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Trump continues to question election results. What do Tampa Bay Republicans say?

Most local elected officials and county party chiefs said nothing, declining to respond. But those who did ran the gamut.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. [ CAROLYN KASTER | AP ]
Published Nov. 24, 2020|Updated Nov. 25, 2020

Michigan has certified its election. The Georgia recount is complete. In the nation’s capital, the General Services Administration has started to cooperate with Joe Biden’s team as the former vice president prepares to move into the White House in January. And Biden announced his picks for key national security and foreign policy roles Tuesday.

But President Donald Trump has continued to refuse to concede the election while raising unsubstantiated charges of election fraud. Meanwhile, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has called the election “the most secure in American history.”

What do Tampa Bay Republicans think? This week, Times reporters contacted all elected Republican officials and county party chiefs in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties at least twice. Times reporters also contacted federal and state lawmakers that represent Tampa Bay.

Most didn’t respond, but a handful did — and their answers ranged from urging Trump to give up his fight to urging the president to stay the course right up until Jan. 6, the day that Congress will certify the nation’s electoral vote.

Here are the questions they were asked:

  1. Did Biden win the election?
  2. Should Trump concede?
  3. Was there fraud? If so, what evidence did you see to persuade you?

HILLSBOROUGH

Sheriff Chad Chronister

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“I believe that Biden has won the election, I believe Trump should concede. I don’t think anyone has provided any evidence of any fraud.”

“Those are real easy questions,” added Chronister.

County Republican Chairman Jim Waurishuk, USAF Col., retired.

Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]
Jim Waurishuk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party. [Times (2016)]

“At this point, I can’t give him (Biden) a win.” Waurishuk said, adding that he didn’t believe Trump should concede. “There are too many key critical dates that need to play out. This is all designed constitutionally.”

“I believe there was substantial fraud. It’s more than obvious,” Waurishuk said, pointing to various precincts where votes are alleged to exceed the number of voters and a statistical analysis he said he recently became aware of based on the number of counties won by Trump and the millions more votes cast for him.

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“There’s no rush. We’ve got until Jan. 20 to make that decision,” he said, apparently referencing Biden’s inauguration, which marks the official commencement of his administration.

County Commissioners Ken Hagan and Stacy White didn’t respond to phone calls and texts requesting comment on Monday and Tuesday.

PASCO

County Commission Chairman Mike Moore

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore
Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore [ File photo ]

Moore didn’t think that the questions were appropriate for a county commissioner to answer. “This would be a better fit for party officials rather than elected local officials,” he said. “Better for local party leadership.”

“You still have all of these court cases going on,” Moore said. “This is up to the courts to decide.”

On the question of fraud, Moore said, “Making a determination of fraud had to come from the courts, not the local elected officials.”

Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano

Mike Fasano, Pasco County Tax Collector.
Mike Fasano, Pasco County Tax Collector. [ Mike Fasano ]

Biden did indeed win the presidential election “several weeks ago” and Trump should have conceded at that time, Fasano said.

As for the fraud allegations being true, Fasano said, “absolutely not. There was no fraud. We can be very sure that all of the supervisors of elections and election administrators have been thorough in their count. It was even made clear, by the federal official who has been fired, that this was one of the most secure elections performed.”

Pasco County Clerk of the Court Nikki Alvarez-Sowles

Nikki Alvarez-Sowles, Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller.
Nikki Alvarez-Sowles, Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller.

Alvarez-Sowles said she believed Biden won the election. Should Trump concede? “I think that is for Donald Trump to decide,” she said.

As for whether there has been fraud, she said, “I have not seen anything that would support that there was fraud anywhere.”

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley
Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley [ Times ]

“The election is over, it’s clear by all accounts that President Biden is the President-Elect,” wrote Corley in an email. He didn’t address whether or not Trump should concede.

“While allegations of voter widespread voter fraud should be investigated, vague and unfounded claims of “rigged elections” and “fraud” on social media or cable news networks that do not include actual proof only serve to further erode voter confidence and continue to polarize the electorate. This is ironic as it’s exactly what Russia sought to do with meddling in the 2016 election as documented by both the Mueller report and the United States Select Committee on Intelligence (chaired by Sen. Rubio),” Corley wrote.

County commissioners Ron Oakley, Kathryn Starkey, Christina Fitzpatrick and Jack Mariano, Property Appraiser Gary Joiner and Sheriff Chris Nocco didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday. Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Rick Lorenz answered all three questions the same way, referring a reporter to media relations personnel at the Republican Party of Florida.

PINELLAS

County Commissioner Kathleen Peters

Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters.
Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters.

Peters didn’t directly answer whether she thought Biden won or Trump should concede. She also said she had concerns about fraud in other states, but not Florida. She mentioned uncounted ballots in Georgia found during a recount and unsubstantiated allegations about misconduct involving Dominion electronic voting machines used in several states.

“I do think there are issues with the election, I feel that there are constituents that have concerns and maybe lost faith in our election process,” Peters said, adding that Americans should “trust the process” that is unfolding in courts and legislatures around the country.

“Once the process is done, I’m good with the results,” she said.

Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus. [ Courtesy Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office ]

Marcus’s office emailed the following responses to be attributed to her.

“The State of Florida certified the Final Official Results of the election on November 17. The Electoral College will meet next month to elect a President and Vice President of the United States. That vote is sent to Congress in January where the electoral votes are counted in a joint session of congress.

Although conceding has been the tradition, there is no Constitutional requirement.”

On whether there was fraud: “No. It is critical to a representative democracy that before any allegations of misconduct or fraud are made, there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If no such proof exists, then we must accept the results.”

County Commissioners Dave Eggers and Karen Seel didn’t respond to requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was unavailable, according to his office. Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, Tax Collector Charles Thomas and Sixth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bernie McCabe didn’t respond to requests for comment.

STATE

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

Jimmy Patronis, the Chief Financial Officer of the state of Florida.
Jimmy Patronis, the Chief Financial Officer of the state of Florida. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Devin Galetta, a Patronis spokesman, did not say in a written statement whether Biden had won, or whether Trump should concede. “As a member of the Florida Elections Canvassing Commission, CFO Patronis was honored to certify the official Florida voting returns last week for the 2020 General Election and recognizes that, while some states around the country were hampered with confusion on election night, Florida got it right. ... He also believes that states currently dealing with questions of election fraud issues will, and should be, handled in the court system.”

On Nov. 7, the day media outlets called the race for Biden, Patronis tweeted a meme implying some Democrats had voted multiple times in the election.

Attorney General Ashley Moody

Attorney General Ashley Moody
Attorney General Ashley Moody [ Times (2019) ]

Moody’s office did not respond to requests for comment. On Nov. 7, hours before media outlets called the race for Biden, Moody tweeted: “The Trump campaign is absolutely right to demand accountability & transparency in the process — not only for this election but the stability & security of future elections.”

Moody also signed Florida onto a brief in support of one of the Trump campaign’s lawsuits in Pennsylvania on Nov. 9. The Keystone state certified its results Tuesday, with Biden the victor.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby

State Senator Wilton Simpson
State Senator Wilton Simpson [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]

Simpson, the Senate president, did not respond to requests for comment. On Nov. 9, two days after major media outlets called the race for Biden, Simpson said in an interview that he did not believe Gov. Ron DeSantis should congratulate the president-elect on his apparent victory. Simpson said of allegations of fraud: “We won’t know for probably months because it will take months to discover everything that happened.”

Simpson also said the way some states reported Democratic-leaning mail-in ballots later than other votes caused voters to distrust the system. “There’s not a state in this union that if you give me five days after an election, and I know what the score was, I couldn’t win,” Simpson said.

Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor

Rep. Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]

Sprowls, the speaker of the Florida House, did not respond to requests for comment. When asked about the election on Nov. 17, Sprowls declined to acknowledge Biden’s victory. “I believe every legal vote should be counted, I believe every illegal vote shouldn’t be counted,” Sprowls said, noting Trump’s legal challenges in several states had yet to be resolved

Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia

State Rep. Mike Beltran of Florida House District 57.
State Rep. Mike Beltran of Florida House District 57. [ Courtesy of Florida House of Representatives ]

Beltran did not say whether Biden won or whether Trump should concede. He did respond to the survey, in part: “I expect the courts will determine the factual issues you raise, and I will insist that each party respect each adjudication once it becomes final on appeal. For now, I request that everybody remain patient, calm, and civil, and speak only about what they know.”

Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.
State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.

Ingoglia, the former chair of the Florida GOP, directed a request for comment to a spokeswoman, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment. On Nov. 5, before media outlets called the election for Biden, Ingoglia posted to Facebook: “I agree with President Trump! Count every LEGAL vote!”

Sen. Danny Burgess, Thonotosassa, Sen. Jeff Brandes, St. Petersburg, Sen. Ed Hooper, Palm Harbor and Sen. Jim Boyd, Bradenton didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday. Nor did Rep. Ralph Massullo, Lecanto, Rep. Amber Mariano, Hudson, Rep. Ardian Zika, Land O’ Lakes, Rep. Randy Maggard, Dade City, Rep. Lawrence McClure, Dover, Rep. Jackie Toledo, Tampa, Rep. Traci Koster, Tampa, Rep. Nick DiCeglie, Indian Rocks, Rep. Chris Latvala, Clearwater and Rep. Linda Chaney, Gulfport.

FEDERAL

Tampa Bay area Republican representatives in Washington didn’t respond directly as to who won the election or whether it was affected by fraud, but said they support Trump’s legal battle over the results.

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio.
Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio implicitly denied allegations of a plot by Venezuela and China.

“If Cuba, Venezuela, or China had messed with American votes, no one would have screamed about it before or louder than me,” Rubio said.

Rubio didn’t comment on who won, whether Trump should continue his legal challenges or whether there was fraud.

Sen. Rick Scott

Sen. Rick Scott
Sen. Rick Scott

Scott responded to the Times’ questions with a statement from his office saying Trump “has every right to pursue every legal avenue at his disposal. Once the states certify their results, all legal votes are counted, and all litigation is settled, we will have the outcome.”

He also said, “This election has shown major reforms to our electoral system are needed.”

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis. [ Courtesy of Gus Bilirakis’ Congressional website ]

Bilirakis said Trump “owes it to it to the nearly 74,000,000 people who voted for him to fully investigate all allegations of voter irregularities and to pursue the legal remedies that our system makes available.”

Bilirakis said “all allegations of fraud should be fully investigated by the appropriate state and federal authorities.”

“We must ensure all legally-cast ballots are counted and that those that were unlawfully cast are set aside. Until that process is complete, the President does not have an obligation to concede.”

Rep. Vern Buchanan, Longboat Key

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. [ U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan ]

Buchanan didn’t respond to a call to his Washington office and emails to a press spokeswoman.

Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland

Newly elected U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin
Newly elected U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin [ Courtesy Scott Franklin campaign ]

A spokeswoman said Franklin was on an anniversary trip with his wife and not available to respond.

Times correspondent William March contributed to this report.

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