Editorial: The Trump factor should not decide Tuesday’s primary elections

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
While Tuesday's primary sets the races for the November general election, it also will reveal the general direction of Republicans and Democrats in this state. Don't sit this one out. Vote.
SCOTT KEELER | Times While Tuesday's primary sets the races for the November general election, it also will reveal the general direction of Republicans and Democrats in this state. Don't sit this one out. Vote.
Published August 24 2018
Updated August 24 2018

More than 1.5 million Floridians already have voted in the primary election, which probably means more than half of the expected ballots already have been cast. That doesn’t mean voters who have yet to make up their minds should stay home Tuesday. Some races in the Democratic and Republican primaries could be close, as well some races for nonpartisan offices such as school board and judge that are open to all voters. Beyond the winners and losers, Tuesday night’s results also should reveal how Floridians reacted to the nationalization of races that should be decided by state and local issues.

Both the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor have been contaminated by the Trump factor. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, has based his entire campaign on the president’s endorsement. It’s apparently working, but voters ought to insist on more than that for someone who wants to be governor. Yet the Republican primary race between DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been depressingly short of any substantive discussion of state issues.

Most of the Democratic candidates for governor have been similarly consumed by Trump. The wealthiest candidates, billionaire Jeff Greene of Palm Beach and multimillionaire Philip Levine of Miami Beach, have spent too much time arguing over which one of them would best stand up to the president. This election is not a reality television show to pick a tough guy to fight Trump tweet for tweet. The next governor will face real challenges running this state, from health care to traffic congestion to public education.

The Trump factor is polluting other races as well. State Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican seeking to become attorney general who has run perhaps the most dishonest campaign of the year, has tried to portray himself as a stronger Trump supporter than former Circuit Judge Ashley Moody of Tampa, who supports Trump and is solidly conservative. Republican State Rep. Larry Ahern of Seminole, who is running for Pinellas County Commission, has sent campaign fliers with pictures of himself and Trump and pledges to "Make Pinellas Great Again!’’ Ahern was an early Trump supporter, but that has nothing to do with county issues.

Millions in campaign dollars from outside Florida are flooding into the state on behalf of candidates from both political parties, funding attack ads on television and get-out-the-vote efforts. Money is being laundered from out-of-state political action committees to PACs in Florida that are then supporting Democratic candidates for governor such as Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. Another Democratic candidate for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, received a last-minute infusion of $650,000 directed to his PAC by billionaire donors George Soros and Tom Steyer. There is a desperate need for campaign finance reform, and voters should be particularly skeptical of any television ad aired by an organization they don’t recognize.

While Tuesday’s primary sets the races for the November general election, it also will reveal the general direction of Republicans and Democrats in this state. Has the Trump takeover of the Republican Party been so complete in Florida that his mere endorsement of a candidate for governor ensures victory? How is the struggle in the Democratic Party in Florida faring between centrists who can compete in a general election and liberals pushing more progressive approaches to energize activists?

Don’t sit this one out. Go vote.

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