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Decision ’18: Florida governor’s race ends as Andrew Gillum reconcedes

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis will ascend to governorship after just four years in politics

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — The Florida governor’s race has come to an end with Democrat Andrew Gillum’s second concession to Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis.

Gillum — who had conceded on election night but took it back after late-reporting results showed the race tightening — took to Facebook Saturday to offer his congratulations to DeSantis and thank his supporters.

“More than 4 million of you decided that you wanted a different direction for the state of Florida,” he said. “We want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and that you voices will continue to power us.”

DeSantis responded to Gillum’s reconcession on Twitter: “This was a hard-fought campaign. Now it’s time to bring Florida together.”

After a statewide machine recount, Gillum still trailed DeSantis by 32,500 votes, which was more than the margin that would have triggered a hand recount of over-votes and under-votes that is underway in races for U.S. Senate and state agriculture commissioner.

Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis

When DeSantis takes the governor’s chair in January, it will mark the latest step in his swift political rise, becoming the chief executive of the nation’s third-largest state at the age of 40, after just four years in politics.

DeSantis, who has degrees from Harvard and Yale, spent six years as an attorney in the U.S. Navy. In 2012, he was elected to a U.S. House seat representing part of metro Jacksonville.

In 2016, he entered the race for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s seat, which he had given up to run for president. But when Rubio reversed course after losing the Republican presidential nomination to President Donald Trump, DeSantis withdrew and ran for re-election to his House seat.

After Trump became president, DeSantis became one of his strongest defenders on television — a relationship that paid huge dividends when he decided to enter the governor’s race in January,

DeSantis was considered a long shot to defeat the establishment favorite, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Then Trump tweeted an endorsement that catapulted DeSantis to a lead in the polls over Putnam that he never relinquished.

In the primary, the DeSantis campaign aired a TV ad in which he is seen reading Trump’s autobiography to his infant son and showing his daughter how to build a wall out of blocks, an echo of Trump’s call for a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump tweeted out congratulations after Gillum’s concession: “Against all odds, he fought & fought & fought, the result being a historic victory. He never gave up and never will. He will be a great Governor!’

However, Trump — who during the campaign had accused Gillum of being a “thief” — also tweeted out kind words about the Tallahassee mayor: “He will be a strong Democrat warrior long into the future – a force to reckon with!”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum

Gillum, 39, became mayor of Tallahassee in 2014. Like DeSantis, he also won his party’s primary over the establishment favorite, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a victory which instantly made him a national political celebrity.

In his concession, Gillum indicated that he planned to remain in the political arena, although he gave no specifics. He will step down as mayor in January.

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Decision ’18: Time and options running out for Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum in Florida

After machine recounts, Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis maintain leads in races for U.S. Senate, governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After a machine recount of ballots in all 67 Florida counties, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis maintained leads in races for U.S. Senate and governor, with time and options running out for their Democratic rivals, Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum.

In the Senate race, vote totals updated after the conclusion of the machine recount showed Scott with a lead of 12,600 votes over Nelson — a small enough margin that a hand recount of overvotes and undervotes in the race was ordered, with a Sunday deadline.

Ron DeSantis

Andrew Gillum

In the governor’s race, DeSantis’s lead over Gillum was 33,700, not enough to trigger a hand recount. That would seem to leave Gillum with no path to victory before final results are certified on Tuesday, unless he can successfully contest the election’s outcome in court.

However, because totals from three counties that missed a Thursday deadline for the recount — Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough — were not included in the revised totals, Gillum has refused to concede, saying “there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted.”

“We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process,” he said in a statement. “Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally cast vote is counted.”

But DeSantis, who has declared victory, made it clear he is now planning for his transition into the governor’s chair.

“Campaigns of ideas must give way to governing and bringing people together to secure Florida’s future,” he said in a statement. “With the campaign now over, that’s where all of my focus will be.”

Bill Nelson

Rick Scott

In the Senate race, the rival campaigns have filed a flurry of lawsuits since election night, as Scott’s lead over Nelson has steadily decreased.

Most of the contention has centered around Broward County, a Democratic bastion where late tabulation of vote totals has prompted Republican leaders, including Scott and President Donald Trump, to allege fraud.

In Broward, 25,000 fewer votes were cast in the Senate race than in the race for governor, an anomaly that Nelson’s camp hopes might turn the race around.

If those undervotes were the result of a tabulation error, then the hand recount of ballots where no vote for Senate was cast could turn up additional Nelson votes. However, if those results are the result of a flawed ballot design, the race would come to an end.

In Broward, the Senate race was tucked at the bottom of a long column on the ballot, under lengthy voting instructions, where some voters might not have seen it.

Once the recounts are over, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, will certify the votes. At that point, both Scott and Gillum have the option of going to court to contest the election, although that would require evidence of irregularities serious enough to change the outcome.

Scott’s victory in the Senate race would be a pickup for Republicans and mark the first time the GOP has held both of the state’s Senate seats in more than 100 years. DeSantis would succeed Scott in the governor’s chair.

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Decision ’18: Machine recounts ordered in Florida U.S. Senate and governor’s races

Elections officials will send ballots through machines a second time and retabulate before Thursday

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Elections officials in all of Florida’s 67 counties will recount ballots in three razor-close statewide races, amid lawsuits, claims of fraud and partisan protests reminiscent of the 2000 presidential recount battle in the Sunshine State.

On Saturday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner, after unofficial results showed all three races within the 0.5 percent margin that triggers a recount under state law.

The deadline for completing the recount is Thursday.

In the Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott led Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by just 13,200 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million votes cast, a margin of 0.16 percent.

In the governor’s race, Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 33,700 votes, a margin of 0.4 percent.

The third race headed for a recount is the contest for state agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 5,300-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

Scott, DeSantis and Caldwell all led on election night but have seen their margins slip away as additional votes were reported in Broward and Palm Beach counties, both Democratic strongholds.

The slow vote-reporting process in those counties have prompted Republican officials to raise the specter of fraud, although claims of fraud have not yet been substantiated.

Scott sued election supervisors in both counties, saying he would “not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.” Nelson in turn sued Detzner over the process being used to verify signatures on mail-in and provisional ballots.

President Donald Trump has also been stirring the pot, taking time during a visit to France to tweet, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

Meanwhile, Gillum, who conceded to DeSantis on election night, took it back in a Saturday tweet: “I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote.”

After the recounts were ordered, protestors from both camps gathered outside the office of Broward County Supervisor of Election Brenda Snipes, whose handling of the election has come in for criticism. Pro-Republican protestors offered chants of “Lock Her Up,” an apparent reference to Snipes.

Broward begins its recount of more than 700,000 ballots on Sunday morning.

After Detzner ordered the recount, Scott’s campaign called on Nelson “to accept reality and spare the state of the Florida the time, expense and discord of a recount.” State law allows Nelson to call off the recount.

But Nelson was having none of it: “We believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election,” he said in a statement.

In Florida, voters mark ballots with a pen, which are then read by optical scanning equipment. During the recount, all of the ballots cast in the election will be run through tabulating machines a second time, except for ballots where voters did not vote in a race or voted for more than one candidate.

If any of the three races is within 0.25 percent after the machine recount, the overvotes and undervotes will be examined by hand to determine voter intent.

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. After an lengthy court fight that reached both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts, Bush was declared the winner.

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Lawsuits fly as Florida readies to recount three close statewide races

Recounts expected in contests for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Eighteen years after the nation was transfixed by a vote recount in the presidential race in Florida, state officials are bracing for recounts in three statewide races, including contests for U.S. Senate and governor — a process that has already become contentious before it has even begun.

The Senate candidates, Republican Governor Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, have already filed lawsuits over the election process. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has walked back the concession he made on election night to Republican Ron DeSantis, after subsequent returns from Broward and Palm Beach counties narrowed DeSantis and Scott’s leads.

President Donald Trump also weighed in Friday, calling the election process in Broward and Palm Beach counties “a disgrace” and suggesting he might have the federal government intervene.

“All of the sudden, they’re finding votes out of nowhere,” said Trump, a part-time Florida resident who owns an estate in Palm Beach.

By Saturday at noon, county election officials across the Sunshine State must submit unofficial counts from Tuesday’s election. Those counts are expected to trigger recounts in the Senate and governor’s races, as well as the race for agriculture commissioner.

In all three races, the Republican and Democrat candidates are separated by less than a percentage point.

Scott, whose small lead in the Senate race has dwindled since election night, has filed a lawsuit against election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, alleging that they are withholding documentation about the voting process. Scott’s lead has been narrowing because of changes in results in both counties, which tilt heavily Democratic

“It’s been over 48 hours since polls closed, and Broward and Palm Beach County are still finding and counting ballots, and the supervisors Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher cannot seem to say how many ballots still exist and where these ballots came from or where they have been,” Scott said in a Thursday press conference. “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.”

Scott also asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the election supervisors, a move that drew criticism from Democrats. An FDLE spokesperson later said no investigation had been launched because no allegations of voter fraud had been raised.

Nelson filed his own lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner alleging that the signature matching process being used to validate main-in and provision ballots is “standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable” and disproportionately affects young and minority voters who favor Nelson.

Detzner, a Republican, was appointed by former Scott. Snipes and Bucher are elected Democrats.

In Florida, if two candidates are within 0.5 percent of each other, ballots in all 67 counties will be counted again by machine, excluding ballots voided because voters either picked no candidate or more than one. That process will have to be finished by Thursday, November 15.

If a race is within 0.25 percent after Saturday’s county reports, ballots will go through a new machine count, and the overvotes and undervotes will all have to be examined by hand to determine voter intent. That process will have to be finished by Sunday, November 18.

In the Senate race, as of Friday afternoon, Scott holds a 15,000-vote lead over Nelson out of nearly 8.2 million votes, a small enough margin to trigger a hand recount. A hand recount is also expected in the agriculture commissioner race, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 3,000-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

The governor’s race is not as close. Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gilllum by 36,000 votes, but that is still a small enough margin to trigger a machine recount.

Gillum, who conceded the race to DeSantis on election night, could opt not to proceed with a recount. But his campaign issued a statement indicating that he would not stop a recount and now considers his concession to have been premature.

“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” the statement said.

“Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Voters in Florida now mark their ballots with a pen, and they are then optically scanned.

Election Preview: Governor’s races could make history in Florida, Georgia

Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.

Abrams

Gillum

Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.

However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.

Kemp

DeSantis

In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.

The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.

Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be  forecast with certainty heading into election day.

In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.

A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.

And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.

The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.

Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.

Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.

In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.

Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.

Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot governor’s races.

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Florida governor’s debate: Gillum, DeSantis get personal in verbal slugfest

Democrat Gillum offers a new explanation for”Hamilton” tickets provided by undercover FBI agent

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Watch full debate on C-SPAN

DAVIE, Florida (CFP) – On a day when bombs arrived at the doors of political leaders across America, the two candidates vying to be Florida’s next governor made little effort to cool the political temperature, engaging in a personal, verbal slugfest that included allegations of lying, corruption and was capped off by the spelling out of a racial slur on statewide television.

DeSantis, Gillum meet for second debate (Courtesy WPBF)

In their second and final debate at Broward College, Democrat Andrew Gillum was forced to explain how he wound up accepting a pricey Broadway ticket from an undercover FBI agent investigating corruption in a community redevelopment agency in Tallahassee, where he is the mayor.

Republican Ron DeSantis later got into an argument with the debate’s moderator when he tried to ask a question about appearances DeSantis made before a conservative group whose members have expressed anti-Muslim and racist views.

“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis snapped, drawing boos from the crowd. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I’m not going to let the media smear me like they like to do with so many other people.”

At that, Gillum pounced.

“(DeSantis) has spoken at racist conferences. He has accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n-i-g-g-e-r,” Gillum said. “Now I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

DeSantis responded in kind: “I’m not going to sit here and take this nonsense from a guy like Andrew Gillum, who always plays the victim … who’s aligning himself with groups who attack our men and women in law enforcement, attack our military.”

During a previous debate on Sunday, Gillum refused to answer DeSantis’s repeated questions about who paid for his ticket to the hit musical “Hamilton.”

He attended the play in New York in 2016 while traveling with an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer as part of an investigation into alleged kickbacks at Tallahassee’s community redevelopment agency.

Before the second debate, emails released as part of an ethics probe showed that Gillum had been told that the tickets had been arranged by the FBI  agent – a revelation which DeSantis said showed that Gillum had lied during the first debate.

“He wouldn’t accept responsibility from getting a $1,000 ticket from an FBI agent at the last debate. We now know that he lied about that,” DeSantis said. “At some point, you’ve got to demonstrate leadership and accept responsibility for what you’ve done.”

While Gillum’s campaign had previously said that he thought his brother had paid for their tickets, he told the debate audience that he was aware that the agent and a lobbyist friend who was also on the trip had arranged for the tickets.

However, he said his brother repaid the men who arranged the “Hamilton” tickets with tickets to an upcoming Jay-Z/Beyoncé concert.

“I understood that to have solved whatever the issue was with regard to the expenses associated with it,” Gillum said. “I take responsibility for not having asked more questions.”

After insisting that he is not under FBI investigation, Gillum sought to downplay the “Hamilton” issue by saying it was a distraction from the real issues in the campaign.

“In the state of Florida, we got a lot of issues. In fact, we have 99 issues, and ‘Hamilton’ ain’t one of them,” he said.

DeSantis was also asked by the moderator, Todd McDermott of WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach, about how he could maintain that Gillum was unfit to be governor due to the FBI investigation in Tallahassee while remaining a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, who is the subject of investigations with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress.

DeSantis did not answer the question, choosing instead to defend his role in efforts by House Republicans to investigate FBI agents for alleged improprieties in the Russia probe.

As he did in the first debate, DeSantis continued to hammer Gillum on immigration, saying that his unwillingness to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement if he is elected governor would put Floridians at risk to indulge his “hate” of Trump.

“Say you’re convicted of child molestation. You’re here illegally. You’ve served your sentence, state prison. Are you going to hand them over to ICE or not?” he said. “He will not commit to doing that. That means that child molester convicted gets released back on the streets after serving the sentence. And guess what? That child molester will re-offend, and someone’s son or daughter in Florida will end up paying the price.”

At that point, the audience booed, and Gillum replied, “Shame on you.”

At another point in the debate, after DeSantis criticized Gillum for not doing more to bring down Tallahassee’s murder rate, Gillum retorted, “I would suggest the congressmen might want to reconsider whether he wants to be governor. The governor’s mansion is in Tallahassee. I’d hate for you to be hurt.”

The debate in Davie is the last scheduled face-to-face meeting for the candidates before the November 6 vote.

DeSantis, 40, served six years in the U.S. House representing a Jacksonville-area district. Gillum, 39, has been mayor of Tallahassee since 2014.

Recent public polling has put the race within the margin of error, which means neither man has a statistically significant lead. However, the most recent poll has shown some movement toward Gillum in the race.

Democrats have not won a governor’s race in Florida since 1994.

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Oklahoma Runoff: Kevin Stitt beats Mick Cornett for GOP governor’s nomination

Political newcomer comes from behind with call for reform

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt has won the Republican nomination for Oklahoma governor in his first try for political office, defeating veteran politico Mick Cornett, who led the state’s largest city for 14 years.

Gubernatorial nominee Kevin Stitt, R-Oklahoma

Stitt took 55 percent of the vote in the August 28 runoff to 45 percent for Cornett, who had come out on top of the first round of primary voting in June.

But in a state roiled by a teachers’ strike earlier this year that shuttered classrooms, Stitt’s message of reforming state government touched a nerve among voters.

“We can demand that our state government be held accountable and transparent and unify our state for a bold new future,” Still told supporters at a victory party in Jenks. “The answers to our problems (are) not bigger government. It’s smaller government and smarter government.”

Stitt will now face former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmonson in the race to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Mary Fallon.

Stitt, 45, the founder of Gateway Mortgage, was considered a long shot when he entered the race against a field that included Cornett and Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, In addition to his reform message, Stitt was helped by $3 million of his own money that he plowed into the campaign.

In the runoff, he swept Tulsa and most of the rural parts of the state, overcoming Cornett’s lead in metro Oklahoma City.

Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett

Cornett, 59, was the better-known figure in Oklahoma politics, serving 14 years as mayor of Oklahoma City after a career as a television anchor.

Speaking to his supporters in at a watch party in the capital, Cornett said he would have “nothing but positive memories” of the campaign, although he indicated that the defeat was likely his political swan song.

“There’s a really good chance my name will never be on another ballot,” he said. “So you need to understand tonight as I step away from the political scene how much I’ve always loved the opportunity to represent you.”

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.

One plus for Democrats may be Fallon’s weak approval ratings, which tumbled in the wake of the teachers’ strike. A Morning Consult survey released in July found she was the nation’s least popular chief executive, with an approval rating of just 19 percent.

Oklahomans also have a recent tradition of rotating Democrats and Republicans in the governor’s chair. Of the state’s last six chief executives, six have been Democrats and six Republicans.

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