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Newly Enfranchised Felons Could Flip Florida in 2020

November 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
As many as 1.5 million Floridians are now eligible to vote with the passage of Amendment 4.
Felons, excluding murderers and sex offenders, who have completed their sentence and paid their fines will now automatically have their voting rights restored.
Florida State University offers one of the only classes taught on Florida’s Executive Clemency Process.
It’s offered to students in the College of Law, the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and the College of Social Work.
With Amendment 4’s passage Tuesday night, Wednesday’s lesson plan changed to a discussion around the newly enfranchised population in the state.
“How many of those that may be eligible actually choose to exercise the right to vote remains to be seen,” said Professor and Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.


Students shared their thoughts  in class, raising the same questions on the minds of many Florida politicians.
“I don’t know if a lot of people would even want to vote when they get their rights regained,” said Political Science Senior Allison Hanley.
“You might have been living for 30 years knowing like hey I can’t vote why pay attention to politics, why be engaged in that,” said another Poli Sci senior, Kimberlee McMillin.
Whether the newly enfranchised will choose to exercise their right to vote is still an open ended question.
Political insiders like GOP Strategist Mac Stipanovich say the burden falls on the political parties to register them.
“You’ve got to reach them to get registered then you’ve got to reach them to get them to vote,” said Stipanovich.
Even if only a small fraction cast ballots it could turn the tables in 2020.
“We’re talking about a state wherein hotly contested statewide races are often decided by 100,000 votes or less,” said Stipanovich. “So a pool of a potential 1.5 million votes is pretty significant.”
It’s highly consented as to what the political leanings of the newly enfranchised population.


While African Americans were disproportionately prohibited from voting, whites make up a higher percentage of the total population.
The State Board of Executive Clemency will still have the final say on restoring other rights like the ability to own a firearm.
The process is in the hands of the newly elected Governor and Cabinet, who are all Republicans.
A pending Federal Lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of the Clemency process put in place under Governor Rick Scott for being too subjective.
Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis, who opposed Amendment 4, has said he believes in a more objective process.

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Trying to Reach Election Day Voters

November 6th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
At 5.2 million, more votes were cast early or by mail than will be cast at polls Tuesday, and Democrat Andrew Gillum closed his campaign reaching out to those who didn’t vote before election day.
When the clock struck midnight election morning, Democrat Gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum was closing his campaign at a rap concert on the FAMU campus.
“Tomorrow, we’ve got to vote like our lives depend on it,” said Gillum.
Six hours later he was on a satellite media tour of Florida news outlets.
In each interview, he urged people to vote.
“I’m not giving up on getting my share of Republican votes in this election. And I think we’re going to fare well with independents in this state,” said Gillum.
Two dozen  people were waiting in line when precinct 5105 in Tallahassee opened. Traffic remained steady.
On any given election, about 1,000 people will cast ballots at one polling place located in midtown Tallahassee.
At mid-day, the number was just shy of six hundred.
Don Quarello owns a bar not far from precinct where politics is always a topic.
“But especially this mid-term election, there’s been plenty, and people pushing other people to vote that I haven’t seen in the past,” said Quarello.
With his Family in tow, Gillum spent about seven and a half minutes inside his polling place.
Afterwards he was asked what message his victory would send.
“Us wining tonight will send a message to Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis as well, that the politics of hate and of division, of separation, have come to an end,” said Gillum.
Sending that message means Gillum must win first, which is something a Democrat running for Governor hasn’t done since 1994.
The margins of victory in the last three gubernatorial elections have all been about one percentage point.

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Parkland Survivors Push Youth Vote After Tallahassee Mass Shooting

November 5th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The Parkland March For Out Lives students are at the state Capitol today in the shadow of Friday’s deadly mass shooting that took two lives and injured five others.
The Parkland shooting is credited with energizing young voters and Democrats.
Student activists who gained a national platform are urging the voters to cast ballots as if it were their last election.
“When you walk up to vote tomorrow, remember all of our faces. Remember thousands of students who live in fear everyday because of gun violence,” said FAMU Student Zion Kelly, who lost a brother to gun violence.
The survivors’ presence comes just three days after Scott Beierle opened fire on a Tallahassee yoga studio, killing an FSU student and faculty member.
A vigil held on campus Sunday night, words from FSU President John Thrasher mirrored those of the March For Our Lives students.
“People have a right to feel safe in their schools, in their places of worship,” said Thrasher.
Just eight months ago, the capitol was the epicenter for the gun reform movement.
“Sixty-plus state laws have been passed to combat gun violence around the country… and if they’d been passed before… these heroes would still be here,” said Parkland Suvivor Emma Gonzalez.
Like the Parkland shooter, the gunman who opened fire on the Yoga studio Friday had a history of posting violent material online.
The Tallahassee shooting wasn’t directly mentioned by the Parkland students, until we asked.
“There are too many happening in this country for us to talk about each and every one. Here in Tallahassee is very close to our hearts. Some of our co workers and some of our friends had experienced trauma, they were in that studio, they experienced pain,” said Parkland Survivor Matt Deitsch.
Gonzalez just voted for the first time.
“It was pretty cool. I listened to Kendrick Lamar while I was doing my absentee ballot,” said Gonzalez.
She says it doesn’t matter who wins so long as people turnout to vote.
In another effort to get the youth out to vote, Democratic Candidate Andrew Gillum will be joined by Rapper P-Diddy and DJ Khalid down the street from the Capitol, Monday night for a rally on FAMU’s campus.

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Democrats Seize Early Ballot Lead

November 3rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Democrats took a slight lead in votes cast early and by mail Monday morning, GOP strategists say their path to victory is older voters who traditionally cast their ballots on Election Day.
Pam Buchanan voted for the first time in her 54 years back in 2016.
She voted for Donald Trump.
Voters like Pam are the key to a GOP win in Florida,
She told us she doesn’t plan to vote this year, because Trump isn’t on the ballot.
That’s not good for the GOP.
The party is counting on older voters like Pam to carry them to victory.
Monday began with more than 5 million votes already cast.
Democrats took a 25,000 vote lead in mail and early voting.
Across the state, canvassing boards were meeting to go over disputed mail and early ballots.
Statewide there are 15,000 ballots where the signature doesn’t match or is missing.
“My guess is that tomorrow, this enthusiasm to vote in this election is going to carry on, and I think we’re gonna probably raw numbers, we’re gonna have a record turnout, without a doubt, in the midterm,” said Keon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley.
Democrats are buoyed by higher than usual young voter turnout.
Parkland student Emma Gonzalez came to the Capitol to urge young voters to continue turning out.
“Gun violence is on the ballot. Our lives are in the hands of the people we elect. Vote in every election like it’s your last, because it very well could be,” said Parkland Survivor Emma Gonzalez.
The 25,000 ballot advantage for Democrats is in sharp contrast to a 97,000 deficit this time four years ago.
As of Monday morning, more than one million mail ballots remain outstanding.
It’s too late to mail them, but voters can return them in person to their Supervisor or Elections before polls close at 7 pm Tuesday.

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FSU Student Arrested After Politically Charged Outburst

November 2nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
An FSU student has been arrested and charged with battery following an outburst at a campus Republican display.
The profanity laden outburst was captured on camera.
The video, viewed nearly 30,000 times, shows 19-year-old FSU student Shelby Shoup throwing chocolate milk, hitting students and kicking campaign signs at a Campus Republican booth.
“You are supporting Nazis,” Shoup tells the student activists.
She went on to invoke the Pittsburgh shooting saying, “Nazis are *$&% shooting my people!”
Another student shouted back, “You’re throwing milk at people!”
“She doesn’t even know what fascism and Nazis are,” said Hunter Pollack.
Hunter, a member of the FSU Campus Republicans and brother of Meadow Pollack who was killed in the Parkland shooting, shared the video on Twitter.
“No one in College Republicans would be able to get the story out the way I would,” said Pollack. “So I figured I would share it and I’m going to stick up for my fellow members of my club.”
Pollack, Jewish himself says the outburst was inexcusable.
“I want to spread love,” said Pollack. “We can’t be throwing chocolate at each other on campus. That’s unacceptable.”
Shoup was arrested and charged with battery by campus police two days after the incident.
We showed Tallahassee Rabbi Jack Romberg the video.
He said while he and other jews are angry about the shootings, it’s no excuse for Shoup’s behavior.
“You should not be condemning that other person as being completely indecent, because if you take the time to listen to their narrative you will start to understand why they believe what they believe,” said Romberg.
Pollack says the fact Shoup was arrested, means justice was served.
FSU responded to the incident Friday, in a tweet saying, “FSU is a diverse community that values and respects each person. FSU expects each member of the community to embrace the values of civility and ethical conduct and obey the law.”

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Marsy’s Law Supporters Defend Amendment 6

November 1st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Faith leaders with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference expressed their support a constitutional amendment they claim protects victims rights, but defense attorneys and others are asking tough questions about what Amendment 6 would actually accomplish.
Amendment six, named for a murdered California woman, Marsy’s law, would expand crime victim’s rights in the state constitution.
It’s supported by both Gubernatorial candidates, Florida law enforcement, some prosecutors and now faith leaders.
“Crime victims have civil rights also that must be protected,” said Reverend R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee’s Bethel Baptist Church Thursday.
Defense attorney’s and the ACLU oppose Marsy’s Law.
They say it would limit the rights of the accused.
“It’s going to let the victims run the show,” said  Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers Association President Richard Greenberg. “They’re going to be able to tell the prosecutors, judges and law enforcement how to handle the case.”
Victims like Ann Rowe, who was raped at gun point in 2015, disagree.
“I have every right for the judicial system to call me, to tell me what is happening in my case,” said Rowe.
Marsy’s law is the best funded amendment on the ballot with more than $30 million spent so far.
Pro-Amendment 6 ads have been accused of spreading misinformation by suggesting Florida currently has no protections for victims.
Tim Cerio the sponsor of Marsy’s law says while there are protections in the constitution and statute, enforcement is missing.
“There are often times, even though Florida statutes allow participation by victims at particular times, we found out on the road and a lot of prosecutors have confirmed that doesn’t always happen,” said Cerio.
Six states have adopted some form of Marsy’s Law.
South Dakota amended its version two years after it passed.
Montana’s Supreme Court over turned it because it violated the state’s single subject rule.
Amendment six also makes a change in how state agency rules are treated in court and it raises the retirement age of judges.
Voters must decide if the bundling is warranted.

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How Will the Next Governor Get Around Without a State Plane?

November 1st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
For the last 8 years, Governor Rick Scott has been traveling the state on his own jet, which is creating a dilemma for whoever is elected November sixth.
Neither Ron DeSantis or Andrew Gillum are millionaires.
Neither owns a plane, but whomever is elected will have to live at least temporarily with a promise Rick Scott made campaigning eight years ago.
“I’ll-put an end to pet spending projects, sell the air state plane,” Scott said in a campaign ad.
Scott lived up to the promise two days after taking office.
“Its a promise I made and I’ll live up to them,” aid Scott in 2011.
He’s been flying in his own jet ever since.
So what’s the new Governor to do?
Key lawmakers say they’re looking for a way for him to travel that’s a good value for taxpayers.
One option is using turbo prop planes still owned by some agencies.
They fly about half as fast as the jet the state sold.
Back in 2011,  we asked Rick Scott how other state officials would travel.
“They can drive or fly,” Scott said.
But former Governor Bob Martinez says that’s not practical.
“My guess would be is that without a plane, I wouldn’t take speaking engagements more than 50-100 miles from Tallahassee,” said Martinez.
Even conservative Florida Taxwatch thinks a jet is imperative.
“You know, ultimately we think it’s an important tool  for the Governor, given the fact we are a very very large peninsular state,” said TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro. “You know. out of sight, out of mind.
The likely scenario is that the state leases a plane short term, while it sorts out how the Governor will travel.
Since taking office Rick Scott bought at least one new plane.
He was recently criticized for the purchase in campaign ads.

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State Official Accused of Using Employees for Personal Debris Removal

November 1st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is investigating whether one of its division directors, Kelley Scott, no relation to the Governor, used three state employees to remove hurricane debris from her south Georgia home.
The state and the Miami Herald received an anonymous complaint.
Scott currently makes $130,000 a year overseeing the department’s administrative services.
Nearby homes are still littered from Hurricane Michael debris.
The DMV refused to provide any documents, citing the ongoing investigation.
We’ll keep on top of this story and bring you more as it develops.

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Parties Chasing Vote by Mail Ballots

October 31st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
This year, Florida sent our just under 3.5 million mail ballots.
As of Wednesday morning, 1.5 million haven’t been cast yet.
Both parties are working overtime to get those ballots filled out and returned.
First, mail encouraging people to ask for a vote by mail ballot went out from both parties shortly after the primary.
It worked and 3,448,000 ballots were requested.
As of Wednesday morning, 44% or just over 1.5 million hadn’t been returned yet.
“When you look at the return rate so far, it’s very low,” said Skyler Zander with Americans for Prosperity. “I mean, there’s a lot of people that can still get out there and still have their mail ballots turned in.”
Under state law, candidates but not the general public, get a list everyday of people who have requested a mail ballot.
They also get a list of those who haven’t returned it.
Those that haven’t voted are getting reminders, and as the election day deadline to return the ballots gets closer,  both parties are ramping up their efforts.
“Because you get that list, you’re able to send out robo calls to ask them to turn in their ballots,” said Leon County GOP Chair Evan Power. “You send email to get them to turn in their ballots. And in the las t case, the last couple days, you send walkers out to go grab the ballots for them or help them get their ballots turned in.”
How important are they?
“You know Florida is always a razor thin state that is  very diverse in many different ways and shapes. So every vote counts. Every ballot matters,” said Zander.
Overseas military ballots have a ten day grace period, which means in a really really tight race, it could delay knowing who wins.
Currently most of Arizona, Hawaii, territories and various Native American nations are exempt from Daylight Savings.
As of five o’clock Wednesday afternoon, the window for requesting a mail ballot be sent to you has closed.
Ballots can still be picked up in supervisors offices.

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Daylight Savings Not Changing in Florida, At Least Not Yet

October 31st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida passed a law in March moving the state to daylight savings time year round.
Rick Scott signed it, but you’ll still have to set your clocks back an hour on Sunday.
That means it will be getting darker an hour earlier for Floridians.
The Sunshine Protection commits Florida to year round daylight savings, but first Congress has to allow it.
House Sponsor Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen told us in January why staying with one time would be not only less confusing, but beneficial.
“Our visitors will be able to enjoy it and our restaurants and businesses will have another hour for people to enjoy the daylight and the beautiful weather that we have,” said Fitzenhagen.
Senator Marco Rubio filed two bills soon after the Legislation was signed.
One would exempt Florida from the Uniform Time Act, allowing the state to make the switch to permanent daylight savings.
The other proposes moving the entire country to year round Daylight Savings Time.
Neither have gotten a hearing.
While many we asked were unaware the new law didn’t change anything, most the agreed with the the law’s sentiment.
‘“Because I don’t think changing clocks is really effective,” said FSU student Kiara Gilbert.
“I think it would be beneficial for students, especially for educators as well, really just your entire education system and like you said it’s the Sunshine State so it just seems fitting,” said FSU Senior Anthony Pagano.
Some studies have suggested crime is lower during Daylight Savings Time and others have suggested energy costs are also lowered.
Currently most of Arizona, Hawaii, territories and various Native American nations are exempt from Daylight Savings.

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Tallahassee Battered by Trump Tweets and Cable News

October 30th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
President Donald Trump waded into the Florida Governor ’s race again, tweeting that Democrat Andrew Gillum was corrupt and the criticism of the Tallahassee Mayor and the capital city is giving the city a black eye.
Florida TV viewers are being bombarded with ads like this one, in multiple rotation.
“20 FBI agents have spent two years investigating the city in Andrew Gillum’s tenure,” said one ad.
On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted that Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum was a, ‘thief’.
It’s not just Floridians, but the entire nation that is seeking Gillum and his city being bashed on cable news programs.
“They just get this overall impression that Tallahassee is one of the most corrupt cities in the country and that we’re one of the most violent cities in the country and that’s really hard to overcome,” said FSU political Scientist Carol Weissert.
PR Guru and former Tallahassee Chamber Chairman Ron Sachs said the tweet was, “Somewhat unpresidential, for a president to have enough time to bother to tweet an attack on an American capital city.”
Even the local GOP chair wants people to know its about Gillum and not the city and its people.
“He’s not saying it’s a bad place to live, he saying we a have a bad, a not well run city government,” said Power.
One of the big pushes has been to attract more seniors to retire to Tallahassee, but all this advertising is likely to make that more difficult.
In the shadow of the Capitol we asked people at this local lunch spot to raise their hands is they thought Tallahassee was a great place to live.
Half did.
One person muttered, ‘This must be about Gillum’.
The Tallahassee Mayor has said repeatedly he is not a target of the investigation and has called on the FBI to tell people what it knows.
In response to the latest Trump tweet he replied: “He’s howling because he is weak.”

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Can Gillum Work With the GOP to Increase Cooperate Tax?

October 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
One of Andrew Gillum’s first campaign pledges was to raise education spending by $1 billion.
To do so he says he would raise the state’s cooperate tax rate, but the Democratic Candidate is likely to face push back from a Republican Legislature.
One of Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate in January Andrew Gillum’s first press conferences focused on a promise.
“We can invest $1 billion in rebuilding schools,” Gillum said.
He proposes raising the cooperate tax rate in the state to 7.75% from its current 5.5%.
It’s no surprise that businesses don’t like it.
“The state’s in a great place right now and I think our members are pretty clear that they would like to keep things as is,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation.
Any tax increase is a hard sell for Republicans.
Even if Democrats increase their margins in the Legislature, some Republicans will have to be onboard.
Bob Martinez served as Florida’s 40th Governor.
He was a Republican facing a Democratic House and Senate.
We asked him how he dealt with a Legislature controlled by an opposing party.
“I first started coming up here in 1965 and it was all Democrat and the House and the Senate would fight with the Governor all the same party,” said Martinez. “So it just is a different kind of perhaps debate.”
Florida TaxWatch says if Gillum wants more revenue, he should propose the state start collecting the tax already owed on internet sales.
“A remote sales can be two to three times what an increase of the cooperate income tax could bring and it would be well accepted by the people of Florida,” said TaxWatch President, Dominic Calabro.
If Amendment 5 passes in November, Gillum will have to garner 2/3’s support of the Legislature to raise the cooperate tax, instead of the current 3/5’s.
When asked how Gillum plans to gain Republican support for his operate tax increase his campaign responded with a statement saying, “Mayor Gillum is going to work as Governor with anyone willing to create good jobs, pay better wages, and invest a billion dollars into training Florida’s future workforce. It’s a common-sense investment in growing the most talented state in America.”

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TaxWatch Unveils Guide to Help Next Governor

October 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida TaxWatch, former Florida Governor Bob Martinez and a coalition of former state Legislators unveiled the 4th edition of the Governor’s Transition Decision Handbook Tuesday morning.
The guide is given to both candidates as a nonpartisan informational resource to help them transition from campaigning to leading the country’s third largest state.
It gives history on issues important in the state like the environment, taxation, affordable housing, the budget and many more.
As former Governor Martinez says, most importantly it helps take the new Governor through the first 100 days in office.
“All of these things that are not on your mind now as you’re campaigning for office. All of the sudden you get elected, all these things are before you, you have to put a transition team together,” said Martinez. “The transition team may be scrambling in terms of where do we go next and what this is for is to at least give a guide at the things you’ll have to look at as they implement their policies as they organize their administration.”
The guide includes testimony and advice from former Lieutenant Governors and Governors ranging from Rick Scott to C. Farris Bryant who held office from 1961 to 1965.

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Gubernatorial Candidates Split on Rights Restoration

October 29th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The major party gubernatorial candidates have very different opinions when it comes to automatically restoring a felon’s right to vote.
Amendment 4 would do just that for the majority of Florida’s 1.7 million non violent felons in the state after they’ve served their time and paid their fines.
It’s one of two amendments put on the ballot this year by citizen initiative.
The idea is supported by Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
“We ought to level those barriers that keep you from being able to make a way for yourself and for your family, having the dignity around a vote,” said Gillum at a rally in support of the amendment in April.
Republican Ron DeSantis says felons need to prove they’ve changed after their sentence.
“An appallingly high percentage of people who get out of prison as convicted felons re-offend,” said DeSantis.
Faith leaders in the state’s capital city tried to garner support for Amendment 4 Monday, saying it would be an act of compassion.
“The American way, the faith way is give a person another chance. Help instill hope in that person,” said Reverend of Bethel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, R.B. Holmes.
If Amendment 4 does not pass the state’s clemency process will be in the hands of the next Governor.
“I do believe in a process where you have objective criteria so that people have an intensive to get right with not just the law, but society,” said DeSantis.
Gillum says if he’s elected, he’d create avenues for automatic restoration even if Amendment 4 fails.
“Through Executive Order we will restore the rights of former felons,” said Gillum.
A recent statewide survey conducted by St. Pete polls found six out of ten Florida voters support Amendment 4.
One out of three oppose it, which means its fate is in the hands of the 7% who are undecided.

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Early Voting Steady in Panhandle

October 29th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
More than 2.5 million people have already voted in Florida.
Early voting began over the weekend in most of the panhandle counties hit hardest by Hurricane Michael.
Turnout has been slow, but Monday morning showed signs things may be picking up.
Downtown Marianna still looks like a bomb went off.
Blocks away, we found a steady stream of early voters.
“I think we’re good. We’re tough people and we’ll fight through it,” said Virgil Shannon, a local timber consultant.
Early voting started Saturday in the county.
10% cast a ballot.
Normally, there would be 14 precincts open in Jackson county on Election Day, but this year there’ll be only three.
“We will have a sign indicating your polling place is closed,” said Jackson County Elections Supervisor, Sylvia Stephens. “Some still don’t have power. They’re being used for emergency staging sites, and also for distribution sites.”
30 miles south in Calhoun County, early voting has been open for a week.
While voting is expected to be fairly normal there, in Panama City, which has more than 40 precincts, only six super precincts are going to be open.
Back in Marianna, We found Jeff Cloud surveying his graphics business.
“The windows blew out on that end and the hurricane came through the building and blew this out,” said Cloud.
He’s not sure he’ll be able to reopen after  rain damaged his equipment.
He is sure he will vote.
“We got a lot on our plate, but we’re still thinking about the future,” said Cloud. “Everything was great. We has the best… we had the best October we’ve had in forever and it’s because of Trump’s policies.”
The hurricane effected counties produced 70% of Rick Scott’s victory margin in 2014.
Turnout there could be one of the largest factors in deciding who is Florida’s next Governor.
In 2016 Donald Trump got 77,000 votes in the nine hardest hit counties.
His biggest margin came from Panama City in Bay County, which is registered Republican by a two to one margin.

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