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.”
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.
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.
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."
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.
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 Democratdid 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.
On the latest episode of Café con Politics podcast, we go over GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis’ recent visits to South Florida, where he talked about his push to indict Raul Castro in the 1996 shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue pilots and about his environmental platform.
Reporter Martin Vassolo covered both appearances, and joins us to talk about Desantis visit to the Everglades and his claim that his opponent, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, is a socialist.
The poll, which was conducted from Sept. 6 through Sept. 9, asked 514 likely voters who they would vote for in the November gubernatorial election. 47 percent said Gillum, and 43 percent said DeSantis, with eight percent undecided.
The poll's margin of error is plus/minus 4.4 percent, so even though he's down by four points, DeSantis is technically statistically tied with Gillum.
The poll's relatively small number of respondents also means you should take it with a grain of salt. Still, it's noteworthy that the Chamber, which leans Republican, put out a poll that shows the Democrat, Gillum, ahead.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis has picked Miami Rep. Jeanette Nuñez as his running mate, the Miami Herald has confirmed.
Nuñez, a Kendall-area politician who was first elected to the state House in 2010, would be the first Cuban-American woman to serve as the state’s second in command if she and DeSantis are elected in November. She recently served as Speaker pro tempore under House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
Nuñez’s selection was first reported by Politico. The Herald confirmed her selection through a source familiar with the campaign’s vetting process.
Nuñez, 46, was hesitant to agree, but was swayed by an 11th hour pitch from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, according to Politico.
During the 2016 presidential primary, Nuñez, who was supporting Rubio, said Donald Trump supports the Klu Klux Klan on Twitter. DeSantis won his primary after Trump made an aggressive pitch to Republican voters to support the congressman over agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam.
“Wake up Florida voters, Trump is the biggest con-man there is,” Nuñez tweeted. “#nosubstance #anti-Israel #supportsKKK VOTE Marco Rubio #RUBIO.”
Neither the DeSantis campaign nor Nuñez would comment Wednesday evening.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a loyal DeSantis supporter throughout the primary, said Nuñez would make a great choice on the ticket with DeSantis.
“I served with Jeanette Nuñez for 6 years in the State House. I have long extolled her her virtues, and I think she would make a great pick for lieutenant governor,” Gaetz said, adding that he could not confirm himself that the pick is official.
Nuñez’s selection is expected to be announced at a GOP unity rally in Orlando on Thursday. DeSantis is scheduled to visit Little Havana later in the day to discuss his push in Congress to indict Cuban leader Raul Castro for the shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996.
“I think tomorrow is going to be a big day,” Gaetz said.
When Democrats made Andrew Gillum the first black candidate ever to win a major party nomination to seek the office of Florida governor, they all but guaranteed that race would be a factor in the coming campaign.
But who knew it would become a national storyline in less than 24 hours?
Before the final vote could be certified from Tuesday’s primary elections, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis thrust issues of race to the fore Wednesday morning when he said on Fox News that voters would “monkey this up” if they embraced Gillum’s “far-left” platform. The comment, coming in a state where confederate monuments still litter the landscape, was widely slammed — and opened up a rift that isn’t likely to close until after November.
“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum. “I watched those Democratic debates. None of that is my cup of tea but he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
Descriptions of black people as “articulate” have long been interpreted as a condescending reference to education in the black community, and the NAACP characterized the candidate’s “monkey this up” phrase as part of a history of “racist references to African Americans in our national folklore” as monkeys and apes.
“Its only equal in racial semantics [is] the “n-word,” the organization said, while calling on the Palm Coast congressman to apologize.
But DeSantis’ communications director, Stephen Lawson, says there was nothing racial about DeSantis’ interview. The comments were strictly about Gillum’s politics, he said, in contrast to DeSantis’ own conservative views on taxes and spending.
“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” Lawson said.
If DeSantis was hoping to highlight his ideological differences with Gillum, he instead seemed to ensure that racial tensions would overshadow them.
Miami Republican Rep. CarlosCurbelo thinks GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis should apologize for his “monkey this up” comment made while talking about Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum.
“That was just a stupid comment to make, one that was offensive to a lot of people,” Curbelo said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "I know Ron has clarified that it was no way intended to be racist but I think he should apologize.”
Curbelo said he did not find the comment racist and that he’s never heard DeSantis say anything disparaging about any race during their time in Congress.
Democrats have jumped on DeSantis’ comment, made Wednesday morning on Fox News, arguing that it’s racist.
“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum. “I watched those debates. None of that is my cup of tea but, he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”
Curbelo is running for re-election against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a Miami-to-Key West district that both parties are trying to win in November. Mucarsel-Powell called on DeSantis to apologize yesterday.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum said he’s “not getting into the gutter” with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis hours after the Trump-supported GOP nominee said he hoped Florida voters would not “monkey this up” if they elect Gillum, who is black.
“That part wasn’t lost on me. It’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump,” Gillum said on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, hours after DeSantis made the monkey comment on the same cable news network. “He thinks that in today’s day and age Florida’s voters are going to respond to that level of division. But I think he’s got another thing coming to him.”
Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, was pressed by host Shepard Smith to say if he thought DeSantis’ comments were explicitly racist. Gillum did not directly answer if he thought DeSantis' comments were racist, but he insinuated it.
“Well, in the handbook of Donald Trump they no longer do full whistle calls, they do full bullhorns,” Gillum said. “I’m not going to go down in the gutter.”
Fox distanced themselves from DeSantis’ comment, made about 12 hours after Gillum pulled off a historic upset to become Florida’s first black major party gubernatorial nominee. Sandra Smith, the Fox host who conducted the interview with DeSantis, later said that the station does not condone his choice of words.
“During the interview, he made what some are calling an inappropriate comment about his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum,” Smith said. “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement.”
Stephen Lawson, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, said it was “absurd” to call DeSantis’ comments racist.
“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum on Wednesday morning. “I watched those Democratic debates. None of that is my cup of tea but he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”
DeSantis made the comment about 9:36 a.m. while appearing on Fox News following his victory in the Republican primary. He was speaking about Gillum, who won the Democratic primary after being endorsed by Democratic Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.