Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 7.10.22

With a little more than a month before the Aug. 23 Primary Election, Democrat Charlie Crist has the next logical step for someone in his position.

Emboldened by polling that shows him with a substantial advantage over fellow Democrat Nikki Fried, Crist set his sights on the big dog.

In his first TV ad of this election cycle, Crist ignored Fried and went straight for the jugular against Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Think about what’s at stake in Florida,” Crist says in the ad titled Fighting Back. “Gov. Ron DeSantis bullies schoolchildren. He wants to outlaw abortion, even for victims of rape and incest.

“He opposes any background checks on guns, even for violent criminals. And he cares more about running for the White House than your house. Well, I’m fighting back.”

Yes, we said this was a “logical” step for Crist, but it’s also risky. Winning the poll is not the same as winning the election, and Fried has shown no hint of surrender. Turnout is generally low for a Primary, which could help Fried if her attacks on Crist’s record on abortion begin to stick.

But if Crist does prevail, the “Fighting Back” ad pokes at potential vulnerabilities for DeSantis. True, his popularity appears unchecked now, and the polls — those things again — indicate a comfortable victory for the Governor.

Crist knows the GOP base won’t care about any issues he raised, but independents might. That’s probably the only area of even remote vulnerability for DeSantis. People could look at his attacks on teachers, universities, and local governments and say, “Hey, wait a minute.”

There also was that embarrassing bit where he disdainfully told school kids to take off their masks during an event in Tampa.

As someone once said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of Winners and Losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Val Demings. The Democratic candidate trying to unset Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate continues to raise impressive amounts of money. Her campaign reported raising $12.2 million in the second quarter, its highest total yet.

Her campaign called it “historic,” and it does make Demings competitive money-wise. She still lags badly in the polls; FiveThirtyEight continues to give Rubio a 94% chance of winning.

However, having that much cash gives Demings a chance to cut into Rubio’s lead with a television blitz. It’s also likely the margin will shrink after the August Primary Election because voters will start to pay more attention.

“We are building the strongest campaign Rubio has ever seen,” Demings’ campaign manager Zach Carroll said in a news release.

Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: The University of Florida. UF moved to the front lines of cybersecurity research, announcing a collaboration with the Central Intelligence Agency to combat cyber terrorism.

UF’s Florida Institute for National Security will study how artificial intelligence and machine learning applications can defend against attacks on computer networks.

“If you’re operating retroactively in cybersecurity, oftentimes you are too late,” F.I.N.S. Director Damon Woodard said in a news release from the school.

Cyber attacks in 2021 increased by about 500 over the previous year. Ransomware attacks are increasing as well.

The biggest winner: Mary McLeod Bethune. As a 26-year-old Black woman in 1904, Mary McLeod founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls on an abandoned garbage dump in Daytona Beach.

She had $1.50 in working capital.

Today, we know Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s school as Bethune-Cookman University, and countless thousands of young Black men and women received their education there.

Dr. Bethune’s impact on Florida’s history is immense. Now it stands enshrined in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Leaders — among them U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa — led a dedication ceremony that highlighted Bethune’s matchless legacy as an educator and civil rights leader at a turbulent time in Florida’s history.

Her 8-foot marble statue, carved with material from the Italian quarry Michelangelo used, weighs more than 6,000 pounds. It shows Bethune in her role as a teacher and role model.

Each state is allowed to display two statues. Bethune is the first Black woman so honored.

In 2016, Florida lawmakers agreed to replace the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. Two years later, they agreed Bethune deserved the honor in a rare overwhelming bipartisan show.

In August, her adopted home of Daytona will unveil a second statue of Bethune — this one made of bronze — as a permanent reminder of how one determined person continues to make a profound impact more than a century later.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Mainstream media outlets strive for balanced coverage, especially on their editorial and opinion pages. However, that doesn’t mean contorting like a pretzel to allow others to use you for propaganda in the name of fairness.

That’s what the Herald-Tribune did last Sunday when it allowed a response to a previous guest op-ed in the paper criticizing School Board members for being too chummy with the Proud Boys.

For reasons passing understanding, the paper printed a counter-argument under the headline “Attacking Proud Boys does a disservice to caring school parents.”

“When I think about the Proud Boys, I think of fathers, business owners, and veterans,” Melissa Radovich wrote in her rebuttal. “These fathers have spoken at many School Board meetings. They are concerned about the direction that their local schools are heading in, and I commend them for coming to School Board meetings.”

Ai Yi Yi!

Radovich is married to Proud Boys member Nicholas Radovich, and the piece did not disclose that.

The backlash was swift, and editors quickly removed the op-ed.

Herald-Tribune Executive Editor Jennifer Orsi followed with a piece that said the paper made a mistake when it printed the original piece.

She said the Proud Boys are “an extremist group that promotes white nationalist views.”

Using the op-ed, she said, was “antithetical to our values as an organization and is outside of our responsibility to provide a fair forum for different points of view.”

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey. The popular and sometimes controversial lawman went over the line in trying to sway elections in his county.

At least that’s what two candidates — one for the County Commission and the other for the School Board — told Florida Today. They said Ivey told them if they withdrew their candidacies, they would have jobs with the Commission should the Sheriff’s favored candidate, Tom Goodson, win the election.

Chris Hattaway is running against Goodson, while Shawn Overdorf is running against Courtney Lewis for the School Board seat.

The newspaper said both candidates, who are Republicans, current or former police officers, and war veterans with distinguished backgrounds, refused the Sheriff’s offer. Goodson told the paper he didn’t know anything about what the other candidates were alleging.

“Basically, his comments were, ‘I didn’t know you were that serious (about running); I’ve already committed to Tom Goodson. But if you are really looking to get into politics, I can put you in contact with him, and you can work in his office. I told him how great you are. But we don’t want to see you lose and keep you from moving further into politics,’” Hattaway said.

According to the paper, the Sheriff did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Ivey could face an ethics charge if the allegations are true.

The biggest loser: Erick Aguilar. In the Old Testament book of Amos, the prophet has a message in Chapter 5 for those who claim to follow God while exploiting the poor.

“I hate, I reject your festivals; I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies. If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food — I won’t be pleased. I won’t look at your offerings of well-fed animals. Take away the noise of your songs; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Aguilar is running for Congress in Florida’s 4th Congressional District. His Twitter page touts, “Service to GOD.”

However, according to a meticulously reported story by Matt Dixon of POLITICO, Aguilar was serving himself first.

“Erick Aguilar is not Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis,” Dixon wrote. “He just wants you to think he is.”

The story detailed how Aguilar sent a massive number of emails, mostly to retired senior citizens, soliciting money. He used a GOP fund-raising site called WinRed.

The emails never mentioned Aguilar’s quest for Congress. Instead, they were crafted in a way that made recipients believe they came from DeSantis or Trump.

People believed their money would go to high-profile Republicans.

POLITICO reported the text of an email that went out last November under DeSantis’ name and triggered a huge increase in campaign donations for Aguilar.

“Governor DeSantis is always fighting back against Corrupt Left,” it read. “No matter how bad this country is the Fake News media and Biden Admin are OBSESSED with that [sic] Florida is doing.”

The website contacted some of the donors.

“I don’t know that name,” Pat Medford, an 88-year-old from Minnesota, said when asked about her donations to Aguilar. “I, of course, give to President Trump and DeSantis, but that’s really it.”

WinRed responded by kicking Aguilar off its platform.

“This account intentionally misled people by pretending to be, among other groups, Donald Trump, Ron Desantis, and Jim Jordan,” a spokesperson said. “WinRed won’t let that happen, so several months ago, we took action by shutting it down.”

A final word to Aguilar: repent!


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