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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott buys digital ads to promote hospitals agenda

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has already had a statewide bus tour and run television to promote two of his top legislative priorities. Now, the Republican governor in his second term is turning to digital ads to promote another.

Scott's Let's Get to Work Political Committee announced it was launching a statewide digital ad this week that calls on hospitals to be more transparent about their billing practices. Scott made the same issue a key part of a speech he delivered last month in Washington, D.C. before the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy think tank.

The new ad follows a statewide television commerical and bus tour in January that Scott used to drum up support for his tax cut plans and his push for the Legislature to set aside $250 million for a job creation fund Scott wants to use to lure more companies to move to Florida. 

Here is Scott's new ad, which is set to begin airing today.

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Bondi threatens to sue rental car companies over toll charges

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says there's a possibility her office will sue rental car companies over their billing practices in Florida. Bondi's Consumer Protection Division has an online form for consumers to send complaints directly to her office. Since November alone, Bondi's office has received more than three dozen complaints from people who rented cars in Florida and were charged as much as $15 a day as a "service charge" in addition to highway tolls that renters couldn't pay because the "cash-less" toll booths are automated.

Bondi's spokesman, Whitney Ray, said the office is involved in "settlement negotiations" with rental car companies he declined to identify.

"It would not be appropriate to discuss details regaqrding ongoing settlement negotiations," Ray said. "If agreements are not reached, we are prepared to litigate." Here's the Times/Herald's latest reporting on the subject.

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Jeb Bush to NH: Pick me, not John Kasich

Kasich at his 104th New Hampshire town hall meeting

Adam Smith

Kasich at his 104th New Hampshire town hall meeting

The most immediate obstacle to Jeb Bush's path to the nomination is not Donald Trump or Marco Rubio. it's the guy pictured here (a couple minutes ago in the Plaistow Public Library), Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Three governors, Bush, Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are trying to emerge from New Hampshire Tuesday with a credible reason for why they they should continue to press on into South Carolina's Feb. 20 primary rather than step aside and let Republicans coalesce around Rubio as the main alternative to Trump or Ted Cruz.

Bush has the resources and the infrastructure to campaign aggressively in South Carolina, but if he can't beat Kasich and Christie in New Hampshire, he will head into South Carolina with little or no momentum. Most polls show Chrisrue lagging the other two in that "governors' lane" in the GOP primary, which explains why the Bush campaign is out with a new TV ad telling Granite Staters that Kasich supported an assault weapons ban, Medicaid expansion, and Defense cuts and that Bush is more conservative.

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Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Welcome to Week 5 of the 2016 session. Wednesday marks the halfway point! Most lawmakers will be back in town by this afternoon for committee meetings, with a regular schedule of work resuming Tuesday.

Here are some items we're watching today.

* Should future legislative sessions starts in January? The House government operations budget committee will consider a bill to do that for not next year, but in 2018. If enacted, that would mean a full year between the end of this session and the start of the 2017 session next March, but then another short window between 2017 and 2018 sessions. The hearing starts at 3.

* A Senate committee will take up a nondiscrimination bill for LGBT Floridians. It's the first time the legislation has ever had a hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee at 1:30 p.m. will consider the controversial bill, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's civil rights protection laws, but it's already garnered opposition from social conservative and religious groups. …

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Marco Rubio's debate oops threatens to shift momentum of race

SALEM, N.H. — We've heard Donald Trump swear, insult and offend. We've winced as Jeb Bush flailed during debates. We've wondered on occasion whether Ben Carson was fully awake.

But Marco Rubio gave us the first real oops moment of the 2016 race Saturday night.

"Let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing," Florida's junior senator said after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accused him of constantly using the same scripted lines in the debate.

Two minutes later: "Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing," Rubio said.

Two minutes after that: "This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he's doing."

And then 46 minutes later: "I think anyone who believes that Barack Obama isn't doing what he's doing on purpose doesn't understand what we're dealing with here. Okay?" said Rubio, by then perspiring heavily. …

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Here's how to get tickets to Donald Trump's rally at USF Friday

Donald Trump, Republican presidential hopeful, speaks at a campaign event, at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., on Sunday.

Damon Winter | New York Times

Donald Trump, Republican presidential hopeful, speaks at a campaign event, at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., on Sunday.

Donald Trump's rally at the USF Sun Dome is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Feb. 12, with doors opening at 5 p.m.. Tickets are free, but people must register for tickets on, and bring their printed ticket with them or be prepared to show their ticket on a mobile device at check in.

People will be screened before entering, so USF advises people not to bring many personal items to speed up the check-in process. "Parking for all patrons is $20.00 per vehicle, cash only," USF said in a release. "Large vehicles will be subject to additional costs. In order to accommodate a smooth and efficient arrival, entrants should allow themselves ample amount of travel time. Please pay close attention to road signage, police officers, and parking attendants."

The address: 4202 East Fowler Ave, SUN 130,  Tampa, FL 33620

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Rubio debate performance: 'Cringe-worthy' or no big deal

Marco Rubio and family on stage in Bedford

Alex Leary | Times

Marco Rubio and family on stage in Bedford

BEDFORD, N.H. – The Christie-Rubio showdown was the talk of a middle school cafeteria here before the candidate showed up to a crowd of hundreds.

Steve Poschmann, Bedford, 50, intends to vote for Rubio

“It was a little cringe-worthy how he repeated the same lines over and over again how Obama is deliberately destroying the country. He should have laid off those and gone after Christie. I’m not sure why he didn’t. He’s not even running against Obama. Will it hurt? It depends how much the video gets out there.”

Kevin Reigstad, Bedford, 50, undecided

“It made Christie look bad, like a bully. Every politician has their messaging they want to get out. Chris Christie does the same thing, tells the same story, makes the same points."

Val Zanchuk, Concord, 65, undecided independent voter

"Christie pretty much skewered Rubio. It affirmed my concerns that he’s fairly shallow. I’m just here to see if he has anything to say other than his normal script. Rubio should be bleeding right now. I saw Jeb on Friday. I was impressed. He comes across much more genuine, much more knowledgeable than he appears to be on TV and the debates." …

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Florida Senate's plan for after-school programs has local providers rattled

Republican leaders of the Florida Senate want to drastically change how they dole out funding for after-school programs that provide homework help, mentoring and gang prevention services to thousands of children, often living in Florida’s most impoverished and vulnerable neighborhoods.

Senators want to increase funding, provide it to more organizations and ensure the dollars are spent on programs proven to bolster children’s academic performance.

But without any notice about the proposed change, administrators of non-profits that rely year after year on the designated state funding said they feel blindsided and rattled with uncertainty and questions.

“It came out of nowhere,” said Daniel Lyons, executive director for the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs. “It just caught us off guard with how it all developed. ... It felt like a sucker-punch.”

Why? More here.

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A 'crystalizing moment' puts Jeb Bush on the attack against Marco Rubio

Danny Diaz, Jeb Bush's campaign manager, in the spin room

Alex Leary | Times

Danny Diaz, Jeb Bush's campaign manager, in the spin room

MANCHESTER, N.H. - It was a "crystalizing moment" for Jeb Bush's campaign.

A day after Rick Santorum endorsed Marco Rubio, the former presidential candidate was on live TV fumbling and stumbling over a straightforward question: What has Rubio accomplished?

Santorum couldn't name anything, giving voice to persistent criticism about the first-term senator.

It "really allowed for an in-depth serious conversation," Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz said from the spin room after Saturday's debate in Manchester. "One that should have, taken place, frankly, earlier."

Bush had been steadily ramping up questions -- just before the debate he tweeted a side-by-side of his accomplishments vs. Rubio, a list that for Rubio only included immigration -- but why not go aggressive sooner?

"We’ve been saying it," Diaz said. "The media may not have been listening. I think they are listening to a greater degree today and we’ll take the opportunity to continue to repeat it."

Still, it was Chris Christie, not Bush, who dominated Rubio on Saturday. …

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Marco Rubio's campaign spin: Chris Christie 'took his best shot and he failed'

Todd Harris, center, speaks with the media after the debate

Alex Leary | Times

Todd Harris, center, speaks with the media after the debate

While acknowledging a "tough exchange" with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio's senior strategist spun Saturday's debate performance as a win. 

"What Gov. Christie was trying to do was to knock Marco out, to kill him dead. He took his best shot and he failed," Todd Harris told reporters.

Asked why Rubio kept repeating the line about President Obama, a tactic that perplexed just about everyone, Harris said:

"Maybe unlike Chris Christie, Marco thinks that fundamentally what this election is about is defeating Democrats in November. So when he was given repeated opportunities to bash Barack Obama and to bash the record of the Democratic Party, he took every single one of those opportunities. It surprises me that any member of the media would think that Republican primary votes wouldn't be interested in hearing a candidate running for president take the fight to the Democrats. We did it repeatedly. We’re proud of it. We’re going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day, and the next day, and the next day."

Harris said Rubio's campaign had raised "three times" more money during the debate than previous debates. He said Rubio's goal is to finish in the "top tier" on Tuesday.

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Video: Christie takes it to Rubio

Chris Christie took it hard to Marco Rubio in the first hour of tonight's debate, and here's video (as circulated by a rival) of their exchange.

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Marco Rubio-Ted Cruz battle represents struggle over GOP's future

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Marco Rubio had just finished an event, impressing the room with his forward-looking message, and Steve Pena lingered among the crowd pressing the presidential candidate for a selfie.

"If he wins the primary, he'd get my vote. But right now, he's my second choice," said Pena, 56, who grew up in Tampa and now lives in this first-in-the-nation primary state, which votes Tuesday. "I'm a Ted Cruz man."

The attraction makes sense.

Cruz and Rubio are young senators, 45 and 44, Cuban-American, dynamic speakers and expert debaters. Cruz finished first in the Iowa caucuses, Rubio third. And they are competitive in New Hampshire.

But Cruz and Rubio could not be more different in message and tone. Deeper yet, they embody a party battle over the direction of the GOP, which is striving to find a winning formula in the face of changing national demographics.

Cruz, a preacher-like figure whose voice fires with emotion, is summoning a conservative movement around a message of destroying a "Washington cartel" that favors deal-making and compromise. His target audience is almost exclusively white. …

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Jeb Bush VS. Marco Rubio: Two town halls, two tan zip up sweaters

They differ little on issues and a lot in style and polish

Times wires

They differ little on issues and a lot in style and polish

NASHUA, N.H. — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are slugging it out on the presidential campaign trail, trading insults about experience and readiness.

But turn down the volume and there's little difference on the issues. The Florida Republicans want to strengthen the military, turn back the nuclear accord with Iran, repeal Obamacare and end burdensome business regulation. Both promise a better tomorrow.

Where they diverge is on style, and the differences are stark, revealing their personalities and making a larger point about the dynamics of the race.

Bush, 62, is often wonky and halting. He talks up his record as governor. Rubio, 44, is polished, always on message, and focuses on the future.

Here's a look at both candidates on Thursday as they held town halls — the quintessential New Hampshire primary experience— 17 miles apart, trying to hold onto supporters and win over undecided voters.


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Bobby Jindal endorses Marco Rubio

Bobby Jindal is the second former 2016 presidential candidate to endorse Marco Rubio this week.

"He can unify the party," Jindal said on Fox News. "He can win this election in November."

Jindal's endorsement follows Rick Santorum, who failed to name an accomplishment of Rubio's. The fomer Louisiana governor may have to explain this line from October 2015: "We've got a first-term senator in the White House. We need somebody with a proven track record."

But is shows how the GOP is beginning to unite around Rubio.

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House, Senate proposed budgets include millions for Tampa Bay projects

Tens of millions of dollars for libraries, museums, parks and theaters in Tampa Bay have survived the first cut and are in the initial state budget proposals.

Funding for Lowry Park Zoo, the Florida Aquarium, Blind Pass Road in St. Pete Beach, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg and a new transit study to move people from south Hillsborough to downtown Tampa are all tucked within more than 800 pages of budget documents that passed through House or Senate budget committees this week.

Some of the bigger-ticket items for Tampa Bay are not among the four dozen area projects in the $80 billion budget yet. Like most education construction projects, it will be weeks before the region knows the fate of a $22 million request to move USF's Morsani College of Medicine to downtown Tampa to serve as a key cog of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik's revitalization plan.

While there is no guarantee any listed projects will be in the final state budget, it's a key starting point to keep many of them even at the negotiating table.


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