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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Mitt Romney ramping up campaign in Fla

As Mitt Romney ramps up his campaign in must-win Florida, he faces a daunting reality.

For 10 months, President Barack Obama has been steadily building a voter mobilization army here and now has about 100 paid staffers, 27 field offices and thousands of volunteers working almost every day to deliver Florida's 29 electoral votes. A click on Romney's Florida campaign website Thursday found no upcoming events in the state, while Obama's site showed 194 events within 40 miles of downtown Tampa.

Even in the face of that Obama campaign juggernaut, however, optimism abounds among Republicans across Florida. Veteran activists see the start of a Florida campaign operation far more robust than John McCain's anemic effort four years ago, and they see a Republican electorate fired up to defeat Obama. …

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PolitiFact: Top Florida Republican backs third-party voter registration changes

The controversial election law partially struck down by a federal judge Thursday is a frequent subject of political fodder.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry jumped into the debate weeks ago by publishing this column in the Orlando Sentinel.

The law helps curb voter fraud (which is already quite rare), he argues.

Curry also rejected critics' concerns that new restrictions on third-party organizations that register voters are unnecessarily burdensome.

To defend his point, he said "more than 250 (voter registration) groups, ranging across the entire political spectrum, have filed with the state and are registering voters right now."

That's worth a fact check, we thought.
We rated the statement Half True. Click the links for the full explanation and source list.

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Republican National Convention adds four seasoned political operatives

The Republican National Convention Thursday announced that it's hired four veteran political operatives to manage the official program, conduct floor operations and help support communications for the August 27-30 event.

“We’re extremely fortunate to be able to engage this tremendously savvy group,” convention CEO William Harris said in a statement announcing the hiring of:

• Todd Cranney, currently deputy political director for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, as director of delegate outreach. Before joining the Romney campaign, Cranney was deputy campaign manager and political director for Meg Whitman’s 2010 campaign for governor of California. He was Romney’s 2008 western regional political director and served as field representative for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign in California and Nevada. Cranney began his political career as a staff assistant to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Tony Feather as director of whip operations. Feather is a Missouri-based political professional specializing in grassroots voter contact. A principal in the firm FLS, Feather also served as political director for President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. …

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Killing hogs with Dennis Ross


National Journal: ZOLFO SPRINGS, Fla.—It’s 7:30 a.m., and already the congressman and I are covered in blood.

Mine trickles out of a crescent-shaped gash on my forehead. It hurts, but the lingering buzz from our predawn whiskey shot helps.

The blood on Rep. Dennis Ross belongs to a 95-pound wild hog whose head he is removing with a hand saw. The skull plops to the ground. Ross yanks off the animal’s skin and cuts open its belly with a bowie knife. He reaches inside and pulls out coils of slimy, gray intestines.

“It beats fundraising,” he says with a grin.

Story here


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Federal judge strikes down part of new election law

In a much-anticipated decision, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Thursday struck down some provisions of a Florida elections law that imposed new restrictions on third-party groups that register new voters.

Hinkle's order said that a 48-hour deadline for groups to turn in new voter registration forms is "harsh and impractical." But he said most of the other provisions of the law can stand.

At issue are key elements of House Bill 1355, the elections code rewrite that passed the Legislature in the 2011 session. Following the restrictions on third-party voter registration, the League of Women Voters suspended all voter registration activity in Florida.

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Sue Carlton column: GOP to Jim Norman: Who?

With the flurry over a property appraiser porn scandal and an attorney general's wedding-that-wasn't, you might have missed other intriguing political news, this about state Sen. Jim Norman and his future in Tallahassee.

You might have thought him unstoppable. He is, after all, the guy who made the leap from the Hillsborough County commission to the Senate despite all those headlines, despite a federal investigation and ethics questions about that vacation home bankrolled by a businessman friend for Norman's wife.

You might have assumed a smooth ride to a second term with the full support of his party, Florida politics being what they are.

But here's Norman in a real race and a fight for his political future — without, it seems, the full and fierce party backing incumbents traditionally enjoy. …

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Rubio discusses 'non amnesty' Dream Act bill

Sen. Marco Rubio on Fox News today noted several times that a Dream Act proposal he's working on does not create a special pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, another signal he's trying to frame the debate over a tricky issue. At one point the Florida Republican calls it the "non-amnesty" bill.

Rubio also said since his proposal has not yet been released that it would be unfair to push Mitt Romney to support it. "There are questions about my proposal legislation that haven't been answered yet, even for me. We're trying to figure out how many people this would apply to, whether it would cost any money ... ."

The Fox host also asks Rubio to respond to questions about his age and the VP. See vid for his response.

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Poly support group: It's time to come together

Florida Polytechnic, the state's 12th university, is here. So, no matter how you felt about the idea before it made its way through the Legislature, it's time to come together to support it. That was the message of the new Florida Poly Vision group that debuted Thursday in Lakeland.

"I think there's an awful lot of people here, regardless of where they stood before the decision was made, who are now saying, 'Look, this is an opportunity,'" said the group's leader, Cliff Otto, president of the Saddle Creek Corporation. "Whether we wanted it or not, it's here. Shame on us if we don't take advantage of it."

Without offering many details, the group said it would work to spread a positive message about Florida Polytechnic -- a school that was born into controversy. Students, faculty and the University of South Florida (from which the school is splitting off) opposed its creation. The issue divided Polk County and dominated the higher education landscape during the last Legislative session. …

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Poll shows Floridians remain divided over fate of casino gambling

A new survey by Tampa pollster Paul Fallon shows that Floridians haven't budged too much from previous polls on their views about casino gambling: they're still deeply divided with 50 percent in support and 43 percent opposed. The percentage of people in support has grown, however, compared to a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll in January which found that 44 percent of likely voters in Florida opposed casino gambling while 42 percent were opposed, with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Here's Fallon's assessment:

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Attorney General Pam Bondi: 'We are blessed to be happily in love'

After the Times/Herald published a story Wednesday night about Attorney General Pam Bondi's postponed wedding, Bondi got in touch by email from the Cayman Islands wanting to set the record straight about her relationship with ophthalmologist Greg Henderson.

They are still planning to marry, she said, and both are hurt by speculation that the cancellation of their destination wedding indicates trouble in paradise.

"We never dreamed we would be subjected to this contrived fabrication during such a joyful time in our lives," Bondi wrote. "Your 'speculative' statements are inaccurate and are without merit. We are blessed to be happily in love and are enjoying our life together."

Bondi has refused to clarify why she and Henderson made the last-minute decision despite repeated requests to do so.

That led outsiders to question whether the postponement reflects political positioning, the couple's desire to keep the events private, or a possible prenuptial disagreement. Bondi says any speculation that her relationship is in trouble is inaccurate.

The couple is currently vacationing together at an undisclosed location. Via Bondi's email account, Henderson confirmed that the relationship is going strong: "We are enjoying a happy and blessed trip and are deeply in love with each other."

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JD Alexander, other elected officials, to attend Florida Poly Vision unveling

No surprise here.

Sen. JD Alexander, who was able to push his pitch to create the 12th university through the Legislature and past Gov. Rick Scott's signature, will attend a press conference today in Lakeland announcing a new Florida Polytechnic support group.

The PR firm handling the event, which has also represented Alexander, sent out a revised news release Thursday morning, alerting media that several elected officials will be in attendance.

Those include: Alexander; Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow); Rep. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland); Winter Haven Mayor James H. Powell; Auburndale Mayor Jack Myers, who previously worked as a consultant at the University of South Florida Polytechnic (pre-independence push); and Polk County commissioners Melony Bell, R. Todd Dantzler, Bob English and Edwin Smith. …

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Vern Buchanan reserves $4-million in TV time in Tampa Bay

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, may be engulfed in legal and ethical controversies, but the multimillionaire businessman has the money to virtually drown out rivals. Politico reports that he's reserved $4-million in Tampa Bay TV time for late summer and early fall.

Here's the memo about the buy

“Representative Vern Buchanan is on the ropes.  Under constant investigation for ethical misconduct and financial improprieties.  Abandoned by his party leadership.  Laboring at home under his mind-boggling vote to turn Medicare over to the private insurance companies. Spending money on TV is all he has left, even as the people of the Suncoast are unlikely to trust what they see when Representative Buchanan's ads go on the air,” said Adam Scott, Keith Fitzgerald’s campaign manager.


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Attorney General Pam Bondi's Cayman trip looked like a wedding; many wonder why it wasn't


It looked like a wedding. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Joseph Photographs)

Sixty or 70 guests at a luxury Caribbean resort, including the governor and a former Tampa mayor. A beaming bride in a white dress with a flower in her hair. A photographer flown in to take pictures of the smiling couple with aqua water behind them.

But Attorney General Pam Bondi says no ceremony took place at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman on Saturday. And many questions remain about when and why Bondi made the last-minute decision not to get married.

Did Bondi bow to conservative critics who felt her jaunt across seas was politically tone deaf? The 46-year-old now says she will be wed in a small, private ceremony at a Tampa-area Baptist church.

Did leaks on gossip blogs and social media sites cause the couple to shy from the publicity? A photo of Bondi serving cocktails during the plane ride to the Cayman Islands quickly made the rounds online. …

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5 things to watch in the 2012 election

President Barack Obama phoned Mitt Romney on Wednesday to congratulate him on clinching the Republican nomination. For awhile during the volatile primary season, it looked iffy whether the former Massachusetts governor would win the necessary 1,144 delegates before the convention in Tampa, but he did with an overwhelming victory Tuesday in the Texas primary.

Now we have a presidential race that could go either way. Obama leads Romney by just 2 percentage points in the average of recent national polls compiled by RealClearPolitics. Republicans eager to unseat Obama are coalescing behind their nominee and in stark contrast to four years ago, it's likely Romney and other GOP groups will wind up outspending Democrats.

Nobody can predict with any confidence what will happen in 160 days, but here are five things we'll be watching.

Column by Times political editor Adam C. Smith here.

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Alberto Gonzales: Rubio lacks the "wisdom" to be VP

Yeesh. Did Marco Rubio do something to antagonize the first Hispanic Attorney General? Alberto Gonzales has dismissed the notion of Marco Rubio for vice president before, and now he's at it again. Here's an excerpt from his interview to air in a few minutes on CNN’s John King, USA:
GONZALES: If I were the nominee the person I would look to put on the ticket would be the person I know -- they want -- could be as president. As I look at the slate of candidates, there are a number of good people from the Republican Party who have more experience (than Marco Rubio) and would be better suited on day one and if you combine that with the principle that I don’t think Hispanics are going to vote for a nominee based upon who is number two on the ticket. I think it behooves Governor Romney to look at other candidates. ...
KING: But what you’ve said in the past, you’ve just hinted at it in more diplomatic language right now is you don’t think he meets the number one test to be ready to be president, why?
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