Release from the Gwen Graham congressional campaign:
Today, the Gwen Graham campaign released its first poll of the year showing the race in Florida’s second congressional district in a dead heat — driven by Graham’s positive message and voters’ deep mistrust of Congressman Southerland’s partisan agenda.
Gwen Graham starts 2014 statistically tied with Southerland, 40% to 42% — despite Congressman Southerland’s superior name recognition and two TV buys by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. After voters hear equal information about both candidates, Graham takes 9-point lead, and her campaign’s fundraising strength indicates she will have the resources to get her message out. Among undecided voters, Southerland’s job approval is underwater by 7 points, 35% approve to 42% disapprove, indicating that he will have trouble growing his existing support.
The poll shows that second district voters are tired of Congressman Southerland’s extreme partisan agenda - and don’t feel he’s working for them in Washington. Congressman Southerland’s alarmingly high unfavorable rating and negative job approval drive fully 49% of likely voters to favor replacing Congressman Southerland. …
Legislators return for their second week of session and you can expect a few bills to roll and a few jokes to flop. Off campus, the week features the Sometimes Annual Press Corps Skits, in which the press lampoons elected officials and elected officials respond with wild Web-cam videos and lame jokes in return. Here are five things to watch for today:
• The Senate Gaming Committee hears a bill (SB 688) intended to loosen restrictions on the arcade industry, which was snagged last year by the Internet Café ban. The proposal expands the games offered at places like Dave and Busters and Disney’s Boardwalk, and lets them increase their jackpots.
• Last week, the House voted to prevent school officials from punishing kids who chewed their pop tarts into guns and this week the Senate Criminal Justice Committee takes up a bill (SB 968) to allow designated school personnel to carry real guns on school campuses.
• Florida’s gun laws will also come into focus during a rally with civil rights activist and cable TV celebrity Al Sharpton. He is in Tallahassee to protest the “stand your ground” law. …
Secretary of State John Kerry at last night's Gridiron dinner in Washington:
"Is Charlie Crist still here? I had to check. He's always so quick to leave a party. No, I admire Charlie. After all, he was for the GOP before he was against it. You were great tonight, Charlie. Or as the people of Florida call you, 'that nice young man.' Of course, we Vietnam vets just call you 'Agent Orange.' "
Crist was pretty funny himself. "I know what you're thinking: 'Why Charlie Crist?' Simple: The Gridiron wanted someone of color," quipped the ever-tanned St. Petersburg resident. "It's an honor for me to have been invited to this legendary event, one that has such a great tradition. The Gridiron always pokes fun at candidates from both parties. You could have saved time and just invited me."
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Scott are headlining a Republican Governors Association fundraiser March 24.
For Scott, the event is paybacks of sorts: the RGA contributed $2.5 million to his Let's Get to Work political committee on Jan. 27 amid a Florida fundraising tour by the association's embattled leader, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
This RGA fundraiser -- suggested contributions start at $25,000 per couple -- is slated to be held at the Coral Gables mega-mansion of Miguel "Mike" Fernandez, a Florida health-insurance tycoon.
Fernandez was a major Romney donor in 2012 and serves as the finance chairman of Scott's re-election campaign. He contributed at least $1.4 million directly to the governor since 2010 -- including a single $1 million check he stroked on Nov. 2 as former Democratic Gov. Charlie Crist hopped into the race.
Fernandez's oceanfront home has one of the most-spectacular views of the Bay, so much so that he wound up in a tussle with famed former Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti, his son Marc and Miami-Dade County over a plan to erect an $18 million five-story dry-stack building for 360 powerboats in Matheson Hammock Parkâs marina. …
The state of Gov. Rick Scott’s poll numbers is . . . sorry.
On Tuesday, as Scott kicked off the Legislature’s 60-day lawmaking session, he gave the annual state of the state speech, a campaign-like preview filled with job-creation statistics.
But many of Scott’s fellow Republicans were paying attention to a different set of numbers: a raft of poll data-points that make the GOP queasy because it shows Democrat Charlie Crist has broad support across Florida right now. The highlights:
• 34 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to one business interest’s statewide survey. This margin is 12 points greater than Democrat Alex Sink’s in the 2010 governor’s race. If she had earned Crist’s poll numbers in just these two counties, Sink would have won.
• 10 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in another business interest’s statewide poll.
• 8 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in two other business interests’ statewide polls.
• 7 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a fourth business interest’s statewide poll. …
State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is moving full steam ahead with Florida Standards, the new education benchmarks based on the Common Core State Standards.
But Common Core opponents aren't giving up the fight.
One group, Florida Parents Against Common Core, plans to protest Sunday afternoon, outside a private fundraising event being held for Gov. Rick Scott on Jupiter Island.
"Our intent is to send a loud and clear message to the governor and leadership," the organizers of the protest wrote in a press release. "We want HB 25 and SB 1316 to be heard in the education committees. Committees will only be meeting for two more weeks and time is of the essence."
HB 25 and SB 1316 seek to prohibit Florida from fully implementing the new standards.
Neither proposal seems to be getting any traction, though the Senate bill by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Pensacola, has picked up two additional co-sponsors: Republican Sens. Alan Hays, of Umatilla, and Lizbeth Benacquisto, of Ft. Myers. …
Could the letter and stamp from Jeb Bush last week be responsible for the increase in GOP ballots cast?
Winner of the week
Jeb Bush. That the David Jolly campaign would spend its scarce resources sending thousands of Pinellas Republicans a letter last week from Jeb Bush — and a stamp — urging them to return mail ballots for Jolly, serves as a reminder of how much influence the former governor wields seven years after leaving office. It's not Gov. Rick Scott or Sen. Marco Rubio all over the TV and mail ads for Jolly.
Loser of the week
Alan Grayson. Suffice it to say any week where you are denying that you physically injured your wife is a very bad one. The Orlando-area Democrat may want to forever stop accusing the GOP of waging a "war on women."
WASHINGTON — In the 33 years before his death, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young spent a total of $6.7 million on his campaigns. The race to succeed him has blown past $12 million. In three months.
The onslaught is fueled not by the candidates but by outside groups that have delivered $9 million in mostly negative ads and contributed to an emerging and dramatic shift in politics:
The death of the local campaign.
Republican David Jolly and Democrat Alex Sink are supporting actors in an arms war that has turned the race into a simplistic, hard-hitting and often misleading referendum. Sink is cast as a liberal puppet in love with Obamacare; Jolly is characterized as a slick lobbyist bent on destroying Social Security and Medicare.
The candidates, like others in competitive races increasingly drawing outside money, have harnessed these themes at the expense of highlighting parochial issues and presenting themselves in a positive light. At once they are helped and hemmed in by independent groups, which have made the contest the most expensive special House election in history. …
More than 600 beltway elites gathered tonight in white tie at the Renaissance Washington for the 129th anniversary dinner of the Gridiron Club and Foundation. Along with skits from the journalists, the closed event featured Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaking for Republicans, Sec. of State John Kerry speaking for the White House and Charlie Crist for Democrats.
The Gridiron Club, which funds college scholarships and journalism organizations, allows no live tweeting of the dinner, let alone TV cameras or recordings. But at least we can give you Charlie Crist's remarks as prepared for delivery: …
An emerging storyline in political journalism is that Sen. Marco Rubio is making a comeback. But the message did not reach hard core conservatives gathered this weekend outside Washington, D.C.
Rubio placed a distant 7th in the annual CPAC straw poll on Saturday, a clear reminder of hits Rubio took for helping write the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill. Last year, as the immigration debate was just beginning, Rubio came in second place.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was first with 31 percent of the vote by registered CPAC attendees, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at 11 percent. Dr. Ben Carson received 9 percent, followed by Gov. Chris Christie with 8 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Scott Walker both received 7 percent.
Rubio addressed the conference on Thursday and focused on foreign policy, a subject that has helped bring him new attention. He did not mention immigration, but it was on the mind of many conference goers.
A little perspective: CPAC draws a younger, libertarian minded group that elevated Ron Paul and now his son. The straw poll is just that but it's also a window into the difficulty Rubio faced with the base, and may face going forward.
As of Saturday, about 117,000 ballots had been cast in Pinellas County’s special election for Congressional District 13 - more than half of the votes likely to be cast - and Republicans are gaining steam in the closing days. The GOP advantage in votes cast more than doubled over the last week to about 4,500 votes.
For all the talk about an energized, anti-Obama Republican base in this off-year special election, the key to victory on Tuesday — no surprise for a swing district in the swing state of Florida — is swing voters and independents.
Republican David Jolly wins if he can keep Democrat Alex Sink from peeling away too many Republicans and beating him too heavily among the nearly one in five voters registered to neither major party. …
Florida State University's Board of Trustees picked an interim president and named members to an advisory committee to name a successor for Eric Barron, who is leaving next month. Board members said that despite the buzz about Sen. John Thrasher wanting the job, they have an open mind and there is no front runner.
Here is more from Saturday's paper:
Sen. John Thrasher's name is on the tip of many tongues speculating about who will become the next Florida State University president.
But members of the school's Board of Trustees say they'll conduct a careful national search to find the best leader.
Friday, the group met to appoint an interim president who will take over once President Eric Barron leaves for Pennsylvania State University next month. They named 27 people to a search advisory committee, including high-profile political figures and FSU supporters.
Among them is Board of Trustees chairman Allan Bense, a former House speaker who served alongside Thrasher. He insisted there is no front-runner.
"I want to make sure that we get a good pool," Bense said. "And I think if I all of a sudden say I think it's John Smith or whoever, I think that shrinks the pool of applicants." …
Florida’s governor would have new powers to pack the state’s Supreme Court under a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow him to make prospective appointments to the bench even if a vacancy occurs the day the governor is leaving office.
Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — the court’s liberal wing — will all turn 70 some time during the next governor’s term, and their six-year terms will all end on the same day as the a new governor is inaugurated.
The state constitution is unclear about whether the incoming or outgoing governor should make the appointment when the vacancy occurs on inauguration day. The proposal is designed to put some certainty into the law by giving governors a “prospective appointment” as part of the state’s merit selection system used for appellate courts. …
From the Associated Press: Investigators in Florida are not charging U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson over a domestic incident with his estranged wife.Officials with the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Orlando said Friday that probable cause didn't exist to support the allegation by Grayson's wife that he had pushed her against the front door of their home.
A judge granted Lolita Grayson a restraining order against the Democratic congressman from Orlando earlier this week after she alleged that Grayson pushed her against the front door of their home last Saturday when he stopped by the house.
Grayson's wife, Lolita, filed for divorce in January. On Wednesday, she asked a judge to enter a default judgment, claiming Grayson had failed to respond to her petition in a timely manner.
From Grayson spokeswoman: "Today the Orange County Sheriff’s Department confirmed what we have known all along: Congressman Grayson did nothing wrong. We are relieved that this ridiculous ordeal is over, and that the Congressman can continue to focus on taking care of his family and serving his constituents.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry addressed CPAC today with an energizing speech that had the crowd fired up. About 3:40 into this video, Gov. Perry takes aim at former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the likely November opponent of his would-be BFF, current Gov. Rick Scott.
"And under Rick Scott, Florida's unemployment rate has dropped for three straight years, when just four years ago, four years ago, his predecessor presided over the loss of more than 800,000 jobs and now that guy wants his job back. And with a record like that, appropriately, he is running this time to seek it as a Democrat."
For Florida political news today, the Buzz is your can't-miss-it source. Tampa Bay Times writers offer the latest in Florida politics, the Florida Legislature and the Rick Scott administration. Keep in mind: This is a public forum sponsored and maintained by the Tampa Bay Times. When you post comments here, what you say becomes public and could appear in the newspaper. You are not engaging in private communication with candidates or Times staffers.