.

In Oklahoma, the GOP runoff pits former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett against Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt. The winner will face Democratic former Attorney General Drew Edmonson in the fall to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon.

Kevin Stitt

Mick Cornett

Cornett came out on top during the first round of voting in June, although he carried just 29 percent of the vote. However, more recent public polling has shown Stitt, making his first bid for public office, with the lead.

Stitt ran on a platform of reforming the political culture in Oklahoma City, a message that resonated in the wake of a teachers’ strike in April that shuttered classrooms and roiled state politics. His campaign has surged after he poured in more than $3 million of his own money.

Cornett, 59, is a well known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.

While Republicans dominate Oklahoma politics — and Fallon won the last two races by double-digit margins — Democrats will have a viable nominee for governor in Edmundson, 71, who comes from a prominent Oklahoma political family and served as attorney general from 1995 to 2011.

In Florida U.S. House races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is trying to turn back a primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Two years ago, Lawson, from Tallahassee, ousted former U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown after she was indicted on corruption charges. Brown is now trying to return the favor and bring the seat back to Jacksonville, which is the largest population center in the district.

Lawson has criticized Alvin Brown for his past association with Corinne Brown (no relation), who is now serving a federal prison sentence.

In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is being challenged by former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand who held the seat until giving it up in 2016 to make an ill-fated U.S. Senate run.

In an illustration of how much Grayson’s former colleagues don’t relish his attempted comeback, all 10 Democratic House members representing Florida districts have endorsed Soto, along with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Soto, the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to represent the Sunshine State in Congress, will also benefit from a growing number of Puerto Ricans who have settled in Central Florida since the island was hit by economic problems and Hurricane Maria.

In another Orlando-area district, the 7th, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy is facing a primary challenge from Chardo Richardson, an attorney who is running as a “progressive” alternative to Murphy, who flipped the seat from Republican to Democratic hands in 2016.

Florida Democrats are also picking nominees in four Republican-held districts that they hope to flip in November.

In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay area, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. But Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer, has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to the most recent Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports.

Shapiro is facing Jan Schneider, an attorney who holds a Ph.D. in political science, in the Democratic contest.

In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, two Democrats are competing to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.

Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens, who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, is facing Pam Keith, an attorney and U.S. Navy veteran. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has picked sides in this race by supporting Baer, who has raised three times as much money as Keith.

In the 26th District which takes in parts of Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, Democrats are going after Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who has been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.

Two Democratic political newcomers are competing to face Curbelo: Debbie Murcasel-Powell, a consultant for non-profit groups, and Demetrius Grimes, a retired Navy commander. Murcasel-Powell holds a wide fundraising advantage in the primary, having taken in $1.9 million, although Curbelo has raised twice that amount.

The seat in the 27th District, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. This district, where Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 points, is considered to be perhaps the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity nationally.

Five Democrats are running, with Shalala the biggest name on the Democratic side. However, she has been outraised by one of her rivals, State Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, who is the first openly gay man elected to Florida’s legislature. Matt Haggman, a foundation executive and former journalist from Coconut Grove, has also raised more than $1 million for the race.

On the Republican side, leading candidates include Maria Elvira Salazar, a Spanish-language TV news anchor; Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro; and Michael Ohevzion, a businessman and Brazilian immigrant.

The population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. However, none of the leading Democrats are Latino, while all of the leading Republicans are.

Republicans are also picking nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.

In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, three Republicans and three Democrats are running. In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, five Republicans and three Democrats are fighting for nominations.

In the 17th District, a rural district south of Orlando, three Republicans and two Democrats are running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney.

 

 

Poll: Graham, DeSantis both now clearly front-runners in Florida governor primaries

Mason-Dixon poll shows DeSantis up by double digits in GOP contest; Graham leads by 9 points among Democrats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — With a month to go before Florida’s primaries for governor, a new poll shows that Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Ron DeSantis have opened up leads over their party rivals in the chase to be the Sunshine State’s next chief executive.

Governor’s candidate Gwen Graham, D-Florida

The Mason-Dixon poll released July 27 found that Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee and daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, was the choice of 27 percent of Democrats, leading former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at 18 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 12 percent.

Trailing in the crowded Democratic field were Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, at 10 percent, and Chris King, an attorney and real estate investor from Orlando, at 7 percent.

The margin of error in the poll of 500 likely Democratic voters was plus or minus 4.5 percent, which means Graham’s lead over Levin is statistically significant. However, 25 percent of voters said they were still undecided, indicating that the race still remains fluid.

Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, Graham could win the nomination with a plurality in the crowded Democratic field.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida

On the Republican side, DeSantis, a congressman from metro Jacksonville, holds a more substantial lead over State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, 41 percent to 29 percent. However, 28 percent of likely Republicans in the poll said they were still undecided.

The margin of error in the poll of 500 likely Republican voters was also plus or minus 4.5 percent.

Putnam, a veteran of state politics from Polk County who served a decade in Congress before being elected agriculture commissioner in 2010, was considered the front-runner in the GOP race until DeSantis announced his run in January, backed with an endorsement from President Donald Trump.

A previous Mason-Dixon poll in February showed Putnam with a 4-point lead over DeSantis, indicating a shift of 16 points in the past five months.

Mason-Dixon did not pit the Republican and Democratic front-runners in a hypothetical matchup. However, the poll did find that among voters as a whole, Graham was viewed more favorably than DeSantis.

Among voters who recognized Graham, 35 percent had a favorable view of her, compared to just 5 percent who did not. For DeSantis, the figures were 32 percent approval and 21 percent disapproval.

The Florida primaries are August 28.

Incumbent Governor Rick Scott is term limited and running instead for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

Southern congressmen join effort to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Effort to oust official overseeing investigation of 2016 Russian election meddling fizzles after opposition from House leaders

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four Southern U.S. House members are part of a group of 11 Republicans who introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — only to back down after the plan ran into opposition from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

Now, instead, the group will seek to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department does not fully comply with requests for documents about the Russia probe.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina was one of the primary sponsors of the impeachment resolution filed July 25, along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Three other Southern members — Jody Hice of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — signed on as co-sponsors.

However, the impeachment resolution was tabled the next day, after Meadows and Jordan met with House GOP leaders, including Ryan, who had said he did not support Rosenstein’s impeachment and would not bring it forward for a vote.

The congressmen who pushed the impeachment are all members of the Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen of the most conservative House Republicans that emerged in 2015 out of the Tea Party movement.

Members of the caucus have been among President Donald Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress — and among the harshest critics of Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between Russian agents and Trump’s campaign, which the president has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”

The impeachment articles fault Rosenstein for not producing documents subpoenaed by a House committee and for approving a warrant request for surveillance of Carter Page, who was a national security adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina

In a joint statement with Jordan and the other co-sponsors, Meadows said Rosenstein — who has been overseeing the Mueller probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after acknowledging contacts with the Russian ambassador — “has made every effort to obstruct legitimate attempts of Congressional oversight.”

“The stonewalling over this last year has been just as bad or worse than under the Obama administration,” he said. “It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency.”

Meadows represents North Carolina’s 11th District, which takes in the state’s far western panhandle.

Hice, who represents the 10th District in east-central Georgia, decried “a culture of stonewalling and misdirection” that he said has “permeated the highest levels” of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Gaetz, who represents the 1st District that in the western Florida Panhandle, said the request to put Page under surveillance was “likely improper” and that Rosenstein’s actions have “weakened Americans’ faith in the intelligence community and in seeing justice served.”

DesJarlais accused Rosenstein of refusing to produce documents “because they implicate top Department of Justice and FBI officials, including himself.”

“His own role in fraudulent warrants and wiretapping the President’s campaign is a major conflict of interest that renders him unfit to oversee the Special Counsel or DOJ,” said DesJarlias, who represents the 4th District in south-central Tennessee.

Rosenstein and the Justice Department have not commented on the impeachment articles.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana

While Ryan and other GOP leaders were cool to the idea of impeaching Rosenstein, the effort did get support from the  highest-ranking Southerner in the House GOP caucus — Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who told Fox News that “putting impeachment on the table is one more tool” to get the Justice Department to provide documents.

Scalise, who represents the 1st District in suburban New Orleans, is reportedly considering a bid to succeed Ryan as speaker after he retires in January — a contest in which members of the Freedom Caucus will play a key role.

But another Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida — had harsh words for the impeachment effort, taking to Twitter to denounce it as a “reckless publicity stunt.”

“No different from Dems who filed articles of impeachment against the President some months ago. What a sad, pathetic game of ‘how low can you go?'” Curbelo said.

Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, is considered one of the most endangered House Republicans in the 2018 cycle.

Former Florida U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson will try to reclaim his old seat

Grayson is running against his successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, in Democratic primary for metro Orlando seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ORLANDO (CFP) — Liberal firebrand Alan Grayson will try to reclaim his old seat in the U.S. House, setting up a Democratic primary battle with the man who succeeded him in Congress, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, for a seat in metro Orlando.

Former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

“We did a lot of good things for a lot of people, and I don’t see that happening right now,” Grayson said in an interview with WKMG-TV where he announced his intention to run.

With characteristic understatement, Grayson boasted that “I wrote more bills than any other member of Congress, and I got more passed than any other member of Congress.”

He is also faulting Soto for not pushing for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, which House Democratic leaders have been actively discouraging in order to avoid energizing pro-Trump voters.

Soto was elected to the 9th District seat in 2016, after Grayson gave it up to make an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. In that race, Soto defeated Grayson’s wife, Dena, who ran to succeed her husband.

The race to unseat Soto won’t be easy for Grayson. The district, which takes in southwest Orlando city and suburban Osceola County, has a growing Puerto Rican population, an advantage for Soto, who is Florida’s first congressman of Puerto Rican descent.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Florida

Soto has also been endorsed by all 10 of Florida’s other Democratic congressman — a clear sign of just how much Democratic leaders don’t want to see a Grayson redux.

Grayson, 60, a Harvard-educated lawyer who made a personal fortune in the telecom industry, burst onto the national scene after his election to Congress in 2008 with a floor speech in which he said the GOP’s health care plan was for the uninsured “to die quickly.”

He has called Republicans “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals,” likened the Tea Party to the Ku Klux Klan and once compared former Vice President Dick Cheney to a vampire.

In 2009, he had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore.” He is also known to subject reporters to profanity-laden tirades for stories he doesn’t like.

Grayson’s controversial profile cost him his House seat in 2010, a campaign in which he referred to his opponent, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, as “Taliban Dan” in a television ad. But Grayson returned to Congress in 2012, winning in a newly created Orlando-area district.

In addition to his hyperbolic comments, Grayson was also involved in a nasty divorce with his first wife, Lolita, whom he accused of bigamy and tried to have arrested for using a joint credit card to buy groceries.

Lolita Grayson has also accused him of being unfaithful and abusive, charges that dogged him during his senatorial campaign. He has denied any abuse.

Soto, 40, is an attorney who served in the Florida legislature before being elected to Congress. He was one of just three freshmen named to a leadership post in the House Democratic caucus after arriving in Washington.

In April, Soto’s wife, Amanda, was arrested for disorderly intoxication after getting into a fight with her mother at Walt Disney World. The congressman explained at the time that prior to the incident, his wife had stopped taking medication for depression under a doctor’s direction.

The winner of the Soto-Grayson primary will face Republican Wayne Liebnitzky, a businessman and professional engineer from St. Cloud whom Soto defeated in 2016.

Florida’s primary is August 28.

Florida GOP U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross will not run for re-election

Decision opens up another potential Democratic target in the Sunshine State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

LAKELAND, Florida (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross has announced he will not seek a fifth term in November, opening up a congressional seat in Tampa’s eastern suburbs.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida

Ross’s announcement came shortly after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he too was retiring from Congress, amid projections of a Democratic wave that could flip control of the House this year.

“I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career,” Ross said in a statement announcing his retirement. “My home has been and will continue to be in Lakeland, Florida.”

Ross said he would resume his law practice and pursue “opportunities to increase civic education for our youth, and young adults, and with that encourage more engagement and participation of future generations in government.”

Before the announcement, Ross, 58, first elected in the Republican wave of 2010, had been considered a prohibitive favorite to retain the 15th District seat, which includes the eastern suburbs of Tampa and northwestern Polk County, including Lakeland. The district tilts Republican, and Ross won 57 percent in 2016.

With filing for primary elections set to begin on May 4, the question for Democrats will be finding a candidate with enough statute to make the 15h District race competitive. Six Democrats are currently running, but none has any political experience.

While 54 incumbent House members are not running in 2018 — a retirement rate of 12 percent– Ross is just the second House member from Florida to forgo re-election in 2018. The other is Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents a Miami-area district that is considered a likely Democratic pickup.

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