November 02, 2018

Independents will decide Florida’s statewide elections, but polling them is tricky



Independent voters are the white whale of Florida elections.

They cannot vote in closed primaries, so they didn’t play a part in electing Andrew Gillum or Ron DeSantis in August, and typically turn out in lower numbers in years when a president isn’t on the ballot.

But a national environment dominated by President Donald Trump, combined with record-breaking spending in the U.S. Senate race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, have focused the political world’s attention on Florida. The intense interest is reflected in an uptick among all voters in early voting, including independents.

Statewide polls conducted in the past month show a massive variance among voters who are not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. One poll conducted by the University of North Florida this week shows Gillum with a 25 percentage point lead over DeSantis among independents and Nelson leading Scott by 17 points. Another poll conducted by CBS/YouGov this week shows DeSantis and Scott both winning independents by 13 percentage points.

and Nelson with slight leads within the margin of error. For example, the UNF poll showed Gillum with a 6 percentage point lead and Nelson with a 1 percentage point lead, while the CBS poll showed Gillum up by 1 percentage point and Nelson in a tie with Scott.

Accurately polling voters who don’t identify or aren’t registered with either party is a tricky proposition.

“When you’re dealing with small samples like that, it gets really difficult to get a good sense of what they’re doing exactly as a group,” said Michael Binder, the director of the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Library. “The margin of error for that is relatively high. That’s just a problem you have.”

More here.

October 30, 2018

Andrew Gillum is a "stone cold thief," Trump said on Fox News last night

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President Donald Trump called Andrew Gillum a "stone cold thief" during an interview on Fox News on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.

President Donald Trump called Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum a "stone cold thief" during an interview on Fox News last night, telling host Laura Ingraham that the Democratic nominee shouldn't be allowed to run for governor.

"Here's a guy that, in my opinion, is a stone cold thief, and his city, Tallahassee, is known as the most corrupt in Florida, and one of the most corrupt in the nation," Trump said.

Trump justified calling him a "thief," which he first did on Twitter on Monday, by bringing up the Hamilton ticket that was likely given to Gillum by an undercover FBI agent.

"The FBI offered him tickets at $1800 a piece and he took 'em," Trump said. "He took a trip with the same FBI agent. I guess he was posing as a developer or something. The man stone cold took this stuff. I don't even think he should be allowed to continue on with the race."

Trump also wondered how Gillum could be polling so well, saying that Gillum would turn Florida into Venezuela and that Gillum's Trump-endosrsed opponent, Republican Ron Desantis, is a "very good person."

"He's a disaster, and how he's even close to being tied is hard to believe," Trump said of Gillum.

You can watch the interview here.

With just a week left until the election, and Gillum continuing to hold a narrow lead in the polls, the rhetoric from Trump and his supporters has been heating up.

During a Monday press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump's "thief" tweet by saying Gillum "is under FBI investigation."

And former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani took to Twitter at 2:22 a.m. today to bash Gillum and the "sickenly (sic) biased" press.

The Florida governor's race might be the biggest race of the midterms, but there's a special reason why Trump is so interested in the outcome.

DeSantis only made a name for himself by frequently appearing on Fox News to defend Trump, and DeSantis did little to win the Republican primary besides receive Trump's endorsement.

If DeSantis loses, the effect on the 2020 presidential race will be "big time, big time," Former White House political strategist Steve Bannon told the Times before a speech to Republicans in Tampa last week.

"If Rick Scott was not governor, it would have been very hard for us to win Florida" in 2016, Bannon said.

Bannon, a right-wing firebrand, respected how formidable Gillum has been as a candidate, saying that "DeSantis is in the fight of his life."

"I think it’s going to come down to the wire on the last day," Bannon said. "Gillum’s proven that he’s a very tough competitor. … They may have miscalculated at first how tough Gillum was going to be. Gillum at the top of the ticket has made the Senate race more competitive and I think it’s made some of these House races more competitive."

Times staff writer William March contributed to this report.

October 23, 2018

FBI agents gave Andrew Gillum tickets to 'Hamilton,' refuting what campaign has said

OCTAVIO JONES | Times Florida Gubernatorial Democratic Andrew Gillum gives a speech to a packed crowd during the Florida Democratic Party rally held at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida on Monday, October 22, 2018.

Undercover FBI agents were the ones who gave Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum a ticket to the Broadway show Hamilton during a trip to New York City in 2016, according to a trove of records given to the ethics commission and released to the public today.

Text messages between Gillum and former lobbyist Adam Corey, who arranged outings with undercover agents looking into city corruption, were among more than 100 pages of records Corey gave the ethics commission, which is investigating trips to Costa Rica and New York that Gillum took in 2016.

Corey's lawyer, Chris Kise, released the records today, just two weeks before the election, because the state ethics commission issued a subpoena for the records just last week.

The text messages show that, contrary to what his campaign has said, Gillum knew the tickets came from "Mike Miller," who was an FBI agent posing as a developer looking into city corruption.

"Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m.," Corey texted Gillum on Aug. 10, 2016.

"Awesome news about Hamilton," Gillum replied, according to the records.

The texts appear to refute what Gillum's campaign said just days after his unlikely win in the Democratic primary for Florida governor.

The campaign said in a Sept. 4 press release that Gillum's brother, Marcus, gave him the ticket.

"After the trip, Mayor Gillum learned Marcus Gillum had obtained that ticket in a swap with Adam Corey for a concert ticket," the campaign said.

Gillum's campaign repeated today that the ticket came from his brother.

"These records vindicate and add more evidence that at every turn I was paying my own way or was with my family, for all trips, including picking up tickets from my brother, Marcus, who was with a group of his own friends," Gillum said in a statement. "But this isn't about a Broadway show, it's about a sideshow, because Ron DeSantis and his associates have no vision, no healthcare plan, and are running the most false, negative campaign in Florida history. Floridians deserve better."

Questions about Gillum's trip to New York have dogged the candidate since the primary, with his Republican opponent, former Congressman Ron DeSantis, repeatedly linking Gillum to the FBI probe.

During Sunday's debate, DeSantis asked Gillum about the tickets.

"Did you pay for the Hamilton tickets?" DeSantis asked.

Gillum avoided directly answering the question.

"First of all, I am a grown man," Gillum replied. "My wife and I take vacations and we pay for our own vacations ... I don't take free trips from anybody. I'm a hard-working person, I know that may not fit your description of what you think people like me do, but I've worked hard for everything that I've gotten in my life."

Gillum and Corey have known each other since college, and the two were friends until last year, when Gillum said he wasn't speaking to him any more.

Kise said Corey was issued a subpoena for records on Oct. 15. The ethics complaint was filed against Gillum in June, and Gillum met with investigators in early September.

Kise wrote that Corey was releasing the records today because they were going to become public anyway.

"As reflected by those records, no criminal activity took place," Kise wrote. "Mr. Corey seeks, as he has sought in the past, to remove himself from the center of rampant and untoward speculation. Hopefully, disclosure of the actual facts will now permit him to do so, and to move forward with his life and career."

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report.

October 15, 2018

Tallahassee sees 90% power recovery after Michael. Will it help Andrew Gillum?

Gillum FB Live
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gives an update on Hurricane Michael recovery via Facebook Live on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. [Lawrence Mower | Times]

Tallahassee's electric utility said it restored power to 90 percent of its customers Sunday night, meeting its goal just four days after Hurricane Michael knocked out service to nearly everyone in the city.

Schools and universities were reopening in the city Monday morning, and the water and wastewater systems that failed during the storm are now working properly, according to the city.

Roughly 20,000 customers still didn't have power last night, however.

The city's recovery could be a boost for Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor who's been criticized for how the city recovered from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. Hermine, a Category 1 storm, knocked out power to 80 percent of city customers, and the city took four days to reach 90 percent recovery.

While Tallahassee's mayor doesn't manage the city or its utility — that's the job of its city manger — it hasn't stopped his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis from criticizing Gillum for Hermine.

The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads saying that Gillum "refused help" after that storm, which Politifact rated "mostly false."

October 08, 2018

Tallahassee has asked for hundreds more linemen for Hurricane Michael, Andrew Gillum says

Andrew Gillum EOC
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks to the media in advance of Hurricane Michael on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (Lawrence Mower - Tampa Bay Times)

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum says the city has asked for hundreds more linemen in advance of Hurricane Michael's landfall, addressing one of the chief criticisms in his campaign for governor.

Gillum said the city has asked for between 500 and 600 more linemen, six times what the city's electric utility normally has on staff. He said the city expects at least 100 linemen to be ready before Michael makes landfall Tuesday night.

The city manager is responsible for running the city, while the mayor's position is mostly ceremonial. But Gillum touted the efforts of the city following Hurricane Hermine in 2016, which left the vast majority of the city's residents without power for days.

Gillum has been criticized for not accepting help from Florida Power and Light utility crews after that storm.  The decision was made by the city's utilities director.

After Hermine, Gillum said the city started signing mutual aid agreements with private utility companies, something that he said did not exist in 2016.

"We broke that wall down following Hermine, where you now get much more quick coordination between the public and the private utilities," Gillum said following a Monday afternoon press conference.

He said that the city is still a second-tier priority to private utility companies like FPL.

"The privates (utilities) have to first respond to other privates," Gillum said. "Once those supports are exhausted ... they then become available to us. We're still secondary in support.

Michael appears to be a much more menacing storm than Hermine, which was a Category 1 when it made landfall in 2016, the first storm to hit the area in three decades. Michael is already a Category 1, with projections that it could become a Category 3 before it hits the Florida Panhandle.

October 03, 2018

New RGA ad again hits Gillum on $1 billion corporate tax hike, comparing it to a car wreck

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The Republican Governor's Association is again hitting Andrew Gillum on his proposed $1 billion corporate tax hike for to pay for education.

The Republican Governor's Association is out with another TV ad hitting Democrat Andrew Gillum on his proposed $1 billion corporate tax hike to pay for education, comparing it to a car wreck that would bring the state's economy "to a sudden stop."

"Florida’s economy is running at full speed," the ad says. "37% growth since 2010. But Andrew Gillum’s ideas would bring it to a sudden stop."

Politifact in September rated the claim that Gillum would raise taxes by $1 billion "mostly true," but noted it lacked context. That same context is also left out of this ad.

Gillum, who is running for governor, has said he wants to spend the money on raising the starting teacher salary to $50,000, increasing the pay for veteran teachers to the national average, and on early childhood education programs.

Here's what else Politifact said about the RGA's September ad:

The RGA's ad is running statewide on broadcast and cable as part of a $10 million ad effort. This ad is the third ad in the campaign, according to an RGA spokesman.

While tax hikes are clearly unpopular with Republicans, they're likely especially unpopular with the RGA.

A Wall Street Journal story last year found that the RGA (and its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association) are mostly funded by corporations, who use the two associations as loopholes to get around state campaign finance laws.

October 02, 2018

Newest Obama endorsements highlight Gillum, snub downballot candidates



Former President Barack Obama had Twitter abuzz Monday as he rolled out dozens of endorsements in key state and federal races nationwide. 

Obama endorsed Andrew Gillum in the high-profile governor's race, emphasizing the importance Democrats are 

In Florida, Obama also endorsed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, congressional candidates Stephanie Murphy, Chris Hunter, Nancy Soderberg and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Florida Senate candidates Janet Cruz, Annette Taddeo and David Perez, and Florida House candidates Nick Duran, Fentrice Driskell and Javier Fernandez. 

Missing from the list? Democratic candidates for all three non-gubernatorial cabinet offices -- Nicole "Nikki" Fried for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Jeremy Ring for Chief Financial Officer and Sean Shaw for Attorney General. 

"The unfortunate reality is that our race likely isn't on his radar," said Anthony Pardal, a spokesman for the Jeremy Ring campaign.

Shaw's campaign said any Democratic campaign would love to have the president's endorsement, but they are hopeful Obama will make an announcement ahead of election day in November. 

Fried's campaign declined to comment. 

Kevin Donohoe, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party said it appears that Obama is focusing more on the gubernatorial and legislative seats, not the downballot statewide positions. 

He's right. In the latest round of endorsements, Obama only picked two state treasurers (Colorado and Ohio), one secretary of state (Nevada) and one attorney general (also Nevada).

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Lujan Ray told the Miami Herald Monday that he expects a third round or even a fourth round of endorsements from the former president.

“I know they are always strategic in their thinking with rolling out endorsements," he said then. 

Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama's office, said Obama specifically focused on endorsing candidates in close races where his support would make a meaningful difference, in races with redistricting priorities and those who are alumni of Obama campaigns and adminstration. 

Hill said it's possible Obama will endorse additional individual candidates between now and Nov. 6.


September 26, 2018

Leon County sheriff says Ron DeSantis is 'disrespectful' to police for criticizing Tallahassee's crime rate

Democratc Andrew Gillum, left, and Republican Ron DeSantis

The Leon County Sheriff is coming to the defense of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's record on crime, saying that he's made the city safer and that criticism over the city's high crime rate is "disrespectful" to police.

"Under Mayor Andrew Gillum's leadership, violent crime is down 24 percent, and overall crime is down 10 percent with crime at a five-year low in Tallahassee," Sheriff Walt McNeil said in the statement released by Gillum's campaign on Wednesday. "Mayor Gillum's investments into more police officers, restorative justice, and community policing have made Tallahassee safer than when he became Mayor, period.

McNeil also took a shot at Gillum's Republican opponent in the race, Ron DeSantis, who has hammered Gillum for the city's crime rate, which is one of the highest in the state.

"The political fear mongering from his opponent is false, dangerous, and disrespectful to the law enforcement officers on the front lines fighting crime every day," McNeil said.

But it's a message that is apparently resonating - in Tallahassee, at least. Gillum's former chief of staff, who is running to replace him as mayor, is sending out mailers saying the city "must do better" to combat crime.

McNeil was Tallahassee police chief for 10 years before being elected sheriff in 2016. During that run, he, too, campaigned on the area's high crime rate.

In one dramatic television ad, McNeil showed a model home getting blown away by an apparent shotgun blast.

"Rick Scott's sheriff, Mike Wood, isn't working," the ad said. "Make Leon County safe again. Vote Chief Walt McNeil for sheriff."

Herald/Times staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

September 25, 2018

Andrew Gillum's Costa Rica trip: Did he get a sweet deal, as Ron DeSantis implies?

Democrat Andrew Gillum (L) and Republican Ron DeSantis

On Monday, Ron DeSantis doubled down on criticism that Andrew Gillum got a sweet deal during a trip to Costa Rica with lobbyists, accusing the Tallahassee mayor of "crony socialism."

"Finally, he produced a bank statement about the Costa Rica trip," DeSantis said during a news conference in Oldsmar. "He's like, 'Oh, I stayed in this luxury villa for four nights, and here's a $400 withdrawal I'm showing on the bank. I withdrew cash and that's how I paid for it.'

"Well, I don't know how that works, because I looked to see how much the Holiday Inn Express would cost right down the street from here, and four nights was like $650," the former congressman continued. "So you tell me how you're able to get a luxury Costa Rica villa for $400. I want to know who your travel agent is."

Did Gillum get a sweet deal on the four-night vacation? That question is now part of a state ethics investigation into that trip and another one he took months later in New York. On both trips, Gillum met up with his longtime friend and lobbyist Adam Corey, and in New York, Gillum also met up with two men now believed to be undercover FBI agents.

Gillum has described the Costa Rica trip as a vacation for his wife's birthday.  Between May 4 and May 8 that year, Gillum, his wife and about 10 other people stayed at a luxury villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The trip was arranged by Corey, and other lobbyists and friends joined them, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Corey's lawyer said he won the lodging during a silent charity auction.

According to Gillum's campaign, the villa went for $1,400 a night, and Gillum paid someone $400 in cash for his and his wife's share of their four-night stay.  The villa does go for $1,400 a night, according to its website. It has five bedrooms, sleeps a dozen people and features an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Gillum' campaign released a bank statement earlier this month showing a $400 cash withdrawal the day before the trip as evidence that Gillum paid his way. (Corey's attorney has said that Corey did not receive any money from Gillum.)

Doing simple math, if 12 people were on the trip, each person's share would have been $116 a night. For Gillum and his wife, that would mean they would have owed $928 after the four nights.

However, If the villa was won on a deep discount during the auction, it could possibly have reduced the value of the trip.

A spokeswoman for Gillum's campaign said Tuesday that Gillum and his wife "paid for their lodging with the $400 withdrawal and the cash the mayor and his wife had on hand."

She did not say how much they spent in total on the lodging, or who they gave the money to.

But the appearance and timing of the trip - at the height of the FBI's investigation into city corruption - have raised questions. And DeSantis' campaign has used them to paint the mayor as untrustworthy.

"I think it's just, he's not being honest with the folks," DeSantis said Monday. "So there's huge problems when you govern that way, when you're on junkets with FBI agents, when you're the subject of a major investigation involving pay to play and involving corruption."

There has been no indication that the Costa Rica trip is tied to the FBI probe, which has yet to bring charges against anyone. Gillum has said he's been assured by agents that he's neither a focus nor a target of the probe.

However, the Democrat did find one FBI tie during the Costa Rica trip: On May 5, the day after Gillum arrived, Corey sent Gillum a calendar invitation for a May 16 meeting with two businessmen. After Gillum returned from the trip, he told his staff he was accepting the invitation.

The two businessmen later turned out to be undercover agents.

September 24, 2018

Andrew Gillum's former chief of staff: "We must do better" to combat Tallahassee's crime rate


Within hours of his nomination for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was getting hammered by Republicans for his city's high crime rate.

But now Gillum's former chief of staff is making it a campaign platform, admitting the city "must do better" to combat crime.

Dustin Daniels is running to replace Gillum as the city's mayor, and in one of his recent campaign mailers, Daniels says, "We can't move our city forward without ensuring that children and families are safe."

"Tallahassee had the highest number of murders in history last year, and we top the state for the highest crime rate," the mailer states, according to Tallahassee Reports, a local newspaper.

Daniels was Gillum's chief of staff from 2014 until April this year, when he decided to run for mayor.

The Republican Party of Florida seized on it Monday, sending out a press release linking to the Tallahassee Reports story about Daniels' flier.

"Even Andrew Gillum’s former chief of staff is admitting his boss’s failure to keep people safe," Meredith Beatrice, communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, said in the release. "How can Gillum expect to keep Florida safe when he has allowed Tallahassee to become one of the most crime-ridden cities in Florida?"

Tallahassee does have one of the highest crime rates in the state, although police experts and the FBI, which compiles crime data, caution against comparing rates with other cities.

Last year, Gillum proposed activating the county's emergency operations center to help combat violent crime, but it was rejected by county officials and some city leaders.

In 2018, Gillum's campaign has touted the fact that violent crime has fallen 24 percent in the first months of the year, compared to the same period last year. 

We've reached out to Daniels for comment but haven't heard back yet.