July 29, 2016

Democratic groups weigh in on U.S. Senate debate controversy

@ByKristenMClark

Two other political groups are now voicing their opinions on whether Miami Democrat Pam Keith should be included in an Orlando TV station's upcoming primary debate for Florida's U.S. Senate race.

The Boynton Beach-based Democratic African American Women Caucus says, quite bluntly, that Keith shouldn't complain about being excluded, because the fact is she didn't meet the qualifying criteria to participate.

"Put the race card away. It doesn't apply here," caucus president Leslie Wimes said of Keith, in an email statement to the Herald/Times.

But the Democratic Progressive Caucus -- a subset of the Florida Democratic Party -- is echoing the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women in urging WFTV Channel 9 to change its mind and invite Keith. Florida NOW, which endorsed Keith, said it was "outraged" she wasn't invited.

Keith has accused WFTV in Orlando of "blatant racism and sexism" for excluding her from its televised primary debate next month between the two leading Democratic candidates, U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy. Keith is African American and the only female candidate seeking Florida's U.S. Senate seat this year. Grayson and Murphy are white.

The station said earlier this week that Grayson and Murphy were the only two of the five Democratic candidates who'd met the qualifying criteria: 15 percent support in polls. Keith received 10 percent and 11 percent support in the two polls she has been included in.

A polling threshold is common for organized political debates. It's unclear how the qualifying criteria was set for this one; the terms are typically the subject of negotiation between the invited participants and the host.

In her email, Wimes said: "We do not think WFTV is being racist or sexist towards Pam Keith. If she doesn't meet the criteria, then she doesn't participate. Crying racism/sexism because she hasn't increased her poll numbers or her name recognition in the almost two years that she has been running does a huge disservice to women who are victims of racism/sexism."

The Democratic African American Women Caucus has not endorsed any candidate and Wimes said her statement "in no way is a reflection on Pam Keith's qualifications."

"Fair is fair, though. Not everything is racism and we would be remiss if we didn't say so," Wimes said.

The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn't address Keith's line of attack in criticizing the station and her competitors. The group, which hasn't endorsed any candidate, defended what they say is her right to participate in candidate debates.

"No one -- Democratic elites, the media or elected officials -- should put their thumb on the scale to advantage or disadvantage any candidate," caucus chairwoman Susan Smith said in a statement. "Florida Democrats who will go to the polls on August 30th deserve to hear from all three candidates so they can make a smart decision about who should represent out party in the General Election against Marco Rubio."

"By keeping Pam Keith out of the debate, WFTV is denying Democratic voters the opportunity to be fully informed of their options," Smith said.

WFTV has not responded to Keith's remarks. But the station said earlier this week that other Senate candidates, Democrats and Republicans (including Keith), would be invited to do three-minute segments “to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida.”

Grayson hasn't commented either, and Murphy was vague when asked about the controversy on Thursday by the Miami Herald's editorial board.

The Grayson-Murphy debate is set to be taped in advance and will air at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 on WFTV in Orlando and online at WFTV.com.

Lesser-known Democratic candidates Reginald Luster of Jacksonville and "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando also weren't invited to the debate. They each launched their campaigns last month -- just in time to qualify for the primary ballot -- and neither has been included in any polls.

Women's group 'outraged' by Pam Keith's exclusion from U.S. Senate debate

PamKEITH_8col@ByKristenMClark

The Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women says it's "outraged" that an Orlando TV station is excluding Democrat Pam Keith from its U.S. Senate primary debate next month.

Keith -- an African American from Miami and the only female candidate in the Senate contest -- wasn't invited to WFTV Channel 9's "one-on-one" debate between U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy because she hasn't polled high enough to meet the threshold to participate.

Keith received 10 percent and 11 percent support in the two polls she has been included in; the station said candidates needed to have at least 15 percent support in order to be eligible.

"This discriminating action by the station and other candidates demonstrates the ongoing fight both women and minorities face in our society," Florida NOW said in a statement. "To summarily dismiss Ms. Keith’s candidacy as inconsequential is an insult to all voters, especially women and people of color."

The group endorsed Keith's campaign several months ago.

Earlier this week, Keith also blasted WFTV and her opponents for the decision to exclude her. She decried their decision as "blatant racism and sexism."

The station hasn't responded.

But it said earlier this week that other Senate candidates, Democrats and Republicans, would be invited to do three-minute segments “to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida.”

When asked about it by the Miami Herald's editorial board on Thursday, Murphy was vague on whether Keith should be included and he was unaware of what terms for debate his campaign staff negotiated with the station. He deferred to both his campaign and to WFTV's set criteria, and he said he personally had no part in those talks.

"If the host comes up with qualifications that she meets, then of course, by all means" she should participate, Murphy said. "I've known Ms. Keith for several years, so I don't have any personal contention or beef with her."

Grayson's campaign hasn't commented. For his part, Grayson has appeared on stage with Keith at at least a couple candidate forums during the campaign. He had agreed to debate her on radio next month, but that event was cancelled after Murphy declined to participate.

Florida NOW touted Keith's credentials as among the other reasons she should be allowed to take part in the WFTV debate, which is expected to be the only Democratic debate before the Aug. 30 primary.

"Pam Keith is uniquely qualified to run for the U.S. Senate. Her experience as a Naval Officer JAG and attorney fighting for labor workers gives her an advantage neither of the other candidates possess," Florida NOW said.

"Women and minorities make up 50 percent of the voters in Florida. To exclude Pam Keith from the Senate debates is an insult to these voters," the group added. "It demonstrates a bias that should never be included in a news organization whose duty is to inform the public. ... WFTV needs to change their position on this debate."

Keith has been campaigning full-time since November 2014, longer than any candidate from either major party. Nonetheless, Murphy and Grayson -- sitting U.S. congressmen from Jupiter and Orlando, respectively -- have garnered almost all of the attention in the Democratic field.

The Grayson-Murphy debate is set to be taped in advance and will air at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 on WFTV in Orlando and online at WFTV.com.

Lesser-known Democratic candidates Reginald Luster of Jacksonville and "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando also weren't invited to WFTV's debate. They each launched their campaigns last month -- just in time to qualify for the primary ballot -- and neither has been included in any polls.

July 28, 2016

Conservative super PAC goes after Patrick Murphy in new ad

@ByKristenMClark

A dark-money conservative group with ties to the Koch brothers has launched an ad attacking Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy for a vote supporting the Export-Import Bank.

The ad from American Future Fund began airing this week on certain Florida markets. It urges viewers to call Murphy and tell him to support HR 5715 to "stop supporting corporate welfare" and "stop supporting state sponsors of terror."

Murphy campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen called the ad "just another misleading attack by Republicans to distract from Marco Rubio's record of skipping work and missing many important closed intelligence briefings."

The Washington Post reported the ad buy is worth $1.5 million and is targeting "networks that attract a disproportionate share of Democratic viewers, including MSNBC, while eschewing GOP-heavy networks, such as Fox News Channel."

"Also arousing suspicions are the markets in which the ad is airing — Democratic strongholds like West Palm Beach and Gainesville are seeing the ad, while GOP-heavy areas like Fort Myers and Pensacola are not," The Post reported.

July 27, 2016

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Pam Keith: 'It's a farce to call this process a primary'

Pam_Keith_Speaking_4@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Pam Keith doesn't mince words when expressing her frustration at how she feels the Democratic primary election is playing out in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

"It’s a farce to call this process a primary. It’s not; it was always intended to be a coronation," Keith said during a visit with the Miami Herald's editorial board on Tuesday.

Keith, a labor attorney and former naval officer who lives in Miami, has been campaigning for U.S. Senate longer than any other candidate this cycle. But she's struggled to raise campaign funds and gain widespread name recognition, as Democratic congressmen Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson have crowded the spotlight.

The "coronation" Keith spoke of is in reference to Murphy, the Democratic establishment's hand-picked candidate who has received all the high-profile endorsements and fundraising support that comes with that status. That includes the backing of the Democratic Party's top two figureheads: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

"The party decided who their candidate was going to be long before 2016," Keith said. "They decided they were going to coronate Patrick Murphy from the word 'go,' and they have given him every conceivable advantage."

She added: "When the party’s machinery fund-raises for one candidate and not the others, that’s not a primary. When the party’s machinery leans on politicians to endorse their guy, that is not a primary."

Grayson, a progressive firebrand, has also spoken with frustration at the Democratic establishment's embrace of Murphy.

For his part, Murphy has touted the Obama-Biden endorsement proudly, capitalizing on it further with Obama appearing for him in his first TV ad. Both Biden and Obama have also campaigned for Murphy in Florida, and Biden is set to return for a third visit in early August.

Keith has been campaigning full-time for about 20 months, and she's presenting herself as the alternative option for Democrats who might not want to back either Murphy or Grayson. Both have demonstrated notable flaws and vulnerabilities: Murphy has been criticized for inflating his experience and credentials, and Grayson has battled, first, an ongoing congressional ethics investigation and, now this week, allegations by his ex-wife of prior domestic abuse. 

Although both Murphy and Grayson have experience in Congress, Keith -- a political newcomer -- says "just because they’ve been there doesn’t mean they’ve done a good job."

"The question you ought to be asking yourself is who speaks to my priorities and issues in a way that makes me feel, 'she gets it' -– because when you’re in Congress, you have a limited number of hours to do what you’re going to do and you develop a record about how you use those hours," Keith said.

"Now there are some who use those hours to grandstand and rabble-rouse and irritate their colleagues. There are others who use that time to ensure that their father’s interests get full airing. If you think that’s great, right on! That’s not how I’m going to use my hours," she said, without mentioning Grayson or Murphy by name but clearly referencing each of them, respectively.

Later Tuesday, Keith also criticized an Orlando TV station for excluding her from what is likely to be the only Democratic debate ahead of the Aug. 30 primary. She accused WFTV Channel 9 of "blatant racism and sexism" for its decision to hold only a "one-on-one" debate between the two congressmen; the station said only Murphy and Grayson met its threshold to participate (by polling at 15 percent or higher).

Photo credit: Pam Keith U.S. Senate campaign

Pam Keith says her exclusion from U.S. Senate debate is 'blatant racism and sexism'

PamKEITH_8col@ByKristenMClark

The lone African American woman seeking Florida's U.S. Senate seat this year is accusing an Orlando TV station of "blatant racism and sexism" for its decision to exclude her from an upcoming Democratic primary debate.

In a statement to the Herald/Times late Tuesday, Miami labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith blasted WFTV Channel 9 for "colluding" with leading Democratic candidates Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson to arrange what the station said will be a "one-on-one" debate between the two sitting U.S. congressmen.

"Essentially, WFTV wants to ensure that all voters, but especially women, African American and Hispanic voters, remain ignorant of any candidates other than the two wealthy white men they seek to promote," Keith said.

The televised debate is scheduled to air Aug. 12 and will likely be the only Democratic U.S. Senate debate ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

WFTV told the Herald/Times earlier Tuesday that it invited just Grayson and Murphy to participate because they were the only two candidates that met the station's criteria: a showing of at least 15 percent in statewide polls. Such a threshold is common for organized political debates.

Keith has been campaigning for about 20 months -- longer than any other candidate from either major party -- but she's still an underdog. Most polls haven't included her. In News 13 / Bay News 9 polls in March and in June, Keith got 11 percent and 10 percent support, respectively.

Keith called it "an offense and a disgrace" for WFTV and for her political opponents to intentionally leave her out, and she said the result is "an utter debasement of voters of color."

Here is her statement in full:

The idea of a news outlet reaching "agreement" with two candidates to exclude one of their opponents from a debate is, in an of itself, obscene. Media outlets must never allow themselves to become extensions of political campaigns or to be used to advance political objectives. It cheapens the media's role in informing the public.

But in this case, the collusion is even more distasteful because of the blatant racism and sexism involved therein. Not only have they colluded to keep me out of this debate, but to keep all candidates of color out of the debate. As disrespectful as that is to the candidates themselves, it is an utter debasement of voters of color. Essentially, WFTV wants to ensure that all voters, but especially women, African American and Hispanic voters, remain ignorant of any candidates other than the two wealthy white men they seek to promote. It is an offense and disgrace. People of color make up more than half of the Democratic electorate, and women are more than 50% of the vote. To treat those voters, who may have a particular interest in a woman candidate or candidates of color, as inconsequential is beyond belief.

We have asked WFTV for a response to Keith's statement and will update this post if the station wants to comment.

The station said Tuesday that other Senate candidates, Democrats and Republicans, would be invited to do 3-minute segments "to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida."

Keith isn't the only Democrat to be excluded from WFTV's debate. Reginald Luster of Jacksonville and "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando also weren't invited. They each launched their campaigns last month -- just in time to qualify for the primary ballot -- and neither has been included in any polls.

July 26, 2016

Murphy-Grayson debate set to air Aug. 12

@ByKristenMClark

A Democratic primary debate between U.S. Senate candidates Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy is officially on.

WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando made its announcement late Monday, confirming news that first broke last week.

The two congressmen will participate in what the station is billing as "an exclusive one-on-one debate," which will air at 7 p.m. on Aug. 12. It will be broadcast on WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando and also be streamed online at wftv.com.

"The race for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida will be one of the most watched in the country. This is an important opportunity for our viewers to hear directly from the leading Democratic candidates on where they stand on the key issues facing our region, our country and the world,” said Paul Curran, vice president and general manager of WFTV Channel 9 and WRDQ TV-27.

"Our expectation is that both candidates will use this forum to better educate the voting public on their vision for the future," Curran added in his statement.

News anchor Greg Warmoth will moderate the debate, which the station said will include questions on national security, national and state economic issues, Florida's environment and gridlock in Washington, D.C.

It's expected to be the only debate between Grayson and Murphy, who thus far haven't been able to agree on any other joint appearance ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

The three other Democratic U.S. Senate candidates who qualified for the primary ballot -- Pam Keith, Reginald Luster and "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente -- were not invited to participate in WFTV's debate.

The station told the Herald/Times in a statement that participation was "predicated on each candidate's respective position in the polls."

"The threshold we used for our debate was 15 percent or higher. While there are many candidates for the Democratic Senate seat, only two meet that threshold:  Rep. Patrick Murphy and Rep. Alan Grayson," the station said.

Luster and De La Fuente joined the race only last month in time to qualify for the ballot and haven't been included in any statewide polls. Keith has been campaigning for about 20 months, longer than any other candidate from either major party, but most polls haven't included her. In News 13 / Bay News 9 polls in March and in June, Keith got 11 percent and 10 percent support, respectively.

WFTV Channel 9 said it plans to open its studios "in the weeks ahead for all candidates on both the Democratic and Republican sides to communicate their stance on the issues to the people of Central Florida.  We look forward to having them into our studios to tape these 3-minute segments."

No debates have been announced for the Republican candidates, incumbent Marco Rubio and challenger Carlos Beruff.

Patrick Murphy delivers toxic algae to Gov. Rick Scott's office

0726 murphy algae

@ByKristenMClark

Upset that Republican Gov. Rick Scott hasn't personally come to the Treasure Coast to view algae blooms that are plaguing area waterways, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy hand-delivered several bottles full of the toxic green water to Scott's Tallahassee office on Tuesday morning.

Scott himself wasn't there, as he was attending a jobs event in Orange County. His spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said "it's disappointing that (Murphy) has spent more time on a stunt than a solution."

Murphy is a congressman from Jupiter, who represents the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County -- areas affected by the algae blooms. He said he doesn't want to "vilify" anyone or lay blame for the algae crisis, but he criticized the governor at length for not doing more.

0726 murphy algae2"We have repeatedly called on the governor to come down and visit our district to see this first hand, and the governor has refused to see it," Murphy said, while standing in the Florida Capitol rotunda following his 30-second visit to the governor's office. "So, I decided that I wanted to come to Tallahassee and deliver this bottle of toxic algae to the governor to make sure he sees exactly what we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis."

Murphy wants Scott to use Amendment 1 environmental funds "to acquire more land for conservation, for preservation, to do more to send this water south."

"There's so much that needs to be done," Murphy said. "And instead of declaring a state of emergency to actually try to solve a problem, the governor tried to point a finger at the federal government and blame other people."

He continued: "This isn't a problem where you should be pointing fingers and blaming folks. ... The local government, the state government, the federal government all have to come together to solve this problem -- not see how you can score some cheap political points."

Murphy was himself criticized earlier this month over the algae crisis. His congressional office attempted to delay the announcement of aid for small businesses so that Murphy could announce it at a press event he'd planned.

"We wish Congressman Murphy would spend more time in Washington getting Congress and the president to approve funding to repair the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike, which has caused the algae problem in the Treasure Coast," said Schutz, the governor's spokeswoman. "Time and time again, the state continues to show up and put up funding to help with the water quality in this area and we wish Congress and the president would do the same."

Schutz added: "While Governor Scott has dedicated full resources to address this problem and recommended funding in next year’s budget, the federal government has failed to fund over $800 million in Everglades restoration which they are responsible for."

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

July 22, 2016

Al Sharpton to Alan Grayson: I didn't endorse you, so don't use me in your ad

Grayson sharpton ad

@ByKristenMClark

Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton wants Democrat Alan Grayson to take down an online ad he launched this month that seems to imply the Orlando congressman has Sharpton's endorsement in Florida's competitive U.S. Senate race.

Ten days ago, Grayson posted on his Facebook page a video ad that shows Sharpton praising Grayson as a strong progressive. The 15-second spot includes undated footage from Sharpton's previous MSNBC show "PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton," which is edited so Sharpton says the following seamlessly:

"Now more than ever the Democrats need strong voices -- progressives, who are willing to fight for the causes they believe in. ... Joining me now is the man himself, Congressman Alan Grayson."

The footage seems to be a combination of two clips parsed from a single segment on Sharpton's show. The footage appears to be about three years old (a background graphic references the 113th Congress, which started in 2013).

Sharpton offered a stern rebuke to Grayson's ad.

“Let me be clear, this video should not be viewed as an endorsement from me of Rep. Grayson’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida," Sharpton said in a statement. "They did not contact me before posting this ad, nor did I endorse them implicitly or explicitly. I would appreciate it if they would take this video down as soon as possible to prevent any further confusion.”

Grayson campaign spokesman Dave Damron told the Herald/Times that Grayson has Sharpton's personal phone number and that the congressman reached out to discuss Sharpton's concerns.

"The congressman has other videos similar in style to this one on his YouTube channel, and we’ve not heard concerns like this raised before," Damron said in an email. "Until Rep. Grayson can reach Rev. Sharpton, we will not be taking the video down."

Damron also added that Grayson "didn't claim an endorsement in the video, and it only excerpted comments aired throughout the country on Rev. Sharpton’s previous MSNBC show."

"Rep. Grayson appeared often on that show, and also at several public events with the Reverend," Damron said.

As of Friday afternoon, the web ad had more than 15,000 views on Grayson's Facebook page, and the ad previously showed up elsewhere on the site as "sponsored" content.

Here's the ad in question:

July 21, 2016

Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson agree to U.S. Senate primary debate

@ByKristenMClark & @MichaelAuslen

U.S. Senate candidates Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson have accepted invitations to participate in a Democratic primary debate next month on an Orlando TV station.

The debate is set to be a taped one-hour event sponsored by WFTV News. It is expected to air Aug. 12, with news anchor Greg Warmoth moderating.

It's not clear which other Democratic candidates were invited to participate. Also in the Democratic race are Miami labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith, former assistant U.S. attorney Reginald Luster of Jacksonville and California real estate developer "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente of Orlando.

The debate has yet to be announced by the station.

Florida's party primaries are nearly a month away.

Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter considered the frontrunner in the Democratic race, has vowed repeatedly to debate Grayson, his main primary rival and a fellow congressman from Orlando, but the candidates had -- until now -- failed to agree on an event ahead of the Aug. 30 primary.

Only one debate has been held so far during the 2016 U.S. Senate campaign -- but that April event was between only Grayson and Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who has since dropped out of the U.S. Senate race and is seeking re-election to the House.

As the Herald/Times reported last week, several TV and radio stations have been trying to organize primary debates for both the Republican and Democratic races, but the biggest obstacle has been the candidates themselves.

Murphy's campaign, in particular, has been called out for being difficult. Murphy declined to participate in both a Aug. 3 debate for Orlando public radio station WMFE and in the Grayson-Jolly debate. For the latter, Murphy's campaign contended he was never invited, but the debate sponsor provided emails that proved otherwise.

No debates have been scheduled on the Republican side, between incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio and challenger Carlos Beruff.

This post has been updated.

July 05, 2016

Dena Grayson makes most of her new last name - with assist from husband Alan Grayson

Capture

@ByKristenMClark

In her bid to replace her husband in Congress, Dr. Dena Grayson is taking full advantage of the name recognition her new married last name provides in Central Florida.

Grayson has already been featuring her groom, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and current Orlando U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, prominently on her campaign website -- and now he's also helping her out in campaign ads, too.

Alan Grayson provides the voice-over for Dena Grayson's first TV ad, which her U.S. House campaign unveiled today, and Grayson also appears with his wife at the end of it.

For her part, Dena Grayson echoes his talking points and campaign platform, almost verbatim.

On her website, she uses Alan Grayson's Senate campaign pitch of "seniors deserve a raise," and in the ad, Alan Grayson mentions that Dena Grayson wants "to expand Medicare to cover eyes, ears and teeth" -- a nod to his current bill in Congress, the "Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act."

"She’s a doctor who's treated poor people for free and devoted years to developing cures for cancer," Alan Grayson says in the ad narration. "Our political system is sick, but this doctor will make it better."

Here's the ad:

Dena Grayson is a biochemist and medical doctor in her first bid for public office. She wants to replace Alan Grayson in representing the newly-redrawn 9th Congressional District in Central Florida.

The couple wed on May 29 in a private ceremony in Melbourne Beach and hope to become the first husband-wife pair elected to the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. Both face contested Democratic primaries on Aug. 30.

Dena Grayson's campaign said her first ad is already running in metro Orlando. Online records of the Federal Communications Commission don't yet reflect any ad buys by her campaign.