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Murder plot? Secret recording roils Florida U.S. House race

District 13 candidate William Braddock reportedly brags about having access to a “hit squad” to make rival Anna Paulina Luna “disappear”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FloridaST. PETERSBURG (CFP) — Florida Republican congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna’s claim that her political rivals were plotting to murder her raised skeptical eyebrows when she made the charge in a court application asking for stalking protection.

“I really think that she’s exhibiting behavior that I would say is concerning,” said one. “This woman is off her rocker,” said another.

luna

Florida GOP congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna

But then, Politico obtained a recording in which a man identified as her political rival, William Braddock, is heard bragging that he has access to a “hit squad” of “Ukrainians and Russians” prepared to make Luna “disappear” if she closes in on the Republican nomination in the 13th U.S. House District in Pinellas County.

“I really don’t want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America,” says the man identified as Braddock in the secretly recorded telephone conversation. “That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done.”

“Luna is a f—ing speed bump in the road,” the man identified as Braddock says. “She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”

When contacted by Politico, Braddock declined to say whether the voice on the recording, made June 9 by conservative activist Erin Olszewski, is him or whether he threatened to kill Luna. But he said, “This is a dirty political tactic that has caused a lot of people a lot of stress and is completely unnecessary.”

Florida’s 13th District seat, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is vacating to run for governor, is perhaps the GOP’s best pick-up opportunity next year in the Sunshine State. It is perhaps not helpful, then, that the two Republican candidates currently in the race — Luna and Braddock — are now involved in a police investigation over a possible murder plot.

A hearing has been scheduled for June 22 on whether to extend the injunction Luna got that bars Braddock from both her speaking events and Conservative Grounds, a coffee shop in Largo frequented by Pinellas conservatives.

After losing to Crist in November in the swing district, Luna, 32, a businesswoman and Air Force veteran, decided to make another run, encouraged by the prospect that Florida’s GOP-led legislature may make the district more Republican during redistricting.

Braddock, 37, a St. Petersburg attorney and former Marine, entered the race last week after Luna’s allegations became public.

Olszewski said that in her phone call with Braddock, he tried to dissuade her from supporting Luna in next year’s GOP primary; she recorded the call and turned it over to St. Petersburg police because she said she was concerned about Braddock’s “unhinged” dislike of Luna.

However, in Florida, secretly recording a phone call without the other person’s knowledge is a felony, and Braddock told Politico that he would seek civil damages and criminal charges against “folks in possession of whatever recording they think they have of myself or someone else.”

In her request for protection, Luna also said that Braddock claimed he was “working together” with two other Pinellas Republicans — Amanda Makki, whom Luna defeated in the 13th District GOP primary in 2020, and Matt Tito, a conservative political commentator who lost a Florida House race last year.

Both Makki and Tito have denied having any role in a plot against Luna (Makki is the person who called Luna’s behavior “concerning”), and Tito has said he’s talked to a lawyer about pursuing a defamation claim.

Tito told the Tampa Bay Times that although he knows Braddock and Makki, he has infrequent contact with both.

“[Luna’s] goal was to embarrass us, it was to get us to keep us out of the race, to intimidate us,” he told the Times.

In the meantime, the four Democratis in the race — State Reps. Ben Diamond and Michele Rayner, Christian Hotchkiss and Eric Lynn continue their campaign, without any mention of political assassination or Russian and Ukrainian hit squads.

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Here he goes again: Charlie Crist leaving Congress to run for Florida governor

Crist makes another run for state’s top office after statewide losses in 2010 and 2014

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — He’s run for 10 times for six different offices over the past three decades and has been, at various times, a Republican, an independent and a Democrat. And now Charlie Crist is giving up his relatively safe seat in Congress to once again seek the state’s top office as a Democrat that he once held as a Republican.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, announces run for governor in St. Petersburg (From WPTV via YouTube)

Crist announced Tuesday that he would forgo re-election to his 13th District U.S. House seat in order to challenge Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022.

“This won’t be an easy fight, but nothing in life worth fighting for is easy,” Crist told supporters at a kickoff rally in his hometown of St. Petersburg. “I’m running so you will be in charge again, so you will have a governor who will work for the people with a steady hand and an open heart.”

Crist opened the campaign with a broadside against DeSantis, whom, he said, “doesn’t listen, who doesn’t care and who doesn’t think about you — unless, of course, you write him a campaign check.”

Watch video of Crist’s campaign kickoff rally at end of story

While Crist is the biggest Democratic name to enter the race so far, he may have to battle to get his party’s nomination. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the only Democrat now holding statewide office in the Sunshine State — is expected to run, and U.S. Rep. Val Demings from Orlando is also seriously considering the race.

Crist’s decision also has implications for the Democrats’ narrow House majority, as he represents a swing House district in Pinellas County that Republicans held for more than 30 years before he flipped it in 2016.

The Republican he beat in 2020 by 6 points, Anna Paulina Luna, has already announced a 2022 run.

Should he become the Democratic nominee, Crist would face a formidable foe in DeSantis, who has been building a national political profile to possibly seek the White House in 2024.  A Democrat hasn’t won the governorship in Florida since 1994.

Crist’s new political quest is the latest chapter in a complicated political career that has seen him seek six different offices over the last 30 years. His new run for governor will be his 11th campaign overall and seventh statewide.

Crist reached the top in Republican politics in 2006, when he was elected governor as a conservative. But then he  then decided to forgo re-election in 2010 to make what turned out to be an ill-considered run for the U.S. Senate. Poised to lose the Republican primary to now U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Crist bolted the GOP to run unsuccessfully as an independent.

By 2014, he had changed parties again to become a Democrat and narrowly lost the governor’s race to Rick Scott, who now holds the state’s other Senate seat.

Crist, 64, revived his political career in 2016 with his successful run for the House as a Democrat, a seat which he is now giving up after just six years to once again seek higher office.

This will be Crist’s third run for governor. He’s also run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate twice, in 1998 and 2010, and was also elected as state education commissioner and attorney general before winning the governorship.

He has gone 3-and-3 in his previous statewide races.

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Florida Primary: U.S. Rep. Ross Spano ousted, as far-right candidate wins GOP nod in Palm Beach

In Pinellas County, conservative TV personality Anna Paulina Luna easily defeats establishment pick in GOP U.S. House primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano has lost his bid for re-election amid a criminal investigation into his 2018 campaign, while Republicans in Palm Beach County have picked far-right provocateur Laura Loomer — banned from social media for her strident anti-Muslim comments — as their U.S. House nominee, drawing praise from President Donald Trump.

Also in Tuesday’s primary, Kat Cammack won the GOP nomination for the seat being given up by her former boss, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, in North-Central Florida, while State Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples appears to have taken a step toward adding a rare African American face to House Republican ranks.

Meanwhile, in Pinellas County, conservative TV personality Anna Paulina Luna defeated the pick of the Republican establishment, Amanda Makki, for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in what may be the GOP’s best chance to flip a Florida seat in 2020.

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

In the 15th District (I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando), with all of the precincts reporting, Spano trailed Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin by less than 1,600 votes.

During the campaign, Franklin hammered Spano over an ongoing federal criminal investigation into illegal loans made to his 2018 campaign. The congressman has admitted his campaign violated campaign finance laws but denies any criminal wrongdoing.

Franklin will now face the Democratic primary winner, Alan Cohn, a former investigative journalist, although Democrats’ hopes of flipping the Republican-learning seat probably dimmed with Spano’s demise.

In the 3rd District (Gainesville and North-Central Florida), where Yoho is retiring, 10 Republicans were competing to fill his seat.

Cammack, former Yoho aide from Gainesville, took 25% to edge out Judson Sapp, a businessman from Green Cove Springs, at 20%.

Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s crowded primary won the nomination with a plurality and will be favored in November in the Republican-leaning district, which is mostly rural but includes the University of Florida.

In the Democratic primary, Adam Christensen, a Gainesville businessman, held a lead of less than 700 votes over Tom Wells, a physicist who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and groups affiliated with Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

Another Republican free-for-all took place in the 19th District (Fort Myers, Naples and Southwest Florida), where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring and nine Republicans were running.

Donalds took 23%, less than 800 votes ahead of the second-place finisher, State House Majority Leader Dane Eagle from Cape Coral. Casey Askar, a Iraqi immigrant businessman from Naples who put $3 million of his own money into the campaign, finished a close third.

The 19th District is heavily Republican, which will make Donalds, who is African American, the prohibitive favorite in November. Currently, there is only one black Republican in the House, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who is not seeking re-election.

In the 13th District (Pinellas County), Luna took 36% to 29% for Makki, a well-connected former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist who had the backing of House Republican leaders and raised $1.2 million for the race.

But Luna, a staunch defender of Trump on TV, excited the Republican grassroots to raise nearly $1 million and surge from behind, with an endorsement from firebrand Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Crist is one of only two Florida Democrats whose seat is expected to be possibly competitive in 2020, although he won re-election by 15 points in 2018.

The other GOP target is U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District (Orlando and its northern suburbs), where Leo Valentin, an Orlando radiologist, held a 700-vote lead over Richard Goble, a mortgage broker from Lake Mary, with all precincts reporting.

In the 21st District (Palm Beach County), Loomer took 42% to beat five other Republicans for the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November after raising more than $1 million, outpacing even the incumbent.

While Loomer appears to have little chance against Frankel in the heavily Democratic district,, she will be yet another fringe nominee for Republican leaders to defend, after victories by adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory in Georgia and Colorado.

Loomer, who describes herself as a “nationalist” but eschews the “alt-right” label, has been banned from a variety of social media sites — and even Uber and PayPal — for anti-Muslim rhetoric, describing herself on Twitter as a #ProudIslamophobe and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

Among her particular targets are the only two Muslim women in Congress, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Loomer has also drawn attention to herself for outlandish publicity stunts, including heckling reporters at the Conservative Political Action conference (which got her banned from the event); asking Chelsea Clinton at a book signing to autograph a book for a woman who alleges that the Clinton’s father, the former president, raped her; and interrupting the assassination scene in a performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Ceasar” in Central Park, shouting “this is violence against Donald Trump.”

She has also spread conspiracy theories, including that Omar had married her brother and that some school shootings were staged and survivors coached to talk to the media.

Despite that questionable pedigree, Loomer’s campaign has drawn support from Gaetz, Trump confidante Roger Stone, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro.

Trump, who had retweeted a fundraising solicitation sent on Loomer’s behalf, praised her win: “Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!”

The president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, which is now his permanent residence, is in the 21st District.

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10 Southern U.S. House Democrats in seats flipped in 2018 all vote to impeach

List of supporters includes 5 Democrats who represent districts Trump carried in 2016

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — All 10 Southern U.S. House Democratic freshmen who flipped seats in 2018 voted in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump Wednesday, including five who represent districts the president carried in 2016.

The impeachment vote is likely to become a pivotal issue next year as these Democrats try to hang on to their seats against Republican challengers, in an election where Trump is at the top of the ballot.

After more than 10 hours of often acrimonious debate, all 50 Southern Democrats in the House voted for both of the articles of impeachment, which charge Trump with abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

Southern Republicans stuck with the president, with all 102 voting no.

The Democrats from districts Trump carried who voted yes were Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina.

All of them had announced prior to the vote that they would support impeachment; McBath had already voted in favor in the House Judiciary Committee.

The two articles of impeachment were also supported by five other Democrats who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018 in districts that Trump did not carry — Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida.

Two other Democrats who hold seats the GOP is targeting in 2020 — Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist from Florida — also voted for impeachment.

The lone Republican in a Southern seat carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, Will Hurd of Texas, who is retiring in 2020, voted no, as did 13 other Southern Republicans who have announced they won’t seek another term next year.

The two articles of impeachment now move to the Senate for a trial, which is expected to begin in January. Trump will be removed from office if two-thirds of the senators vote to convict him on either article.

The final vote on the first article of impeachment was 230 to 197, with just two Democrats — Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota voting no. No Republicans voted yes.

The second article of impeachment passed 229 to 198, with another Democrat — Jared Golden of Maine — joining the GOP in voting no.

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5 Southern U.S. House Democrats from pro-Trump districts support impeachment bill

Vote on bill outlining procedures for impeachment process breaks down along party lines

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democrats who hold seats from districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016 voted with their party Thursday to approve procedures for his possible impeachment, a vote they’ll have to defend as they fight to keep their seats next year.

The Democrats from Trump districts who voted yes included Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina.

Cunningham, Horn and McBath had not previously expressed support for the impeachment inquiry; Spanberger and Luria had.

Five other Democrats who also flipped GOP-held seats in 2018 — Colin Alled and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida — also voted for the resolution. Those districts were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

These 10 seats are at the top of the GOP target list for 2020, with the impeachment vote certain to be an issue in those races.

Two other GOP 2020 targets — Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist from Florida — also voted in favor of the impeachment measure.

The lone Republican in a Southern seat Clinton carried, Will Hurd of Texas, voted no, as did eight other Southern Republicans who have announced they won’t seek another term in 2020.

The overall vote among Southern House members on the bill broke down entirely along party lines. Across the whole House, no Republicans supported the measure, while two Democrats —  Collin Peterson from Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — voted no.

Thursday’s vote was the first formal move by House Democrats to advance the impeachment of Trump over his overture to the president of Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations against his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

Cunningham told the Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston that he was voting for the bill in order to make the investigation into Trump more transparent, as Republicans have been demanding.

“Overall it’s a good measure to shine some light on these hearings and make sure that we respect due process,” Cunningham told the Post and Courier.

Horn, announcing her support for the bill on Twitter, stressed that she was only supporting an investigation, not Trump’s actual impeachment.

“It is a vote to create clear rules for effective public hearings and ensure transparency for the American people,” she said.  “As I’ve said all along, I always look at the facts in front of me and vote in the best interests of Oklahomans.”

Even before the vote, McBath had felt the potential sting of the impeachment fight when unhappy Trump supporters picketed her district office in suburban Atlanta earlier this month. In response, McBath took to Twitter to say she refused “to be intimidated, I will do what is right,” and included a fundraising solicitation in her post.

Three Southern House members did not vote on the impeachment bill — Jody Hice of Georgia, John Rose of Tennessee, Don McEachin of Virginia.

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