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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.

Florida Governor Rick Scott announces U.S. Senate run

Race between Scott and incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson could be nation’s most expensive

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

ORLANDO (CFP) — Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott has made official what was widely expected — he will challenge Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in November.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Scott’s decision, announced April 9 in Orlando, sets up what is likely to be a hard-fought and hugely expensive battle for Florida’s seat, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.

Calling Washington “dysfunctional” and slamming “career politicians,” Scott called on Floridians to “stop sending talkers to Washington. Let’s send doers to Washington.”

“We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington. We should say we’re going to make change,” Scott said. “We can change Washington. We must change Washington. We will change Washington.”

The emphasis on changing the culture of Washington was a direct slap at Nelson, who has served in the Senate for 18 years after serving 12 years in the U.S. House.

Scott, who kicked off his campaign at a construction company that has expanded during his eight years in Tallahassee, also touted his record as a “jobs” governor, taking credit for creating 1.5 million new jobs and cutting taxes by $10 billion.

“People are flocking to Florida because this is where you can live the dream of this country,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to take that same mission to D.C.”

Scott, 65, a multimillionaire former for-profit hospital executive, was a political newcomer when he was first elected governor in 2010 after pouring more than $70 million of his own money into the race. He was re-elected by a narrow margin in 2014.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

Nelson, 75, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and won re-election easily in 2006 and 2012. He is one of just five Democrats representing Southern states, along with U.S. Senators Doug Jones of Alabama, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Nelson and Machin, who both represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016, are among the top Republican targets in the 2018 election cycle. Trump had been publicly urging Scott to run against Nelson.

In response to Scott’s announcement, Nelson issued a statement saying he has “always run every race like there’s no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent” and adding that Scott “will say or do anything to get elected.”

“I’ve always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself,” he said.

The race in Florida, a state that is closely divided politically and has 10 television markets, is expected to approach or break spending records, particularly because of the personal fortune Scott can bring to bear.

The most expensive Senate race in history was in Pennsylvania in 2016, where more than $160 million was spent by candidates and outside groups.

Democrats will no doubt try to tie Scott to Trump, which could have unpredictable results in what’s shaping up to be a Democratic year. Another wildcard will be the effect of Scott’s support for new restrictions on gun purchases that passed the Florida legislature after 17 people died in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland.

The new restrictions have drawn the ire of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, although supporters of stronger controls on guns faulted the measure passed by Florida lawmakers for not going far enough.

Republicans current have a narrow 51-to-49 seat advantage in the Senate, which means all of the seats up in 2018 could be pivotal in deciding which party is in control.

Among Southern seats, Democrats’ best targets are in Texas, Tennessee and a special election for a vacant seat in Mississippi. For Republicans, Nelson and Manchin are at the top of the target list, with an outside shot at Kaine.

No other Southern states have Senate races this year.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis announces run for Florida governor

DeSantis’s decision follows a favorable Twitter mention from Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Equipped with a favorable mention from President Donald Trump on Twitter, Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has announced that he will run for Florida governor in 2018.

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

DeSantis, who is serving his third term in Congress, made the announcement January 5 on the conservative-friendly confines of the Fox & Friends morning program on the Fox News Channel.

“I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Governor Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education and drain the swamp in Tallahassee, which needs to be drained just like Washington,” DeSantis said.

His decision to enter the race sets up a primary battle with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a former congressman who has the backing of much of Florida’s GOP establishment.

DeSantis, on the other hand, has the imprimatur of Trump, who offered an almost-endorsement of his candidacy December 22 on Twitter: “Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Although Trump did not actually use the e-word, DeSantis is playing up the favorable mention, noting on his website that he has been “endorsed by President Trump.”

DeSantis, 39, a Harvard law graduate and former military prosecutor, was elected in 2012 from Florida’s 6th District, which stretches along the Atlantic coast from the Jacksonville suburbs to Daytona Beach. He is a member of the conservative, anti-establishment House Freedom Caucus.

In 2016, DeSantis ran for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate but abandoned his campaign when Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election after leaving the presidential campaign.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

The major obstacle in DeSantis’s way to becoming governor is Putnam, 43, the one-time boy wonder of Florida politics who was the elected to the legislature at age 22 and to Congress when he was just 26.

Putnam served five terms in the U.S. House, rising to chair the House Republican Conference, the No. 3 position in the House GOP hierarchy. before being elected as agriculture commissioner in 2010.

He was re-elected in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote and has already raised more $15 million for the governor’s race.

Also considering the governor’s race on the Republican side is Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who represents a suburban Tampa district in the legislature and was elected speaker in 2016.

The Democratic primary for governor is shaping up as a battle between former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine.

Graham, who served a single term in Congress before leaving after she was redrawn into a politically unfavorable district, is the daughter of former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham. If elected, Gillum would be Florida’s first African American governor.

Scott, the incumbent Republican, is term-limited and considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson.

Former Florida U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown gets 5 years in prison for corruption

Sentence brings ignoble end to Brown’s 34-year political odyssey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida was sentenced to five years in prison on tax and fraud charges related to a scheme to loot $800,000 from a bogus scholarship charity and spend it on personal expenses.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. D-Florida

Brown, 71, a Democrat who represented metro Jacksonville in Congress for 24 years, was sentenced December 4 by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who called her behavior “brazen” and “born out of entitlement and greed,” according to coverage of the court proceedings by the Florida Times-Union.

Brown, who was ordered to surrender in January to begin serving her sentence, left the courthouse in downtown Jacksonville without comment. Speaking to reporters afterward, her attorney, James Smith, said she would appeal.

“The congresswoman wants to let her supporters know that she’s still strong and resolute, and she appreciates their prayers and their support,” Smith said. “She asks that they not give up hope because she hasn’t given up hope.”

Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, received a four-year sentence; the head of the charity, Carla Wiley, received 21 months.

Prosecutors alleged that Brown used her contacts and clout as a member of Congress to solicit funds for the charity, which claimed to provide scholarships for economically disadvantaged children. At trial, prosecutors produced evidence that the money was then diverted by Brown, Simmons and Wiley for their own personal use.

Brown took the stand to blame the scheme on Simmons and insist she did not know what he had been doing. But in May, she was convicted on 18 of the 22 counts against her, including including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and filing false tax returns.

When she was elected on Congress in 1992 after a decade in the Florida legislature, Brown became the first African-American to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Emphasizing her dedication to constituent service with the phrase “Corrine Delivers,” she would win 11 more times and become a political institution in Jacksonville. She even helped secure the funds to build the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse, the building where she was tried, convicted and sentenced.

However, in 2016, facing corruption charges and a new district radically redrawn by the Florida Supreme Court, she lost the Democratic primary to now U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

 

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