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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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Florida governor’s debate: Gillum, DeSantis joust over Trump, racism and corruption

Gillum calls Trump “weak,” accuses DeSantis of injecting race into the campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TAMPA (CFP) — Meeting in their first face-to-face debate, Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis disagreed as expected on hot-button issues such as immigration and taxes — but they threw their sharpest elbows over charges of racism and very divergent views of President Donald Trump.

In the October 21 debate in Tampa, televised nationally by CNN, Gillum, who is African American, accused DeSantis of trying to make his race an issue in the campaign, beginning with a comment on the day after he won the Republican nomination that Floridians shouldn’t “monkey up” their future prospects by electing Gillum.

Gillum and DeSantis meet for first debate in Tampa (Courtesy CNN)

“The congressman let us know exactly where he was going to take this race the day after he won the nomination. The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all. And he has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin,” Gillum said.

“And the truth is, you know it, I’m black. I’ve been black all of my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”

If elected, Gillum would become Florida’s first African American governor.

But DeSantis insisted that his public record, including his service in the military and as a Navy prosecutor, demonstrated racial tolerance.

“Floridians can know that I’ll be a governor for all Floridians,” he said.

When it came to Trump, DeSantis — one of the president’s staunchest allies in Congress whose campaign benefited in the GOP primary from a Trump tweet — noted that Gillum has said publicly that he would support Trump’s impeachment, which would hinder his ability to get things done in Washington as governor.

“Andrew wants to lead the Trump impeachment from Tallahassee,” DeSantis said. “You need to be able to work with the administration to get the dollars we deserve … I think I will be better positioned to advance Florida’s priorities because I have a productive relationship with the administration.”

At that, Gillum doubled down on his biting criticism of Trump, who carried Florida in 2016.

“Donald Trump is weak, and he performs as all weak people do – they become bullies. And Mr. DeSantis is his acolyte. He’s trying out to be the Trump apprentice at every turn,” Gillum said.

“You shouldn’t have to kiss the ring of the president of the United States for the president to see to the good and the goodwill of the third-largest state in all of America.”

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

DeSantis took Gillum to task for his stewardship of Florida’s capital city, noting that it has an historically high murder rate. He also tried to associate the mayor with an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption that has ensnared a Gillum associate.

“Andrew’s a failed mayor. He’s presided over a crime-ridden city. He’s involved in corruption,” DeSantis said. “He’s not the guy to lead our state.”

But Gillum insisted that overall crime has actually dropped in Tallahassee and that neither he nor his administration are under investigation by the FBI.

DeSantis responded, “You went to a Broadway show with an undercover FBI agent,” a reference to a photograph that has emerged of a trip Gillum took to New York with an FBI agent who was investigating the corruption case.

When DeSantis repeatedly pressed Gillum on who had paid for tickets to the Broadway play “Hamilton,” the mayor did not answer. Instead, he tried to turn the tables by asking DeSantis to produce receipts for his travel as a congressman, which Gillum said about to become subject of an ethics investigation before DeSantis resigned in August.

“That’s a lie,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also hit Gillum for wanting to raise taxes, pointing to his support for higher sales and property taxes as mayor. He also insisted that Gillum’s plans for expanding state spending would lead to a sharp increase in the state sales taxes or perhaps even imposition of an income tax.

“Andrew has a lifetime of supporting higher taxes,” DeSantis said. “If you believe with that record that he ain’t gonna raise your taxes, then I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona that I’d like to sell you.”

Gillum quickly shot down any suggestion of an income tax, which would be politically explosive in the Sunshine State. He said his plan is to increase taxes on the wealthiest 3 percent of Florida businesses, who he charged had reaped a $5 billion windfall from the Republican tax cut plan that DeSantis supported in Congress.

“We’re going to take a billion of that and invest in public education in this state,” Gillum said.

The candidates also disagreed sharply on immigration, with DeSantis charging that Gillum and Democrats supported open borders, abolishing Immigration and Customers Enforcement and turning Florida into a sanctuary state, which DeSantis said would be “a wet kiss to the drug cartels.”

“Andrew during the primary said he wanted to abolish ICE, said he would not cooperate with the Trump administration vis-à-vis illegal immigration,” DeSantis said. “That means you’re going to have more crime in Florida.”

Gillum denied that he was for open borders and said he supported enforcement of immigration laws. But he took issue with the Trump adminsitration’s hard-line stance on immigration enforcement.

“What I’ve simply said is that what we’re not going to become here in the state of Florida is a state where basically become a show-us-your-papers state based on the color of somebody’s skin, the language that they speak, what neighborhood they live in,” he said. “That’s not the American way. That’s not who we are as Floridians.”

Gillum also criticized the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying “we should not be terrorizing people who are here in this country who are babies that are nursing with their parents, with their mothers.”

Despite campaigning for the same office for nearly a year, Gillum and DeSantis had not actually met until just before the debate.

They are scheduled to meet for a second and final debate on October 24 in Davie.

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Watch full debate:

Candidates for Florida governor pick lieutenant governor running mates

Republican DeSantis selects State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez; Democrat Gillum picks primary rival Chris King

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ORLANDO (CFP) — The major party candidates for Florida governor have announced picks for their running mates for lieutenant governor.

The Republican nominee, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis from Ponte Vedra, has picked State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Cuban-American legislator from Miami. The Democratic nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, picked Chris King, an Orlando businessman who ran against him in the primary.

State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Florida

The selection of Nuñez is noteworthy because of her previous criticism of President Donald Trump, who has been a close ally of DeSantis.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, when she was supporting U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, she called Trump a “con man,” described herself as “never Trump” and accused him of supporting the Ku Klux Klan.

Asked about those critical comments while campaigning with DeSantis in Orlando after the running mate announcement, she said, “We’re here talking about moving forward. Elections are elections. It is what it is.”

“That election is done, and I’m looking forward to this election,” she said.

DeSantis, whose primary victory was fueled by supportive tweets from Trump, described her comments as part of a primary “tussle” in which she was supporting a hometown candidate.

“To support Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, if I were in her shoes I probably would have been supporting Marco as well,” he said.

In a show of Republican unity, the man DeSantis defeated in the primary, State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, was on hand to campaign with the new ticket.

Nuñez, 46, was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, working her way up through the GOP leadership to become speaker pro tempore, the No. 2 position, in 2016.

As a legislator, she worked for passage of a bill that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities, a position contrary to the hard-line stance on illegal immigration embraced by both Trump and DeSantis.

If elected in November, she would become the first Cuban-American woman to serve as lieutenant governor. The current lieutenant governor, Carlos López-Cantera, is also Cuban-American, a community that has long been an important faction in Florida Republican politics.

Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Chris King, D-Florida

On the Democratic side, Gillum picked King, who came in fifth place in the Democratic primary for governor that Gillum narrowly won.

The pairing was announced in a Facebook video in which both men said the personal relationship they developed on the campaign trail led to King’s selection.

“I developed a friendship with Andrew Gillum over 18 months as we were competing,” he said. “I came to care for him. I came to admire him.”

King, 39, is a lawyer and real estate investor whose run for governor was his first foray into the political arena.

In picking King, Gillum passed over the woman he narrowly defeated for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, who had been considered the favorite in the race before Gillum’s surprise victory.

In Florida, the office of lieutenant governor is not independently elected, and candidates for governor pick running mates after the primary.

Though 17 states use the same system, running mates are uncommon in the South, with only Florida and Kentucky selecting lieutenant governors this way.

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