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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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Wasserman Schultz beats back Bernie-allied rival; Corrine Brown out
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio handily won renomination in Florida’s Republican primary and will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate.
Rubio took 72 percent in the August 30 vote, easily defeating businessman Carlos Beruff, who garnered just 18 percent. On the Democratic side, Murphy was the clear winner, taking 60 percent of the vote, compared to just 18 percent for his main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.
The bad news for Grayson continued, as his wife’s attempt to keep his 9th District U.S. House seat in the family sputtered in the Democratic primary.
Meanwhile, in South Florida’s 23rd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz beat back a challenge from Tim Canova, turning aside an effort by angry Bernie Sanders supporters to force her from Congress over accusations that she, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, showed favoritism to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
Wasserman Schultz took 57 percent to 43 percent for Canova, who spent more than $3 million trying to unseat the veteran congresswoman.
However, another veteran Democrat was not as fortunate. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was indicted on corruption charges in July, was defeated in the 5th District primary by Al Lawson, a former state legislator from Tallahassee, in what was likely the last chapter in a 34-year-long political career.
Lawson won 48 percent to 40 percent for Brown.
A redraw of state’s congressional map, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, substantially altered Brown’s district, forcing her to run in a swath of new territory outside of her Jacksonville base. Federal prosecutors have also accused Brown of conspiring with her chief of staff to convert a scholarship fund into a private slush fund used to pay for her political promotion and personal expenses. She has denied the charges.
Rubio initially decided to give up his Senate seat to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. But after his White House aspirations fizzled, he reversed course, prompting the departure of three of the four major candidates then in the race, all but Beruff.
Speaking to supporters in Kissimmee, the senator dismissed Murphy as an “old-fashioned liberal” handpicked for the Senate by Democratic leaders and a dilettante whose wealth family has given him “everything he’s every wanted.”
“If Patrick Murphy wants to be a U.S. Senator, he’s going to have to earn it by beating the son of a bartender and a maid who came to this country in search of a better life,” he said, employing details from his own biography that were a staple of his run for president.
But speaking to his supporters in Palm Beach County, Murphy criticized Rubio for his poor attendance in the Senate while he was running for president.
“Marco Rubio is the worst of Washington because he puts himself first every time,” Murphy said. “He gave up on his job. He gave up on Florida.”
Murphy also pounced on Rubio’s statement on CNN a day before the primary that he would not commit to serving his full Senate term, saying “no one can make that commitment because you don’t know what the future’s going hold in your life personally or politically.”
Murphy retorted: “Guess what, senator. I’ve got two words for you. I can.”
In his battle against Grayson, Murphy — who was a registered Republican until 2012, when he switched parties to run for Congress — had the backing of virtually all of the Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Party leaders were fearful that a victory by the outspoken Grayson — who regularly subjects reporters to profanity-laden tirades and once had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore” — would spell disaster in November.
During the primary campaign, Grayson also faced domestic abuse allegations made by his ex-wife. He denied ever hitting her, but the story prompted two liberal groups — Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — to reverse their endorsements.
In the end, Grayson not only lost to Murphy by more than 40 points but also barely edged out a lesser known candidate, political newcomer Pam Keith, for second place. Keith had snagged a surprise endorsement from one of Florida’s largest newspapers, The Miami Herald.
In addition to helping torpedo Brown in the 5th District, the new map made the 2nd District, which takes in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, more Republican, prompting Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham to retire.
After a nasty campaign with substantial spending by outside groups, Republicans chose Neal Dunn, a Panama City urologist, over Mary Thomas, a state government lawyer from Tallahassee. Dunn took 41 percent to 39 percent for Thomas, who was trying to become the first Indian-American woman ever elected to Congress.
After Grayson gave up his 9th District to run for the Senate, both his wife, Dena Grayson, and one of his top aides, Susannah Randolph, launched campaigns to succeed him. But State Senator Darren Soto beat them both in the Democratic primary, which is tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic Orlando-based district.
Grayson took 36 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent each for Randolph and Dina Grayson.
In the 18th District, which Murphy gave up to run for the Senate, Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan.
The 18th District, which takes in parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is likely to be a genuine toss-up in November.
The 26th District, which takes in the Florida Keys and southwest Miami-Dade County, will feature a rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.
While Curbelo was unopposed in the GOP primary, Garcia eaked out an 800-vote win over Annette Taddeo in the Democratic primary.
Trump hurt by huge gap with minorities, women
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — Buoyed by a whopping 50-point margin among minority voters, Democrat Hillary Clinton has opened up a comfortable lead in the key swing state of Florida, a new poll finds.
But a Monmouth University survey released August 16 found that Clinton’s coattails were not reaching down to the U.S. Senate race, where Republican Marco Rubio held a small lead over both of his possible Democratic opponents.
Clinton was the choice of 48 percent of likely voters in the poll, compared to 39 percent for Republican Donald Trump, 6 percent for Libertarian Gary Johnson and 1 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Clinton’s lead of 9 points was well outside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is very nearly a must-win state for both Clinton and Trump. No candidate has won the White House without carrying the Sunshine State since 1992. No Republican has won without it since 1924.
Key demographic results within the polling data show that Clinton’s lead is largely the result of Trump’s weak support among minorities and women.
Trump was the choice of just 19 percent of black, Latino and Asian voters in the poll; Clinton ran 50 points ahead, at 69 percent.
Clinton also held a 30-point lead among women, a gap twice as large as Trump’s 15-point lead among men. The poll also showed Clinton with a 10-point lead among white women, a group Republican Mitt Romney carried by 17 points in a losing effort in 2012.
Trump’s lead among white voters in the poll was 14 points. By contrast, Romney carried white voters by 24 points in 2014.
Trump also continued to suffer from lingering dissent to his nomination within the GOP. Just 79 percent of Florida Republicans polled said they would support Trump, and he was losing 12 percent of the GOP vote to Clinton.
Clinton did much better among Florida Democrats, getting 94 percent support. Just 4 percent of Democrats in the poll said they would vote for Trump. Clinton also held a 17-point among voters who identify as independents.
In the U.S. Senate race, the poll showed that Rubio–who changed his mind and opted to run for re-election after losing to Trump in the GOP primaries–is outperforming the top of his party’s ticket.
Rubio polled 48 percent to 43 percent for Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is running against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson for his party’s Senate nomination. Rubio’s lead over Grayson was larger, 50 percent to 39 percent.
Grayson and Murphy will square off in an August 30 primary, in which Rubio will also face businessman Carlos Beruff.
Incumbent Republican leads two possible Democratic challengers by double digits
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
GAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — Less than a month after parachuting into Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Marco Rubio has opened up a commanding lead over both of his likely Democratic opponents, according to a new poll.
A Quinniapiac University poll found that Rubio leads Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy by 13 points, 50 percent to 37 percent. He held nearly the same lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, 50 percent to 38 percent. The poll of 1,015 Florida voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The poll found that Rubio’s only remaining major Republican challenger, businessman Carlos Beruff, was tied with Grayson and trailed Murphy by 6 points, illustrating that at this point, Rubio is a far stronger general election candidate.
The poll did not test how Rubio and Beruff stand with GOP voters ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.
For months, Rubio insisted that he would retire from the Senate after his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination proved unsuccessful, But, under pressure from party leaders concerned about losing the seat to a Democrat, Rubio changed course and filed to run for re-election.
In the wake of that decision, three Republicans who had been fighting for the Senate seat — U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera — ended their campaigns, leaving Beruff as Rubio’s only hurdle to the Republican nomination.