Florida's Republican Party says it is staying out of an effort by one of its attorney-general candidates to paint a competitor as a “Clinton liberal.”
Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, might not have gotten the state party to blackball primary foe Ashley Moody from a party event next month. But with a campaign team guided by Gov. Rick Scott's longtime adviser Melissa Stone, Fant on Wednesday shifted attention from the purely fundraising portion of the 2018 contest.
Meanwhile, the campaign of Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, dismissed Fant's salvo with return fire.
“It is laughable that a candidate running to be Florida's chief legal officer would offer up such erroneous and egregious attacks on the proven record of a former and well respected federal prosecutor and circuit court judge,” Moody campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson said in a prepared statement.
Fant sent an inflammatory letter to Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia --- who also serves in the House --- asking the party boss to ban Moody from the GOP's January meeting because she's “a true liberal and proud of it.”
“The 2018 election ballot is absolutely critical from top to bottom and we simply cannot waste time with candidates who have to hide their past involvement with the Clintons in order to win,” he wrote.
Fant, who trails Moody in fundraising even after dumping $750,000 of his own money into the campaign, accused Moody of having close ties to the Clinton family --- her father was appointed by Bill Clinton to the federal bench.
Moody once worked as a speechwriter for “left wing” former American Bar Association President Martha Barnett who is a “close ally” of Hillary Clinton, Fant wrote to Ingoglia. And Moody sued President Donald Trump (long before he moved into the White House) over a failed development project, Fant pointed out.
Ingoglia quickly said he was having none of the primary infighting.
“All Republicans running for statewide office are welcome to attend RPOF meetings,” Ingoglia responded in an emailed statement. “We will not, and should not, interject ourselves in the middle of primaries. Nor should the RPOF become the arbiter of a candidate's conservative credentials. Â If Rep. Fant thinks this will resonate with the electorate, then take it directly to the primary voters.”
Moody, who has the backing of term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi and a sizeable campaign bankroll, has amassed a finance team that's a veritable GOP who's who, including influential lobbyist Brian Ballard.
“Not only is Ashley Moody a staunch supporter of our president, but she has secured the endorsements of those who worked tirelessly on behalf of the president's campaign, including law enforcement officials and elected leaders across the state. We look forward to highlighting these conservative values at the January RPOF meeting,” Johnson said.
The Republican primary for attorney general also features state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola and Rep. Ross Spano of Dover.
In addition to the salvo about the January meeting, Fant asked party leadership to discontinue indirect support of Moody's campaign through in-kind resources like staff, “that already total more than $23,000,” according to campaign finance reports.
SCOTT'S MOVE AFTER MOORE
Scott's not tipping his hand about whether changes in approach are needed for his widely anticipated U.S. Senate bid after Republicans lost a high-profile Senate race Tuesday in Alabama.
“I haven't made a decision about my future. That race is in 2018, it's still 2017,” Scott said Wednesday. “You can talk to the pundits about it.”
While Scott has close ties to Trump, something he has repeatedly touted, he also remains adamant that he wasn't among the Republicans who backed losing candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama election. Trump supported the controversial Moore, who was dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
“I was vocal that the allegations were disgusting,” Scott noted of the accusations made by several women against Moore. “I recommended that he get out of the race, that he do the right thing.”
Terrie Rizzo, the Florida Democratic Party's recently elected chairwoman, wasted little time capitalizing on Moore's defeat.
“Decent, principled leadership won out --- and the entire country saw that Democrats are riding a historic blue wave,” Rizzo said in a fundraising email Wednesday. “If we can win in Alabama, we can win anywhere.”
Scott might not have wanted to discuss the implications of the Moore loss for his potential U.S. Senate bid against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. But a New York Times story Thursday raised questions about whether the political environment could affect the efforts of Scott and other Republicans to win Democratic-controlled Senate seats in 2018.
“In Florida, for example, advisers to Gov. Rick Scott said he was mindful of the midterm climate and was not yet sold on challenging Senator Bill Nelson,” the Times reported.
COLLEGE ROAD TRIP FOR BRANDES AND HIS MOTHER
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is heading back to college this week.
The 1999 Carson-Newman University graduate will deliver the winter commencement address Friday at his alma mater, where his mother --- Mary Tibbets Brandes --- will be presented an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Brandes' mother is a 1971 graduate of the private Christian university and later became the first teacher hired at Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg, eventually becoming the head of the school.
“The Brandes family has a long association with our university, and the Carson-Newman family is proud to claim them as our own," university President J. Randall O'Brien said on the school's website.
The school noted that Jeff Brandes has “earned a reputation for innovative approaches in education, job creation and transportation matters.”
Brandes pushed for years for statewide rules for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft and continues to call for laws that would open the roads to autonomous vehicles.
The lawmaker graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration from the Jefferson City, Tenn., school, which also produced Millard Caldwell, Florida's 29th governor,Â and University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes, who was Florida State University's interim president before the 2014 appointment of John Thrasher.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Uttered in Tallahassee this a.m. - `Unfortunately, the state of Florida has a history of a dysfunctional legislature, they take too long to address pressing issues.' " --- Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout (@fineout)