Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

February 01, 2016

Meet the Iowa caucus tourists

via @maria_e_recio

DES MOINES -- A few days before the Iowa caucuses Charlie and Sharon Weber were sitting in a coffee shop across the street from a Jeb Bush event they had been turned away from after having driven 45 minutes from Ames where they live.

It turned out to be an invitation-only event and they were disappointed – not because they were Bush backers but because they are a very Iowa kind of political tourist – determined to go to events of all the presidential candidates.

“In our case, we’re trying to be face-to-face with all 14 candidates,” said Charlie Weber, who said they are both independent voters and have seen 10 so far, including frontrunner Donald Trump.

The couple moved back to Iowa, where they grew up, after 35 years in Michigan and now, retired, are making the events leading up to the first-in-the nation Feb. 1 caucuses a full-time pastime.

So which caucus – Republican or Democrat – will they attend when it comes down to actually voting? “I haven’t totally decided,” said Charlie Weber. “We might split and go one to each for the experience,” said Sharon Weber.

At the coffee shop, they met up with Linda Kelly, who had also been turned away. And her interest in the Bush event? “I’m a caucus tourist,” said Kelly.

More here.

Voting already underway in Florida for presidential primary

@JeremySWallace

Election day is already here for thousands of Floridians.

While most of the focus of the presidential election will be in Iowa and New Hampshire over the next week, the election is already underway in Florida as well. Over the weekend, supervisors of election in all 67 counties in Florida began mailing out presidential primary ballots to Florida voters who are living overseas or are stationed on military bases outside of the United States.

State law requires election officials to ship out overseas ballots 45 day before an election, to assure those voters can get their ballots filled out and mailed back in time to be counted. For Florida's March 15 presidential preference primary, that deadline to be mailed was on Saturday.

Next week, starting on Feb. 9, supervisors of election will start mailing out domestic absentee ballots.

Voting by mail has become increasingly popular in Florida. In the 2012 presidential election, more than 2 million people in Florida voted by mail in the general election. In fact, more people voted using absentee ballots or early voting (a total of 4.7 million) than those who voted on Election Day at a traditional precinct (3.8 million), according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Legislation forcing Tampa-area commission to leave Uber alone advances in House

@MichaelAuslen

Florida House members from Hillsborough County are moving forward with a proposal to stop the county's Public Transportation Commission from banning or regulating ridesharing apps like Uber as if they were taxicab companies.

The bill (HB 1439), which was unanimously approved Monday by the House Local Government Affairs Subcommittee, would apply insurance and background check requirements for ridesharing drivers. Most significantly, it would force an end to legal battles between the commission and Uber.

House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, sponsored the bill. 

It's similar to a bill (HB 509) that passed last week, applying insurance and background check rules across the state and banning any local government from blocking Uber. There is no Senate version of the legislation.

"Basically it's what we voted on last week but with a little local piece," Young said.

Tampa has been one of the epicenters of conflict between Uber and local governments. It's also the only county with a public transportation commission. Last year, the commission, tried to ban Uber and ticketed drivers. The commission also filed a lawsuit, asking a judge to intervene and block Uber.

Because the Public Transportation Commission is governed by state law, the Legislature can step in to change its rules. Young and Raulerson's bill was approved by the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation in December, although three Tampa Democrats -- Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Reps. Janet Cruz and Ed Narain -- voted against it. There are no Hillsborough County lawmakers on the Local Government Affairs Subcommittee.

The commission supports the bill, Executive Director Kyle Cockream said.

"Generally, the Commission is in favor of allowing both taxi cabs and transportation network companies to operate evenly, while making sure that the insurance provided covers both the riding public and the drivers," he said in a statement, adding that "the Commission continues to support a statewide resolution to the insurance issue, and sees that as a priority."

Patrick Murphy leads fundraising among crowded field in Florida's U.S. Senate race

@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

Among the six major candidates from both parties running to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate next year, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, continues to dominate the field in both quarterly fundraising and in the amount of money he's got on hand to spend.

Reports detailing fundraising efforts for the last three months of 2015 were due to the Federal Election Commission on Sunday. U.S. Senate campaigns typically file paper copies through the secretary of the Senate, so specific details on each candidate's donors and expenditures aren't yet available.

On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, is leading in fundraising and on Sunday went after U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, for posting a weak fourth quarter.

Here's a recap of what each campaign has reported their candidate's fundraising to be for the fourth quarter, which covers the period between October and December. (These figures do not include fundraising from allied super PACS, which some candidates have.)

PATRICK MURPHY (D)

CASH ON HAND: $4.3 MILLION

Murphy vaulted to the top of the fundraising race several months ago, thanks to an early start to his campaign last spring and subsequent backing from key Democrats and party establishment supporters.

For the fourth quarter, his campaign said the Jupiter congressman raised $1.46 million, leaving him with nearly $4.3 million in the bank to spend heading into 2016. That latter figure is more than 16 times the amount his Democratic primary opponent -- U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson -- reported to have in cash on hand, as of Dec. 31.

RON DESANTIS (R)

CASH ON HAND: $2.5 MILLION

The congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach leads the Republican candidates in fundraising and is second overall.

DeSantis reported raising $772,000 in the fourth quarter and said he had about $2.5 million in the bank, as of Dec. 31. That warchest is almost six times more than that of Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who trails the Republican field.

TODD WILCOX (R)

CASH ON HAND: $873,656

Wilcox, a defense contractor from Orlando, raised $324,641 in the last quarter — topping $1 million for the year.

And he has nearly $900,000 in the bank, more than any Republican candidate except DeSantis.

DAVID JOLLY (R)

CASH ON HAND: $507,000

Jolly’s campaign raised $112,000 in the final quarter of 2015, also topping $1 million for the cycle. Shortly after the news broke, the DeSantis campaign released a statement drawing attention to the numbers, which Jolly released over the weekend when they might garner less attention.

In response, Max Goodman, Jolly's political director, said this about DeSantis: "Sadly, it's the only part of his political career he attends to, as evidenced by his recent missed votes to hang out with mega donors and college kids in Vegas, while Rep. Jolly and his House colleagues were attending to legislation to fund our veterans, law enforcement and 9/11 first responders.”

CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA (R)

CASH ON HAND: $431,000

Despite endorsements from many key state lawmakers, Florida's lieutenant governor from Miami is well behind in fundraising.

Lopez-Cantera reported raising $318,000 in the last three months of 2015 and said he had $431,000 in cash on hand, heading into this year.

ALAN GRAYSON (D)

CASH ON HAND: ~$258,000

The Orlando congressman touts "an army of small-dollar progressive donors" but he has failed to catch up to Murphy's fundraising momentum, after joining the Democratic side of the race in mid-summer. Grayson reported raising $491,000 from donors during the fourth quarter, and Grayson himself added to that by making a $100,000 loan -- which is on top of previous loans he's given his campaign.

As of Friday, Grayson's campaign was still tallying his exact cash on hand, but his spokesman said it was around the same amount "or slightly less" than what Grayson had heading into October (which was $258,700).

North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith is also running in the Democratic primary race against Murphy and Grayson. Her fundraising previously has been nominal, and her campaign did not return an email from the Herald/Times on Friday requesting her fourth-quarter fundraising figures.

Marco Rubio says the number of illegal immigrants has increased -- but it hasn't

Throughout his Republican presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has tried to distance himself from his involvement in a 2013 failed bipartisan immigration bill.

The legislation has proven to be a liability for Rubio because it contained a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and some of Rubio’s opponents say his support for the bill is evidence that he’s not tough on immigration. On NBC’s Meet the PressJan. 31, host Chuck Todd asked Rubio if he regretted being part of the Gang of Eight senators who authored the bill.

"Look, I tried to fix the problem," Rubio said, referring to illegal immigration. "This is a real problem. And where are we today? We are worse off today than we were five years ago. We have more illegal immigrants here. We have two unconstitutional executive orders on amnesty. I went to Washington to fix a problem."

Our ears perked up when Rubio said there are more illegal immigrants in the United States than there were five years ago, so we decided to check the numbers. We found that the latest available data doesn’t support Rubio’s statement.

Keep reading Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PolitiFact and here is Rubio's full Truth-O-Meter record.

Marco Rubio plays up faith in Iowa

GOP 2016 Rubio (6)

@lesleyclark @PatriciaMazzei

DUBUQUE, Iowa -- To spread the gospel of Marco Rubio ahead of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, his campaign dispatched a longtime friend from South Florida who could personally attest to Rubio’s faith.

Ralph Arza, the burly and gregarious former state lawmaker turned charter-school lobbyist, hit the streets of Dubuque, in northeastern Iowa, over the weekend. In a rented Buick Enclave on which he had slapped a Rubio bumper sticker, Arza set off on his mission: going door-to-door in the largely Democratic — and heavily Roman Catholic — city on the border with Illinois and Wisconsin to find Catholic voters to convert to Rubio.

“I came all the way from Florida to see if you would support Marco,” he told retiree Carole Welu in her garage. He scored: She told him she’d caucus for Rubio — blizzard permitting — for the first time since the 1960s.

A man who was in the house wore a Marco Island cap. “That’s a sign from God!” Arza said, bursting out in laughter.

God references have noticeably crept into Rubio’s campaign in Iowa, where evangelical Christians who can sway the election like to hear presidential candidates talk openly about their religion. “This election is in God’s hands, as everything is,” he said Sunday morning on CBS News’ Face the Nation.

More here.

Photo credit: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

Republicans hit Miami Democratic congressional candidate with robocalls on Iran

@PatriciaMazzei

The National Republican Congressional Committee plans to hit voters in Florida's southernmost congressional district with robocalls starting Monday criticizing Annette Taddeo, the Democrat hoping to unseat incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

The automated messages, in English and in Spanish, focus on the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, and try to tie Taddeo to the agreement. She told the Miami Herald in September that she would have supported it had she been in Congress -- though she noted that "no deal is perfect," something omitted in the NRCC's robocalls. Curbelo opposed the deal.

"The people of South Florida should be alarmed that Annette Taddeo is so liberal that she would support a deal that our own Secretary of State admits will fund terrorist groups," the call says, referring to a statement by Secretary John Kerry, who acknowledged two weeks ago that the U.S. couldn't prevent some of its funds from probably winding up in the wrong hands.

Republicans are eager for a contested Democratic primary in the 26th district, which stretches from Westchester to Key West and now leans more Democratic than when Curbelo won it in 2014. Trying to weaken Taddeo might prompt other Democrats to take her on. Andrew Korge, the son of Hillary Clinton donor Chris Korge, was considering a challenge but has now gone back to mulling a Florida state Senate run. Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia appears poised to run again.

Read the full script of the robocall, and give it a listen:

Continue reading "Republicans hit Miami Democratic congressional candidate with robocalls on Iran" »

Marco Rubio raised about twice as much as Jeb Bush last quarter

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio's presidential campaign was on the upswing and Jeb Bush's on the downswing, and that reality was reflected Sunday when campaigns reported their quarterly fundraising.

Rubio raised nearly $14.2 million in the last three months of the year, about twice the $7.1 million reported by Bush. That's Rubio's biggest haul for that period yet, but he also spent more than before -- about $14.8 million -- largely on television ads to counter spots against him from several of his rivals, including Bush.

"Today, the Marco Rubio for President campaign announced the campaign's strongest fundraising quarter yet, doubling what was raised in the previous quarter," his campaign said in a statement.

 

The Rubio campaign reported nearly $10.4 million cash on hand but didn't specify how much of that can be spent in the primary. By not breaking down the number the previous quarter, it appeared Rubio had more cash than Bush, when he really didn't.

Bush's campaign reported nearly $8 million cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

"Jeb continues to be encouraged and grateful for the tremendous support and enthusiasm his candidacy has generated since he launched his campaign," spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said in a statement Sunday. "We are confident our campaign will have the resources needed to get Jeb's conservative record, message and vision for the future out to voters across the country."

Pro-Jeb Bush super PAC, which amassed $103M in first half of last year, reports $15M in second half

@PatriciaMazzei

Right to Rise USA, the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush's presidential campaign, collected $15.1 million in donations in the last six months of 2015, the group reported Sunday -- a far cry from the $103 million it cleared before July 1.

A single, $10 million donation from Hank Greenberg, former chief executive of insurance giant AIG, made up the bulk of the haul.

Right to Rise still has $59 million left in the bank, more than the super PAC for Bush rival Marco Rubio, which has nearly $14 million. But the drop off in Right to Rise's fundraising reflects Bush's collapse in public-opinion polls, which make most financial donors more skittish about backing a candidate.

 

Ron DeSantis, David Jolly spar over fundraising in Florida race for U.S. Senate

via @adamsmithtimes

Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Jolly tried to bury his weak latest fundraising report, by releasing it on a Sunday. Ron DeSantis responded:

The Ron DeSantis for Florida campaign released the following statement after news that the campaign had raised nearly twice as much ($772K) as the Senate campaigns of Republicans David Jolly ($112K) and [Carlos] Lopez-Cantera ($318K) in the 4th quarter of 2015. The DeSantis for Florida campaign finished 2015 with $2.6m cash on hand – far more than any of his opponents.

“It’s become clear that Ron DeSantis is the only candidate who will have both the resources necessary and the conservative grassroots support to beat Patrick Murphy or Alan Grayson in November,” said Brad Herold, campaign manager for Ron DeSantis for Florida. “One of our opponents has already given up on fundraising or running a serious campaign while the other continues to struggle. Conservatives throughout Florida are uniting behind our campaign because Congressman DeSantis is the only candidate who will keep Florida’s Senate seat in Republican hands.” 

And the Jolly campaign responded too, even tossing in an attack video for good measure:

"Ron DeSantis is bragging about how much money he raised during the same period ISIS was terrorizing Paris and San Bernardino," said Max Goodman, Jolly's Political Director. 

"Sadly, it's the only part of his political career he attends to, as evidenced by his recent missed votes to hang out with mega donors and college kids in Vegas, while Rep. Jolly and his House colleagues were attending to legislation to fund our veterans, law enforcement, and 9/11 first responders.  Clearly votes aren't the only thing DeSantis has missed - he's also missed the biggest news of the last week that 84% of Florida voters think Members of Congress spend too much time raising money, and he's missed that 10 editorial boards across the state have now come out in support of David Jolly's STOP Act to prohibit members of Congress from cheating taxpayers by fundraising on official time....If the voters are looking for a stark contrast of Jolly the frontrunner and DeSantis the fundraiser, we've nicely packaged it here:"

 

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times