Saturday, May 26, 2018
Politics

For a window into Florida's 2014 governor's race, look to Virginia

HERNDON, Va. — In a race between two candidates the public can't seem to stand, Ken Cuccinelli has history on his side: Over the last nine Virginia gubernatorial elections, victory has gone to the party that does not hold the White House.

But the Republican stands to lose Tuesday to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who has pummeled his opponent as a social conservative ideologue out of step with a diversifying state, which voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

"We can't be putting up walls around Virginia. I want as governor to unite people," McAuliffe said during a rally in Herndon, the populous area driving the political shift. "We're with mainstream Virginia."

A Democratic win would highlight challenges the GOP faces as its tea party wing competes with an establishment wanting to reach a broader audience of younger voters, women and minorities. It's a struggle certain to persist through the 2014 midterm elections where a number of congressional Republicans face primary challengers from the right.

If McAuliffe can break the streak here, might the playbook apply to another diverse battleground state also twice won by Obama? Florida Democrats, who haven't controlled the Governor's Mansion since 1998, are plotting to characterize Gov. Rick Scott as similarly extreme, reminding voters of his tea party ties and positions on immigration, abortion and voting rights.

The goal is to turn off moderate Republicans and independent voters in Florida the way they are being repelled in Virginia.

"As they get farther and farther to the right, I get farther and farther to the left," said Mary Jo Ricci, 71, an independent who showed up for the McAuliffe rally, which featured former President Bill Clinton.

Ricci, who voted for President George H.W. Bush and considered Mitt Romney for his work on health care, sat in the back of a middle school gymnasium and spoke over a Bruce Springsteen song playing on the loudspeakers as a crowd — reflecting the diversity that put Obama over the top last November — filled in. Working the sidelines was a fast-talking Democratic operative named Danny Kanner, who is already looking to Florida and Scott.

"The core argument against him will be you can't trust him to fight for you," said Kanner, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association who worked on Charlie Crist's 2010 U.S. Senate bid as an independent.

Crist, the former Republican governor making a comeback bid as a Democrat, will announce a challenge to Scott on Monday and would begin as the frontrunner for the nomination.

• • •

There are clear differences between the states and the players.

McAuliffe, a master fundraiser, has vastly outspent Cuccinelli on TV ads that have highlighted and sometimes distorted his conservative positions, particularly abortion. Scott has already raised more than $18 million and has pledged to pour in $25 million early on to define his opponent.

"Rick Scott will not be outspent 2- to 3- to-1 down the stretch," said David Johnson, a Republican consultant in Florida who countered that Crist's past as a Republican would blunt any attacks on Scott.

"Running on issues of choice, life, abortion, Charlie Crist has a long record of being a 'Jeb Bush pro-life Republican,' " Johnson said. "I just don't think it's going to be successful."

Crist will have to answer to a number of past stances that conflict with his new platform. He could be portrayed as Florida's McAuliffe, a soulless political operator who cannot be trusted.

But Crist has already telegraphed his strategy, explaining his political switch as one driven by an increasingly rigid Republican Party — "extreme," is the word he used for it when he endorsed Obama. (Never mind that he fled the GOP only when it was apparent Marco Rubio had overtaken him in the 2010 Senate primary.)

Scott spent more than $70 million of his own money to win the 2010 race and barely won. He remains one of the most unpopular governors in the country, struggling to connect even as he engaged in a series of gimmicks, such as ditching a necktie for a work shirt. Though he has focused on job creation and can boast of an improving economy, Scott has given critics material to work with.

He unveiled his first budget proposal not in Tallahassee but at a tea party gathering and more recently sided with the tea party in distancing the state from the Common Core education standards. Scott ran in 2010 vowing to bring Arizona-like anti-illegal immigration laws to Florida and this year vetoed a bill that would have allowed children of illegal immigrants to get temporary driver's licenses. In 2011, Scott signed a bill requiring ultrasounds before women can receive abortions. A year before, then-Gov. Crist vetoed similar legislation.

Taken together, Democrats contend, a portrait emerges of Scott that stands in contrast with his desired role as the state's job creator in chief. Scott has taken some steps toward the middle, including pushing to restore cuts made to education spending.

Democratic pollster Dave Beattie readily acknowledged Scott's war chest makes him un-Cuccinelli like, and noted that Scott is not known for the kind of conservative rhetoric that the Virginia Republican revels in. Cuccinelli has pushed to preserve the state's anti-sodomy law, for example, saying it's necessary to prosecute child predators.

Beattie said the dismal showing Cuccinelli has with female voters — a Washington Post poll showed a 24-percentage-point gender gap with McAuliffe — could say something about Florida.

"Right now women are saying they want government to work, they don't want extremism and they are turned off by what the tea party has come to symbolize," he said. "The groups Rick Scott spent time courting to win election in 2010 … all those decisions are now liabilities."

• • •

Cuccinelli's liabilities have continued to build. Conservatives used their power to avoid a primary and chose nominees by a convention, which led to the lieutenant governor pick of E.W. Jackson, who has made a string of controversial statements on social issues. Jackson is trailing the Democratic nominee.

"A lot of people look at this ticket and say, 'If these guys win, there's no place for us,' " said Tom Davis, a former GOP congressman from Virginia. "It's almost a poke in the eye at the changing demographics of Virginia."

A gift scandal facing current Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has kept him off the campaign trail and stunted his fundraising abilities. Cuccinelli was tied to the donor who gave the gifts, undercutting his criticism that McAuliffe has been involved in sleazy business deals.

The latest blow was the 16-day government shutdown, which was fueled by hardline Obamacare opponents over the objections of establishment Republicans, who predicted, correctly, the public would take out its anger on Republicans. Polls have shown approval of the GOP at all-time lows. The fallout is especially pronounced in Virginia, which has the second-highest population of federal employees in the nation.

Cuccinelli has struggled to pitch a broader message to focus on job growth and education reform. Republican critics say he spent too much time trying to attack McAuliffe's business dealings. McAuliffe, meanwhile, talks about jobs and transportation, reminding voters in gridlocked northern Virginia that Cuccinelli opposed a sweeping plan, signed into law by McDonnell, to ease congestion. Cuccinelli opposed it as a tax increase.

With Election Day approaching, Cuccinelli is trying to rally his base and late polls showed the race tightening. He has crossed the state in appearances with conservatives, including Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Sen. Rubio, who will return Monday.

Last week, Cuccinelli showed up at a rally with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, appearing before a crowd of 300 wearing NRA and pro-life stickers and pledging fidelity to the founding fathers.

"We need people to know that Nov. 5 is a referendum in Virginia on Obamacare," Cuccinelli said.

Even amid the enthusiastic crowd were signs that the race had turned into a different referendum — on the direction of the state. "It's going very liberal. It's sad to see," said Nona Faber, 48, a home-school parent. "We see what a disaster Maryland is and now we're welcoming the disaster here with McAuliffe."

Comments
Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

I may have cracked the code. Found a way to sell doing the right thing. Discovered a method of persuasion in certain matters of fairness, conscience and the greater good.Like giving our fellow Americans a second chance.When morality-based arguments d...
Published: 05/26/18
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18