June 15, 2016

After Orlando shooting, Democrats want special legislative session

@ByKristenMClark

Three Orlando-area Democrats will call this morning for Republican legislative leaders to convene a special session of the Florida Legislature, so lawmakers can consider a proposal in response to Sunday's shooting massacre at Pulse nightclub.

Expected to attend the 10 a.m. announcement in front of the Orange County Courthouse are state Sens. Darren Soto and Geraldine Thompson, both of Orlando, state Rep. John Cortes, of Kissimmee, and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

The lawmakers and local official plan to unveil their "tactical proposal to prevent future tragedies."

But the proposal -- details of which are yet unknown -- isn't expected to go very far.

Katie Betta -- the spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando -- told the News Service of Florida in an email Tuesday: "The president does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action. Absent those elements, the president has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since Sept. 11 as anything more than political posturing by two senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress."

Both Soto and Thompson are leaving the state Senate this year and are campaigning for seats in the U.S. House.

June 14, 2016

Todd Wilcox in first campaign ad: 'Arab Sunni Muslim terrorism' threatens Western society

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox launched his first campaign ad online today, emphasizing the need to eliminate ISIS.

"Arab Sunni Muslim terrorism is a threat to all of Western society," Wilcox says to begin the 35-second spot. "If we don't take the fight to ISIS now, we'll be fighting them here at home. We should use every pillar of American power to destroy ISIS."

The ad's debut came on the first day of Wilcox's three-day campaign tour to discuss national security with voters across Florida.

Wilcox is among five Republicans running in the Aug. 30 primary for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.

Republicans troll Miami-Dade legislative candidate for not living in district

@ByKristenMClark

A Democratic newcomer who's challenging an incumbent Republican lawmaker in Hialeah is under attack for not currently living in the district that she's seeking to represent.

In a 30-second online ad, the Republican Party of Florida says "Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich doesn't live in Hialeah, but she thinks she can represent Hialeah."

The ad capitalizes on comments Gonzalez Petkovich made to Politico Florida last month, when the website reported that she and her husband, Alex, live in an area of Doral that's just outside House District 103 -- where she's challenging state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.

But Gonzalez Petkovich, an attorney with her own Coral Gables-based law firm, said Tuesday it's "laughable" for Republicans to paint her as someone unfamiliar with the district since she was born and raised there.

District 103 includes Miramar, Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Medley and part of Doral.

Continue reading "Republicans troll Miami-Dade legislative candidate for not living in district" »

Anitere Flores leads Andrew Korge in internal campaign poll

@ByKristenMClark

About five months before Election Day, Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores leads Democratic newcomer Andrew Korge, according to a recent internal Republican poll of the District 39 contest.

The state Senate battle between Flores and Korge is one of the most closely watched and expensive legislative races this year.

In a survey of 302 likely general election voters three weeks ago, Flores had a 9 percentage-point advantage over Korge in a head-to-head matchup. Flores drew 40 percent support, compared to 31 percent for Korge. About 29 percent of respondents were undecided in the contest.

After hearing more about the two candidates, Flores' lead over Korge grew among respondents -- with 62 percent favoring her, 16 percent favoring Korge and 17 percent undecided.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Committee had the poll done May 20-22 as a $19,500 in-kind contribution to Flores' campaign, which she reported in her May campaign finance report.

Information about the poll was provided to the Herald/Times by a political consultant working with Flores' campaign and Sarah Bascom, on behalf of the FRSC. Specific questions asked of respondents and raw data of the poll results was not available.

The margin of error for the results is plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.

The poll also found that Flores -- a lawmaker who has represented parts of Miami-Dade County since 2004 -- has stronger name recognition than her opponent. Korge is a first-time candidate, whose father, Chris Korge, is a prominent Democratic fundraiser in South Florida. More than 80 percent of respondents said they didn't know who Andrew Korge was, compared to about 60 percent who didn't know Flores.

The District 39 seat, newly redrawn because of redistricting, leans Democratic and Hispanic. The seat spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys. The area overlaps slightly with Flores' current district, but most of it is new territory for her.

District 39 is one of three hotly contested state Senate seats in Miami-Dade County that could help determine how strong the Republican majority in the chamber is next session. Democrats want to pick up a couple seats and narrow the gap. (The Senate currently has 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats.)

The FRSC poll asked respondents in District 39 which party they would vote for if the election were held now; about 44 percent said they'd pick a Republican candidate, 39 percent said they'd support a Democrat and 18 percent were undecided.

June 13, 2016

In 'clerical error,' a dead man donated to Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign

@ByKristenMClark

MurphyEighteen months after he died, a southern California businessman was reported to have cut two $2,700 checks to Democrat Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign in Florida.

The max donation to Murphy's campaign that was attributed to the late Vincent Gorguze was revealed by The San Diego Union-Tribune in a story late last week.

The U.S. Senate campaign for Murphy, a Jupiter congressman, told the Herald/Times on Monday it was a "clerical error" that caused the donation to be incorrectly tied to Gorguze, when it should have been listed under his widow's name.

The Union-Tribune reported that Gorguze -- father-in-law to California Democratic U.S. Rep. Scott Peters -- was listed as a campaign contributor for $8,000 in donations since his death in October 2013.

Most of it went to Murphy's campaign in two donations totaling $5,400 on April 14, 2015. The remaining $2,600 went to the re-election campaign of another California member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the newspaper reported.

Like Murphy's campaign explained, Peters' campaign told the Union-Tribune that the contributions to Murphy were mistakenly made under Gorguze's name instead of his widow, Gloria Gorguze.

But the Peters campaign also appeared to lay blame on Murphy's campaign for not verifying the source of the donation.

"Donors can’t control how a campaign receiving a contribution reports that contribution," Peters spokeswoman MaryAnne Pintar told the Union-Tribune. "It is incumbent upon that receiving campaign to report contributions correctly. These errors were not on the part of the Peters family."

Murphy spokesman Joshua Karp said in an email to the Herald/Times that Murphy's "campaign has a process for ensuring the correct attribution of donations."

"Our campaign received a check from a joint checking account and a signature that was difficult to read," Karp said. "In a clerical error, the check was misattributed to Mrs. Gorguze's late husband. As soon as we found out about this error, we filed a correction."

Karp said that correction was filed Friday -- which was the same day the Union-Tribune story was published online.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

Todd Wilcox announces statewide tour to discuss national security

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox will embark on a three-day statewide tour this week to discuss national security issues with voters.

The tour -- which his campaign has titled "Preserving Peace through Strength" -- will stop in Tampa, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Amelia Island and Jacksonville between Tuesday and Thursday. (The tour does not include stops in South Florida.)

Wilcox's campaign had been planning the tour for a couple weeks, but the discussion topic is especially timely after the Orlando nightclub shooting on Sunday -- the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history perpetrated by a U.S. citizen who, authorities say, pledged support for ISIS in a 911 call shortly before the attack.

"As we approach this historic election, we must examine the context of our current U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy within which our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are serving," Wilcox said in a statement.

He added: "The unspeakable act of terror in my hometown this weekend remains on the forefront of concern this week for all of us and my hope is that this previously scheduled series of events serves as an opportunity to have thoughtful dialogue with veterans, GOP activists, community leaders, concerned Floridians and business owners about the impact our nation’s foreign policy has on our safety and security here at home."

Wilcox himself is a combat veteran and former CIA case officer.

Wilcox's Tallahassee stop on Wednesday will be held at the Florida Bureau of Elections, indicating that's when Wilcox might officially file his qualifying papers for the Aug. 30 primary.

Here is the schedule for his tour:

Continue reading "Todd Wilcox announces statewide tour to discuss national security" »

$1.9M raised since Feb. 1 in contested Miami-Dade Senate races

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County is proving more and more why it's a battleground for the Florida Legislature this year.

Candidates for the four competitive Florida Senate seats in Miami-Dade have raised about $1.9 million over the past four months, an analysis of newly filed campaign finance reports showed.

Current Miami Republican Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores raised almost $600,000 between them in May alone in their bids for re-election in newly redrawn districts.

And that's not counting lucrative help that's starting to pour in from an arm of the state party, which would like to keep as many Republicans in the Senate as possible.

Because of redistricting, several Miami-Dade County seats are in play in November. Democrats see an opening to win potentially a few more seats in the Senate and narrow the Republican's 26-14 majority.

But despite fielding competitive candidates, Democrats are falling behind in the fundraising game.

From Feb. 1 -- after which time most candidates filed for their current races once the redrawn districts were set -- through May, Republican state Senate candidates together have raised three times as much as the Democrats across three of Miami-Dade's four competitive races. That's a valuable advantage because the cost to advertise on radio and TV in Miami is among the most expensive in the state.

Continue reading "$1.9M raised since Feb. 1 in contested Miami-Dade Senate races" »

June 12, 2016

'This is our Paris': Florida U.S. Senate candidates react to Orlando nightclub shooting

@ByKristenMClark

The eight Republican and Democratic contenders for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat were quick to weigh in this morning on social media about the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which happened overnight at an Orlando nightclub.

Most offered measured responses for thoughts and prayers, while one spoke of her support for gun control and another laid definitive -- but yet unproven -- blame for the gunman's motive.

Republican candidate Carlos Beruff called the tragedy "an evil act of a radical Islamic terrorist in Orlando." He added: "Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families this morning."

As of this morning, local, state and federal authorities were still investigating the gunman and his potential motives. He has been identified as Omar Mateen, of Port St. Lucie. He is of Afghan descent. Investigators are exploring whether Mateen could have been self-radicalized, or had connections to overseas terrorism groups, the Miami Herald reported.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Pam Keith, of Miami, tweeted in the wake of the shooting: "I will NEVER cease advocating for measures that will reduce the number of Americans who die from gun violence." (Along a similar vein, the Florida League of Women Voters issued a call to action this morning, demanding better gun control laws in Florida.)

Democratic candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson -- whose Orlando-based district is a few miles away from the Pulse nightclub where the shooting occurred -- called it a "terrorist attack" and posted information on his Facebook page about grief counseling services available to Orlando-area residents and the need for blood donations.

In a statement, Grayson said: "Our thoughts and our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the entire Orlando community. Words cannot express the horror, pain and sadness that we feel about this terrible loss. I commend the Orlando police for their heroic efforts to save the lives of those who could be saved."

Republican Todd Wilcox, an Orlando businessman, said he was "holding my girls a little closer this morning."

"Prayers for those impacted by the unspeakable act of terror in our hometown of Orlando," he tweeted. 

Democratic Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said he was "devastated by the news of the shooting in Orlando." Murphy represents northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, including Port St. Lucie where authorities say the gunman was from.

"My heart goes out to the victims, their friends and family, and all those affected by this horrifying tragedy, including those in the LGBT community," Murphy wrote on Facebook. "Orlando is stronger than this act of hate and evil. Thank you to our first responders for your brave and selfless actions." 

Republican Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. David Jolly, of Indian Shores, said: "This is our Paris. Let us never forget -- and let us always resolve to confront and defeat terror at the hands of evil."

Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera said: "Our prayers are with those and their families devastated by last night’s act of terror."

Added Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach: "My thoughts & prayers are with the victims, families & people of Orlando. Thanks to law enforcement who responded to this act of terror."

June 10, 2016

DLP vs. JJR contest in Miami-Dade begins as a tie, Democratic poll says

@ByKristenMClark

A competitive Miami-Dade state Senate seat is a toss-up with almost a third of potential voters undecided about five months ahead of the general election, according to an internal Democratic poll obtained by the Herald/Times.

In the race for the newly redrawn District 37 seat, Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is up two percentage points on Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez -- a statistical tie, since it's within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The two candidates, both of whom live in Miami, officially launched their campaigns in May, though they filed for the race several months ago.

About 37 percent of those surveyed said they preferred Diaz de la Portilla, 35 percent supported Rodriguez and 29 percent were undecided, according to the polling memo. Raw data from the poll, including a list of specific questions asked, was requested but not provided.

From June 1-6, Tampa-based SEA Polling & Strategic Design surveyed 540 district voters expected to vote in the legislative contest. The poll was paid for by the Florida Democratic Party as an in-kind contribution to Rodriguez's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

It's one of a few Miami-Dade state Senate seats that Florida Democrats hope to win in November, which would help them narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

But it'll be a rough battle between Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez.

Heading into May, Diaz de la Portilla had considerably stronger fundraising numbers than Rodriguez. (The campaigns' reports for May are due today and not available yet.)

And the sitting senator also picked up a valuable endorsement this week from the Florida chapter of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It's rare for labor unions to endorse Republican candidates. (AFSCME Florida also endorsed Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores this week in her close contest against Democrat Andrew Korge for District 39.)

The Democratic poll for District 37 showed potential voters' party preference leans in Democrats' favor. In general, 39 percent of respondents said they would support a Democratic candidate, 35 percent said they would support a Republican candidate, 22 percent had no preference and 4 percent said they didn't know.

"We know that Miami-Dade continues to change and the poll confirms what we’ve known all along," Christian Ulvert, a campaign adviser to Rodriguez, said in a statement. "Despite almost 30 years of a Diaz de la Portilla in office in Miami-Dade, Jose Javier Rodriguez starts the race tied with Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. The residents in SD37 are very much aligned with the values and principles of Jose Javier Rodriguez and he is well-positioned to carry the district with their support."

Diaz de la Portilla found optimism in the poll, too, and was critical of his opponent.

"The reason Mr. Rodriguez can't even win in his own paid push poll is the same reason why he won't win this election: People here know he parachuted into our community a few short years ago to run for office," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message. "My constituents will ask themselves: If he doesn't know us and doesn't share our values, how can he represent us?"

Todd Wilcox inducted into Army ROTC Hall of Fame

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox was inducted into the Army ROTC Hall of Fame on Friday during a ceremony at Fort Knox in Kentucky.

Wilcox is a combat veteran and former CIA case officer. When he was younger, he earned an Army ROTC scholarship to attend the University of Tampa.

"It was there that I shed this idea that I didn't deserve more. It was there that I learned the value of hard work, the necessity of personal discipline and the value of genuine leadership," Wilcox said in a statement released by his campaign. "I am living proof that circumstances be damned -- we all have a right to succeed in this country so long as we are willing to work and sacrifice for it."

He credited his career accomplishments to the fact that "a little over 30 years ago the Reserve Officers Training Corps took a chance on a kid from the wrong side of town."

"What began as a way out, ultimately became the way up and I owe that to the ROTC," Wilcox said.

Wilcox is among five Republican candidates for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Marco Rubio.

Read more about Wilcox's life in this Herald/Times profile published Friday.