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THE BUZZ: FLORIDA POLITICS

More trouble for Harry Sargeant

NBC News: A prominent fundraiser for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is facing a new legal challenge over a lucrative Pentagon contract that involved shipping oil to military forces in Iraq. A competing firm filed a federal suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act this week against the fundraiser, Harry Sargeant III, and his company, International Oil Trading Company. The suit accuses them of a "bribery scheme" to pay officials in the Kingdom of Jordan, in an effort to keep competing firms out. Sargeant and his company deny wrongdoing and say no bribes were paid.

Sargeant is the Finance Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, a key state in the upcoming presidential election. The federal lawsuit is the latest case to bring attention to him. NBC News first reported last May that Sargeant was awarded the Pentagon contract even though he was not the lowest bidder. NBC reported he was being sued in Florida state court by a former business partner who was the brother-in-law of the King of Jordan. More background here. (http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/article858448.ece) (Photo: Sargeant, center, with Gov. Charlie Crist during a trade mission in 2007.)

Posted by Alex Leary at 6:57:20 PM on October 23, 2008

Times poll: Obama 49, McCain 42

Independent Florida voters are on the verge of killing John McCain's hopes for the presidency.

A new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll shows Barack Obama leading McCain 49 percent to 42 percent in this state McCain cannot afford to lose. The biggest factor? Less partisan independent voters moving to Obama by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

"Right now this election is about independents - independents and the economy,'' said pollster Tom Eldon."Obama is clearly establishing himself as the candidate of the independents.''

At a time when economic anxiety trumps all issues in Florida, about half of the voters surveyed - and almost 6 in 10 independents - said Obama has a better plan to improve the economy, while one in three voters say McCain does. Forty-five percent said Obama has shown the most leadership on the economy, and 34 percent said McCain.

"The predominant color in Florida right now is neither blue nor red, it's green," said pollster Kellyanne Conway. "The financial concerns, money concerns, dominate voters' calculus.''

Conway, whose company works mostly with Republicans, questioned the effectiveness of McCain's recent campaign strategy.

"Trying to connect Barack Obama to Bill Ayers, rather than connect McCain to the average voter in the economy has ... been dubious,'' she said, referring to the 1960s radical Obama knows.

The telephone survey of 800 registered voters was conducted Oct. 20-22, for the Times, Bay News 9 and Miami Herald. The poll was done by Schroth Eldon & Associates, whose clients primarily are Democrats, and the Polling Co., which mainly works with Republicans. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points

It is virtually impossible for McCain to win the presidency without Florida's 27 electoral votes, and the poll suggests Florida remains within reach for the Arizona senator.

Eldon noted that McCain needs to boost his lagging numbers in traditional Republican strongholds including southwest Florida, one of the most economically devastated areas of the state. Florida's top battleground of Tampa Bay is predictably close with the poll showing Obama with 48 percent support and McCain with 44 percent, within the margin of error.

McCain leads Florida Hispanic voters 47 percent to 40 percent, while 86 percent of African-Americans back Obama. McCain leads 49 percent to 43 percent among white voters overall, but Obama has an 11-point lead among women and is nearly tied with McCain among men.

Among voters 65 and older, McCain and Obama are in a dead heat, with 11 percent still undecided.

"If there's any more fluidness left in this race - and God knows there probably is because this is 2008 and nothing predictable - it may rest with these seniors,'' said Conway.

Hundreds of thousands of voters already have voted in Florida, either by absentee ballot or at early voting sites, and McCain and Obama were tied among people who already had voted. Forty-four percent of those polled said they intended to vote on Election Day, 15 percent by mail, 37 percent at early voting sites.

So far, of the more than 800,000 people who have voted by absentee ballot, Republicans have an advantage of nearly 130,000. But of the more than 482,000 who voted early between Monday and Wednesday, 55 percent were Democrats and 30 percent Republican, a net advantage of 117,000 for Democrats.

Posted by Adam Smith at 5:00:00 PM on October 23, 2008

Palin returning to Florida with stop in Tampa

UPDATE 9:47 p.m.: Palin has a noon rally at Tampa Convention Center, and then heads to Kissimmee for a 3 p.m. event at Silver Spurs Arena. (ticket info below)

--

The Buzz is John McCain's running mate will appear in central Florida and Tampa on Sunday. More details as we get them.

Tickets: Beginning at 3 p.m. Friday, tickets can be picked up at the locations below.

Hillsborough Victory Office

142 West Platt Street

Tampa, FL 33606

813-254-8010

Hillsborough Victory Office

800 Lumsden Boulevard

Brandon, FL 33510

813-657-6499

Hillsborough Victory Office

6904 West Linebaugh Ave

Tampa, FL 33625

813-454-1735

Hillsborough Victory Office

6904 West Linebaugh Ave

Tampa, FL 33625

813-454-1735

Manatee Victory Office

2614 Manatee Ave West, Suite A

Bradenton, FL 34205

941-714-0600

Pasco Victory Office

7414 State Road 52

Hudson, FL 34667

727-863-5400

Pasco Victory Office

5509 Grand Blvd

New Port Richey, FL 34652

727-815-7671

Pasco Victory Office

23900 SR 54, #102

Lutz, FL 33559

813-235-9640

Pasco Victory Office

13128 South Hwy 301

Dade City, FL 33525

727-686-7585

Pinellas Victory Office

3 Cypress Drive

Palm Harbor 34684

727-656-6763

Pinellas Victory Office

4707 140th Ave, Suite 208

Clearwater, FL 33762

727-539-6009

Pinellas Victory Office

6665 54th Ave North

St. Petersburg, FL 33709

727-657-0170

Polk Victory Office

4404 South Florida Ave, Suite 24

Lakeland, FL 33813

863-646-4060

Orlando "Road to Victory Rally"

Who: Governor Sarah Palin

What: Road to Victory Rally

When: Sunday, October 26th

Time: Doors open at 12:00 p.m.

Where: Silver Spurs Arena

1875 Silver Spurs Lane

Kissimmee, FL 34744

Tickets: Beginning at 3 p.m. Friday, tickets can be picked up at the locations below.

Brevard Victory Office

3270 Suntree Blvd, Suite 101

Melbourne, FL 32940

321-368-8457

Brevard Victory Office

2525 Aurora Road

Melbourne, FL 32935

321-254-0073

Brevard Victory Office

1229 Garden Street

Titusville, FL 32796

321-961-4253

Lake Victory Office

212 West Main Street

Tavares, FL 32778

352-742-1972

Orange Victory Office

234 South Semoran Blvd

Orlando, FL 32807

407-277-0880

Osceola Victory Office

1631 East Vine Street

Kissimmee, FL 34744

407-846-8889

Seminole Victory Office

393 Centre Point Circle

Altamonte Springs, FL 32701

407-261-9949

Seminole Victory Office

101 Normandy Road

Casselberry, FL 32707

(407)-332-8091

Posted by Alex Leary at 4:52:27 PM on October 23, 2008

RPOF goes after Obama's crime record

Hitting mailboxes this week is a Republican Party of Florida piece attacking Barack Obama as soft on crime.

Wait, that's putting it too mildly. The mailer casts Obama as a friend to crack users, street gangs and child abusers. The Obama campaign called the flier, "not only false" but hypocritical and points out that McCain voted against increasing funding for police. Full statement in jump.

The Obama response: "That outrageous mailer is not only false, it's hypocritical given that John McCain has repeatedly voted against increasing funding for cops and equipment and technology for law enforcement. He even voted against a ban on cop-killer bullets. The truth is that Barack Obama has a strong record on strengthening law enforcement and, as President, would fully fund the COPS program that would put an additional 50,000 officers on the streets and fund the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which has been critical to creating the anti-gang and anti-drug task forces our communities need to name just a few things. Americans are tired of same old negative politics that McCain is running on, and this mailer is just one more reason why Floridians are voting for change with Barack Obama and Joe Biden."

Posted by Alex Leary at 3:03:54 PM on October 23, 2008

Straight from the 'Straight Talk Express'

As his Joe the Plumber Keep Your Wealth Tour rolled down the I-4 corridor from Daytona Beach toward a 6 p.m. rally in Sarasota, Sen. John McCain took a little time to chat with Buzz and a few fellow Florida reporters in the wood-paneled cabin of the Straight Talk Express.

Although a new Quinnipiac Poll shows him down 5 points among those who already have voted in Florida, McCain and his traveling companions -- Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez -- were buoyed by a recent Mason-Dixon poll showing him up by 2.

"A lot of it's going to depend on voter turnout. We've got to campaign hard here, and we all know it's a battleground state," McCain said.

Having just left a boisterous rally of more than 1,000 in Ormond Beach, McCain added, "We have energized volunteers. We'll get our vote out. We'll get it out. ... I'm confident that people are energized in this race, and I expect that energy will translate into" a win in Florida.

McCain and his pals are stopping at small businesses along the way. He visited a periodontal clinic in Altamonte Springs and had lunch at Mi Viejo San Juan, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Orlando.

Posted by Wes Allison at 1:25:25 PM on October 23, 2008

Democrats trouncing on early votes

Early voting continues to heavily favor Democrats in Florida. Through Wednesday:

* 263,269 Democrats voted (54.62 percent)

* 146,290 Republicans voted (30.35 percent)

* 72,468 other did (15.03 percent).

Total: 482,027.

Posted by Adam Smith at 12:50:33 PM on October 23, 2008

Crist cuts radio ad for McCain

UPDATE: Crist talks about "my friend" John McCain: "He will lower your taxes, he will stop wasteful government spending. And John McCain knows that people don't want to spread the wealth." Listen here. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AO0-Xz3F2M)

That's the Buzz, though we haven't seen the script.

--Wes Allison

Posted by Adam Smith at 12:38:53 PM on October 23, 2008

Democrats fault GOP on early-voting issues

State Sen. Charlie Justice, a St. Petersburg Democrat, wants Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark (a Republican) to add more early voting sites. In an op-ed circulated to Florida newspapers, Justice notes that Pinellas has three early voting sites and that more are needed: "We do need more sites and we need them strategically placed," writes the member of the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee. Read the Justice piece here. (http://blogs.tampabay.com/buzz/files/oped_from_senator_justice_on_early_voting.pdf)

On his blog, Rep. Dan Gelber, the House Democratic leader, reaches back to 2005 and notes correctly that the Republican-controlled Legislature changed the rules to limit early voting to a maximum of eight hours in any one day and a total of eight hours on a weekend. Read it at www.dangelber.com/news/viewBlog.php?id=113.

Posted by Steve Bousquet at 11:46:29 AM on October 23, 2008

McCain launches Joe the Plumber Tour

Republican Sen. John McCain kicked off his Joe the Plumber Bus Tour in Florida this morning by having coffee with four small-business owners at the Starlite Diner in Daytona Beach.

McCain emerged from his bus at 8:37 and headed inside, followed closely by Cindy McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who turned to the assembled scribes, smiled brightly and delivered a little finger-shoot.

Once inside, the dynamic trio moved to a corner booth surrounding a round table, where four small-business owners awaited with coffee. Diners at neighboring tables manned their cell phone cameras as the business owners told McCain their troubles, particularly with Obama's tax plan.

"Payroll taxes will kill me," Richard Rivers, owner of A Floral Boutique Florist in Daytona Beach, told McCain.

Rivers has had to cut back on hours for employees, and is now looking at cutting insurance benefits to avoid laying anyone off.

"Sen. Obama raises the payroll taxes, I'll have to cut extra hours, so your message is really resonating."

Their server, Brandi Andrews, of Daytona Beach posed with a picture with McCain and Crist. Cindy McCain snapped the picture. "It's not every day the next first lady takes your picture," Crist said. "Pretty special."

A crowd gathered outside, holding up their cell phones and hoping for a shot. "We both already voted for him," said Susan Traylor, 55, an office administrator at doctor's office in Loganville, Ga., who waited for a McCain sighting with her husband, Chris, a deputy sheriff. "Our son and daughter already voted for him, too... Everybody in my office is voting for McCain, so don't believe all the stuff you hear on TV."

After 15 minutes, at 8:52, McCain and his gang stood up and waded to the door, then boarded the Straight Talk Express for a rally with Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez at All Star Building Materials, a lumberyard in Ormond Beach that has had to lay off 130 of its 180 employees.

"Florida's a battleground state. We've got to win," McCain said. "We have less than two weeks. Twelve days. Who's counting? What America needs is a fighter, someone who puts all his cards on the table and trusts the judgment of the American people. I've been fighting for you all my life."

Posted by Wes Allison at 9:56:37 AM on October 23, 2008

Q poll: Obama 49, McCain 45

Quinnipiac University 10/16-21 poll (http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x2882.xml?ReleaseID=1223) has Barack Obama at 49 percent and John McCain at 45 percent, with a margin of error of +/- 2.6 points.

"In Florida, Obama's margin over McCain is due mostly from stronger support from Hispanics than Kerry received,'' said Peter Brown.

Among those who say they already have voted in Florida, Obama gets 48 percent to McCain's 44 percent, a statistical tie in this smaller subgroup. Looking at all Florida likely voters, men split with 46 percent for Obama and 45 percent for McCain. Women back Obama 51 to 42 percent for McCain. The Republican leads 52 to 41 percent among white voters, 71 to 23 percent among evangelical Christians, and 51 to 40 percent among Catholics. Obama leads 49 to 39 percent among Hispanics and 77 to 20 percent among Jews. Independent voters back Obama 51 to 39 percent, similar to Oct. 1.

Posted by Adam Smith at 7:57:01 AM on October 23, 2008

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