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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
ST. 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.
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.
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: GOP U.S. Rep. Ross Spano fights for seat, as bevy of Republicans scramble in open districts
Far-right provocateur Laura Loomer may create another headache for GOP leaders with win in Palm Beach County U.S. House district
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Voters across the Sunshine State head to the polls Tuesday for in-person voting in a primary that features a number of competitive races for U.S. House party nominations and an effort by far-right provocateur Laura Loomer to capture a GOP U.S. House nomination in Palm Beach County.
Tuesday’s primary includes races for U.S. House, state legislature and local offices; no U.S. Senate seats or statewide offices are up in this cycle. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
The only incumbent in significant danger Tuesday is Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, who is being challenged for his party’s nomination in the 15th District (I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando) by Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin amid a federal criminal investigation into illegal loans made to his 2018 campaign. Spano has admitted his campaign violated campaign finance laws but denies any criminal wrongdoing.
In the 3rd District (Gainesville and North-Central Florida), where U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho is retiring, 10 Republicans and three Democrats are scrambling for their party’s nominations.
The Republican field includes Kat Cammack, a former Yoho aide from Gainesville; former Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase; Clay County Commissioner Gavin Rollins; and two personally wealthy candidates who have largely self-financed their campaigns, James St. George, a physician from Fleming Island, and Judson Sapp, a businessman from Green Cove Springs.
Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s crowded primary will win 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.
The Democratic race in the 3rd District is between Adam Christensen, a Gainesville businessman; Phil Dodds, a software designer from Alachua who ran for the seat in 2012; and 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 is taking place in the 19th District (Fort Myers, Naples and Southwest Florida), where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring and nine Republicans are running.
The fundraising race in the primary has been led by two wealthy candidates who have dipped into their own funds for their campaigns: Casey Askar, a Iraqi immigrant businessman and former Marine from Naples who has loaned his campaign $3 million, and Wiliiam Figlesthaler, a urologist from Naples who has loaned his campaign nearly $2 million.
But State Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples has raised more then $1 million from donors and snagged endorsements from the National Rifle Association, the conservative Club for Growth, and the campaign arm of the House Freedom Caucus. Two other elected officials are also in the race: State House Majority Leader Dane Eagle from Cape Coral and Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.
The 19th District is heavily Republican, which will make the primary winner the prohibitive favorite in November. However, Democrat David Holden, a Naples financial adviser who was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2018, has raised $230,000 for the race and looks poised to get a chance at a rematch. He lost to Rooney by 25 points in 2018.
In the 13th District (Pinellas County), five Republicans are competing 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.
The race has become a contest between House Republicans leaders, who are backing Amanda Makki, a well-connected former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist, and Anna Paulina Luna, a conservative television personality and staunch defender of President Donald Trump who has the backing of Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and has tapped the conservative grassroots to raise almost $1 million for the race.
Complicating their path is George Buck, a former college professor and emergency response consultant who was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2018, losing to Crist by 15 points. He has raised more than $1 million.
Buck made headlines during the campaign when he said he would push for a constitutional amendment that would prevent foreign-born U.S. citizens from serving in Congress — a restriction that would directly affect Makki, who was born in Iran.
Makki has also come under fire for her work as a policy analyst for Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has been one of the few Republican senators to distance herself from Trump. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., also publicly criticized Makki for using a photograph of the two of them together in her promotional materials, even though he has not endorsed her.
Crist is one of only two Florida Democrats whose seat is expected to be possibly competitive in 2020. The other is U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District (Orlando and its northern suburbs), where the Republican race is between Richard Goble, a mortgage broker from Lake Mary; Leo Valentin, an Orlando radiologist; and Yukong Zhao, a Chinese immigrant and energy executive from Orlando. Murphy won by 15 points in 2018
In the 21st District (Palm Beach County), Loomer is facing five other Republicans for the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November and has raised more than $1 million, outpacing even Frankel.
While the GOP winner will have little chance against Frankel in the heavily Democratic district, where no Republican even bothered to oppose her in 2018, Loomer would 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 performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Cesear 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 retweeted a fundraising solicitation sent on Loomer’s behalf, although he has not endorsed her.
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Insight: U.S. House 2020 target lists show Democrats playing defense in the South
Democratic and Republican campaign arms are targeting 25 Southern seats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. House campaign arms for both parties have released their first list of targets for 2020, with Southern Democrats playing an unfamiliar role they haven’t enjoyed in recent cycles — on defense, protecting their 2018 gains.
Next year’s congressional battles in the South will take place almost entirely in the suburbs. Nearly all of the 25 districts being targeted by both parties contain suburban areas around large cities, territory where Democrats made major gains last November and hope to make more.
The National Republican Congressional Committee — trying to claw its way back into a majority after a disappointing 2018 — is targeting 12 Democrat-held seats across the South, 10 of which are held by by freshmen who flipped seats, including three seats in Virginia, two each in Texas and Florida, and seats won in breakthroughs in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia.
Among the targets are eight Democratic freshmen who supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker — a vote that is sure to be front and center on TV screens when 2020 rolls around.
Only two veteran Democrats, both in Florida, are on the GOP’s target list — Charlie Crist in the Clearwater-based 13th District, and Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District in metro Orlando. Both districts look competitive on paper, although neither Crist nor Murphy had much trouble in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 13 Republican-held seats across the South, an audacious list that includes nine veteran GOP incumbents, some with decades of experience.
And while Democrats will have to defend a bumper crop of incumbents, just two of the Southern Democratic targets are freshman Republicans — Ross Spano in Florida’s 15th District and Chip Roy in Texas’s 21st District.
Defending long-term incumbents is usually easier that defending freshmen seeking a second term, which could give
Republicans an advantage overall in the South in 2020.
The GOP has another advantage — while its targets are nearly evenly split between districts that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, 12 of the 13 Democratic targets are in districts Trump carried, which will be more difficult to flip. (The lone exception is Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd District.)
Democrats are also unlikely to replicate the wave they enjoyed in 2018, which carried them to victory in some rather unlikely places.
Still, Republicans find themselves with the unexpected — and unwelcome — prospect of spending energy and money to reclaim seats in such normally red areas as Oklahoma City, Charleston and the suburbs of Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
Among the Republican freshman targeted, Spano, whose district stretches inland from the suburbs of Tampa, may be vulnerable in 2020 after admitting that he borrowed money from two friends that he then plowed into his election campaign, which is a violation of federal campaign finance laws.
He blamed bad advice from this then-campaign treasurer; Democrats are pushing for an investigation.
Roy, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won by just two points in 2018. His district includes suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and rural areas to the west.
One seat on the Democrats’ list, Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, will be open, thanks to the pending departure of Rob Woodall, who decided to retire after winning by just 400 votes in 2018. Another seat, North Carolina’s 9th District, is vacant due to an ongoing dispute over allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
Democrats have decided to forgo, at least for now, targeting two seats that they tried and failed to flip in 2018 — Arkansas’s 2nd District in metro Little Rock, held by French Hill, and West Virginia’s 3rd District, which takes in the southern third of the state, held by Carol Miller.
However, they are once again trying to flip Kentucky’s 6th District, in and around Lexington, where Andy Barr held off a spirited challenge from Democratic newcomer Amy McGrath, who raised a whopping $8.6 million.
McGrath hasn’t said if she’s running again. Senate Democrats have been encouraging her for forgo a rematch with Barr and instead challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The toughest sled for Democrats will be taking out nine veteran Republicans they have targeted, including five in Texas alone.
Among the Texas targets are five men who between them have more than 60 years of seniority: John Carter in the 31st District in the northern Austin suburbs; Kenny Marchant in the 24th District in Dallas-Ft. Worth; Mike McCaul in the 10th District that stretches from Austin toward Houston; and Pete Olson in 22nd District in Houston’s western suburbs.
Until the 2018 cycle, these Texas seats had been thought safely Republican. But Carter and Marchant won by just 3 points in 2018; McCaul won by 4 points and Olson by 5 points.
Democrats are also going after Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th District north of Palm Beach; and, in North Carolina, George Holding, in the 2nd District around Raleigh, and Ted Budd, in 13th District between Charlotte and Greensboro.
The freshmen that Democrats will have to defend including two in the Miami area, Donna Shalala in the 27th District, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the 26th District; Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs; Kendra Horn in the Oklahoma City-based 5th District; and Joe Cunningham, who represents the South Carolina Low Country in the 1st District.
Three freshmen Democrats in Virginia are also on the list — Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd District in Hampton Roads; Abigail Spanberger, who represents the 7th District in the Richmond suburbs, and Jennifer Wexton, whose 10th District includes the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
The Republican target list also includes two Texas freshman: Colin Allred, who represents the 32nd District in metro Dallas, and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who represents the 7th District in metro Houston.
All of these freshmen, except for Spanberger and Cunningham, voted for Pelosi for speaker.
Among the GOP targets, Shalala and Wexton are likely in the least danger, as both represent districts Hillary Clinton carried easily in 2016. Horn, McBath and Cunningham — whose 2018 wins were among the biggest surprises of the election cycle — are likely in the most jeopardy.
Democrats’ success in 2018 was largely the result of raising enough money to be competitive in GOP-held districts, in many cases even outraising incumbents who didn’t take their races seriously enough.
Democratic freshmen being targeted in 2020 should have no problem raising money; neither will challengers to Republican incumbents who had close calls in 2018. Members of the majority party also tend to have easier access to campaign money than the party out of power.
Still, 2020 will no doubt see Republicans loaded for bear, with two years to regroup and build up their treasuries, leaving voters facing loud, expensive and contentious races across the South.
Heading into 2020, Republicans hold 101 seats among delegations in the 14 Southern states; Democrats have 50, with one vacant seat in North Carolina.
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U.S. Rep. David Jolly drops out of Senate race, will seek re-election against Charlie Crist
Jolly’s decision removes another obstacle from possible re-election run by Marco Rubio
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
CLEARWATER, Florida (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly is dropping his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat and will instead run for re-election to his 13th District House seat, setting up a likely general election battle with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist.
“I’ve got unfinished business,” Jolly said at a June 17 news conference at the St.Petersburg-Clearwater airport where he announced the switch. “Today, I’m asking my community simply for the opportunity to keep doing my job.”
Jolly, 43, was elected in a special election in 2014 and easily won a full term that fall to the seat, anchored in Pinellas County in the Tampa Bay area.
However, earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that the state’s congressional map be redrawn, and the new map put a part of St. Petersburg with a large minority population into the 13th, turning what had been a swing district into one that favored Democrats.
Faced with the new map, Jolly decided to jump into the Senate race instead. But he failed to gain much traction in a crowded GOP field, a situation made much worse when Republican leaders in Washington began pressuring U.S. Senator Marco Rubio to seek re-election, which made it difficult for the other candidates to raise money.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Pinellas County, who struggled to find a strong candidate to challenge Crist, had urged Jolly to switch races and seek re-election.
Crist, 59, was elected governor as a Republican in 2006, and, in 2010, decided to run for the Senate rather than seek re-election. However, when it became clear he would lose to Rubio in the primary, he left the GOP and became an independent to continue his Senate quest.
After losing to Rubio in the general election, Crist became a Democrat in 2012 and ran for governor in 2014, losing to Republican Governor Rick Scott. After that defeat, Crist announced he was leaving politics but changed his mind and launched a bid for Congress after the map was redrawn.
Jolly’s decision to switch races clears another obstacle for a possible re-election run by Rubio. Another Republican candidate in the Senate race, Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has indicated that he, too, will drop out if Rubio decides to run.