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Trump's comments spark panic, outrage with Florida Republicans

If the pressure on Republicans over supporting Donald Trump was already painful, it became agonizing this weekend following revelations of his lewd comments in 2005 about groping and seducing women.

On Saturday, Florida's statewide and local GOP candidates and party leaders used words like "disgust," "shock" and "outrage," often speaking through spokesmen, emails or tweets. Still, few said they were withdrawing support.

Democrats argued that this time, it wasn't enough for Republicans to reject Trump's comments without rejecting Trump. They pounced and made it clear they intend to keep up pressure until Election Day.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urged Trump on Saturday to withdraw as her party's presidential nominee, joining a growing number of GOP members of Congress asking for his resignation.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, retracted his support for Trump on Saturday, saying he won't vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio stood fast in backing Trump, even while condemning Trump's comments on Twitter as "vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify."

That led the state Democratic Party to accuse Rubio of "unconscionable cowardice."

"If Sen. Rubio cannot withdraw his endorsement after this latest sickening news, then he should withdraw from the race," said his opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

A bright spot for Florida Republicans, if there was one, was media coverage of Hurricane Matthew. The storm led local newscasts Friday night and pushed the Trump story to the bottom of front pages Saturday — and gave some Republicans a convenient escape hatch.

Gov. Rick Scott, head of a super PAC that backs Trump, called the 11-year-old comments "pretty disgusting" and "absolutely wrong."

But when asked whether he still supports Trump, Scott demurred, saying he was focused on the hurricane.

Another possible bright spot is that many Trump backers simply don't care.

"The people I've been talking to today, it hasn't bothered them because of how long ago it was," said state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, campaigning Saturday as she faces a re-election challenge from Democrat Jennifer Webb. "Most of the people I talked to were males, though."

Trump's most prominent Florida supporter besides Scott has been Attorney General Pam Bondi. But Bondi, who has built her career on opposing sex trafficking and sexual violence, didn't respond to repeated calls and text messages on Saturday.

Republicans who face tough challenges from Democrats were the ones most likely to react.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, an underdog in his re-election battle against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, has said for months he doesn't support Trump without ever saying he'd actually oppose him.

"A man who brags about sexual assault isn't qualified to be president of the United States," Jolly said through a spokeswoman Saturday. He later told the Times/Herald, "I'm not voting for him."

Further down the ballot, state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, is one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents because of his swing district.

Two weeks ago, Harrison told a candidates forum he couldn't imagine not supporting the nominee of his party.

But on Saturday, he said, he's "starting to wonder if this is really the standard-bearer we want. I'm a loyal Republican, but that only goes so far. The jury's out."

Republicans in safer districts were less likely to back away from Trump.

State Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, on Saturday said the story "hasn't changed my enthusiasm about trying to get him elected."

"There's not a person on Earth who hasn't said something in private that they would regret if it was made public," Raulerson said.

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writers Steve Bousquet, Jeremy Wallace, Times Washington Bureau chief Alex Leary, and Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

Florida Republicans react to Trump's comments

• U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, via email statement: "(Trump's) language is inappropriate, disgusting and offensive. Mr. Trump did the right thing by apologizing. What we should be talking about right now is how we turn our economy around and how we stop the threat of radical Islamic terrorism."

• U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, who has previously supported Trump, via email statement: "Mr. Trump needs to apologize to women and young girls everywhere for his remarks. Such appalling comments should never be tolerated."

• U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who has previously supported Trump: "Mr. Trump's statements are inexcusable and grossly inappropriate. All people should be treated with dignity and respect. There is no excuse for his bad behavior."

• Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has previously said he supports Trump, via text message: "Even by the base standards of this campaign season, his comments were vile and obscene. He's got a lot explaining to do tomorrow night."

• Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who has declined to endorse Trump but also been quoted as calling him the better candidate: Didn't return calls for comment.

• State Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, candidate for state Senate District 18, via tweet and campaign statement: "As a woman and the mother of two teenage daughters, I find Mr. Trump's comments disgusting … I am voting for Donald Trump because he is a better choice over Hillary Clinton, but I will admit, he is making it harder and harder for me to continue to do so."

• State Rep. Ross Spano, R-Riverview, via text message: "The comments made by Donald Trump 11 years ago are extremely offensive to me and cannot be justified or defended on any grounds. I'm also offended, however, by much of what Hillary Clinton has done and said over the years. … I have not and will not endorse either candidate for President."

• Jackie Toledo, candidate for state House District 60, Tampa, via campaign statement: "The vulgar remarks of Donald Trump are unacceptable and have no place in our country. … While our presidential candidates continue to disappoint, it is more important than ever to have leaders who elevate our political discourse and focus on solutions… I ask everyone to put partisanship aside and join me today in praying for his wife and daughters as well as for our country."

• State Sen. Jack Latvala, who has previously said he supports Trump, via interview: "I'm not talking about the president's race today."

• Former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Lutz, via tweet: "What's sad & ironic are those who are acting surprised but the inexcusable behavior ... as if there were no early warning signs."

• Republican Party of Florida Chairman and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill did not respond to a request for comment about Trump. Nor did Republican National Committee vice chairwoman Sharon Day of Broward County or Trump's state campaign chief Susie Wiles.

Trump's comments spark panic, outrage with Florida Republicans 10/08/16 [Last modified: Sunday, October 9, 2016 2:31pm]
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