September 19, 2018

Florida Senate candidate touts honors from Trayvon Martin Foundation -- but misspells name



Mariana "Marili" Cancio has long been a supporter of local anti-violence groups, financially funding hotel rooms and T-shirts while successfully advocating for a witness protection law last year.

The Republican candidate for the Florida Senate District 40 race touted that work on a recent mailer. On one side, she posed with Tangela Sears, the founder of Miami Dade Parents of Murdered Kids, a support group Sears began after her own son was killed in 2015.

On the other side, the mailer said Cancio's efforts were recognized by Sears' organization and the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

But the foundation's namesake, who was from Miami and became the face of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign when his murder was publicized in 2012, was misspelled on the mailer. Trayvon was spelled with an "e."

"That's definitely not the spelling," said Kat Tynes, spokeswoman for the Trayvon Martin Foundation based out of Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens. "it just takes a few seconds to do some research just to make sure the research is accurate."

When first asked about the typo by the Miami Herald, Cancio said, "There's been a lot of mailers."

Cancio sent the Miami Herald a photo of a plaque from the Miami Dade Parents of Murdered Kids and the Trayvon Martin Foundation, dated May 2016, recognizing Cancio for her "support, commitment and dedication on our journey to justice."

"I'm proud of the work I've done for this community." she said.

Tynes said Cancio was recognized at a joint event hosted by Sears and her organization, but that the Trayvon Martin Foundation has not "directly" honored Cancio.

But Sears says Cancio should not use her organization or the Trayvon Martin Foundation on the campaign trail and has asked Cancio's campaign to cease mentioning those groups.

"It's misspelled and it shouldn't have been there," Sears said, adding, "I don't mix our dead kids work up with politics. I support her and I'm willing to advise her without parading groups of dead kids."

Cancio gave no further comment.

Cancio is running against Democratic candidate Annette Taddeo, who won the Southwest Miami-Dade seat in the 2017 special election.

Curbelo campaign says Mucarsel-Powell should return Hispanic Caucus money



Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's congressional campaign is calling on Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to return a $5,000 contribution from a political action committee headed by a lawmaker who is accused of molesting a teenager a decade ago. 

Curbelo's campaign said Mucarsel-Powell should return the contribution from BOLD PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' political arm, because the PAC is led by California Rep. Tony Cardenas. Cardenas is being sued in California for allegedly drugging and fondling a teenage girl in 2007. He denies the charges and has set up a legal defense fund. The all-Democratic Hispanic Caucus is supporting him and allowing him to continue running the PAC, though House minority leader Nancy Pelosi did order the House Ethics Commission to investigate. 

"Mucarsel-Powell tries to claim she stands with victims of sexual violence, but when Pelosi and the Democratic establishment told her to ignore serious allegations of sexual assault and take Tony Cardenas’s money anyway, that’s exactly what she did. Her continued silence is an insult to all who have been victims of sexual assault," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. "Debbie Mucarsel-Powell owes it to victims to return the donation and be transparent about her continuous embrace of political support from Cardenas’ PAC." 

The demand to return money comes months after Curbelo donated contributions from disgraced former Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Pat Meehan. Meehan used taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment case and referred to the an aide who accused him of harassment as his "soul mate." Curbelo criticized Mucarsel-Powell for taking the PAC money in an interview with Politico Florida on Tuesday. 

Curbelo tried to join the Hispanic Caucus last year but was rebuffed from the group that is currently made up of all Democrats. 

Mucarsel-Powell's campaign referred to an earlier statement when asked about the demand to return the money.

"As a woman and a mother raising her two daughters these accusations are obviously concerning for Debbie and she’s waiting to learn more of the facts as the case develops," Mucarsel-Powell spokesperson Mike Hernandez said in a statement. "Frankly, it’s pathetic that Congressman Curbelo would use this as a political issue as he continues to welcome President Trump, who openly bragged about forcefully groping women and has been accused of sexual assault by no less than 11 women, to campaign with him."

Poll: Andrew Gillum leading Ron DeSantis, Scott and Nelson neck-and-neck


A new poll released Wednesday shows Andrew Gillum ahead of Ron DeSantis by seven percentage points in the race for governor, while the U.S. Senate race is still in a dead heat.

The poll was conducted by Thompson Reuters, Ipsos and the University of Virginia Center for Politics, and it surveyed 2,000 adult Floridians online, with a 2.5 percent "credibility interval."

According to the poll, 42 percent of respondents said they would vote for Gillum, the Democratic nominee, while 35 percent chose DeSantis, the Republican.

Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson received 38 and 36 percent, respectively, showing a possible edge for Scott but still a very tight race.

Notably, respondents also tended to disapprove more often than approve of the job by President Trump, with 42 percent saying they either "strongly approve" or "somewhat approve" of his performance, while 48 percent said they either "strongly disapprove" or "somewhat disapprove."

The top issues on respondents' minds when it came to their votes were, in order: immigration, the economy, healthcare and Social Security.

Miami’s pro-Trump ‘master of selfies’ could upend a competitive congressional race

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At a recent Ron DeSantis campaign event at Miami’s Versailles restaurant, a congressional candidate was on hand waving a “Make America Great Again” hat, shouting at conservative Republicans who had come to get a glimpse of the GOP gubernatorial nominee to vote for her.

But the MAGA-clad candidate for congressional District 27 wasn’t the Republican nominee, Maria Elvira Salazar. It was no-party candidate Mayra Joli.

Joli, Miami’s self-described master of selfies, has been campaigning for nearly a year for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat. She bypassed the GOP primary for a shot in the general election against Salazar and Democrat Donna Shalala, and doesn’t have much money in her campaign account. Independent campaigns for congressional seats are usually long-shot propositions.

But Joli’s outspoken pro-Trump message on Spanish-language radio and at other candidates’ campaign events could undercut the effort by Republicans to keep Ros-Lehtinen’s seat. The race is already a difficult one for the GOP — Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by more than 19 percentage points in 2016. Republicans are relying on a coalition of conservatives and moderate voters who supported Ros-Lehtinen to stay in their camp come November, and they’re hopeful that Salazar is the right candidate to make the race competitive.

“Basically, the Republicans, the Diaz-Balarts and the Ros-Lehtinens, they are more anti-Trump than even some Democrats and many in the Cuban-American community think they have sold their souls to Washington,” Joli said. “I’m running as an NPA [No Party Affliation] because I understand the only way to help the president is to be with him for America First.”

Nelson Diaz, the head of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, blasted Joli’s candidacy as disingenuous, noting that she donated $500 to Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid and that Republicans who vote for her are essentially giving their vote to Shalala.

“If somebody was looking to derail the GOP nominee in this election you would do exactly what she’s doing; Say you’re a Trump supporter, wiggle your away to the front of the room,” Diaz said. “If she cares so much about this president, why would she do something that’s going to damage or hurt the president?”

Diaz said he thinks Joli’s campaign is a “scam,” though he acknowledged he has no evidence that she’s in the race as a ringer candidate to deliberately sabotage the chances of the GOP nominee.

“I think Maria Elvira will win by a good margin because the Dems have nominated someone who is such a bad candidate for this seat, but she [Joli] could make a difference,” Diaz said. “Of course, we are going to combat it. I’ve been on the radio this week telling people that this woman’s a fraud.”

Read more here.

September 18, 2018

New York Times "live poll" shows Mucarsel-Powell closing in on Curbelo

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A new poll suggests Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has a race on his hands. 

The New York Times conducted a "live poll" in Curbelo's district, where readers could see in real-time how many calls were being made and where voters were responding to the poll within the district. After four days of thousands of calls, Curbelo emerged with a three percentage point lead over Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a result that is within the poll's five-point margin of error. 

The poll, conducted via phone from September 13 to 17, called 509 voters in Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district which he has represented since 2015. Curbelo finished with 47 percent support and Mucarsel-Powell picked up 44 percent of support with nine percent of voters being undecided. 

The poll comes a month after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released polling that showed Mucarsel-Powell trailing Curbelo by a larger margin than a poll conducted months earlier, suggesting that the Democrat who ran for state Senate had work to do to make the race more competitive. 

"This race has tightened considerably. The more voters get to know Debbie, the more the wind is at her back," said Melvin Felix, a spokesperson for the Mucarsel-Powell campaign. “Curbelo voted with his party in Congress to take healthcare away from more than 100,000 people in this district. The more that voters get to know Debbie, the stronger she’ll be in November.”

Curbelo maintains a fundraising advantage over Mucarsel-Powell and outside groups are expected to invest heavily in the race. Most of the election prognosticators rate the race as a toss up or slightly in favor of Curbelo after Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 14 percentage points in the district. 

Café con politics podcast: DeSantis does Miami



On the latest episode of Café con Politics podcast, we go over GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis’ recent visits to South Florida, where he talked about his push to indict Raul Castro in the 1996 shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue pilots and about his environmental platform.

Reporter Martin Vassolo covered both appearances, and joins us to talk about Desantis visit to the Everglades and his claim that his opponent, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, is a socialist.

Listen below:  

Rick Scott says Kavanaugh accuser should testify before U.S. Senate

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the Senate Judiciary Committee should allow the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault decades ago to testify, potentially lengthening or derailing the confirmation process for Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick. 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward by name on Sunday after multiple outlets reported on the existence of a letter to California Rep. Anna Eshoo and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein that described a non-consensual encounter of a sexual nature between Kavanaugh and Ford when the two were in high school. Ford said that Kavanaugh groped her and tried to pull off her clothes and stopped when a friend of Kavnauagh's jumped on top of them. Kavanaugh denies the allegation and both Kavanaugh and Ford have said they will testify under oath if necessary. 

Scott accused Feinstein of sitting on the allegations to further delay the confirmation process. Feinstein says she didn't disclose the letter because Ford wanted to remain anonymous and Ford came forward only after multiple news outlets reported on the letter's existence.

"The Judiciary committee needs to seek the truth here," Scott said in a statement. "Truth is not partisan, and truth is more important than politics. These very serious allegations should have been investigated months ago. But Democrat Senator Feinstein pulled a slick Washington trick and intentionally hid this from the Senate during the hearings. Dr. Ford must receive a fair hearing; her allegations are very serious. And Judge Kavanaugh deserves to have the chance to clear his name." 

Scott is running against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who said in a statement yesterday that "there should be an investigation of the new allegations against him" and that he looks forward to meeting with him. Scott also criticized Nelson for not meeting with Kavanaugh, though scheduling conflicts for both are the reason a meeting hasn't happened yet. 

Nelson and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio are not members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so they have not been directly involved in Kavanaugh's confirmation process. 

September 17, 2018

One debate set between Gillum and DeSantis in race for governor

The 2018 Florida governor's race is set. Two outsiders bucked their respective political establishments and will now face each over in November: Democrat Andrew Gillum (left) will face Republican Ron DeSantis (right). [COLIN HACKLEY / TAILYR IRVINE | Times]

The general election race is in full swing and there is finally one debate set between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, with likely more to come.

The two men have both accepted lists of debates across the state, but so far the only one that that overlaps is one in Davie hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association.

The Davie debate will take place on October 24, and will be will be broadcast live statewide according to Leadership Florida's website.

DeSantis announced his debate choices Monday in a tweet.

The other debates he's accepted, with CBS in Miami, Telemundo in Orlando and Fox News, have not yet been agreed to by Gillum, who accepted a different station's invitation in Miami (Univision 23). 

According to the DeSantis campaign, the CNN invitation DeSantis accepted is for a debate, which is different from the CNN "Town Hall" event in Tampa that Gillum has said he will do.

The debates between the two candidates promise to be electric, as the two have vastly differing ideologies and both displayed strong debate performances during the primary.

DeSantis says he won't accept sugar money. He was endorsed by a group fueled by it.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis arrives to speak to supporters on Monday (8/27/18) at Tiffany’s family restaurant in Palm Harbor, the day before the primary election.

Normally it would hardly be noteworthy that the Associated Industries of Florida endorsed the Republican candidate for governor. The powerful business group endorsed all the Republicans running for statewide cabinet positions last week.

But campaign finance reports show the group's political committees are funded in large part by Florida's sugar industry — which Ron DeSantis has chastised repeatedly for contributing to Florida's toxic green algae woes.

In one of DeSantis' most memorable moments during the Republican primary, DeSantis called his rival, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, an "errand boy for U.S. Sugar" for his acceptance of millions in sugar contributions.

In a statement sent to the Times/Herald on Friday, his campaign further doubled down on their promise not to accept "Big Sugar" money.

"We are happy to have AIF's endorsement because they know Ron DeSantis is the only person in this race who will create jobs, cut taxes and boost our economy," spokesman Stephen Lawson wrote in the statement. "Ron has made it very clear that he will not be taking money, directly or indirectly, from Sugar."

According to public campaign finance reports, Florida Crystals Corporation and United States Sugar Corporation have given more than $7.3 million to five AIF-controlled political committees since they were formed in late 2013. The only corporation to give more is Florida Power & Light, the utility company.

The PACs are called Associated Industries of Florida Political Action Committee, Florida Prosperity Fund, Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, Floridian's (sic) United for Our Children's Future and Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee.

All in all, the committees' contributions are made up of more than 27 percent sugar money. And since DeSantis announced his candidacy on January 5, the pot has been even sweeter. Over the past nine months, United States Sugar and Florida Crystals Corporation have given $2.7 million — more than 43 percent of the PACs' fundraising in that time.

In response to a follow-up question about whether financial support from AIF would constitute as "indirect" sugar contributions, Lawson responded that the campaign has instructed the group not to give them any money that came from sugar.

But Democrats were unconvinced.

"Former Congressman DeSantis has made it clear time and time again that, No. 1:  he is not ready for prime time and he doesn't know the rules of the game," said state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park, an early supporter and surrogate of Andrew Gillum's. "This also goes to show that the former congressman is not true to his word."

AIF has not donated to DeSantis' campaign since the endorsement, according to his political committee's online contribution list. But the campaign indicated that was likely to happen in the future.

DeSantis' Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, has also pledged not to take any sugar contributions on his campaign website.

September 14, 2018

Fox host Lou Dobbs takes swipe at DeSantis, Scott for disagreeing with Trump on Puerto Rico deaths

Lou Dobbs | YouTube screen shot

Fox Business Network host and big-name conservative Lou Dobbs set his sights on Florida Thursday night, accusing Ron DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott of disregarding "science, statistics and evidence" by disagreeing with President Donald Trump about how many people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria.

"Why did two Florida Republicans locked in tight races distance themselves today from the president on this issue?" Dobbs said on his show before reading pieces of Scott's tweet and DeSantis' campaign statement on the air. "Obviously the two men don't care that the numbers aren't related to facts, nor do they care how those numbers were arrived at."

President Trump retweeted the video clip Thursday night.

 It's all part of the political fallout of Trump's Thursday tweets that blamed "bad politics" and Democrats for making up a report that inflated the number of people who died in Puerto Rico in an effort "to make me look as bad as possible."

The tweets were a political grenade for Florida Republicans, who have traveled to Puerto Rico, sought endorsements from the island's officials and otherwise worked continually to court the Puerto Rican vote for November.

In response, DeSantis' campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson sent out a statement that said DeSantis "doesn't believe any loss of life has been inflated" and Scott tweeted that "I disagree with @POTUS," using the acronym for "President of the United States."

"An independent study said thousands were lost and (Puerto Rico) Gov. (Ricardo) Rosselló agreed," Scott added.

In his segment, Dobbs then went on to assert that the president was accurate, even though Trump did not provide any evidence for his claims.

READ MOREPolitiFact: Fact-checking the death toll estimates from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

The 3,000 figure comes from a report commissioned by the government in Puerto Rico and published by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health last month. It estimated that there were 2,975 excess deaths between September 2017 through the end of February 2018, compared to historical patterns of the typical number of deaths expected for that time frame.

Much of the Puerto Rico remained without power and running water for months after Maria hit, and many residents died while waiting for help.

READ MOREFlorida officials respond to Trump’s claim, without evidence, that Puerto Rico deaths are made up

Before Dobbs' comments, Fox commentators had typically been very supportive of both Scott and DeSantis. DeSantis has even made jokes on the campaign trail about his frequent appearances on the cable Fox News shows, a viable tool to reach conservative voters.

DeSantis was also endorsed by Sean Hannity, who traveled to Florida to campaign with him.