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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Times/BayNews9/Graham Center poll: Rick Scott 41%, Charlie Crist 36%

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has opened up a 5-point lead over Democratic rival Charlie Crist as a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll finds Florida voters mostly optimistic about the state's economic direction but decidedly sour on their gubernatorial choices.

Scott received support from 40.9 percent of those surveyed, Crist drew 35.7 percent and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie 6.3 percent. When asked to choose between only Scott and Crist, Scott's lead grew to 6 points over Crist, 43.7 percent to 37.6 percent.

An overwhelming seven in 10 voters said the governor "can do a lot" about the state's economy, while 48.7 percent said Florida's economy is recovering and another 25.2 percent said it will recover soon.

"If I were Rick Scott, I'd be playing up the economy as he has been. I would take this poll result and I would run with it," said Dr. Christopher McCarty, director of the UF Survey Research Center and director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. …

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Coming at 11 tonight: New poll on the governor's race

Coming tonight at 11 p.m. on are results of a new poll on the 2014 Florida governor's race, sponsored by the Times, Bay News 9 and News 13 of Orlando. The poll was conducted Aug. 27-31 -- so starting just one day after Florida's primary last week -- by the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service and Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Stay tuned to The Buzz for the results later tonight.

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Who will compete with John Thrasher for FSU presidency? Applications due at midnight

Tonight is the deadline for anyone who wants to apply to become Florida State University's next president.

The search firm and conventional wisdom say that the most qualified applicants emerge at the ninth hour whenever Florida's state universities look for new presidents. We will be checking the FSU website in the morning to get the final list of applicants and see if that rings true once again.

For now, the list is pretty short on high-ranking academics -- think sitting or former presidents, provosts and chancellors -- that some students, faculty and alumni say they would prefer.

Instead, two names continue to dominate the list of 25 applicants: state Sen. John Thrasher, a powerful alum who has been considered the front-runner for the job, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.

The presidential search advisory committee will meet Friday to review the applications and select finalists to interview next week.

Click here for a list of all applicants thus far.

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Florida politicians mourn loss of Steven Sotloff, demand action against ISIS

Florida reaction to the news that ISIS has followed through with threat to kill journalist Steven J. Sotloff, who studied at University of Central Florida:

Sen. Bill Nelson: "Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Steven Sotloff. Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.”

Nelson also said he would file a bill that would give Obama "clear authority" to order airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. “This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria,” Nelson said.  “Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.”

Gov. Rick Scott canceled a campaign stop in Naples and asked for a moment of silence, according to the AP's Gary Fineout. The governor then released a statement: …

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Rep. Dwight Dudley rips Gov. Rick Scott's record on utilities

With the November election looming ever closer, one state legislator again sought to remind voters that Gov. Rick Scott is no friend to middle-class Floridians when it comes to getting tough on big electric utilities. Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, criticized the governor in a telephone briefing for the media this afternoon for his lack of action in letting big power companies like Duke Energy charge consumers and businesses high rates for electricity.

In a teleconference organized by the Florida Democratic Party, Dudley was joined by a Pinellas County consumer named Tiffany Cornelius who said her electric rates and those of friends and family were too high.

Cornelius grew up in Charlotte, N.C. – the parent headquarters of Duke Energy – where she said Duke was well known as a “bully monopoly that needed to be kept in check.” …

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John Morgan's uncharming pitch for medical marijuana


John Morgan, the trial lawyer leading and funding the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida, should hope that the folks on the other side don't turn the following clip of Morgan into a TV ad. Morgan, appearing to have a cocktail in hand and sounding like it too, led a rally in the Lakeland area Friday. The video does not help Morgan's case.

"If you mother ------s don't get out and vote, ---- it all, we can't win," he tells the rowdy crowd of young supporters.

"We believe this video, in all of its offensive glory, shows John Morgan's real reasons behind his campaign to legalize marijuana.  Their campaign has tried to be the moral authority on compassion, but clearly their chairman fell off the wagon," said Sarah Bascom of the Vote No on 2 campaign.

"During the video, Morgan talks about 'smoking grass' and encourages young adults to get out and support Amendment 2, clearly showing this is about legalizing pot.  This is not about sick Floridians; this is about pot for everyone and anyone. Just ask John Morgan." …

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After controversial vote, Lee County School Board restores testing

The Lee County School Board on Tuesday rescinded a controversial decision to opt out of all state-mandated testing.

The board reversed course after Lee County schools Superintendent Nancy Graham said the district could lose as much as $280 million in state funding. The Florida School Boards Association had also warned that thousands of high school students might be unable to graduate.

It was School Board member Mary Fischer who had a change of heart.

Fischer, who had sided with the 3-2 majority last week, called for the vote to be reconsidered Tuesday.

"It is not easy to sit up here and say I want to change my mind," Fisher said, adding that the board's initial vote "[had] multiple consequences that are not in the best interest of the students, the teachers, the district and the community at large."

The two other board members who voted against testing last week, Thomas Scott and Don Armstrong, remained unmoved.

"What we chose Wednesday the 27th was the right decision and I'll stick by that decision," Armstrong said.

More than 60 members of the public attended Tuesday's meeting. Many dressed in red to show their opposition to the state tests and Florida's new education benchmarks. …

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George Sheldon launches campaign PAC

Democratic attorney general nominee George Sheldon is stepping his campaign up a notch through the launch of his own political committee.

Called "Floridians Seeking Common Ground," the PAC will be co-chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Walt McNeil, the former Corrections secretary who is now chief of police in Quincy. Shelton said his goal is to use the pack to build a coalition of supporters unsatisfied with the Republican-led Cabinet, particularly Attorney General Pam Bondi, on such issues as the environment and restoration of rights for felons.

Floridians Seeking Common Ground is not yet showing up on the state's Division of Elections website as a registered entity.

During this mornings news conference, Sheldon also said he has been in talks with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and will embark on joint voter turnout initiatives. He also is pushing Bondi to more debates beyond the one that both have agreed to.

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Rick Scott rips Charlie Crist as failure

SARASOTA – Rick Scott in some respects makes it easy on journalists. If a reporter misses something he says in an interview, maybe even spaces out for moment, it doesn’t really matter because Scott is certain to say the same thing again. And again. And again.

So it was Labor Day in Sarasota, as the governor invited a few reporters to join the governor on a campaign “bus tour,” which in fact was an opportunity to chat with the governor aboard his “Let’s Keep Working” campaign bus as it travelled about four blocks to a boisterous campaign rally at Walt’s Fish Market. The trip somehow lasted nearly 30 minutes, which was more than enough time to get a clear sense of Scott’s campaign message for the next two months: Charlie Crist is a slick talker, but a lousy chief executive. And he’s pals with Barack Obama. …

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Chinese government pays for trip by aides to Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen

WASHINGTON — Top aides to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, two of the most vehement anti-Communist voices in Washington, took an all expenses paid trip to China this month courtesy of the Chinese government.
Sally Canfield, deputy chief of staff to Rubio, and Arthur Estopinan, chief of staff to Ros-Lehtinen, were part of a congressional staff trip facilitated by the U.S.-Asia Institute.

The trips, which include meetings with government officials in Beijing, have occurred since 1985, involving hundreds of lawmakers and staffers. They are a popular perk on Capitol Hill and come with luxury hotel stays and visits to top tourist sites, including the Great Wall. The cost can exceed $10,000 a person.

The Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen connection stands out because of their strong anti-Communism views. Both Cuban-American lawmakers have condemned the human rights records of China and Cuba and have opposed efforts to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. They also regularly criticize people who have gone to Cuba.

Full story here.

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Winner and loser of the week in Fla politics

Winner of the week

Charlie Crist. The puny turnout did not exactly signal Democratic enthusiasm, but Crist's 3-to-1 primary victory over Nan Rich should tamp down chatter about Democrats not being ready to embrace the former Republican.

Loser of the week

Jeb Bush. The Lee County School Board voted to opt out of Common Core. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a presidential contender, sued the federal government over Common Core, while Rick Scott is scrambling to distance himself from Common Core and standardized testing. Bush's strength as a presidential candidate looks much more dubious today than a few months ago, amid widespread backlash against education accountability policies closely associated with him.

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President Clinton to campaign with Charlie Crist on Friday

President Bill Clinton will use his star power to ramp up support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist on Friday in Miami.

The rally will be held at 6 p.m. at the J.W. Marriott Marquis hotel. Members of the public who wish to attend must RSVP at

in announcing the event, Crist said he was "over the moon." Here is more from an email to supporters:

"President Clinton's been fighting on the front lines for years on the issues we care about: Equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, expanding health care to everyone who needs it, and making sure that everyone has a fair shot at success.

He's better than anyone at explaining why what we're doing matters.

I'm looking forward to kicking off the final two months of this campaign with him."

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Here's how Charlie Crist beats Rick Scott

Charlie Crist's political fortunes have been hitched to President Barack Obama, for better or worse, since their man hug five years ago helped sink him in the Republican Party.

So it may seem counterintuitive that as the Crist campaign plots its path to victory over Gov. Rick Scott, the benchmark is not Obama winning Florida in 2008 or 2012. Rather, it's Alex Sink's narrow loss to Scott in 2010.

How does the former Republican governor make history by getting elected governor again as a Democrat?

The plan essentially boils down to matching Sink's performance — the former chief financial officer lost to Scott by 1.2 percentage points, less than 62,000 votes — and then, through sophisticated computer modelling, analytics and voter targeting, to modestly improve on her showing among various voter groups that make up Florida's complicated electoral mosaic.

"We know the universe we have to turn out," said Omar Khan, Crist's campaign manager and one of many Obama campaign veterans helping Crist. "Every decision we make and everything we've done is to get to 50 percent plus one. We know where our voters are, and we feel very comfortable." …

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Sheldon awaits Bondi's response to his request for five debates

Officially, Attorney Pam Bondi was the first to issue the debate challenge to George Sheldon.

It was just minutes after Sheldon had won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General on Tuesday night when Bondi's campaign blasted an email stating that Bondi "calls for general election debate."

"The voters will have a clear choice between candidates in this election and they deserve to hear directly from us on the distinct difference in visions and leadership that each candidate will offer," the email stated. "This can be accomplished through thoughtful and respectful dialogue worthy of our great state."

While celebrating with supporters at a Tallahassee wine bar, Sheldon accepted, and then some.

"I'll debate her five times if she's up for it."

To emphasize that, Sheldon's campaign blasted its challenge to Bondi on Friday: Five debates over the next two months.

"The choice of attorney general every four years deserves more than one debate," Sheldon concludes in an open letter to Bondi. …

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Andrews expands lawsuit against Scott and Bondi, alleging public records violations

Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews expanded his public records complaints against Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday, asking the court to hold the state's top officers in violation of the state's public records laws and seeking relief and attorneys fees. 

Andrews, who successfully sued the governor and Cabinet for violating a contract he had to purchase the build that houses his office near the Florida Governor's Mansion, has engaged in a two-year battle to obtain public records as part of his legal battle.

He now alleges that the governor's office not only withheld documents but engaged in "actively concealing them" and "conspiring with others known and unknown, to conceal public records" from him as well as "dealying the production of public records to interfere with the Petitioner’s prosecution of Andrews v. Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund (“BOT”), Case No. 2012 CA 859." 

Lawyers for the governor and attorney general have repeatedly argued they have turned over all relevant documents and deny the allegations.  …

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