November 02, 2014

Faith, free food for 'Souls to the Polls' in Jacksonville

Jacksonville's Duval County was one of 12 counties that offered early voting Sunday, and on a brisk, cloudless day, Democrats tried to take full advantage with a last-minute push among churchgoing black voters known as "Souls to the Polls."

On the city's north side, the Rev. Jeffrey Rumlin ended a two-hour service at Dayspring Baptist Church by reminding his African-American congregation of about 300 people that others died so that blacks could gain the right to vote.

"If voting was not important, then why are some people trying to stop us from voting?" Rumlin asked as parishioners chimed in with "Amen" and "that's right." The pastor's father, Isaiah Rumlin, who's president of the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP, made a similar pitch at the start of the service.

Worshippers were given fans that showed side-by-side pictures of Charlie Crist and Barack Obama and the phrase "partners in progress," and a list of the county's 18 early voting sites. They were also offered tickets to a free fish fry in a parking lot next door to the nearest early voting site at a branch library.

"It's not because we're trying to buy a vote. It's trying to encourage voting," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, who passed out the fish fry tickets and addressed the congregation as the service ended. "I can't tell you who to vote for, but I'd certainly rather be Scott-free."

Gibson criticized Scott's decision to cut public school spending in his first year in office, his refusal to accept federal money for high speed rail and lack of enthusiasm for expanding Medicaid in Florida. She also predicted that if Crist is elected, he will again make it easier for ex-felons to get their civil rights back, an issue that resonates strongly among many black voters.

The pace of voting was steady on a clear and sunny 60-degree afternoon where the only competition for voters' attention was a Jaguars football game.

Christie Thomas, 38, an administrative assistant at a hospital, joined the "Souls to the Polls" effort, and voted for Crist at the Highlands library branch.

"He's for the middle class," Thomas said, adding of Scott: "He's for the upper class. He doesn't look out for the little people."

Thomas is an example of the so-called "sporadic voter" Democrats have been targeting to improve turnout over the 2010 election. A lifelong Democrat, Thomas said she did not vote in the 2010 race for governor and voted early because she wasn't about to make the same mistake twice.

"I was working late," she said. "By the time I got to the polls, they were closed."

Ron Covington, 65, a retired commercial railroad manager for CSX Corp., also voted early for Crist at the library and wore an "I voted" sticker on the lapel of his winter coat as he left the polls.

"Four years of Rick Scott is enough," Covington said.

Another factor likely to boost black turnout in Jacksonville is the presence on the ballot of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who has a serious opponent, Republican Glo Smith, but is heavily favored to win a 12th consecutive term in Congress. Brown was scheduled to visit a half-dozen black churches on Sunday to help ramp out the get-out-the-vote effort.

Duval Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland estimated that turnout so far is 3 to 5 percentage points higher than it was in 2010, but he won't know for sure if the total turnout will be higher until after the polls close Tuesday.

Biden speaks about civil rights, voting rights at black church

Charlie Crist gave a brief introduction before Vice President Joe Biden spoke at Mout Hermon, a black church in Fort Lauderdale, Sunday afternoon.

“You can early vote up until 4 o’clock,” Crist said, shortly before 3 p.m. “ I heard some tried to make it a little longer but you know how things go sometimes in Florida. ... I’m on your side and Rick’s not.”

(Here is our background about Broward’s late attempt to extend early voting which was rejected by the state.)

Biden reflected back on the civil rights movement and efforts to desegregate movie theaters, push for voting access and fighting housing discrimination. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s words from the Selma jail, African-American poet Maya Angelou and said he was here to deliver a simple message from President Obama:

“He has had your back, you’ve got to have his back. ...  Give him some governors he can work with.”

Biden bashed Scott for “eviscerating” education and for giving tax breaks to the wealthy and for trying to reduce voting access.

He said that Scott made “repeated efforts to make it harder for ya’ll to vote,” Biden said.

In 2011 under Scott, Florida reduced early voting but after the long lines in 2012 the state overhauled the voting law in 2013.

While waiting for Biden, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair from Weston, criticized Scott for education cuts and for the failure of the state to expand Medicaid. Scott initially opposed expanding Medicaid, later flip flopped in support of it but didn’t lobby for it and the Legislature rejected it.

Crist is hoping that Democrats in South Florida turn out at higher numbers than they did in 2010 when Alex Sink lost to Scott. Through Saturday, Broward’s turnout was about 21 percent but the full turnout won’t be known until Tuesday night.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, acknowledged Broward’s poor showing during the last governor’s race. But he expressed optimism that Broward will turn out in greater numbers this time.

“Four years ago we did not turn out like we should have,” he said. “The numbers this year are up in Broward County.”

Broward has surpassed early and absentee voting from 2010 days before election day. But a key question remains unknown: are more Broward voters turning out simply before election day or will overall turnout in Broward be higher than in the past? Broward turnout was 41 percent in 2010.

After Biden speaks, Crist plans to march with Democratic voters from New Hope Community Church, another nearby Fort Lauderdale church, to the early voting site at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center.

Through Saturday, the library has been nearly in the middle in terms of turnout among the 20 early voting sites. The most crowded sites have been at sites in Coral Springs, Tamarac and Pembroke Pines.

Joe Biden to Miami Hispanics: 'This is your election'


IMG_3428 (1)Democrats welcomed Joe Biden -- or rather, José Biden, as he was introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia -- to Miami on Sunday as part of a final appeal to voters to go to the polls Sunday and cast their ballots for Garcia for Congress and Charlie Crist for governor.

The vice president held court, speaking at length in an appeal to Hispanics and the middle class. He received the most applause when he referred to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

"He says when asked about climate change, 'I'm not a scientist.' But he sure as hell thinks he's a doctor when he tells women what to do," Biden said.

The crowd was enthusiastic, though the 200 or so people did not fill the auditorium at Florida International University. The intended audience, though, were voters watching TV at home.

There weren't enough chairs to go around when the politicians walked on stage. So Biden, after initially sitting down, gave up his seat to Crist's wife, Carole. He joked with supporters behind him and played up the personal anecdotes when he took the microphone.

Hispanics, Biden said, could determine this and future national elections if they vote in proportion to the size of their population.

Continue reading "Joe Biden to Miami Hispanics: 'This is your election'" »

3m in FL have voted; GOP leads by 126k ballots as Dems close gap to 4.3%


There's a good chance that half of the 2014 ballots have already been cast now that 3 million Floridians have voted absentee or at early voting stations in person.

This morning's data (complaicated by the fact that five* of 67 counties have not updated yet) shows Republicans still holding a lead over Democrats in ballots cast, but it's not as strong as it used to be.

GOP lead over Democrats: 125,623, or 4.3 percentage points. Yesterday morning's lead: 133,521, or 4.8 percentage points.

So Democrats have narrowed the raw vote gap back almost to where it was on Monday, Oct. 20 when in-person early voting began: 123,502. In percentage terms, the margin was more daunting: 14 points.

Democrats are hoping for a big early vote turnout today, but polls close at 4 p.m. In Democrat-rich Broward County, Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes might want the polls opened longer today. Only Gov. Rick Scott can do that and, if 2012 is any indication, he'll say no. Democrat Charlie Crist is playing up the contrast, noting how he kept polls open longer in 2008, in contrast to Scott. This could help fire up Democrats heading into Election Day in South Florida, but considering they haven't flocked in huge numbers to the polls so far, it's anyone's guess.

Prior posts can be found through the Florida Voters tab here, and here are the early vote, absentee and combined totals followed by a graphic of how Democrats have narrowed the gap in percentage terms.

PARTY          EV           %
REP         492,025 40.6%
DEM         504,120 41.6%
IND         214,633 17.7%
TOTAL       1,210,778  
PARTY          AB's            %
REP         783,451 0.451234
DEM         645,733 0.371914
IND         307,057 0.176852
TOTAL       1,736,241  
PARTY      EVAB           %
REP       1,275,476 43.3%
DEM       1,149,853 39.0%
IND         521,690 17.7%
TOTAL       2,947,019  

EVAB 1102

*The five laggard counties: Hardee, Polk, Santa Rosa and Union.

UPDATED Charlie Crist campaign: Broward asked about possibly extending weekend early-voting hours

@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Broward County asked the state of Florida on Friday about extending early voting hours this weekend at the request of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman.

Wasserman Schultz told the Miami Herald in an interview Sunday that she asked Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes for the extension for Sunday, when Democrats hold "Souls to the Polls" events targeting African-American voters.

The congresswoman said she asked for the extra hours on behalf of Charlie Crist's gubernatorial campaign and local religious leaders. The Obama administration did not ask her to seek the extension, Wasserman Schultz said.

According to Wasserman Schultz, she spoke to Snipes -- a fellow elected Democrat -- about at about 3:30 p.m. Friday and made the request. She also said that state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, also reached out to Snipes.

Snipes then emailed the Florida division of elections inquiring about the possibility to extend weekend early-voting hours. The state responded with a telephone call saying advanced notice would have been required.

Continue reading "UPDATED Charlie Crist campaign: Broward asked about possibly extending weekend early-voting hours" »

Saturday on the trail: Scott and Crist make final push

Scott SaturdayWith TV ad spending topping $104 million in Florida’s record-shattering, nail-biter of a governor’s race — including the late addition of nearly $13 million directly from Gov. Rick Scott — the candidates spread out across Florida on Saturday trying to push every last supporter to the polls.

Charlie Crist mingled with students in Tallahassee, while his campaign aides fretted about the impact of an unprecedented number of ads launched by Scott and his allies. Republicans are spending more than $13 million on TV ads over the final eight days, twice what Democrats are spending and equivalent to about $1,200 every minute of every day for TV commercials.

“Just turn on the TV and watch,” said a smiling Melissa Sellers, Scott’s campaign manager, when asked about the spending while Scott was in Sun City Center south of Tampa with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Scott also looked upbeat as he kicked off Saturday’s “Let’s Keep Working” bus tour for a drive down I-75 where he later met up with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Naples. Story here. 


Prison waited hours before alerting police that inmate was on the lam


An inmate who fled Dade Correctional Friday remained on the lam on Saturday night, as questions swirled about why police weren’t immediately informed of the escape.

It appears to have taken nearly five hours before state prison officials knew that Ronald McCoy had escaped from Dade Correctional Institution — and five more hours before they alerted authorities that the convicted armed robber was still on the loose.

By then, McCoy — who was serving two life sentences — was likely far away. He may have headed to the Tampa Bay area, where he has family, investigators believe.

It was not clear Saturday why it took so long for prison authorities to call local police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and initiate a full-blown manhunt.

By the time police got the call, McCoy’s trail had grown cold, and an orange prison jumpsuit may have looked normal among trick or treaters on Halloween night.

Multiple sources at the prison told the Miami Herald that despite McCoy’s violent history he was allowed into an off-limits area, where he was able to take advantage of broken gates and doors to make his escape, possibly as early as 8:30 a.m. Friday.

It would be almost 1 p.m. before prison officials confirmed he was gone. Story here. 


Crist reaches out to black voters at FAMU homecoming




Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist spent Saturday in chilly Tallahassee, where thousands of current and former Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University students gathered for the homecoming game against Norfolk State. It gave him the opportunity to chat with influential African-American leaders, as well as voters from around the state.

Crist started the day at Olean's Cafe, a popular soul food restaurant near campus. The restaurant was packed with patrons.

"You have a very popular place," he said to the owner, Olean McCaskill.

"And now you're here!" she replied. "Charlie Crist! Put your vote in!"

Eight-year-old Taylor Burks was selected from among her classmates at the FAMU Developmental Research School to introduce Crist at the restaurant. Her mother, Shannon Burks, had already cast an absentee ballot for Crist, and said she expected many black voters to support him on Tuesday.

"The African-American community is going to turn out," she said. "We are going to the polls and it is going to be a successful election for Charlie Crist."

Later in the afternoon, Crist donned an orange-and-green windbreaker to meet with FAMU fans who were tailgating before the game. His wife Carole wore FAMU sweatshirt and an orange-and-green ski cap with a pompom for the occasion.

Continue reading "Crist reaches out to black voters at FAMU homecoming" »

November 01, 2014

Obama records robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia


Stuck in a close reelection race, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia has brought out the big Democratic guns to help.

Targeted Democratic voters in the 26th congressional district received an automated telephone recording Saturday asking them to vote for the congressman. The voice they heard? President Barack Obama's.

"I'm calling on behalf of Joe Garcia to remind you to vote early this election, because your vote matters, and the choice couldn't be clearer," Obama says. "Joe Garcia knows that Medicare and Social Security aren't schemes, they're promises we make to one another, they're commitments that make this country stronger, and he'll always fight to protect them."

Garcia's challenger, Republican Carlos Curbelo, who has campaigned with former Obama opponent Mitt Romney, has repeatedly tied the Democratic incumbent to the unpopular president.

"Although scandal-plagued Joe Garcia has spent the vast majority of his campaign distancing himself from President Obama, he is now praying that the President's last-minute call will help hid the fact that his campaign is under federal criminal investigation," read part of a statement released Saturday by Curbelo spokesman Wadi Gaitan.

On the campaign trail, Garcia has stressed that he's disagreed at times with Obama, and let him know about it.

But Garcia's campaign seems to be betting that the president is still popular enough -- at least among the party faithful -- to draw reticent midterm voters to the polls. The congressman plans to campaign Sunday with Vice President Joe Biden.

Listen to the robocall here.

This post has been updated with a quote from Gaitan's statement.

Joe Garcia, a Cuban dissident and details over a diabetes drug trial


A Cuban dissident caught in a political frenzy over his appearance in a campaign commercial for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia praised the Democratic congressman in a series of interviews this week for listening to his views on the U.S. trade embargo.

Guillermo Fariñas said he was impressed last year when Garcia paid attention to, and later followed up with, the dissident over his opposition to selling Cuban prescription drugs in the U.S. -- a move Fariñas told several television stations could undermine the embargo, which he supports. So does Garcia.

Fariñas didn't go into detail, so it was difficult to know exactly what he and the congressman discussed. Was Fariñas suggesting Garcia backtracked on a push he made last year, first reported by the Miami Herald, to allow a Havana research institute to hold trials for a diabetes drug in the U.S.?

Garcia's campaign said the congressman maintains his support for the trial, which was approved on a limited basis. The Cuban drugmaker chose not to pursue it because the approval had not guarantee of future permission to sell any medication here.

The congressman had not sought that additional approval, but it was that broader issue he discussed with Fariñas, his campaign clarified -- not the drug trial itself.