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  1. Florida Politics

Checking in on the race for governor in Florida

Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor of Florida, greets supporters at the Old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow in May. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor of Florida, greets supporters at the Old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow in May. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jul. 8, 2017

Time for a few snapshot generalizations about Florida's 2018 gubernatorial race, based on the money raised by the candidates' political committees in June.

1. Democrats are struggling mightily to raise serious money in their first competitive gubernatorial primary in many years. Some of this probably is related to uncertainty about personal injury John Morgan's potential candidacy (a nice excuse for donors to stay on the sidelines), and some of it due to a sense that the race has yet to really gel.

But in the month of June, Republican Adam Putnam's Florida Grown committee raised nearly $1.3 million in unlimited "soft dollar" donations. That's almost four times what the leading Democratic candidates raised combined, and significantly less than the whopping $2 million raised by potential gubernatorial candidate Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Pasco County.

Among the Democrats, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham raised nearly $137,000; Orlando businessman and political newcomer Chris King raised about $146,000 for his Rise and Lead Committee, including $63,000 from companies he leads; and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum received one $10,000 donation in June after raising nothing for the committee in May.

Let's stipulate that June is a tough time to raise campaign money in Florida, especially 70 weeks before Election Day. Also, campaign finance reports — the "hard dollar" donations of up to $3,000 for statewide candidates — aren't yet filed. But the ability to raise soft money is crucial for a campaign that may ultimately cost $100 million, and the Democrats are off to a very tepid start.

2. Graham is the front-runner, but King probably has replaced Gillum as her most credible challenger. An active FBI inquiry into his city hall seems to have dried up Gillum's fundraising. The Tallahassee mayor barely looks viable today, raising $10,000 over two months for his Forward Florida committee. His campaign discarded his campaign manager and finance director last week, which rarely leads to a turnaround.

King is relying heavily on his own money so far, but he also is a political unknown staying competitive financially against the daughter of a Democratic icon, Bob Graham, who is also backed enthusiastically by Emily's List with its national fundraising network. That's an accomplishment.

3. Don't forget Philip Levine. The multimillionaire Miami Beach mayor is officially still just mulling whether to run, but he raised $1.7 million in June, including $300,000 from his own deep pockets. He already had put $2 million of his own money into the race. For a big money race without any big money Democrat emerging so far, Levine could fill the void.

Contrasts on health care debate

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Senate Republicans and 2016 presidential primary rivals, often provide a study in contrasts, and last week shows that on health care.

One has publicly engaged in the debate, taking on critics and telling audiences repealing and replacing Obamacare has been an overriding GOP goal for years.

The other has laid low.

"Cruz, who built a national reputation on strident conservatism and has fiercely criticized the ACA for years, seemed to relish debating health care with vocal liberal critics," the Washington Post reported. "In a red state where he holds little crossover appeal, Cruz sees his best path to a second term, which he will seek next year, in rallying his conservative base to turn out for him. Even as he alienates a growing number of voters concerned about the fate of the ACA, doing his part to push for a full or even partial repeal is one key way his allies believe he can make that happen."

(In March, Cruz traveled to Mar-a-Lago to meet with President Donald Trump to kick-start discussions on a repeal and replace effort.)

Rubio, not unlike many other Republicans, took an opposite approach, eschewing town halls or other public meetings. His office has not answered questions about what he might be doing on the bill, which is teetering.

Thursday, as liberal protesters showed up at his offices across Florida, a spokeswoman said: "We respect these activists' right to protest, however it should not interfere with the ability of Senator Rubio and his staff to serve the people of Florida, nor should it disrupt the private businesses located near our offices. These liberal activists have one goal: a single-payer, government-run health care system that would cost the American people more than $30 trillion in new taxes. A Bernie Sanders type health care plan for all would be a disaster that Senator Rubio will never support."

Rubio's office says staffers routinely meet with liberal activists "weekly," but it's not clear there have been formal meetings about the Obamacare replacement, and in any event, the senator has not been involved.

Rubio hasn't been entirely out of view during the holiday recess. He appeared Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence at Kennedy Space Center, flying in on Air Force Two with him from Washington.

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