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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

'Republican' is blunt weapon in brawl for Broward Senate seat



In a brawl between two Broward Democrats for an open state Senate seat, what's the worst thing you can say about your opponent? Well, you can start by calling him a Republican, and then label him a lobbyist.

Former Rep. Jim Waldman of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and trial lawyer Gary Farmer of Parkland are the big-money rivals in a primary battle in a redrawn Senate District 34. A third Democrat, Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, is also in the race.

Farmer is a first-time candidate who's no stranger to Tallahassee. For years, he lobbied without pay for Farmer500Kthe trial bar, and as a matter of course, he and his law firm gave lots of money to Republicans, from Kevin Ambler to Miguel Diaz de la Portilla to Paula Dockery to Matt Gaetz. Farmer defends the donations as a way to stop "bad legislation" such as private prison expansion or an anti-union "paycheck protection" measure.

"The only way to stop bad legislation is to work with moderate Republicans," Farmer says.

Farmer's firm also gave $26,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in 2012 and $20,000 in 2010, the year Rick Scott first ran for governor. A Waldman-backed political committee is pounding voters with mail (right) accusing Farmer of helping "elect Rick Scott and Republicans in the Legislature."

Farmer says it's a lie to accuse him of trying to elect Scott, but Waldman stands by the charge.

"When you give money to the Republican Party, you're giving to Rick Scott and his agenda, plain and simple," Waldman says.

CaptureFarmer, meanwhile, has sent more than a dozen mail pieces to voters, including one calling Waldman "too Republican," claiming that Waldman has received campaign money from charter school companies and is a former Republican (he became a Democrat in 1992) who voted with House Republicans to make it harder for workers to recover stolen wages. Waldman said that was a procedural vote to protect Democrats' options, and that he later opposed the bill.

"Gary Farmer is a liar," Waldman says. Says Farmer: "He's lying to cover up his record."

Then there's guns. Farmer claims Waldman once got an A rating from the NRA, in the 2010 session, and he offers as proof a recent image from the Project Vote Smart website. But NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer says Waldman's grade that year was a D, not an A, and she provided the hard copies of the group's rankings and said Waldman has always been "terrible on our issues."

"This is all very suspicious to me," Hammer said, suggesting the NRA site might have been hacked. "I don't know how it happened and we're not going to expend the resources to find out."

Speaking of expending resources, Farmer raised $406,000 through June 24 and loaned his campaign $103,000. Waldman raised $323,000 and loaned his campaign $200,000. It's already a million-dollar race and there's a long way to go. 

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 3:29pm]


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