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President Obama joins effort to oust Florida GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica

Obama cuts a commercial for Mica’s Democratic opponent, Stephanie Murphy, in what has become a competitive race

florida mugORLANDO (CFP) — President Barack Obama has cut a television commercial for Florida congressional candidate Stephanie Murphy, who is giving veteran GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica the fight of his political career in the newly redrawn 7th District.

Murphy

Murphy

In the commercial, which began airing October 31, Obama recounts Murphy’s background as the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who fled to the United States when she was a small child and became a national security specialist at the Pentagon after 9/11.

“She’ll tackle the tough problems,” Obama says.

Obama is the latest in a string of high-profile endorsements of Murphy, which have included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who became a gun control advocate after being wounded by a would-be assassin in 2011.

Outside groups supporting Murphy have also poured more than $3 million in the effort to oust Mica, 73, who is seeking his 12th term in the House and has never carried less than 59 percent of the vote in any of his re-election bids.

Mica

Mica

Mica is vulnerable this year thanks to a redraw of Sunshine State’s congressional map ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. Mica’s old district was centered in the northern and eastern suburbs of Orlando; the redraw pushed his district further south into the city of Orlando, which is more Democratic.

About a quarter of the voters in Mica’s new district were not in his old district, and the minority population is about 30 percent. However, the number of registered Democrats and Republicans is about equal.

Public polling in the race has been sparse, but both campaigns have touted internal polls putting their candidate in the lead.

However, the poll offered by the Mica campaign showed him only 5 points ahead with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage votes–essentially, a tie in a Republican poll, a potentially troubling result for a well-known incumbent facing a challenger who has not previously run for political office.

The Cook Political Report, which until recently had rated the race as favoring Mica, now lists it as a toss-up.

Heading into the final three weeks of the campaign, Federal Election Commission filings show Murphy with about $174,000 in cash on hand, compared to $167,000 for Mica. However, both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are airing ads in the race, and outside spending is expected to eclipse what the campaigns run themselves.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wassermann Schultz out as Democratic chair

Florida congresswoman heckled by Bernie Sanders supporters at Florida delegation caucus

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugPHILADELPHIA (CFP) — Under fire for leaked internal emails containing critical comments about Bernie Sanders and his presidential campaign, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is stepping down as chair of the Democratic National Committee.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

And after a raucous protest by Sanders supporters at a morning meeting of the Florida caucus, Wasserman Schultz abandoned plans to gavel in the first session of the Democratic National Convention July 25.

She told her hometown newspaper, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, that she canceled her appearance “in the interest of making sure that we can start the Democratic convention on a high note.”

The DNC had already decided to replace Wasserman Schultz as the permanent convention chair, a position normally filled by the party chair if the House Speaker is of the other party.

In a statement issued on the eve of the convention announcing her departure as DNC chair, Wasserman Schultz had said that she would open and close the convention and “address our delegates about the stakes involved in this election, not only for Democrats but for all Americans.”

She also said she would campaign for Hillary Clinton in the fall, whom she called “a friend I have always believed in and know will make a great president.”

The controversy over the emails generated an ugly scene at the Florida caucus meeting Monday morning, where Wasserman Schultz was heckled by Sanders supporters.

“So I can see there’s a little bit of interest in my being here, and I appreciate that interest,” she told the crowd as she struggled to be heard over the protestors.

When they would not stop, Wasserman Schultz finally fired back:

“We know that the voices in this room that are standing up and being disruptive — we know that that’s not the Florida that we know.”

Wasserman Schultz, who was Clinton’s campaign co-chair during her unsuccessful run for president in 2008, was appointed as head of the DNC in 2011 by President Obama.

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Sanders supporters complained that the DNC, under Wasserman Schultz’s direction, was showing favoritism toward Clinton in their intra-party tussle.

The internal emails, leaked by Wikileaks, added fuel to those complaints, with documents showing Wasserman Schultz questioning Sanders’ Democratic bona fides and criticizing some of his top campaign operatives.

The leaked emails also showed DNC officials — though not Wasserman Schultz — discussing whether to question Sanders about being an atheist.

Her contentious relationship with the Sanders campaign has spilled over in her race for re-election in Florida’s 23rd District, where she is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Sanders supporter Tim Canova, who has raised more than $2 million in an effort to unseat her.

The district takes in southern Broward County and Miami Beach.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown indicted on fraud charges

Florida Democrat accused of using donations to scholarship fund for personal expenses

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugJACKSONVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida has been indicted on a slew of federal fraud charges, accused of converting a scholarship fund into a private piggy bank that was used to pay for her political promotion and personal expenses.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

Brown, 69, a Jacksonville Democrat serving her 12th term in Congress, was released on bond after a July 8 appearance in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, where she pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

“My heart is just really heavy. This has been a really difficult time for me, my family and my constituents,” Brown told reporters as she was leaving the courthouse. “But I’m looking forward to a speedy day in court to vindicate myself.”

Brown’s indictment came just seven weeks before Florida’s primary, in which she is facing a stiff challenge from former State Senator Al Lawson in the 5th District, which was reconfigured earlier this year by the Florida Supreme Court.

The 24-count federal indictment charges Brown with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, concealing material facts on required financial disclosure forms, theft of government property, obstruction of the due administration of the internal revenue laws, and filing false tax returns.

If convicted on all charges, she could face as much as 357 years in prison, although such a lengthy sentence would be unlikely.

Her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, was indicted on similar charges. He also pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors allege that starting in 2012, Brown and Simmons began conspiring with Carla Wiley, who operated One Door for Education, a Virginia-based charity which purportedly helped poor college students by giving them scholarships.

According to the indictment, Brown and Simmons used her official position as a congresswoman to solicit money for One Door, which raised more than $800,000.

However, according to prosecutors, only $1,200 of that amount went for scholarships. Much of the rest was converted for Brown’s professional and personal use, including direct deposits of money into her bank accounts, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors also allege that more than $200,000 in One Door money was used to pay for events hosted by Brown or held in her honor, including a golf tournament and use of a luxury box during a Washington Redskins game.

In announcing the indictment, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, A. Lee Bentley, said his office “is committed to ferreting out and prosecuting all forms of corruption and fraud, regardless of who the offender is.”

“In our nation, no one is above the law,” he said.

Questions about One Door were first raised in January by the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville, which triggered a grand jury investigation into Brown’s conduct.

At the same time, the Florida Supreme Court ordered Brown’s 5th District to be substantially redrawn, over her strenuous objections.

The new district, which begins in Jacksonville and heads due west across the Florida Panhandle to Tallahassee, is still majority black but has a lower black population than Brown’s old district.

After Brown lost a lawsuit challenging the plan in federal court, Lawson, from Tallahassee, announced he would run against her.

Lawson’s reaction to Brown’s indictment was low key. On his Facebook page, he called her legal problems “unfortunate” and went on to say, “I intend to carry the torch of equality, decency and honesty to Congress and to make everyone proud.”

The primary is August 30.

Bernie Sanders endorses Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s primary challenger

Sanders also says he’ll replace Florida congresswoman as head of the Democratic National Committee

florida mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters have long complained that Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been unfair to his presidential campaign.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

And now, he’s trying to exact some political revenge by endorsing Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic primary challenger in Florida’s 23rd District, Tim Canova.

“Clearly, I favor her opponent,” Sanders said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, which aired May 22. “His views are much closer to mine than to Wasserman Schultz’s.”

Sanders also said that if he wins the White House, he will replace her as head of the DNC.

In response, Wasserman Schultz released a statement saying that even though Sanders is now backing Canova, “I remain, as I have been from the beginning, neutral in the presidential Democratic primary.”

Sanders and his supporters have been highly critical of the DNC chair for what they see as her tilt toward his rival, Hillary Clinton, including scheduling debates on weekends when audiences were small in order to blunt his populist appeal.

Wasserman Schultz has been officially neutral in the 2016 campaign. However, in 2008, she was the national co-chair of Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, and the two women have had a long association.

Congressional candidate Tim Canova

Congressional candidate Tim Canova

Canova, 56, is a law professor and Sanders supporter from Hollywood making his first bid for elected office in the 23rd District, which takes in southern Broward County and Miami Beach.

His campaign has raised more than $1 million to challenge Wasserman Schultz, although she has outpaced him in fundraising. She has also been endorsed by President Obama.

In the presidential primary back in March, Clinton pummeled Sanders by more than 30 points in Broward County, which does not bode well for Canova’s chances in a similar proxy fight with Wassserman Schultz.

Still, the primary challenge is proving something of a headache for the DNC chair, with South Florida media noting an uptick in her campaigning for what had been considered an unassailable seat. This is the first time in her 12-year congressional career that she has faced primary competition.

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