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Morgan threatens lawsuit over Gillum’s “slush fund;” Gillum retorts that he doesn’t live on Morgan’s “plantation”
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
John Morgan, the Orlando lawyer and political mega donor who stars in TV ads for the law firm that bears his family’s name, has stepped up a nasty Twitter war with Gillum, the party’s defeated candidate for Florida governor in 2018, over Gillum’s decision to transfer leftover campaign money into a non-profit that doesn’t have to disclose how it spends the money.
How nasty? Morgan signed off one Sunday tweet with, “Thank God for Florida that @GovRonDeSantis won.”
Gillum fired right back: “I don’t live on your plantation and I don’t take advice from Trump impersonators & DeSantis suck ups.”
The fussing between Morgan and Gillum started back in April when Morgan learned that Gillum’s campaign, which received more than $2 million in financial backing from members of his firm, failed to spend more than $3 million in contributions for a race he lost by less than 33,000 votes, which Morgan called “stunning.”
The latest dust-up started with a story on the website Tallahassee Reports that Gillum planned to transfer $500,000 from those leftover campaign funds to a non-profit that is exempt from campaign disclosure requirements.
“Does anyone believe anything that comes out of this dude’s mouth?” Morgan wrote. “Of course it must be in an account that the public and his donors never see. And when will he transfer another $500K? When he spends this first $500K.”
Morgan went on to say, “We need to explore a lawsuit to recover the monies given in trust to @AndrewGillum and now in a slush fund” — no idle threat from the man who runs one of the nation’s largest law firms.
Gillum replied by noting that Morgan had originally backed another candidate in the Democratic primary and had pressured him to drop out in order to prevent former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from winning.
“You only care about transactions and distractions,” Gillum said, concluding with his observation about not living on Morgan’s plantation.
Morgan — who said he gave $250,000 to Gillum in the closing days of the campaign after Gillum made a plea for funds he didn’t use — called the plantation comment “race bating,” which he said “is what people with something to hide do.”
“I say what I think but I don’t think like Trump,” he said. “Most people are afraid to speak truth to power, especially to those they supported. Not me. Plus I’m too damn old to care.”
A spokesman for Gillum told the Tampa Bay Times that the money was transferred to the non-profit Florida Forward Action because the group can “directly spend money on voter registration efforts,” which his campaign committee could not, although it is unclear why a campaign committee would be barred from registering voters. The spokesman said Gillum would not be paid a salary from the transferred funds.
Forward Florida Action has launched campaign “to register and engage” 1 million voters before the 2020 election.
In addition to his Twitter feud with Morgan, a federal grand jury has subpoenaed records from Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign; it is unclear if or why the campaign might be under investigation or by whom.
Morgan is a longtime Democratic donor on both the state and federal levels who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office in Florida. However, in 2017, he announced that he was disillusioned with the party and was registering as an independent.
Morgan said that while he would continue to support individual Democratic candidates, he would no longer financially support party organizations, which he said would be “like pissing money down a rat hole.”
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Governor-elect Ron DeSantis will ascend to governorship after just four years in politics
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
Gillum — who had conceded on election night but took it back after late-reporting results showed the race tightening — took to Facebook Saturday to offer his congratulations to DeSantis and thank his supporters.
“More than 4 million of you decided that you wanted a different direction for the state of Florida,” he said. “We want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and that you voices will continue to power us.”
DeSantis responded to Gillum’s reconcession on Twitter: “This was a hard-fought campaign. Now it’s time to bring Florida together.”
After a statewide machine recount, Gillum still trailed DeSantis by 32,500 votes, which was more than the margin that would have triggered a hand recount of over-votes and under-votes that is underway in races for U.S. Senate and state agriculture commissioner.
When DeSantis takes the governor’s chair in January, it will mark the latest step in his swift political rise, becoming the chief executive of the nation’s third-largest state at the age of 40, after just four years in politics.
DeSantis, who has degrees from Harvard and Yale, spent six years as an attorney in the U.S. Navy. In 2012, he was elected to a U.S. House seat representing part of metro Jacksonville.
In 2016, he entered the race for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s seat, which he had given up to run for president. But when Rubio reversed course after losing the Republican presidential nomination to President Donald Trump, DeSantis withdrew and ran for re-election to his House seat.
After Trump became president, DeSantis became one of his strongest defenders on television — a relationship that paid huge dividends when he decided to enter the governor’s race in January,
DeSantis was considered a long shot to defeat the establishment favorite, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Then Trump tweeted an endorsement that catapulted DeSantis to a lead in the polls over Putnam that he never relinquished.
In the primary, the DeSantis campaign aired a TV ad in which he is seen reading Trump’s autobiography to his infant son and showing his daughter how to build a wall out of blocks, an echo of Trump’s call for a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump tweeted out congratulations after Gillum’s concession: “Against all odds, he fought & fought & fought, the result being a historic victory. He never gave up and never will. He will be a great Governor!’
However, Trump — who during the campaign had accused Gillum of being a “thief” — also tweeted out kind words about the Tallahassee mayor: “He will be a strong Democrat warrior long into the future – a force to reckon with!”
Gillum, 39, became mayor of Tallahassee in 2014. Like DeSantis, he also won his party’s primary over the establishment favorite, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a victory which instantly made him a national political celebrity.
In his concession, Gillum indicated that he planned to remain in the political arena, although he gave no specifics. He will step down as mayor in January.
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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.
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.
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.
Three Democratic U.S. House incumbents survive; Donna Shalala wins race for Miami seat
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — November’s election for Florida governor will pit a Donald Trump acolyte against a Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat trying to become the first African-American ever elected to lead the Sunshine State.
In the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis easily defeated State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who started the campaign as the front-runner but saw his chances fade after DeSantis got Trump’s endorsement.
But the biggest surprise of the August 28 vote came on the Democratic side, where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came from behind to defeat two self-funding millionaires and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who comes from a prominent Florida political family.
Meanwhile, three Democratic incumbent U.S. House members who faced primary challenges survived, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who easily defeated former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a controversial liberal firebrand trying to make a political comeback.
Also, Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, won her primary in a GOP-held district likely to flip in November.
In the Republican race for governor, DeSantis, 39, from Palm Coast, beat Putnam by 20 points, carrying all of the state’s large cities.
“I believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish here as long as we have the courage to lead,” he told supporters at a victory party in Orlando. “And I pledge to you as governor to work my but off to accomplish great things for this state.”
DeSantis also offered his thanks to Trump “for viewing me as someone who can be a great leader for Florida.”
The result was a significant stumble for Putnam, 44, who spent 10 years in Congress and two terms as agriculture commission with his eye on the governor’s mansion.
Speaking to supporters in Lakeland, Putnam said he would do “any and everything we can” to help DeSantis win in November.
“He’s a veteran, he’s a solid conservative, and he will need our help,” Putnam said.
On the Democratic side, Gillum, who was vastly outspent and did not lead in a single public pre-election poll, took 34 percent to 31 percent for Graham. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine came in at 20 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 10 percent.
Florida does not have primary runoffs, so Gillum won the nomination without a runoff.
Combined, Levine and Greene put more than $20 million of their own money into the race, to no avail.
Gillum was outspent by all of his major competitors, although he did get an infusion of cash near the end of the campaign from liberal megadonorrs George Soros and Tom Steyer. He was also endorsed by Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist who ran an insurgent presidential campaign in 2016.
“There were just a few people who said that this moment would not be possible,” Gillum told cheering supporters in Tallahassee. “And then there were a few more who believed this day was possible.”
“This thing is not about me. It never has been. It never will be,” he said. “This race is about every single one of you.”
Gillum’s victory upsets the political equation on both sides. Democrats had been hoping for a DeSantis win, seeing him as a weaker candidate against Graham, who had a moderate record during her one term in Congress. Now, both campaigns will have to adapt to a race pitting the most conservative candidate in the race against the most liberal.
Gillum is also the first African American candidate in either party to win a gubernatorial nomination in Florida and would become the state’s first black governor if he beats DeSantis in November.
One cloud on the horizon for Gillum is an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in Tallahassee city government. He has insisted that he is not implicated in the probe, although photographs have surfaced of the mayor traveling with two FBI agents who were working undercover.
Gillum, like DeSantis, won all of the state’s major cities. The key to his victory was a collapse in Graham’s vote in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where she didn’t break 20 percent.
Speaking to her supporters in Orlando, Graham pledged her support to Gillum, relating a phone call she had with the primary winner.
“I said, ‘Now Andrew, go out and win this damn thing because this is too important to the state of Florida,” said Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.
In the U.S. Senate race, both Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Governor Rick Scott easily won their party’s nominations for the fall election, setting up what is likely to be the nation’s most expensive Senate race this year.
In U.S. House races, three Democratic incumbents also easily turned back primary challengers.
In the 5th District, a majority-minority district that stretches across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee took 60 percent of the vote to defeat former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
In the 9th District in metro Orlando, Soto easily dispatched Grayson, 66 percent to 44 percent. Grayson was trying to make a comeback after giving up the seat in 2016 to make an ill-fated bid for the U.S. Senate.
Tuesday’s primaries also set up fall matches for four battleground seats that Democrats are trying to take away in their quest to win control of the House.
In the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, Shalala, a Clinton cabinet secretary and former president of the University of Miami, took the first step in her quest to launch a political career at age 77, winning with 32 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates.
She will face Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish-language TV news anchor, who won the GOP race with 41 percent of the vote.
The district, which includes Miami Beach and parts of Miami, is open due to the retirement of veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, who has held it for 30 years. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district by nearly 20 points in 2016, making this one of the Democrats best pickup opportunities nationally.
However, the population of the district is more than 70 percent Latino and includes Miami’s politically potent Cuban community. Salazar is a Cuban-American born in Miami; Shalala, of Lebanese descent, was born in Ohio and moved to Miami in 2001.
In the 16th District centered on the southern side of Tampa Bay, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is seeking a seventh term in a district Trump carried by 11 points. He will face Democrat David Shapiro, a Sarasota lawyer who easily won his party’s nomination.
Shapiro has raised more than $1.3 million for the race to try to make it competitive, according to Federal Elections Commission campaign finance reports. However, Buchanan has raised $2.2 million.
In the 18th District along the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County, the Democratic nominee will be Laura Baer, an attorney from Palm Beach Gardens who served as a senior adviser to secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She will now take on Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast from Palm City in a swing district that switched parties in 2012 and 2016.
Curbelo been a rare critic of Trump within the House Republican Caucus as he tries to hang on in a district Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.
Republicans also picked nominees for three open GOP-held seats that they will be favored to retain in November.
In the 6th District in metro Jacksonville, which DeSantis gave up to run for governor, Republicans chose Mike Waltz, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. In November, he will face Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Bill Clinton aide who served as deputy U.N. ambassador.
In Southwest Florida’s 15th District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross retired, State Rep. Ross Spano won the Republican nomination and will now face Democrat Kristen Carlson, former general counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus.
Mason-Dixon poll shows DeSantis up by double digits in GOP contest; Graham leads by 9 points among Democrats
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — With a month to go before Florida’s primaries for governor, a new poll shows that Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Ron DeSantis have opened up leads over their party rivals in the chase to be the Sunshine State’s next chief executive.
The Mason-Dixon poll released July 27 found that Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee and daughter of former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, was the choice of 27 percent of Democrats, leading former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at 18 percent and Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene at 12 percent.
The margin of error in the poll of 500 likely Democratic voters was plus or minus 4.5 percent, which means Graham’s lead over Levin is statistically significant. However, 25 percent of voters said they were still undecided, indicating that the race still remains fluid.
Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, Graham could win the nomination with a plurality in the crowded Democratic field.
On the Republican side, DeSantis, a congressman from metro Jacksonville, holds a more substantial lead over State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, 41 percent to 29 percent. However, 28 percent of likely Republicans in the poll said they were still undecided.
The margin of error in the poll of 500 likely Republican voters was also plus or minus 4.5 percent.
Putnam, a veteran of state politics from Polk County who served a decade in Congress before being elected agriculture commissioner in 2010, was considered the front-runner in the GOP race until DeSantis announced his run in January, backed with an endorsement from President Donald Trump.
A previous Mason-Dixon poll in February showed Putnam with a 4-point lead over DeSantis, indicating a shift of 16 points in the past five months.
Mason-Dixon did not pit the Republican and Democratic front-runners in a hypothetical matchup. However, the poll did find that among voters as a whole, Graham was viewed more favorably than DeSantis.
Among voters who recognized Graham, 35 percent had a favorable view of her, compared to just 5 percent who did not. For DeSantis, the figures were 32 percent approval and 21 percent disapproval.
The Florida primaries are August 28.