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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hillary Clinton savors post-debate moment as Trump keeps beauty-queen feud alive

Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally at the Coral Springs Gymnasium in Coral Springs on Friday.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally at the Coral Springs Gymnasium in Coral Springs on Friday.

Hillary Clinton stumped in Broward County for the first time in nearly a year Friday, as Florida polls showed her barely edging Donald Trump and as fearful Democrats openly worried about the status of her campaign, particularly when it comes to reaching black voters.

But Clinton appeared to still be savoring her successful debate performance against Trump.

“Did any of you see the debate Monday night?” she said soon after taking the stage at the packed Coral Springs Gymnasium.

There was a strategic reason for bringing it up: On Monday, Clinton mentioned Alicia Machado, the Venezuelan-born former beauty queen Trump once called “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.”

On Friday morning, it was still bothering Trump. He went on an early-morning Twitter rant beginning at 3:20 a.m. and, between 5:14 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. posted about the 1996 Miss Universe’s weight gain and debunked “sex tape.”

Clinton was only happy to keep talking about Machado, who lives at least part-time in Miami Beach and has campaigned for Clinton in Doral and Miami. …

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Florida Lottery plans major expansion

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Lottery — which just registered more than $6 billion in annual sales — is in line for a large expansion due to a massive new contract that state officials signed this month.

Lottery officials, who report to Gov. Rick Scott, signed a 13-year contract worth more than $700 million with IGT Global Solutions covering major aspects of the lottery, including the systems used to sell tickets for games such as Powerball and Mega Millions.

The contract is substantially larger than the existing one, even though sales for the so-called online games such as Powerball have remained steady for the last several years except for one year when a record jackpot pushed up sales.

One big change in the contract is a plan to nearly triple the number of automated ticket machines capable of selling both scratch-off tickets and those for online games such as Powerball. This would increase the number of machines statewide from 2,000 to 5,500. The contract also calls for a new smartphone application that will let players check their tickets and allow them to enter second chance sweepstakes that the Lottery also offers. …

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FBI talks ballot security with Florida election officials; 'we'€™ve not been hacked,' one says

Voters fill out their ballots during Florida's Aug. 30 primary.

Alan Diaz / AP

Voters fill out their ballots during Florida's Aug. 30 primary.

Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation held a secret conference call with all 67 county supervisors of elections in Florida on Friday afternoon to discuss the security of voters’ ballots ahead of the November election.

One elections supervisor told the Times/Herald that the FBI informed supervisors of “a malicious act found in a jurisdiction” in Florida, but he stressed “we’ve not been hacked” and nothing was found to have happened at the state level, such as with Florida’s voter registration system.

“It was a good call in that they were proactive, and we need to have federal and state authorities working together,” Leon County Elections Supervisor Ian Sancho said. “I would warn people against jumping to any conclusions. ... The positive and aggressive discussion we had is exactly what we need to do to be secure for Nov. 8.” 

Florida Department of State spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice acknowledged the department “participated in an informational call related to elections security” that the FBI convened.

More here.

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Rubio, Rep. Joe Heck assist accident victims in West Virginia

The following is from the Wheeling News-Register in West Virginia, where Rubio was fundraising Thursday:

TRIADELPHIA – Around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, two members of Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Joe Heck, stopped along Interstate 70 near The Highlands after seeing the wreckage of the four-vehicle accident that claimed the life of 62-year-year-old Bernard Bachmann of Washington, Pa.

Earlier in the evening, the Republican lawmakers attended an event at Undo’s West in St. Clairsville. Rubio, a former presidential candidate from Florida, is seeking re-election to the Senate, while Heck of Nevada is seeking to replace outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

According to Heck’s website, he is a physician who earned his medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1988. Information from the Rubio campaign states Rubio and Heck pulled off the road upon seeing the accident and assisted the victims as best they could until emergency responders arrived.

More here.

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Medical marijuana money: Supporters raise $222K, opponents $250

Last week, fundraising for the group opposing medical marijuana slowed, while supporters continued raising money.

But campaign finance disclosures for Sept. 17-23 show that Drug Free Florida, which opposes a constitutional amendment expanding medical marijuana, spent another $392,919 placing TV ads.

For its part, pro-Amendment 2 group United for Care has filmed its first ad, which campaign manager Ben Pollara says will start airing next week in Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando and Jacksonville media markets.

With just more than five weeks until the Nov. 8 election, here's where the money race stands between the two groups as of Sept. 23:

United for Care: Raised $222,141 last week ($254,303 since Sept. 1); spent $104,306 last week ($144,780 since Sept. 1).

The Florida Democratic Party contributed $150,000 to United for Care last week. Additionally, the group sent an email to supporters Friday saying it received another $1 million contribution from a pro-medical marijuana group not included in the latest campaign finance data.

Drug Free Florida: Raised $250 last week ($1.03 million since Sept. 1); spent $455,327 last week ($1.84 million since Sept. 1). …

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Bob Buesing vs. Dana Young state Senate race in Tampa has statewide implications

Dana Young

Dana Young

Dana Young

One of the Democratic Party’s best chances this year to counter-balance the Republican tilt in the Florida Senate might be in District 18.

It’s a brand-new state Senate seat representing much of Tampa and western Hillsborough County. The product of a big legal fight under Florida’s Fair Districts amendment, it’s 37 percent Democrat, 35 percent Republican.

It has fewer black residents than the state average, but more Hispanics, Spanish-speakers and college graduates. Its voters twice went for President Barack Obama, but by thinner margins than elsewhere in Florida.

But even with a slight edge in party registration, picking up a seat here won’t be easy for Democrats, who have 14 state senators to the GOP’s 26.

That’s because District 18 doesn’t have an incumbent senator, but it does have Republican Dana Young. The House Majority Leader faces Democrat Bob Buesing, a prominent Tampa lawyer and childhood education advocate, and two no-party candidates, Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove, in the Nov. 8 election.

For a look at a race with jousting over Medicaid expansion, guns and fracking, plus a wild card thrown in by Tampa's most widely known nude dance club owner, click here.

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TV ad: Charlie Crist, career politician; Isn't 30 years enough?

People for Pinellas, a super PAC committee helping Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly against Democrat Charlie Crist, has reserved $450,000 in cable TV time, according to People for Pinellas adviser David Johnson, who is a person from Tallahasse. The group's first ad calls Crist "the ultimate career politician."

"...He's run for almost everything: State Senate., education commissioner, attorney general, senate, governor, senate again, governor again. Now Congress. He's ben Republican, then independent, then Democrat. A Trump supporter. Clinton supporter. Flip-flopper. Now Charlie's on the ballot again, the same tired act...."

 

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Attorney: Bondi's office never checked for conflict of interest with Trump donation

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office has no written policy about checking for conflicts of interest and never looked into any possible conflict surrounding a $25,000 check from Donald Trump that has caused allegations of pay-for-play politics.

In a letter responding to requests filed by Massachusetts lawyer J. Whitfield Larrabee, a Bondi staffer wrote that "a search of our records has produced no public records responsive to your request." Larrabee provided the letter to the Times/Herald.

On Sept. 6, Larrabee, who has filed ethics cases alleging Bondi's political committee improperly accepted money from Trump, requested copies of "records setting forth the policy, practice or procedure of the attorney general's office for checking conflicts of interest" both in 2013 and in 2016, as well as any records of a check into the $25,000 check.

Even after questions were raised about the check, it appears no one in Bondi's office investigated whether there was any impropriety. …

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TV Ad: It's bad when Marco skips work, worse when he doesn't

The Senate Majority PAC is out with a new TV ad attacking Marco Rubio's absenteeism and record of education funding and Social Security. The transcript:

Announcer: Marco Rubio has the worst attendance record of any Florida senator in 50 years. But it’s even worse when he shows up.

Announcer: He’s voted for a plan that would cut Social Security – and has said Social Security is “bankrupting our country” and has “weakened us as a people.” 

Announcer: He wants to eliminate the Department of Education – and has voted for billions in education cuts. 

Announcer: Marco Rubio. It’s bad when he misses work. It’s worse when he shows up.

 

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'The Army of Trump is 70,000-plus people in Florida'

After weeks of being on the defensive about the slow start of it's ground game in Florida, the Donald Trump campaign is now boasting of a daunting turnout machine - in large part due to the Republican National Committee, which started organizing in Florida two years ago. Tucked into yesterday's story about Democrats fretting about the Clinton operation in Florida:

"It's the largest, most robust presence we've ever seen in Florida," said Susie Wiles, who is running Trump's Florida campaign. She said more than 200 full-time staffers and about 1,000 paid, specially trained "Republican Leadership Initiative" organizers are working to deliver Florida to Trump. Including active volunteers, "the army of Trump is 70,000-plus people in Florida."

Between national and state GOP, county GOP and Trump offices, Wiles counted about 60 offices, comparable to the 65 Clinton campaign offices. On top of that, the rapidly growing Clinton campaign staff currently totals about 500, and a Democratic super PAC, For Florida's Future, has at least 200 full-time staffers working to deliver Florida.

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Prominent black leader disagrees with Clinton campaign early voting push

Hillary Clinton's campaign is pressing for more Florida counties to offer the maximum 168 hours for early, in-person voting, which starts Oct. 24. So far only 10 of 67 counties are doing that.

But state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, who is likely to be in the Florida Senate after November, thinks the effort is misguided. Even though early voting is especially popular with African-American voters. Many black pastors promote "Souls to the Polls" early voting on the final Sundays before Election Day, but Rouson thinks the push should be on mail voting.

"Fewer people are going to the polls every election, and more people are voting by mail, so let's embrace the future," he said.

"Where I think the effort ought to be focused - and I said this to (my pastor) - is Ballot Sunday: In other words, encourage all 3,000 members of the congregation to request a vote by mail ballot and have them bring them all to church on Sunday, and have the supervisor of elections there to pick them up. Talk about convenience, talk about encouraging voting, and where do you fund the most numbers of African-Americans at 10 o'clock on Sunday but in church?" …

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Latvala 'very upset' with Florida's water quality woes

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, expressed concern Friday about contamination in Florida's water, saying the state and local governments have failed to fulfill one of their most basic jobs: ensuring people have access to safe, clean water.

"I'm very upset with the totality of what's happening to our water supply around the state," said Latvala, who will be the powerful Senate budget chairman next year. "It's maybe not as sexy as talking about tax cuts or new programs but it's just a fundamental responsibility of government to protect citizens and their water supply."

Months ago, green algae blooms caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee made national headlines. Then, in the wake of Hurricane Hermine, local governments including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Largo and Clearwater began dumping excess sewage into Tampa Bay. Now, a sinkhole has opened at a Polk County phosphate processing plant owned by fertilizer giant Mosaic, which both the state and company initially kept quiet.

These incidents, said Latvala, "all portend for some attention because it's just hard to imagine they're all happening at the same time." …

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Sen. Latvala and former Supreme Court Justice Bell declare opposition to Amendment 2

The campaign against a medical marijuana constitutional amendment is rolling out high profile names who have joined their cause, including two on Friday: State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell.

"I just see too many opportunities for abuse," said Latvala, who will be appropriations chairman next year. "I'm concerned that the constitution is permanent. I just think that that's a big risk we're talking about with this amendment."

Amendment 2 would expand medical marijuana in Florida, allowing doctors to recommend it for patients with a long list of conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many opponents, including Latvala, say it could have disastrous effects: Teens with access to drugs, children going to the hospital after eating "pot candy," an influx of dispensaries on every street corner in the state.

Bell said the Legislature won't be able to effectively regulate the medical cannabis industry because Amendment 2 will be in the constitution.

"Though shrewdly written, Amendment 2 does not belong in our constitution," he said. …

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Corcoran plans to re-structure Florida House committees

The Florida House chamber during the 2016 session.

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

The Florida House chamber during the 2016 session.

Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, on Friday announced his plans to shake-up the chamber's committees once he assumes the top leadership role in November.

Corcoran also said he'll announce his leadership team -- including speaker pro-tempore, majority leader and the chairpersons of main committees -- by Nov. 9, the day after the fall election.

The new committee structure calls for, overall, a couple fewer committees than the 2015-16 sessions, with a bit more emphasis on education and many changes to committee names and which subcommittee reports to which full committee.

For instance, Corcoran is splitting the education budget subcommittee into two: One focused on higher education and the other focused on pre-K-12. And he's re-working the K-12 subcommittees from "Choice & Innovation" and "K-12" into the Pre-K-12 "Innovation" and "Quality" committees.

Other changes: The "Finance & Tax Committee" will become the "Ways & Means Committee," and several committees and subcommittees will be lumped into two main policy areas, the newly named Commerce and Government Accountability committees. …

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'No longer comfortable,' Trump aide in Florida quits

More unrest in the Donald Trump campaign in Florida.

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