November 13, 2015

Sunshine Summit: Ben Carson

via @learyreports

ORLANDO -- Ben Carson closed out the first day of the Sunshine Summit is typical low-key fashion.

But he got one of the biggest applause lines with an attack on Barack Obama that suggested the president has tried to “destroy” the country by driving wedges such as the “war on women,” increasing the debt and overseeing a scaled back military.

"Now any semblance to what’s going on now is purely coincidental,” Carson said to a standing ovation.

Other highlights:

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM: “Have you ever noticed there is such a thing as an American Dream? There’s not a Portuguese dream. Or a Swedish dream. There’s only an American Dream and there’s something incredibly special about our nation … and that’s why I’m in no hurry to give anything away for political correctness."

MOMMA'S BOY: “I was a terrible student. Everybody called me the dummy. But my mother was the only one who believed in me."

FAITH: “You know, the good thing about God is you don’t have to have a PhD to talk to him. You just have to have faith.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Sunshine Summit: Donald Trump

ORLANDO -- Donald Trump delivered yet another rambling speech where he praised himself many times and bashed his GOP rivals and Democrats Friday at the Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit.

Trump made several promises such as replacing Obamacare and deporting “bad dudes” without offering specifics as to how he would deliver. And he repeated promises to get rid of sanctuary cities and make Mexico pay for his “beautiful” wall.

Trump started out with an attack on the rest of the field when he said that he had watched his rivals on TV a few hours ago and “this place was empty.” That comment drew some boos from the crowd -- but he drew more laughs and applause than boos throughout his speech.

After highlighting some recent polls showing himself in the lead, Trump dove in to make a series of promises and statements largely about immigration. Here is a snapshot:

IMMIGRATION AS A TOPIC: “If I had not talked about illegal immigration I don’t even think you’d be talking about it today. I watched Ted Cruz and I watched Marco Rubio fighting over who is tougher. I was tougher when it wasn’t very politically popular to be tough.....”

DEPORTATION: “Look at some of the gangs in LA, rough gangs, these are dudes. If I become president those people are out of here, those guys are gone.”

BUILDING A WALL: “We are going to build a wall and it's going to be a real wall.....it's going to be a real wall. A Trump Wall.

BORDER PATROL: “We are going triple up the number of border patrol. These Border Patrol guards are phenomenal. .... They want to do a good job. They can’t. They are told to stand down, stand down! People walk right in front of them, 'hi, hi, hi’ guess what? I guess you became an American citizen...... When I am there they are not going to be told to stand down.”

DREAM ACT: “We are going to hire Americans first. ... The Dream Act isn’t for our children. The Dream Act is for other children who come into the country. I want the Dream Act to be for our children.”

Trump held no press conference after his speech.

Sunshine Summit: Jeb Bush

via @adamsmithtimes

ORLANDO -- The Jeb Bush campaign clearly made a concerted effort to show off plenty of home turf support at the state GOP's Sunshine Summit, distributing noise-making Thunder Stix. For whatever it's worth, he drew the most enthusiastic crowd reaction yet (followed by Ted Cruz and then Marco Rubio), though frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson have yet to speak at the Orlando event.

"If you want a talker, maybe I'm not the guy. But if you want a doer, someone that has done it, someone that's taken on the tough challenges, I'm your man," said the former governor, who gave a sharp version of his normal stump speech and included several personal stories of Floridians who benefited from his policies as governor.

He also touted his ability to win - something that many Republican activists question,

"Thirty two years business and eight years as a reform-minded governor. I believe that is the kind of record to take on Hillary Clinton," he said at one point. 

At another: "I can win this, because I campaign all across this state and this country with my arms wide open, with joy in my heart, expressing the belief in the greatness of this country. ....How we win is going to be how I govern.."

And he appeared to allude to a couple significant obstacles in front of his campaign - Trump and Rubio. Bush scoffed at the view that "you’ve got to be the big guy on the stage and talk trash and disparage everybody."

"It's not about the big personality on the stage. It's not about who can give the great quip," Bush said. "It's about building a society that is loving, that is caring, that is aspirational, where people believe again in the American dream."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Sunshine Summit: Mike Huckabee

ORLANDO -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee reminisced about how he took on the Clinton machine in Arkansas and talked about the economy and immigration during the Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit in Orlando Friday. Here are some excerpts:

HILLARY CLINTON: “I don’t know of anybody that is better prepared to take on battle with Hillary than me because no one ever faced the Clinton machine like I did because every election I was ever involved in was against the Bill and Hillary Clinton apparatus.”

ECONOMY: “Yes we have to fix our economy. I’m the one candidate who believes tinkering with the current tax code is an inaccurate approach. ... The bottom 90% of American workers their wages have been stagnant for the last 40 years.”

IMMIGRATION: “Every Republican says we will secure the border. But we always say that and never seem to do it. .... As president I will put the Director of Homeland Security and his family in Laredo, Texas and say you are not leaving until you secure the border.”

LAUGH LINE: “I know when I die and go to heaven I’m going to stop in Atlanta on the way.” (The line was part of his anecdote about getting stuck in an airport.)

Sunshine Summit: Lindsey Graham

via @adamsmithtimes

ORLANDO -- Sen. Lindsey Graham spoke very sloooowly and somberly to a mostly empty ballroom, warning that the safety of America is at stake in this presidential election.

"I've never been more worried about another 9/11 than I am right now," the South Carolina senator said. "If we don't change our foreign policy -- soon --- we're going to pay a heavy price."

Graham, 60, was especially critical of the Iran deal and of Hillary Clinton's handling of the Benghazi attacks: "Before the attack, she let people down. During the attack she was AWOL. And after the attack she lied."

As he excoriated President Barack Obama's foreign policy, a woman in the audience shouted, "He's a traitor!"

"No ma'am," Graham responded. "He's not a traitor. He just doesn't know what he's doing."

Graham is a foreign policy hawk who antagonizes some conservatives for his support for immigration reform, but he did not shy away from the issue Friday. No way can America round up and deport 11 million people living in America, he said.

"I am worried about .. losing the Hispanic vote for a generation," he said.

The senator also gave a nod to the main Florida candidates in the race.

"You have two wonderful candidates from Florida running," said Graham, presumably unaware that Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson also call Florida home. "You should be very proud."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Sunshine Summit: Ted Cruz

@PatriciaMazzei

ORLANDO -- It made for interesting politics, to watch Ted Cruz addressing the Republican Party of Florida's Sunshine Summit while rival Marco Rubio spoke to reporters across the hall. The two senators have been locking horns over the past two days over immigration.

A smaller crowd awaited Cruz than Rubio, but some of the people in the audience were true believers. They hollered during Cruz's speech ("We love you!" a woman yelled. "We the people love you!" a man added) and chanted his name once he was done. When Cruz saw the TelePrompTer, he grabbed it and joked: "Is Obama coming?"

A few memorable moments:

HE'S MAKING A LIST: Cruz rattled off all the policy items he would tackle as president, starting with undoing President Obama's executive actions to investigating Planned Parenthood to getting Congress to repeal "every word of Obamacare," to abolishing the U.S. Department of Education and doing away with the Internal Revenue Service. 

"In the days that follow we will finally, finally, finally secure the borders and end sanctuary cities. We will stop releasing criminal illegal aliens, and we will pass Kate's Law."

TED VS. THE WORLD: The "single biggest difference" between himself and his rivals: "When I tell you I'm going to do something, I'm going to do exactly what I say I'm going to do."

MEDIA LOVE: By the end of his two terms in the White House, Cruz pledged, "a whole lot of reporters...will have checked themselves into therapy."

TAKE THAT, FLORIDA CANDIDATES: "Do you know which campaign has the most cash on hand the most money in the bank?" Cruz asked, spreading his arms wide for effect. "We do!"

MY DAD'S CUBAN, TOO: "My whole life, my dad has been my hero," Cruz said of his Cuban-born father, Rafael. "Every one of us here, we have a story just like that in our backgrounds. Some of us, it's us. Others, it's our parents. Others, it's our great-great-great grandparents. But what ties Americans together is everyone of us is the children of those who risked everything for us."

TEXAS HEARTS FLORIDA: "Florida and Texas share a lot in common," Cruz said. "We're immigrant states." And southern states that like sunshine, he added. "Florida's primary is a critical time, and Florida can play the decisive role in ensuring that the next Republican nominee for president is a strong conservative."

Sunshine Summit: Marco Rubio

via @learyreports

ORLANDO -- Marco Rubio was the first presidential candidate to address the Sunshine Summit in Orlando and may have suffered from a crowd not yet warmed up, or one familiar with his stump speech. The reaction was warm but not overwhelming.

Still, Rubio delivered pleasing lines about national security, throwing out the Iran nuclear deal, repealing Obamacare and opposing Common Core. He did not address immigration but that was a dominant topic during a news conference that followed.

Speech highlights:

Joker: "I’m not sure who brought Barack Obama’s TelePrompTer. But I wish I could move it so I could see you. … We don't have any socialists running and none of our candidates is under investigation by the FBI.”

Bush bashing. He didn’t say Bush’s name but Bush was clearly a focus when Rubio said governors don’t create jobs, the private sector does. Rubio also said federal government should not be involved in K-12 education. That’s why we don’t need Common Core,” he said to applause. Then: "I feel called to this. I don't come from wealthy and politically connected parents."

Family Values: “There is no replacement for the family. It is the original government. It is the most important school you will ever attend.” This is a newer line in Rubio's standard speech.

Turn the page: Rubio laced his address with his generational, turn-the-page argument. “We are running out of time,” to fix the problems facing the country.  

Strong America: “In the face of all these threats, we are gutting our military capability, and that is why one the first things this party must be about is we must be the party of a strong national defense.” (Big applause.)

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Dick Cheney to Florida GOP: Hillary Clinton's in 'big trouble'

Cheney

via @adamsmithtimes

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- For Republicans trying to cast themselves as the party of the future, their choice to headline their annual fundraising gala Thursday night seemed a lot more like a nod to the past.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, 74, gave more than 1,000 Republicans gathered at Disney World a grim assessment of the threats facing America and a blistering attack on the record of President Barack Obama.

“My impression is that Obama's eager to get out of town. I'm eager to have him get out of town,” Cheney said. “It's extraordinarily important that the Republican Party reclaim the reputation that we've had for most of my life — that we are the go-to guys on national security and defense.”

Cheney, a divisive figure even with members of his party, happens to be one of the main reasons why the GOP lost the trust of many voters on foreign policy and national defense. A leading force behind President George W. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he left office in 2009 with only 13 percent of the American people having a favorable opinion of him.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam introduced him as “easily the most consequential leader in the modern Republican Party and certainly the most consequential vice president in the history of our country.”

But even among the avid Republicans gathered in Orlando for Thursday's Statesman's Dinner and a two-day presidential candidate summit starting Friday, audience members found Cheney a less-than-ideal standard-bearer to put forth.

More here.

November 12, 2015

Marco Rubio rallies Florida GOP to take on Democrats

Rubio orlando

@PatriciaMazzei

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- His star in the presidential race on the rise, Marco Rubio dropped in Thursday on one of the groups that knows him best: the Republican Party of Florida.

On the campaign trail, Rubio likes to note that he’s twice defied the Florida GOP establishment: in 2010 when he ran for the U.S. Senate against the sitting Republican governor and now as a candidate in the same race as former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Rubio made sure to remind Republicans — light-heartedly — of his track record Thursday night.

“Five years ago when this party was under different leadership, I couldn’t even get a table, because I happened to be running against the then-sitting governor of Florida for U.S. Senate,” Rubio began, referring to Charlie Crist. “Apparently he’s now running for the Congress as a vegetarian.... Yeah, he’s running out of parties indeed.”

Rubio spoke at the party’s annual Statesman’s Dinner, a sold-out fundraiser that drew nearly 1,000 people on the eve of the Sunshine Summit, a two-day event featuring 13 of the 15 Republicans running for the 2016 presidential nomination. He played the role of motivator to party stalwarts ahead of the 2016 election.

“Tomorrow you’re going to hear from a bunch of candidates running for president that are going to ask you to vote for them, and I’ll be one of them,” Rubio said. (“One out of six Republicans is running for president,” he joked.) “Tonight, I want to talk to you about why the next president needs to be a Republican, because we simply cannot afford another four years like the last eight.”

More here.

November 10, 2015

Marco Rubio's small bills on Florida GOP card raise spending questions

GOP 2016 Rubio(7)

@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

For five years, Marco Rubio has tried to put behind him the controversy of his spending on a Republican Party of Florida credit card, taking the unusual step over the weekend of making public nearly two years of American Express statements to show how he spent the party’s money.

In some ways, however, the statements, which he previously refused to make public, raise more questions about how Rubio used the card, rather than laying them to rest.

Some big-ticket expenses he rang up on the card — $1,625 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, $527 for food and drinks at Disney, $953 for a meal at Silver Slipper, the Tallahassee steakhouse — are the kind of eye-catching charges expected for someone doing party business.

But a slew of small charges at gas stations and for cheap meals — at a time when Rubio was struggling with his personal finances — suggest Rubio made the most of the ample leeway and little oversight party leaders gave employees and lawmakers to spend the party’s cash.

The Florida GOP issued corporate cards, intended for business use, during flush years a decade ago. A spending scandal threw the party into crisis five years later, around 2010, when some of the AmEx statements — including Rubio’s from 2007-08 — were made public. Rubio’s presidential campaign released the remaining two years of statements from 2005-06 on Saturday to show Rubio had repaid the party when he misused the card for personal charges.

An analysis by the Herald/Times of the new statements, however, found Rubio spent freely on the sort of items that are difficult to prove — or disprove — as party business expenses.

More here.