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276 posts from May 2016

May 30, 2016

Will Weatherford plots political future, with a wary eye on Trump

Donald Trump's outsized presence on the political landscape will shake up Florida in a multitude of ways, including redefining the field of contenders for governor in 2018. That's clear after a talk with Will Weatherford, the former House speaker who left office in 2014.

Will he run for governor?

"I tell people I'm not running towards it, but I'm not running away from it," Weatherford said. "I'm really focused on our company and our business. My guess is sometime after the election, I'll have to make a decision internally."

Weatherford supported Jeb Bush for president and said he has no plans to support Trump,  a "very divisive" figure and fear-mongerer.

But if Trump wins the White House, it will be viewed as a validation of his slash-and-burn style with its personal insults, and that would change the political tone in the country. "It's been very negative," Weatherford said. "That is much less appealing to me."

Put another way, it might be better for Weatherford if Democrat Hillary Clinton wins in November. (Remember too that presidents' popularity ratings often nosedive in the first midterm following their election).

More than two years from the 2018 primary, the early front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Putnam and Weatherford are friends who worked together on issues such as redirecting energy revenue to salvage the program that pays for school construction. But Weatherford said their friendship won't deter him from running.

Weatherford, 36, has four children and the youngest is a year-and-a-half old, and a race for statewide office is a 24/7 commitment that would distance him from his family for a very long time. "It's all-consuming, so you have to factor that in, and the impact on your family," he said.

Weatherford and two of his brothers run Weatherford Partners, a venture capital and consulting firm that advises companies on building profitable "business-to-business" relationships. His office on the 23rd floor of the Regions Bank in downtown Tampa has a panoramic view of the city's downtown.

He's on the board of the Florida Chamber and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a 527 group that helps down-ballot candidates (former state attorney general Bill McCollum is chairman) and said he plans to attend the Republican convention in Cleveland "for a day or two."

Weatherford's endorsement is still a prized commodity in local legislative races, but he's aware that for a former Tallahassee politician, fame is extremely fleeting.

"There's no question that the longer you're on the shelf, politically speaking, the more dust accumulates and the harder it is to come back," he said. "Conversely, I also believe that politics is about ideas ... I still to this day don't believe that you have to have the most money or the most name ID to be successful."

Pam Keith, the other Florida Democrat running for U.S. Senate


While Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson attack one another in an increasingly bitter battle to become Florida Democrats’ candidate for U.S. Senate, Pam Keith is quietly turning heads to present herself as an alternative contender.

The 47-year-old labor attorney and former naval officer has flown under the radar, criss-crossing the state for months to build support in her bid for Florida’s open seat.

She’s been in the race longer than any of the seven other major candidates, Republicans or Democrats. But without much money, few endorsements and barely any consideration in statewide polls, Keith remains unknown to most Floridians.

She knows the odds. But she also knows there’s 90 days left to persuade Democratic voters that they should choose her in what is a closely watched race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.

Keith, a Miami resident, also has a possible opening: A significant portion of voters are still undecided, and the flaws of Murphy and Grayson — two sitting U.S. congressmen — are getting more attention, potentially turning off the party’s more independent voters.

“I don’t think it’s a good dynamic for the Democratic Party to offer a slate of insider millionaire candidates in a season where people are clamoring for outsiders,” she said.

Read more here.

Poll: Carlos Gimenez leads Miami-Dade mayor's race but needs to boost Democratic support


Carlos Gimenez holds an 18-percentage-point lead in his re-election bid as Miami-Dade County mayor, according to a new public-opinion poll, but needs to bolster support among traditional Democratic voters to win the non-partisan race outright.

The Republican mayor is ahead of his two rivals who have raised any campaign cash worth noting, found the survey conducted by Associated Industries of Florida, a Tallahassee-based business organization with a premier polling operation.

Gimenez drew 40 percent support in the poll, followed by 22 percent for Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado and 4 percent for political newcomer Alfred Santamaría. The mayor would need 50 percent-plus-1 in the Aug. 30 election to avoid a November run-off.

Gimenez would have to draw support among Democrats, particularly among African Americans, where his support is weakest. While 54 percent of all voters approve of Gimenez's handling of the job, that number falls to 40 percent among African Americans.

"While only slightly underwater there, his more fragile level of support amongst African Americans is a theme that continued throughout this data set," Ryan Tyson, AIF's director of political operations, wrote in a memo to members. He said several members had asked for a survey of the Miami-Dade race.

Continue reading "Poll: Carlos Gimenez leads Miami-Dade mayor's race but needs to boost Democratic support" »

May 29, 2016

Rubio said sorry to Trump over 'small hands' remark


Marco Rubio privately apologized to Donald Trump for talking about his small hands during a presidential debate earlier this year, the Florida senator said in a reflective television interview that aired Sunday.

"I said, you know, I'm sorry that I said that," Rubio told CNN's Jake Tapper. "That's not who I am, and I shouldn't have done it. And I didn't say it in front of the cameras. I didn't want any political benefit."

In late February, leading up to the Super Tuesday election contests, then-candidate Rubio had mocked Trump's hands -- "You know what they say about men with small hands" -- which prompted Trump at a subsequent debate to memorably defend his size: "I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee."

Rubio, who is now backing Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee, told Tapper the comment "embarrassed" his family, and he apologized to Trump at a later debate.

"It's not who I am," Rubio said. "You did it almost in a sense of, you know, nothing -- at this point--  nothing is working. I mean, this guy is out there every day mocking people, saying horrible things about people, but if you respond to him somehow you're hitting below the belt? And that was my sense of it at the time."

"I ended up hurting myself, not him."

Rubio said making fun of Trump didn't cost him the election but didn't help. The more pivotal moment, he said, came in a New Hampshire debate, when then-rival Chris Christie eviscerated Rubio for sounding like a programmed robot.

"It was a mistake," Rubio said of failing to adjust his reponse and take Christie on. Had he done so, "we would have had a better result in New Hampshire." Trump might have ended up the nominee regardless, but the post-New Hampshire race trajectory "would have been dramatically different."

Rubio also told Tapper he didn't realize when he took on Jeb Bush at an earlier debate that their exchange would be viewed as a smackdown of Bush.

"I didn't take any great pleasure in like, 'Oh, I really stuck it to him,'" Rubio said. "I didn't even think it was that big a deal during the debate. It was only after that I realized people had kind of built it up into this moment."

May 28, 2016

Marco Rubio holds fundraising call for Carlos Lopez-Cantera


A nugget from our story Friday about the Republican Party wooing Marco Rubio to remain in the U.S. Senate is the latest and perhaps most salient sign that Rubio has no intention of seeking re-election: Rubio held a fundraising call for Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the friend he's hoping will replace him.

So why does the hullabaloo around Rubio continue?

Perhaps, as we note in the story: In a crowded GOP primary field where no candidate has broken out, Lopez-Cantera might benefit from building up Rubio in the eyes of party leaders ahead of a Rubio endorsement in his favor.

More here.

May 27, 2016

Congressional Black Caucus endorses Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz who is running against first-time candidate Tim Canova for a Broward/Miami-Dade seat.

From a press release:

"Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a consistent and reliable leader and voice on issues of importance to African Americans and all Americans. As a Member of Congress, she has supported the Congressional Black Caucus’ agenda on issues such as voting rights, HBCU funding, fair sentencing guidelines, affordable housing, creating opportunities for minority-owned businesses, and lifting the people out of poverty and into the middle class to name a few. As leader of the Democratic National Committee, she has “walked the walk” with an unprecedented number of senior level African American appointments and policies that have provided historical opportunities for African American policy makers, operatives, activists and businesses. Under her leadership, both the 2012 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions have set diversity goals that meet and exceed levels of past minority participation. Her commitment to diversity is unwavering and the advances under her leadership are unquestioned."

It's not a surprise that Wasserman Schultz's colleagues in the House endorsed her -- she is the Democratic National Committee chair and has served in Congress since first winning her seat in 2004. But the endorsement gives her some good publicity during a week when there were news reports about whether some Democrats -- most notably Bernie Sanders who is backing Canova -- are hoping she is replaced as DNC chair.

But it seems unlikely Democrats would want to give that type of ammunition to Republicans this close to an election. Also in her favor: President Barack Obama won Florida both times while Wasserman Schultz was the chair, and he has endorsed her in her Congressional race. Plus Vice President Joe Biden is coming to Coconut Grove to fundraise for her in June. 

Canova announced earlier today that he was endorsed by the Democracy for America PAC, the group started by Howard Dean.

About 13 percent of the district's voting age population is black in Congressional District 23 which spans from Weston to northern Miami-Dade. South Florida members who are in the Congressional Black Caucus include Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings.

Feisty Senate candidate Carlos Beruff's journey from near-ruin to riches

Carlos Beruff was in ruins.

The tough-talking Republican U.S. Senate candidate boasts of his business success as a key selling point to voters. He turned a help-wanted ad into a home building business worth more than $150 million, his campaign touts.

But it's failure, he says, that ultimately put him in the position he is in today: a confident campaigner willing to put millions of his own money into his first-ever bid for political office.

His low point came in the early 1990s. After a decade of "pulling rabbits out of hats" to live another day in the land development business, Beruff had run out of magic.

"I almost went broke," said Beruff, one of five Republicans in the Senate race. "I didn't file bankruptcy, but I had some miserable times there for two or three years."

He was just 34 years old. But his fast ascent in the world of real estate was crumbling. A college drop-out, he was $20 million in debt and fending off more than a dozen subcontractors who were suing for more than $150,000 worth of unpaid bills. It wasn't just his business in shambles. After 14 years, he and his first wife divorced in 1996.

Steve Jonsson, a banker who had known Beruff for about 10 years, feared his client and friend was going under. But Jonsson said the fiery Beruff — though he had almost no leverage — passionately argued for more time to pay his debts. Jonsson said Beruff's confidence won him over.

"He said, 'I'm never going down this road again,'" Jonsson said.

His mistakes were clear, Beruff says. "It was youth and stupidity."

Full Story Here

Democrats plan Florida public meeting on party platform


Ahead of July's presidential nominating convention, national Democrats plan to hold four public meetings across the country -- including one in Florida -- to discuss the party's platform.

"I want all Democrats to have their voices heard in this process," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said in a statement. "We are the Party of substance, ideas and diversity. We expanded the platform process to provide greater opportunity for Democrats to express their views and we look forward to hearing different perspectives from across the nation."

The Florida gathering of the platform committee meeting will take place July 8 and 9 in Orlando. The other meetings will take place in June in Washington, Phoenix and St. Louis.

Hillary Clinton says Donald Trump hoped for real estate crash

The commercial seems like an example of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for."

Democrat Hillary Clinton posted the ad, which we caught on Instagram, on May 24 slamming Republican Donald Trump for saying he would welcome a burst in the housing bubble affecting real estate prices a decade ago.

"In 2006, Donald Trump was hoping for a real estate crash," it says, showing a picture of Trump giving two thumbs up. The ad goes on to list consequences from the Great Recession, which peaked in 2008. It lists 9 million jobs lost and 5 million families who lost their homes.

"And the man who could be our next president was rooting for it to happen," the ad contends.

That's followed by audio, identified as being from 2006, of Trump saying, "I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy ... If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know, you could make a lot of money."

"If Donald wins," the ad concludes, "you lose." The Instagram description accompanying the video says, "Millions of Americans lost jobs and homes in the '08 crash. A man who hoped for it has no business being president."

We wondered if there was more to the story.

Keep reading C. Eugene Emery's fact-check here from PolitiFact. There is of course a Florida angle too related to Trump and the real estate crash. Investors lost millions in the Trump International Hotel & Tower project in Fort Lauderdale when the project collapsed. Here is a refresher from the Miami Herald about what Trump said about those who lost money.


Even if Marco Rubio reconsiders Senate race, Carlos Beruff and Todd Wilcox staying in GOP primary


At least two Republican U.S. Senate candidates would stay in the race and challenge Sen. Marco Rubio if he changes his mind and decides to seek re-election.

Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton developer, and Todd Wilcox, a defense contractor from Orlando, said Friday that they intend to stay in the race.

"Carlos Beruff is staying in this race no matter what," campaign spokesman Chris Hartline said when asked about Rubio getting pressure to reconsider.

"As a conservative I have no intention of leaving this race just because another career politician gets in," Wilcox said in a statement, "especially one who fought for amnesty for illegals and oversaw tax increases as a city commissioner."

A third, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said he would stop his campaign if Rubio decides to run for re-election.

"I would withdraw from the Senate race and support Rubio for re-election," Jolly said in a text message.

Rubio has said he intends to return to the private sector, but he is under heavy pressure to run for re-election from Republicans worried about losing the seat. Rubio on Thursday acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday that people he respects are asking him to run for re-election. But Rubio he said his "very close friend" Carlos Lopez-Cantera is already in the contest.

"Look, if the circumstances were different, but they’re not," Rubio said. "This is the fact: Carlos is in the race. He’s a good friend, he’s a good candidate, he’ll be a great senator."

Hartline said talk of Rubio getting into the race is being generated by the same types of political insiders that once tried to talk Rubio out of the 2010 race for Senate.

"Marco Rubio made the right decision in 2010 when he refused to get pushed out of the race by the power brokers in Washington," he said.  "As usual, Washington Republicans think they can control the race, but the voters of Florida will decide who our nominee is, and we feel confident about where we are."

The final Senate candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, isn't yet declaring his plans if Rubio decides to enter the race. 

"We are not concerned with D.C. chatter," said Brad Herold, DeSantis' campaign manager. "We're focused on continuing to run the strongest campaign of any candidate in Florida."

Times staff writers Michael Auslen and Alex Leary contributed to this post.