Hello and welcome to Thursday.
Fresh — The push by Gov. Ron DeSantis to hold debates at the upcoming Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit has resulted in some new polling numbers for four key congressional races.
Criteria — The party is holding debates at the event scheduled later this month at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and requires congressional candidates to show they have at least 5 percent support — or a minimum of $100,000 in campaign donations — to qualify. A total of 17 candidates met the threshold and are scheduled to participate.
Winner = undecided— Republican pollster Ryan Tyson surveyed 400 likely GOP primary voters in Florida’s 4th, 7th, 13th and 15th congressional districts earlier this month and found that three state legislators either have leads or are near the top but fall within the margin of error (which is plus/minus 4.89 percent) of their rivals. But he also found that a lot of Republican voters have yet to make up their minds with the Aug. 23 primary just a few weeks away — meaning that the upcoming debates could sway the outcome.
By the numbers— State Sen. Aaron Bean has a 10-point lead (24 percent to 14 percent) over Erik Aguilar in the race for Florida’s 4th Congressional District in northeast Florida that still has 59 percent of those surveyed undecided. State Sen. Kelli Stargel has 13 percent in the crowded field for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, while former Secretary of State Laurel Lee and state Rep. Jackie Toledo each have 10 percent. The poll found that 58 percent of those polled for that race were undecided.
Tight— Another crowded GOP primary in Florida’s 7th District shows Cory Mills, a combat veteran and defense consultant, pulling in 23 percent to 21 percent for state Rep. Anthony Sabatini. Brady Duke, a former U.S, Navy SEAL sniper and minister, has 8 percent. The poll shows that there was still 40 percent undecided in the contest.
Biggest leader — In Florida’s 13th Congressional District, the poll has Anna Paulina Luna — who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump — with a commanding 20-point edge over attorney and former prosecutor Kevin Hayslett, at 37 percent to 17 percent. Amanda Makki, who lost to Luna in the 2020 primary, has 10 percent. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed in that race are undecided.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis.
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CRIST LAUNCHES AD — Rep. Charlie Crist is launching his first statewide ad that takes direct aim at Gov. Ron DeSantis while at the same time tries to spell out his record on abortion rights and gun control. Those are two issues that Democratic rival and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has hit Crist over by bringing up his past positions as a Republican and noting his convoluted statements on abortion.
In the ad entitled “Fighting Back,” Crist says DeSantis has a “radical agenda” and that he wants to “outlaw abortion even for victims of rape and incest.” DeSantis did sign a bill banning all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but has not said he would support eliminating all abortions. “He cares more for running for the White House than your house,” Crist says in the ad.
Crist’s campaign says the ad is a six-figure buy that will run in several media markets across the state. The ad is being paid for by Friends of Charlie Crist, his political committee. That means the ad cannot directly say vote for Crist or vote against DeSantis.
DEMINGS ZINGS RUBIO — Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who has now spent close to $6 million in television ads against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, is rotating in a new one that goes after her opponent for his attendance record by saying it’s one of the worst in Congress. Demings, who again emphasizes her experience as a former police chief, says in the ad “because it’s simple. You don’t show up for work. You lose your job.”
Response— Rubio still has not launched his own ads in the Senate race but he has higher name recognition than the central Florida congresswoman. Still, his campaign did blast out a statement noting that Rubio has had bills signed into law by Republican and Democratic presidents. Rubio’s campaign also faulted Demings for supporting President Joe Biden’s agenda and again labeled her a “puppet” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The campaign response did not address Rubio’s attendance record.
DOES IT COME WITH DESSERT?— Trump discussing 2024 plans at secret donor dinners, by POLITCO’s Alex Isenstadt: Donald Trump has quietly convened some of his wealthiest and highest-profile supporters for intimate dinners in recent weeks, where the groups have talked about the former president’s 2024 election plans — and debated when he should make his expected comeback bid official. The gatherings have taken place in Houston, Nashville and, last Friday evening, in Las Vegas, where billionaire casino mogul and longtime Trump friend Phil Ruffin implored the ex-president to launch another run for the White House soon. The consensus has been that Trump should run again — the only question being when he should announce, with most echoing Ruffin’s view but others saying Trump would be better served by waiting until after the midterm elections.
CAMPAIGN ROUNDUP — Brady Duke, a Republican running in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, is going up with his first television ad where the former Navy SEAL introduces himself to voters while also bashing “career politicians” in Washington over inflation and border security. The ad includes flashes of President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the background.
… The Florida Association of State Troopers has endorsed Senate President Wilton Simpson for agriculture commissioner.
… Florida AFL-CIO has endorsed state Sen. Lauren Book for reelection. Book is squaring off against former Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief in the Aug. 23 primary.
PROMISES, PROMISES— “Nikki Fried says she’s divesting medical marijuana holdings, promises ‘day one’ action on abortion,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Skyler Swisher and South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Anthony Man: “Nikki Fried says she is liquidating her financial interest in the state’s biggest medical marijuana operator as she faces questions about potential conflicts of interest if she’s elected governor. The Democratic agriculture commissioner has made weed her signature issue, vowing to legalize it for recreational use.”
— “Trump, DeSantis both would beat Biden in Nevada: poll,” by The Hill’s Caroline Vakil
— “Antisemites ‘are now serving in Congress,’ leading Florida House candidate warns,” by Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod
HAPPENING TODAY — Vice President Kamala Harris will touch down in Florida with stops planned for both Orlando and Tampa. Shortly before noon Harris is scheduled to give remarks at the 70th Boule of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. being held in Orlando. In the early afternoon she will hold a roundtable on reproductive rights with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and House and Senate Democrats in the Florida Legislature. Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and incoming House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell are scheduled to participate in the roundtable discussion. Harris will then travel to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where she will meet with service members and receive a briefing from United States Central Command Commander, General Michael E. Kurilla and others.
‘OUR HEARTS ARE REJOICING TODAY’ — “Statue of Black educator replaces Confederate general in U.S. Capitol,” by The New York Times’ April Rubin: “Mary McLeod Bethune on Wednesday became the first Black American to be represented with a state statue in National Statuary Hall, a central room of the United States Capitol, honored for her work championing education and civil rights. Bethune, whose statue replaces one of a Confederate general, became an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and an advocate for Black Americans from the schoolhouse to the White House. The school she founded with $1.50 eventually became Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university in Daytona Beach, Fla.”
A TALLAHASSEE SPECIAL— “There’s a $3 million mystery behind University of Florida’s brand new academic unit,” by Miami Herald’s Ana Ceballos: “The University of Florida has received $3 million in taxpayer funds to establish a new academic center focused on civics courses. But the university did not ask for it, a secretive group did. The group is so obscure that even the Florida lawmaker who asked the Legislature for the funding on the organization’s behalf does not know who is behind the group. ‘I don’t know really much about that group at all,’ Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, said in an interview. ‘I don’t know who they are.’”
Hmm — “Perry, who made the funding request, said he only met with Adrian Lukis, a lobbyist hired by the [Council on Public University Reform] to make the case for the Hamilton Center during the legislative session. Lukis works with the lobbying powerhouse Ballard Partners and previously worked for DeSantis, first as deputy chief of staff and later as chief of staff. Lukis declined to comment.”
HELP WANTED — ‘We have to raise our game’: Florida eyes new ways to pull in educators, by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: Florida is preparing to ramp up its efforts to recruit new teachers from across the state — and elsewhere — as school districts face hundreds of vacancies with the fall semester approaching. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said Wednesday that the state is “putting together a plan” to address a frustrating shortage of teachers and support staff that includes making it easier to certify educators and bringing more attention to existing underused programs.
Sales pitch— Speaking at the Board of Education meeting in Kissimmee, Diaz also indicated the state wants to “aggressively” attract teachers from other states by harping on Florida’s booming economy and its loose pandemic restrictions, a strategy similar to one being used by the DeSantis administration to entice law enforcement officers.
LATEST MOVE— Abortion groups ask appeals court to halt Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: Abortion-rights groups suing the state of Florida to stop its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy have asked a state appeals court to temporarily halt the new law until it sends the case back to the lower court. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, which include Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights, also asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to speed up the briefing schedule on the request.
TAKING AIM — “Newsom calls out DeSantis spokesperson who suggests critics of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill are ‘groomers,’” by The Hill’s Caroline Vakil: “California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called out a spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a speech on Wednesday, referencing comments she made earlier this year suggesting opponents of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill were ‘groomers.’ ‘I say grooming — yeah, it should offend,’ Newsom said while giving remarks at the National Forum on Education Policy after receiving an award for state innovation. “Press secretary for the governor of one of our largest states said people like me that were opposed to — and I know a lot of people are offended by saying it’s not really a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill — but referred to those that opposed it in Florida as ‘groomers.’ I think she was promoted, not fired. Certainly wasn’t fired,’ he added.”
Response — “In a email to The Hill on Wednesday, Pushaw defended her comments. ‘Opponents of the Parental Rights in Education law, by definition, support adults talking to young children about sexuality and gender ideology while keeping these conversations secret from those kids’ parents,’ she said.”
GROWING— Continental Strategy announced on Wednesday that it has acquired Kaleo Partners, a Tallahassee-based government consulting firm that focuses on technology-related issues. Kaleo’s co-founders, Glenn Kirkland Jr. and Jon Menendez, will join Continental Strategy as strategic advisers. “Over the last few months, both parties quickly realized that this strategic acquisition makes sense, and Kaleo Partners’ expertise in the tech industry and IT consulting services will only elevate Continental Strategy’s offerings at the federal and state levels,” said Carlos Trujillo, president of Continental Strategy in a statement.
— “Citizens Property Insurance leaders grouse over rate decision, eye next legislative session,” by Florida Politics’ Gray Rohrer
FINAL PHASE COMING — “Pre-trial hearings end in Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting case. Trial starts Monday,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Rafael Olmeda: “The courtroom is closed. Pre-trial hearings in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting case came to an anti-climactic end Wednesday. The next time the room is opened to the public, confessed murderer Nikolas Cruz, 23, will be facing a jury that has the power to spare his life or recommend his execution.”
FLEX — “Moms for Liberty to host inaugural summit amid rapid growth in membership — and notoriety,” by USA Today Network-Florida’s Kathryn Varn: “A conservative parents’ group that in a year and a half has grown from three Florida moms battling school mask mandates to a vocal force in education politics is set to host its first national conference this week in Tampa. The Moms for Liberty ‘Joyful Warriors’ National Summit, from Thursday through Sunday in downtown Tampa, will feature a high-powered lineup of conservative speakers and a packed schedule of panels on issues such as lobbying, elections and school safety, according to the online schedule. The summit was planned to give parents the ‘tools in their toolbox to do whatever they need to be effective advocates in their community,’ co-founder Tiffany Justice said Tuesday in an interview.”
FALLOUT— “UCF removes departments’ anti-racism statements,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Annie Martin: “The University of Central Florida has removed anti-racism statements from several academic department websites, prompting renewed concern by some that a new law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading to censorship at the university. UCF’s decision to take down the statements came less than a week after the English department briefly ‘suspended’ its version, claiming it now violated state law. The university later said department did so without ‘direction’ from school leaders, who did not think the statements conflicted with any laws.”
FALLOUT, PART 2— “No classroom libraries: Brevard teachers told as BPS studies new Florida school book law,” by Florida Today’s Bailey Gallion: “Brevard Public Schools elementary teachers have been asked by the district to hold off on putting out their classroom libraries until officials have a chance to grapple with new state legislation about appropriate reading material for kids. BPS spokesman Russell Bruhn said under new Florida law, all books must be reviewed by a library technician. Until now, many elementary school teachers have freely provided books for students to read during classroom ‘quiet’ time, or after finishing an assignment early. Brevard Federation of Teachers president Anthony Colucci said elementary teachers have been asked not to put out classroom libraries yet so that books can be vetted.”
— “Hundreds of Citizens policies dropped after home values exceeded $700,000 cap,” by South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Ron Hurtibise
— “Surfside will recognize Pride month after sparking outrage for not flying LGBTQ flag,” by Miami Herald’s Martin Vassolo
— “‘Unfortunate and discriminatory’: Black farmers feel left out of Florida’s medical marijuana system,” by The Ledger’s Paul Nutcher
— “Sarasota newspaper guild slams employer for running Proud Boys column,” by Florida Politics’ Jacob Ogles
ICYMI — “Waffle House diner gives out $13k to strangers with a touching note: ‘Love every body,’” by Today’s Alex Portée: “A wholesome Waffle House experience is offering Twitter users some much-needed comfort. Over the weekend, a now-viral Twitter thread detailed an interaction between two diners — one of whom was sitting at a booth sorting through a bundle of cash. ‘Saw this man sitting by himself at a Waffle House in Midway, Florida. So I said hello and asked him what he was doing with that money,’ Kevin Cate, an ad maker based in Florida, tweeted on July 9. The post featured an image of a man sitting at a booth by himself with a spread of cash before him, pinning a note with the words ‘Love Every Body’ to a $5 bill.”
BIRTHDAYS: Mike Vasilinda, former television reporter and journalist