October 17, 2016

Independent U.S. Senate candidates protest, unsuccessfully sue for inclusion in Murphy-Rubio debate


Upset that they've been barred from participating in tonight's televised U.S. Senate debate between Republican incumbent Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a couple of the independent candidates in the contest are venting their frustration.

"When you’re marketing for public awareness and telling the public 'Marco Rubio vs. Patrick Murphy' are the two candidates, you’re misleading the public and you’re depriving the public of the opportunity of knowing there’s five other candidates," no-party-affiliation candidate Steven Machat, of Miami, told the Miami Herald's editorial board Monday in a phone interview. 

Machat unsuccessfully sued in both federal and state court with a demand that he and the other independent and third-party Senate candidates be included in the two debates scheduled. A federal judge last week said U.S. District Court wasn't the proper venue for the case, and a state judge in Miami separately rejected Machat's request for an injunction in an order Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Tony Khoury, a Miami businessman and fellow NPA candidate, plans to protest outside the University of Central Florida's Fairwinds Alumni Center just before the debate starts at 7 p.m. -- and he's threatening to crash the event.

In a statement Monday morning, Khoury's campaign said he would "attempt to attend" the debate to make his point of why he and the other candidates ought to be included.

"Voters are tired of the duopoly that the two major parties hold over politics, and nowhere is that more destructive than in our debates," Khoury said. "This systematic stifling of opinions and solutions is killing our cherished American Democracy."

Only Murphy and Rubio were invited to participate in the two scheduled debates for Florida's nationally watched U.S. Senate race. Debates typically have cut-offs for participation, such as how well candidates are doing in the polls.

Aside from Murphy and Rubio, the other candidates on the ballot are Libertarian Paul Stanton and independent candidates Khoury, Machat, Basil Dalack and Bruce Nathan.

Patrick Murphy's emotional new ad uses Pulse shooting to hit Marco Rubio on gun control



Hours before Patrick Murphy and Marco Rubio are set to face off in their first debate in Orlando, Murphy unveiled a new TV ad on Monday in which the mother of a Pulse nightclub shooting victim criticizes the Republican incumbent for "doing nothing" to improve federal gun laws after the June massacre.

Christine Leinonen lost her son, Christopher, in the tragedy. Her voice breaking, Leinonen begins the ad by explaining how her son was "shot nine times. He didn't have a chance."

"I cannot understand how Marco Rubio would go back to Washington D.C. and do nothing," says Leinonen, who was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention this summer. "I don’t think Patrick Murphy is afraid to take on the toughest problems, including gun violence, in this country."

MORE: PolitiFact: 'Mostly false' that Rubio voted against 'every' gun bill after Orlando

Murphy, a Democratic congressman from Jupiter said in a campaign statement that after Pulse, "Senator Rubio never found the courage to stand with [Leinonen]."

"Marco Rubio puts the gun lobby before Floridians every time," Murphy said. "We have a responsibility to act and Floridians deserve a real leader in the U.S. Senate."

Rubio's campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas disputed Murphy's and Leinonen's claims of the senator's inaction, saying "since the tragic terrorist attack in Orlando, Marco has worked to help survivors and prevent terrorists from purchasing firearms."

"Marco voted for efforts that would alert the FBI and delay the purchase of weapons for anyone currently on or previously on the terrorist watch list," Perez-Cubas said in a statement. "Ultimately, Marco believes we must refocus our efforts on combating terrorism, both at home and abroad, and addressing the mental health crisis in our country."

Murphy, a strong proponent of gun control, has spoken several times during his campaign about the need for gun reform, especially in the wake of the Orlando shooting.

Last week -- on the four-month anniversary of the shooting -- Murphy held a press conference in Orlando with gun-control advocates, including U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. The Connecticut Democrat (no relation to Patrick Murphy) famously filibustered on the Senate floor for 15 hours in late June, as the Senate deliberated gun-control measures following the Pulse shooting.

Watch Murphy's new ad below:

*This post has been updated with comment from Rubio's campaign.

What to watch for as Rubio, Murphy debate tonight in Orlando

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@JeremySWallace & @ByKristenMClark

The debate over debates is over.

Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Patrick Murphy will finally stand face-to-face Monday in Orlando.

The one-hour debate will be held at the University of Central Florida and broadcast online and on certain TV and radio stations statewide. ABC chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl will moderate.

It's the first of at least two debates over the next three weeks.

Click here to read about five key themes to watch for.

Photo credit: AP/Palm Beach Post

October 16, 2016

Patrick Murphy's dad dropped another $250K into pro-Murphy super PAC

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A super PAC supporting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy raised about $1 million in the past three months -- including a $250,000 check from Murphy's multi-millionaire father.

The donation was reported in a quarterly financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission just before midnight on Saturday evening, the day of the reporting deadline. The pro-Murphy "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" reported entering October with $764,000 in cash on hand to spend in the final weeks of the campaign.

Thomas Murphy Jr., chairman, CEO and founder of Miami-based Coastal Construction Group, has a long history of financially supporting his son's political efforts, starting with Murphy's first bid for Congress four years ago.

Including the most recent check to "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" on Sept. 27, the elder Murphy has donated at least $1.75 million this cycle in support of Patrick Murphy's Senate bid against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio.

MORE: "The financial muscle behind Patrick Murphy’s Senate bid: Dad"

This summer, Thomas Murphy donated $1 million to the Democratic super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, which a few days later announced a $1 million ad buy benefiting the Jupiter congressman. Earlier this year, Murphy's father previously also gave $500,000 -- through himself and Coastal -- to "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class."

Super PACs can raise unlimited funds but are prohibited from coordinating with candidates' campaigns.

A conservative watchdog group last month filed a complaint with the FEC alleging Thomas Murphy's donations to political efforts supporting his son constitute illegal coordination between Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign and the super PACs his father has donated to. (Murphy's campaign called it a "frivolous and unfounded attack.") Murphy's former primary competitor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, made similar accusations earlier this year.

MORE: Murphy ‘hates’ super PACs, but family gives to one backing him

The $1 million quarterly haul for "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" was its strongest fundraising period this cycle. The super PAC also reported spending about as much as it took in between July and September.

The group hasn't been noticeably influential in Florida's U.S. Senate race. It ran some advertising for Murphy over the summer, but almost half of its quarterly spending ($440,000) went to Senate Majority PAC -- which has been supporting Murphy but recently pulled millions of dollars in planned advertising for him.

By comparison, the pro-Rubio super PAC, "Florida First Project," raised almost $2.1 million between July and September and had about $500,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30, its most recent financial disclosure filing showed.

Photo credit: AP

October 15, 2016

Murphy hopes fallout from Trump tape will help him overtake Rubio

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Ten days ago, Democrat Patrick Murphy’s chances to unseat Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate looked less and less likely.

Florida’s Senate race was — and still is — competitive, but after weeks of going head-to-head against the Republican incumbent, Murphy had failed to take the lead or even gain a measurable advantage on Rubio.

Then came the leaked footage of Donald Trump.

The 2005 “Access Hollywood” video showing the Republican presidential nominee boasting of kissing and groping women without their consent has thrust Rubio into defensive mode, causing him to minimize his public profile even as he reaffirms his endorsement of Trump.

READ MORE: Rubio stands by Trump after tape

This was the golden opportunity Murphy’s campaign has wanted to try to knock Rubio down a few pegs.

“We feel really confident that these comments from Trump and these accusations against him this week are going to be a lead weight on Rubio’s chances,” Murphy campaign spokesman Joshua Karp said Friday.

But political observers say it’s too soon to tell whether the Trump controversy will give Murphy enough to overtake Rubio in the final stretch of the campaign.

Several don’t expect it to.

More here.

Photo credit: Richard Graulich / Palm Beach Post/AP

October 14, 2016

Poll: Marco Rubio 44%, Patrick Murphy 38% after Trump tape leak

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A fresh poll from Public Policy Polling released Friday afternoon has Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio up 6 percentage points on Democrat Patrick Murphy, even after Rubio re-affirmed his support for Donald Trump after the controversial "Access Hollywood" tape was leaked last week.

The poll, done Oct. 12-13, found Rubio with 44 percent support, compared to 38 percent support for Murphy. Libertarian Paul Stanton had 6 percent support and 12 percent were undecided.

In a head-to-head match up, Rubio led Murphy, 48 percent to 43 percent, with 9 percent undecided.

The Democratic-leaning PPP surveyed 985 likely voters for results with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Respondents were also asked about Rubio's decision to stand by Trump, and the results were split.

About 39 percent said they were less likely to vote for Rubio, 32 percent said it made them more likely to support him, and 25 percent said it didn't make a difference. Four percent weren't sure.

PPP's previous poll of the Senate contest -- in late September -- had Rubio leading Murphy by 7 percentage points, 42 percent to 35 percent.

Photo credit: AP / The Palm Beach Post

October 13, 2016

Pro-Murphy groups plan UCF rally ahead of Monday's first U.S. Senate debate

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Political groups and voters supporting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy say they are planning a rally for Monday evening prior to Murphy's first debate against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

UCF students will join activists from several pro-Murphy groups, such as For Florida’s Future, America’s Voice, Working American Coalition PAC and iAmerica Action, according to a press release announcing the event. The rally is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. near the university's Alumni Center.

Murphy and Rubio will debate beginning at 7 p.m. The event will be broadcast statewide and streamed online. It's the first of two scheduled debates before Election Day, although a third debate is possible.

Photo credit: Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post

October 12, 2016

Former Sen. Bob Graham praises new law allowing 9/11 victims' families to sue Saudi government

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Former Sen. Bob Graham played a major role in compelling the long-delayed release three months ago of a classified document showing possible ties between Saudi officials and some of the 9/11 hijackers.

Now the Floridian, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks killed almost 3,000 people, is hailing congressional passage and veto override of a new law allowing the victims' families to sue the Saudi government for alleged complicity.

"Several positive things are going to happen now," Graham told the Miami Herald. "The victims' families will have an opportunity for justice. And Saudi Arabia will be disabused of any idea that it has immunity from responsibility for its role in 9/11."

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Several of them lived in Sarasota before the attacks and, while living there, had contacts with high-ranking Saudi officials. They also left the United States shortly before the attacks.

Graham said that even when he was head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and held a high security clearance, the U.S. government withheld information about the Saudis' ties to 9/11 from him and other members of Congress.

"But from what I know today, there is ample evidence that 9/11 would not have happened but for the assistance provided by Saudi Arabia," Graham said. "The results of that assistance was (nearly) 3,000 persons murdered, 90 percent of them Americans. And a new wave of terrorism with Saudi financial and operational support has beset the world."

The House and the Senate, by overwhelming margins in both chambers, voted last month to override President Barack Obama's veto of the bill permitting lawsuits against Saudi Arabia.

Obama said such lawsuits would expose the U.S. government to legal challenges against it for actions abroad by American armed forces. CIA Director John Brennan said lawsuits against Saudi Arabia would threaten U.S. national security.

After the Senate voted 97-1 to override Obama's veto of the measure, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest criticized the move as "the most embarrassing thing the Senate has done since 1983," when it had overwhelmingly rejected a veto by President Ronald Reagan.

That override, however, involved a much less consequential land dispute between the government and six retired people.

Earnest last week said the law will force judges to determine whether a government sponsors terrorism, a decision properly left to the president, the State Department and U.S. national security agencies. 

"That was a piece of legislation and now a law that sought to target Saudi Arabia, a country that has not been designated a state sponsor of terrorism," Earnest said. "It does open up a scenario where you have judges at a variety of levels and a variety of different courtrooms, reaching different conclusions about whether or not another country is complicit in sponsoring terrorism.  That's not an effective way for us to confront state sponsors of terror."

The Saudi government bitterly criticized the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, called JASTA, targeting Riyadh.

"The erosion of sovereign immunity will have a negative impact on all nations, including the United States," the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.

But a 9/11 victims advocacy group called September 11th Advocates hailed the new law.

"JASTA will keep Americans safe from terrorists and terrorist funders like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by setting a strong deterrent in holding the Kingdom accountable for its funding and logistical support of terrorist group," the group said Tuesday.

Despite Saudi claims since 9/11 that it is going after radical Islamic citizens, Graham said the changes have been minor.

"What I don't think they've changed is their Wahhabist commitment to the extreme form of Islam, which has served as the primary motivation for thousands of people to adopt jihad as their life goal," he said.

Graham, who retired from the Senate in January 2005 after three terms, said the Obama administration and that of President George W. Bush likely could have prevented Congress from allowing suits against Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. government should have released more information about possible Saudi ties to 9/11, Graham said, and it could have negotiated a settlement enabling the Saudi government to pay victims of the tragedy.

As an example, Graham cited the 2008 deal in which Libya agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families of 270 people killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 two decades earlier, in exchange for the dropping of U.S. sanctions.

"It was self-inflicted," Graham said. "The Bush and Obama administrations could have avoided JASTA if they had negotiated with Saudi Arabia through diplomatic channels and if they had voluntarily made more information available about responsibility for 9/11."

Photo credit: Tim Chapman, Miami Herald








Florida GOP strategist, voting for Hillary Clinton, still supports Marco Rubio for Senate


Veteran GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich has been talking for a couple of days now about his decision to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, but on CNN this morning, Stipanovich said he's still voting for Marco Rubio in Florida's U.S. Senate race -- even though Rubio is standing by Trump in the wake of leaked footage showing Trump making lewd comments about women.

"I'm not too proud of Marco," Stipanovich told CNN in a telephone interview from Tallahassee.

He said Rubio "is not exactly a profile in courage" for maintaining his endorsement of Trump, after newly released "Access Hollywood" footage showed Trump making the now-infamous remarks in which he boasted about groping women without their consent.

But Stipanovich said maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate is vital, so that's why Rubio will get his vote in Florida's race. Rubio faces Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter.

Rubio said in a statement Tuesday that he has "consistently rejected [Trump's] offensive rhetoric and behavior" but he maintains his endorsement for him.

"I wish we had better choices for president. But I do not want Hillary Clinton to be our next president. And therefore my position has not changed," Rubio added.

Before Rubio re-affirmed his support for Trump, Stipanovich first told public radio on Monday that he was going to split the ticket and cast his ballot for Clinton and Rubio.

Murphy says he accepted Univision debate invitation Rubio agreed to a month ago

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After agreeing to only two televised U.S. Senate debates against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio, Democrat Patrick Murphy says he’s open to at least one more: a Univision-sponsored debate in Miami.

Murphy’s campaign — which has escalated its Hispanic outreach since late September — announced Wednesday morning that the Jupiter congressman had accepted a weeks-old invitation from Univision for a “Spanish-language debate.”

But Murphy — who isn’t fluent in the language — doesn’t want the debate to actually be in Spanish.

The campaign said Murphy “has requested that the debate be conducted in English and then dubbed in Spanish, like the 2014 [gubernatorial] debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, in order to ensure a fair playing field for both candidates.”

Rubio, who is Cuban-American, is fluent in Spanish and would be likely to speak in that language before a Hispanic viewing audience, as he has in previous debates.

More here.

Photo credit: Richard Graulich / AP/The Palm Beach Post