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Republican U.S. Senate incumbents trying to fight off Democratic challengers

Florida and North Carolina are Senate battlegrounds; Louisiana holds all-party primary for Vitter’s seat

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) — Nine GOP-held Southern U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs in the November 8 election, with Republican incumbents heavily favored in six races.

The exceptions are Florida, where Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is facing off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, and in North Carolina, where the GOP incumbent, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, is facing Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor.

And in Louisiana, 24 candidates are running in an all-party “jungle” primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a December 10 runoff, which could potentially decide the balance of power in the Senate.

Pre-election polls have shown Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy in the lead, followed by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat; Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette; and Democrat Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer.

If Kennedy and Boustany can both clear the runoff, the GOP would be guaranteed of keeping the seat, now held by U.S. Senator David Vitter. But if Campbell or Fayard can come through, the December 10 runoff will be the last word on Senate races this year — and, if the Senate is closely divided, decide which party controls the chamber.

In addition to Rubio and Burr, Republican incumbents are seeking re-election in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

All are heavily favored, although the race in Georgia between U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson  and Democratic businessman Jim Barksdale is somewhat more competitive.

In Alabama, Richard Shelby faces Democrat Ron Crumpton, a marijuana rights activist; in Arkansas John Boozman is seeking a second term against Democrat Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville; and in Kentucky, Rand Paul is running against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

In Oklahoma,  James Lankford faces Mike Workman, a Tulsa political consultant, and in South Carolina, Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, faces Democrat Thomas Dixon, a Charleston pastor.

Poll: Trump may be bleeding Republican support among early voters in Florida

Poll finds that nearly 1 in 3 Republicans who voted early voted for Clinton

♦ By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — A unique poll of Florida voters who have already cast ballots for the November 8 election finds that Donald Trump may be bleeding Republican voters, allowing Hillary Clinton to open up a substantial lead in the early vote.

white-house-chaseThe TargetSmart/William & Mary poll found that 27 percent of Republicans who had cast ballots at the time of the poll, taken October 25-30, said they voted for Clinton over Trump, while just 6 percent of Democrats had chosen Trump over Clinton.

If that polling result is accurate, it would mean a net shift of 206,000 votes to Clinton as of November 3, when the count of Republicans who voted early approached 1 million.

Among voters affiliated with neither party, the poll found 40 percent for Clinton and 43 percent for Trump. Among all early voters, Clinton led Trump by a 17-point margin, 55 percent to 38 percent.

However, TargetSmart/William & Mary also polled Florida voters who had not yet cast ballots, which showed the race as a tie, with Trump at 43 percent and Clinton at 42 percent, mirroring the results of other national polls.

The poll used both online contact and telephone surveys; therefore, it did not constitute a random sample, and no margin of error could be specified. Also, the sample size was small, including only 311 early voters and 407 people who hadn’t voted.

Still, given that more than 20 percent of registered voters in the Sunshine State cast ballots as of November 3 – including nearly 1 million registered Republicans – any significant erosion of GOP support could present difficulties for Trump’s quest to carry the state. By contrast, Mitt Romney took 93 percent of the Republican vote in 2012.

The poll also combined the early and non-early results in the poll and did a demographic analysis which showed Trump trailing Clinton by a whopping 86-point margin among African-American voters and by 29 points among Latinos.

Rubio, Murphy to face off in Florida U.S. Senate race

Wasserman Schultz beats back Bernie-allied rival; Corrine Brown out

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, 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.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

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.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

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.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

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.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

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.

Marco Rubio reverses course, will seek re-election to the U.S. Senate

Two other GOP candidates depart race after Rubio’s decision

florida mugMIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio will seek re-election to the Senate this fall, reversing an earlier decision to leave political office after his unsuccessful presidential campaign.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

After Rubio announced his decision June 22, two Republicans currently running for his seat, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Florida Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera, announced they would drop out in deference to Rubio. DeSantis will now run for re-election in Florida’s 6th District.

In a statement announcing his change of heart, Rubio, who had been under pressure from national Republican leaders to run, said he was swayed by the prospect that “the outcome in Florida could determine control of the Senate.”

“That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat,” he said. “It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat.”

Rubio also took a swipe at both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, saying that “no matter who is elected president, there is reason for worry.”

He said Clinton would continue President Obama’s “failed” economic and foreign policies. As for Trump, Rubio’s former presidential primary foe, the senator said he had “significant disagreements” with the Republican nominee, particularly with regard to his “unacceptable” comments about women and minorities.

“If he is elected, we will need senators willing to encourage him in the right direction, and if necessary, stand up to him,” Rubio said. “I’ve proven a willingness to do both.”

Rubio also conceded that by changing his mind about seeking re-election, “my opponents will try to use this decision to score political points against me.”

“Have at it, because I have never claimed to be perfect, or to have all the answers.”

Recent polls have shown Rubio running strongest against both of the two major Democrats in the race, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando. A recent Quinniapiac University poll, taken before Rubio entered the race, showed him with a 7 point lead over Murphy and an 8 point lead over Grayson, with none of the other Republicans leading in head-to-head match-ups with the Democrats.

Rubio’s entry has scrambled what had been a five-way battle for the Republican nomination. DeSantis, López-Cantera and U.S. Rep. David Jolly have now all departed, leaving Carlos Beruff, a real estate developer from Manatee County, and Todd Wilcox, a defense contractor and former CIA agent from Windemere.

Beruff slammed Rubio’s decision to “break his pledge to the people of Florida.”

“This isn’t Marco Rubio’s seat; this is Florida’s seat,” Beruff said in a statement. “The power brokers in Washington think they can control this race. They think they can tell the voters of Florida who their candidates are. But the voters of Florida will not obey them.”

Report: López-Cantera will step aside if Marco Rubio changes his mind about the Senate

Florida’s lieutenant governor tells Politico he has urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election

florida mugMIAMI (CFP) — Just days before qualifying is set to begin in Florida’s U.S. Senate primary, Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera has disclosed that if U.S. Senator Marco Rubio decides to run for re-election, he will end his own Senate campaign.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera

López-Cantera, who got into the Senate race at Rubio’s urging, tells Politico that when he met Rubio at the scene of the Orlando nightclub massacre, he urged Rubio to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election in 2016.

Rubio has been under increasing pressure from Republican Senate leaders to reverse course and run again. But his longtime personal and political friendship with López-Cantera has been seen as an obstacle to any Rubio candidacy.

Rubio gave up his seat to make an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination and has insisted repeatedly that he will not be a Senate candidate. But Florida’s relatively late party primaries, at the end of August, have left him a window of time to change his mind.

Qualifying ends June 24, giving Rubio a little more than a week to make a final decision.

Rubio is seen as the strongest Republican candidate in the Senate race, which Democrats are trying to capture to wrest Senate control away from the GOP. López-Cantera and three Republican rivals have been battling for the nomination; the lieutenant governor is the only one of them who has won statewide.

There has also been speculation that another GOP Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of St. Petersburg, will also abandon the race and instead seek re-election to his 13th District House seat.

Jolly opted to take a pass on defending his House seat after a court-ordered redistricting added Democratic voters to what had been a swing district. However, the likely Democratic nominee for that seat is former Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who lost statewide races in 2010 and 2014.

As the incumbent, Jolly would be in the best position to thwart the political resurrection of Crist, a man roundly despised in Republican circles.

The other Republicans in the Senate race include Carlos Beruff, a real estate developer from Manatee County, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who represents a Jacksonville area House district.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando are battling for their party’s nomination.

Charlie Crist won’t run for Florida U.S. Senate seat in 2016

The Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat announces his decision in a Facebook post

florida mugTAMPA (CFP) — Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist says he will not seek a U.S. Senate seat from the Sunshine State in 2016, ending media speculation that he might jump into the race.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

“I will not be seeking office in 2016, but I will be working alongside you,” Crist said in a brief Facebook message posted March 16. “Too much is at stake for our beautiful Florida to be on the sidelines.”

The seat is currently held by Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who is expected to announce in April whether he will give it up to seek the Republican presidential nomination. Rubio’s departure would likely trigger a wide-open race in politically competitive Florida.

The decision not to run comes just four months after Crist, running as a Democrat, was narrowly defeated by incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott.

Crist, 58, was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican. In 2010, he opted to seek a Senate seat, rather than run for re-election. After it was clear he would lose to Rubio in the primary, Crist bolted the GOP and ran unsuccessfully as an independent. He became a Democrat in 2012.

Had Crist run for the Senate, he would have likely faced a battle in the Democratic primary with U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, is also reportedly considering the race.

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