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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Republicans, Democrats take aim at likely late entrant into Florida's U.S. Senate race

A wealthy land developer from Manatee County still hasn’t said if he intends to run for the U.S. Senate, but potential GOP rivals and Democrats are already taking aim at him.

Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff confirmed last month he is considering running for the Senate. And earlier this week, a media consultant who has spoken to Beruff about the race, told the Associated Press that she believes Beruff is likely to get into the contest, though Beruff has not confirmed that. …

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George W. Bush to campaign with Jeb on Monday

Jeb Bush with his brother

wire photo

Jeb Bush with his brother

The long-anticipated campaign trail debut of George W. Bush will happen Monday evening in North Charleston, S.C., Jeb Bush's campaign said.

The former president has raised money for his brother and appears in a new ad from Bush's super PAC. The campaign is hoping to capitalize on South Carolina affinity for W, who will likely make the case Jeb is experienced and ready to be commander-in-chief.

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Florida Senate's reforms on school districts' capital spending differs on charter school aid

Responding to a controversial plan fast-tracked by Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, a Florida Senate subcommittee is proposing its own reforms to how much school districts can spend on capital costs and what access the state's 650 charter schools should have to state and local dollars.

But the Senate's ideas don't go so far in charter schools' favor as those included in Fresen's proposal, which was advanced by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Rather, the counter-proposal unveiled Thursday by the Senate's education budget chairman, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, could actually limit charter schools' potential funding, while still reining in how much districts spend on projects.

It would crackdown on what Gaetz called charter school "real-estate schemes" by prohibiting schools from using taxpayer dollars on "private enrichment" projects.

It also does away with what Senate staff called a "fairly tricky, involved" funding formula that decides how much capital money individual charter schools get and, instead, would prioritize money to schools that help primarily impoverished students or those with disabilities. …

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Ted Cruz ad suggests Rubio played tea party

The war in South Carolina is on, and Ted Cruz launches this salvo against Marco Rubio.

The ad features an actor playing a Florida voter saying he supported Marco Rubio in 2010 but then Rubio joined up on the immigration bill.

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Marco Rubio cracks a tooth — and Chris Christie isn't to blame

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks a campaign town hall meeting Thursday in South Carolina.

Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks a campaign town hall meeting Thursday in South Carolina.

Marco Rubio cracked a tooth, and Chris Christie isn't to blame.

Rather, a Twix.

Rubio bit into the candy bar on a flight Wednesday evening to Washington, where he voted for North Korea sanctions.

"I just bit into a Twix bar and I go, 'Man this Twix bar's got something really hard in it,'" Rubio told reporters Thursday in South Carolina. "And I go, 'Oh my gosh, I cracked my tooth.'"

Rubio retold the story moments ago at a town hall in Myrtle Beach. "I'm getting old … I'll be 45 in May but I feel 46."

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How not to lobby, courtesy of the Florida Chamber of Commerce

Thursday in Tallahassee offered a particularly instructive lesson in politics. The subject: How Not to Lobby the Legislature.

Everything was rolling along nicely in a Senate budget subcommittee until a lobbyist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce stepped to the microphone, and in two minutes, one of the state's leading business groups became an outcast -- at least to one senator.

The Chamber's Carolyn Johnson said the group supports a bill creating a new $250 million pool of incentive money for the Scott administration, but only if the money is not distributed to companies on a pay-as-you-go basis. "If something like that did take place, we would have to oppose the bill moving forward," Johnson said.

That sounded like a threat, and the panel's chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, didn't like it. He then sent a brutally direct message to the Chamber brass who were either in the back of the room or watching on TV while the young Johnson bore the brunt of his wrath. …

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Marco Rubio no longer reluctant to go after Donald Trump (w/video)

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential hopeful, speaks during a campaign event at Magnolia Hall at Sun City on Hilton Head, S.C., on Thursday.

Stephen B. Morton | New York Times

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential hopeful, speaks during a campaign event at Magnolia Hall at Sun City on Hilton Head, S.C., on Thursday.

Marco Rubio, who has drawn notice for his reluctance to go after Donald Trump, unleashed attacks Thursday on the South Carolina poll leader.

"Donald Trump has zero foreign policy experience. Negotiating a hotel deal in another country is not foreign policy experience," Rubio said in Okatie.

Rubio also blasted Trump for using “profanity,” a reference to Trump calling Ted Cruz a “pussy” during a rally in New Hampshire.

That wasn’t all. Rubio also knocked Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz.

“Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience, period, and I'm an incredible admirer of him and his family,” Rubio said.

“Ted Cruz has a little bit of foreign policy experience, and it’s different than mine,” Rubio said, citing Cruz's comments about Edward Snowden.

Rubio, however, told the crowd that Democrats want to see Republicans attacking each other.

“I’m a conservative that can unify this party,” he said. “If we don’t come together quickly, we can’t win.”

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Rep. Kathy Castor to lead congressional trip to Cuba

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is leading a congressional trip to Cuba on Saturday, her office said.

The Tampa Democrat will be joined by Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota and five other lawmakers. They will hold a news conference Saturday morning at Tampa International Airport.

“Castor and Emmer last year filed legislation to lift the Cuban embargo and allow for businesses and the private sector to trade freely with Cuba,” reads a release. “They are also cochairs of the House Bipartisan Cuba Working Group, started late last year to press for congressional action to build on progress. This is U.S. Rep. Castor’s first trip to Cuba since diplomatic relations with the United States were restored.”

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Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio boast of 'massive' and 'huge' crowds in South Carolina

Jeb Bush’s press team finally has some news it can use.

“Great front pages for Jeb Bush in South Carolina this morning,” read a news release Thursday. “The crowds have been massive for Jeb in South Carolina.”

Marco Rubio, whom Bush beat in New Hampshire, is working to move past the debate and his team is working to shape perceptions as well. “Huge, Warm Welcome For Marco In South Carolina,” read a news release from the campaign, which talked of “standing room only” crowds.

Both have work to do. The Real Clear Politics average of polls in South Carolina:

Trump - 36 percent
Cruz - 20 percent
Rubio - 13 percent
Bush - 10 percent

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Jeb Bush is 63 today

Jeb Bush - Miami 1984

Miami Herald

Jeb Bush - Miami 1984

John Ellis Bush is 63 years old today.

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New York Times: Alan Grayson mixing congressional work with hedge fund management

Rep. Alan Grayson stands on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington on Feb. 4. Grayson's highly unusual dual role - a sitting House lawmaker running a hedge fund, which until recently had operations in the Cayman Islands - led to an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics.

Zach Gibson | New York Times

Rep. Alan Grayson stands on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington on Feb. 4. Grayson's highly unusual dual role - a sitting House lawmaker running a hedge fund, which until recently had operations in the Cayman Islands - led to an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics.

The Tampa Bay Times has incurred Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson's wrath for reporting on his hedge fund management activities while serving in Congress. Now the New York Times has a must-read invesigation with much more potentially damaging information.

 “This is going to be the drip, drip, drip story that never goes away,” his prescient former campaign manager warned Grayson in June. From the New York Times:

... (E)mails and marketing documents obtained by The New York Times show the extent to which Mr. Grayson’s roles as a hedge fund manager and a member of Congress were intertwined, and how he promoted his international travels, some with congressional delegations, to solicit business.

Interviews and the documents show that Mr. Grayson told potential investors in his hedge fund that they should contribute money to the fund to capitalize on the unrest he observed around the world, and to take particular advantage when there was “blood in the streets.” …

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Scott's tax cuts take hit in Senate revamp of school spending

The Senate on Thursday rolled out its proposal for an increase in per-pupil spending for public schools, but at the expense of Gov. Rick Scott's goal of $1 billion in tax cuts next year.

The strategy reflects the will of senators to shape tax policy around small businesses and homeowners, not corporations that are favored under Scott's tax cut plan. The move puts the Senate squarely at odds with Scott and with the House, which supports Scott's proposal to boost K-12 spending largely by imposing higher property tax payments on homeowners and business owners as their property values rise across the state.

About 84 percent of Scott's school spending increase would come from higher property taxes. Senators call that a tax increase, and Scott's office calls that "flat wrong." This increasingly testy battle centers on the element of school funding known as required local effort, a state-mandated property tax millage rate that school districts must impose by July 1. …

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Were Jeb Bush's picks for the Florida Supreme Court consistent conservatives?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s positions on some issues, such as immigration, have been to the left of other members of the GOP presidential field. But last month, Bush laid down a marker on his own conservatism: his selection of conservative judges.

"I have a proven record of appointing conservatives to the Florida judiciary as governor, and my administration devoted substantial time to vetting nominees,"Bush wrote in an article for Medium. "We sought judges who had shown humility, courage, an appreciation of the duties of a judge, a respect for the will of the people, and devotion to full application of the law without equivocation. My two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court, Raul Cantero and Kenneth Bell, have earned reputations as its most consistent conservatives. Additionally, two of the appellate judges I named as governor, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, are now serving with distinction on the Florida Supreme Court."

We wondered whether Bush was right that Cantero and Bell "have earned reputations as its most consistent conservatives." Our research suggests that Bush has a point, though the case is stronger for Bell than for Cantero.

Read what PolitiFact found.

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Hillary Clinton supporters see hope in Broward County

Hillary Clinton’s campaign opened its first office in South Florida in Democratic-rich Broward County Wednesday night.

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston spoke on behalf of Clinton at the opening of her Pompano Beach office.

Clinton supporters expressed optimism about her chances in Florida despite the fact that she just barely beat Bernie Sanders in Iowa and lost by a landslide to him in New Hampshire.

“These are two tiny states that reflect only their own little states,” Klein said, noting that New Hampshire is largely white. “Now we are beginning to campaign into the real states.”

Some Clinton volunteers expressed concern.

“I think she got a real scare,” said Peter Lent, a retired criminal defense attorney from Fort Lauderdale. “I am more worried now than I was six months ago. But I take a long view -- and so does she.”

So far, Clinton has invested far more time in South Florida than Sanders. Both candidates gave speeches at the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale in July, but Clinton also gave a speech in Miami in July as well as at Broward College in Davie in October. …

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Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

The state budget becomes the focal point in the Florida Legislature today. Here's a look at five things we will be watching today.

* After a combined more than seven hours of debate on the proposed state budget on Wednesday, the House and Senate are back at it today working on very different proposals. The House has a $79.9 billion plan, compared to the Senate having a $81 billion plan. The House meets at 9 a.m. and the Senate at 1 p.m.

* After the budget vote, the House is expected to vote out a $1 billion tax cut package that would include reducing sales taxes on commercial rents. It also includes a 10-day sales tax break on back-to-school shopping, a day of sales tax free shopping for hunting and fishing equipment, and a one-day sales tax free shopping day at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It doesn't include Gov. Rick Scott's top requests: elimination of corporate income taxes on manufacturers and retailers. …

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