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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Clinton bails on South Florida event to focus on Nevada, and Sanders

Hillary Clinton's campaign said Friday night that she will not appear at a grassroots rally Monday in Palm Beach County.

Bill Clinton will be her stand-in.

Clinton is facing a tougher than expected challenge from Bernie Sanders and is shifting attention to Nevada, which holds caucuses before Florida's primary.

Republicans are happy. “Hillary Clinton’s last minute decision to skip Florida is a clear sign that her campaign is in a crisis after her devastating loss to Bernie Sanders," said Wadi Gaitan of the Republican Party of Florida. "No matter how much the Clinton machine tries to spin their crisis, Floridians will continue to see the catastrophe of dishonesty, scandals and negative headlines that plague her campaign."

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Donald Trump pumps up crowd of 10,000-plus at USF Sun Dome rally

From the Tampa Bay Times' Steve Contorno and Sara DiNatale:

TAMPA -- Donald Trump may have Carolina on his mind, but on Friday night the Republican frontrunner rallied the troops in Tampa with an eye toward a long race to the nomination.

Coming off his first win Tuesday in New Hampshire, Trump delivered an hour-long stump speech of his greatest hits from the campaign trail to a standing-room only crowd at the 10,000-capacity University of South Florida Sun Dome. Together, the assembly chanted to Trump's campaign theme: "Build the wall!" They mocked Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's email scandal, cheered for the troops and Trump's poll numbers and chided the media and a handful of protesters.

The raucous crowd, many who waited hours to get in, loudly egged him on.

"Something's happening," Trump said moments after walking in to Van Halen's "Right Now." "This is a movement. This is not just a normal situation."

Trump saved his sharpest digs for Republican contender Jeb Bush, mocking the former Florida governor on his own turf as "asleep at the wheel," "a gutless guy," and "a total stiff."

Read more here

 

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New Jeb Bush ad says Marco Rubio runs away from Trump 'in fear'

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are afraid of Donald Trump, says a new super PAC ad for Jeb Bush.

At one time Cruz was cozying up to Trump. But it's inaccurate to say he's not been critical of Trump, especially now in South Carolina. Rubio has been reluctant to engage Trump but began to this week.

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Meet some early birds for Donald Trump's Tampa rally

We caught up with some enthusiastic young Donald Trump supporters outside the USF Sun Dome a few minutes ago. Trump's rally is scheduled to start at 7 p.m..

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Harry Reid says Alan Grayson should end U.S. Senate run; Grayson condemns 'absurd' remark

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando

Walter Michot / Miami Herald

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando

The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate said Friday afternoon that U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, should "immediately" drop out of the race for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat, because of a scathing New York Times report over Grayson's controversial management of a once-off-shore hedge fund.

The Associated Press first reported the blistering statement from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who rarely issues such remarks. Grayson, a firebrand progressive, called Reid’s comments “absurd” and gave no indication Friday of ending his campaign.

"Grayson claims to be a progressive, but it seems like he has no moral compass," Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in the statement -- which came a day after a New York Times article that delved more deeply into Grayson's hedge funds, following months of other media reports on the topic.

The Tampa Bay Times has also investigated the hedge funds, which until last fall were based in the Cayman Islands.

The New York Times obtained “emails and marketing documents” probing what it called Grayson’s “double life” as both congressman and hedge fund manager. …

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Rubio ad blasts Cruz on national defense

Part of Marco Rubio's challenge is he's facing fights on several fronts. Jeb Bush is trying to box him out of the establishment lane as Ted Cruz is in the conservative. Donald Trump looms, always.

Today the pro-Rubio super PAC launched a new ad against Cruz over national defense.

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New Bush ad attacks Donald Trump on eminent domain

Jeb Bush's super PAC has this ad attacking Donald Trump.

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Alan Grayson echoes conservatives, slams Patrick Murphy super PAC over donor with ties to visa program

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is attacking his Democratic opponent in Florida's U.S. Senate race over donations a pro-Patrick Murphy super PAC received from a wealthy donor who stands to benefit from legislation Murphy supported two years ago (but which he hasn't signed on to this session).

Grayson's swipe at the Jupiter congressman comes a day after Grayson himself took heat in the media when The New York Times delved deeper into Grayson's hedge fund management controversy, which the Tampa Bay Times has also reported on.

In a rarity, Grayson's attack on Murphy allies the progressive Democrat with a conservative super PAC, American Crossroads, which has been blasting Murphy on the same donor issue for weeks.

In its most recent campaign finance disclosure, "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" -- which was established last spring to help Murphy's campaign for U.S. Senate -- reported a $50,000 donation from "230 East 63rd-6 Trust LLC" amid $500,000 in contributions it collected since July. (Murphy's father also donated $200,000 to the super PAC, records showed. Super PACs are not bound by contribution limits nor can they coordinate directly with the candidate.) …

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Gov. Scott opens Zika hotline after 20 cases confirmed in Florida

Gov. Rick Scott and Surgeon General John Armstrong are continuing their Zika offensive, unveiling a hotline Friday for Floridians to call with questions.

The phone number — 855-622-6735 — is staffed by Department of Health workers who will “answer questions and advise callers on what steps they can take to protect their homes and families from Zika,” Scott said in a statement.

Since the revelation last week that some Floridians have been infected with the virus while travelling abroad, Zika has been at the heart of the administration’s public health messaging.

In a press conference Feb. 4, Scott compared the state’s Zika response to preparation for a hurricane. He issued a public health emergency, a rare decision.

Twenty cases have been confirmed in the state.

None of those involved pregnant women, whose babies may be at higher risk to deformities if infected and none were transmitted within Florida.

The number of cases has grown from nine since Scott declared the state of emergency more than a week ago.

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When Marco Rubio warned against targeting immigrants as terrorists

After telling audiences that he’s lived the immigration issue, Marco Rubio outlines a tough-on-security approach that raises the possibility of ISIS invading our homes and strikes this promise: “If we aren’t 100 percent sure who you are and why you’re coming to America, you’re not getting in.”

As he navigates the issue he’s most vulnerable to conservatives on, Rubio’s past keeps surfacing. During the last big terrorism scare — 9/11 — Florida got perhaps the earliest look at Rubio’s more moderate immigration views.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee rushed to make policy after the terrorist attacks. But Rubio expressed caution about going too far and in February 2002, he led an effort to defeat a bill that would have required state colleges and universities to provide law enforcement with information on about 58,000 student visa holders. …

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Vern Buchanan wants government to screen social media of foreigners

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is pushing a bill that would require Homeland Security to screen Facebook, Twitter and other social media before allowing the entry of foreign travelers and visa applicants.

Buchanan’s office highlighted Thursday that the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, expressed support for the idea.

“A simple check of social media accounts of foreign travelers and visa applicants will help ensure that those who have participated in, pledged allegiance to, or communicated with terrorist organizations cannot enter the United States,” McCaul said in a statement. “I know this will be a useful tool for the Department of Homeland Security and will aid in securing our homeland."

Questions about social media arose after the San Bernardino shootings, and Republican presidential candidates criticized the government. FBI Director James Comey countered that the couple that carried out the attacks had not made open posts about radical Islamic jihad.

The Los Angeles Times had reported that the couple sent private messages on Facebook to friends pledging support for jihad.

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PolitiFact Florida: New gaming compact offers Florida biggest guaranteed share of any state, Seminoles say

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is trying to convince the Legislature that approving a new gaming compact is a safe bet.

As lawmakers consider a plan negotiated between the Seminoles and Gov. Rick Scott, the tribe has started running commercials with the message that the agreement helps the state. One of the ads ticks off several benefits of the deal Scott has touted to the Legislature, which has been reluctant to agree to the compact.

"The governor authorized a new and unprecedented Seminole compact: Nearly 20,000 new Florida jobs; $3 billion in guaranteed revenue, the largest share for any state in history; and for the first time, empowering the Legislature to limit expansion to keep Florida's entertainment options family friendly," the commercial said.

That’s a lot to pack into one 30-second spot. PolitiFact Florida was especially curious about the $3 billion in payments the tribe promised the state. Is it really the most any state has received from Indian gaming in history?Full Story

PolitiFact Florida: Marco Rubio says rich foreigners give birth in Miami and don't pay hospital bill

Marco Rubio brought up a new wrinkle in the country’s immigration debate that hits especially hard, he argues, in Miami.

"I see people that fly in on their private jets into Miami, Fla., have a child because they are eight and a half months pregnant when they get here," Rubio said at a town hall in Iowa on Jan. 24. "They are wealthy. They fly back home on the private jet. Their kid is now a U.S. citizen, and they don’t pay the hospital bill."

It sounds like insult to injury for taxpayers -- the babies get citizenship, residents get the unpaid tax burden. But is this really even happening in South Florida, like he says?Full Story

Trump: Tampa rally will be profanity-free

The Donald Trump show comes to Tampa tonight, and the star promises it will be family-friendly.

"I won't use foul language. I'm just not going to do it," Trump told a rally in Baton Rouge Thursday. "I'll never do it again actually, and I'll never even copy what somebody asks me to say." 

Trump has been chastised by his rivals and commentators for having repeated a profane description of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that a woman in the audience shouted during a rally in New Hampshire Monday.

"Even in our political culture I teach my kids to be respectful," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday at a community center in South Carolina. "There are certain words you don't say."

"You turn on the TV and a leading presidential candidate is saying profanity from a stage," Rubio lamented.

The Republican frontrunner's Tampa rally is set to begin at 7 p.m. at the USF Sun Dome, 4202 East Fowler Ave. Tickets are free, but people must register on Eventbrite.com, and bring their printed ticket with them or be prepared to show their ticket on a mobile device at check in. Parking is $20 per vehicle.

Registration does not guarantee entry, which is first come, first serve. Door open at 5 p.m. …

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Meet Florida's Hillary Clinton-friendly Democratic superdelegates

Most of the attention on Florida's March 15 presidential primary has been lavished on the crowded Republican side (Even former candidates such as Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee will be on the ballot, by the way), in which whoever wins the most votes will receive all 99 GOP delegates at stake.

The Democrats' delegate system is much more complicated. At stake are 246 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Cleveland and 18 alternates. The biggest piece of that pie — 140 delegates — is distributed proportipnally based on how the candidates fare in each congressional district. Another 46 at-large delegates are distributed based on the candidates' statewide performance. …

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