Whoever said midterm elections lack enthusiasm hasn't been following the progress of the Florida Sunshine Summit. The Summit is the election season's main event -- its heart and soul, the excitement generator for Republican leadership across the state clear up until Aug. 28. And it all happens Thursday and Friday.
"It's been high-energy around here for weeks as we get ready for this," said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who scored a big success with his first Sunshine Summit in 2015.
Now it's down to tweaking the details. The Summit, happening June 28 and 29 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee is a sell-out on Thursday, debate day.
All 900 tickets to the 6:30 p.m. GOP gubernatorial primary debate between Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam and nationally televised by FOX News, are gone. So are tickets to the statewide candidate receptions afterward, and the Chairman's Sponsors' Reception, from 10 p.m. 'til midnight.
Though 1,500 tickets have been sold for Friday's events, the day is not yet sold out. What Day 2 includes is a stunning array of renown conservative speakers -- all of them national figures -- followed by "Puerto Rico Rising" -- a panel discussion on the island's recovery from Hurricane Maria and its plans for fiscal responsibility and integrity.
The panel will include Jose Fuentes, former attorney general of Puerto Rico; Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón; Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Florida state Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs. The island's rebuilding effort has touched the lives of millions.
Probably Dinesh D’Souza, whose latest documentary "Living the American Dream" is due out in theaters Aug. 3, has produced the most buzz -- good and bad -- since his appearance at the Summit was announced.
"I think Dinesh is worth the price of admission all by himself," Orlando Republican Marjorie Joyner told Sunshine State News on Friday. "He's daring, smart, inspirational and, boy, does he love this country."
Bombay-born Dinesh D'Souza, is a political commentator, author and filmmaker widely characterized as a provocateur.
In 2014, he pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions, although he claimed he had been targeted for political reasons.
D'Souza's films and commentary, particularly about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have been the subject of considerable controversy for a long time. But some say he crossed the line with a tweet that mocked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors.
“Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs,” D’Souza tweeted Feb. 20, in response to an Associated Press photo of students booing in the Florida House gallery as lawmakers rejected an attempt to ban assault-style weapons.
D’Souza later apologized, though he said his tweet was aimed at “media manipulation.” Nevertheless, the criticism of his comment has lingered -- as has a fascination with his charisma and celebrity. See a video clip of him speaking at another event here.
But all of the Sunshine Summit's inspirational speakers know how to turn conservatives on and likely will aim straight for the hearts and minds of Summit goers. Besides D'Souza, here are the others:
-- Candace Owens, American conservative commentator, and activist. She is known for her pro-Trump commentary, and criticism of Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Party. She is the Director of Urban Engagement at Turning Point USA.
-- David Webb, one of the country’s most prominent African-American conservative media pundits. Regular FOX News contributor and radio talk-show host of a call-in show with breaking news, analysis and commentary on SiriusXM Patriot 125, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. EST.
-- Rand Paul, junior U.S. senator from Kentucky since 2011, son of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and for a period 2016 Republican candidate for president. Rand Paul describes himself as a constitutional conservative and a supporter of the tea party movement.
-- Dick Morris, political author and commentator who previously worked as a pollster, political campaign consultant, and general political consultant. He now writes a weekly column for the New York Post which is carried nationwide, contributes columns and blogs to both the print and online versions of The Hill. Morris has emerged as a harsh critic of the Clintons and has written several books that criticize them.
-- Deneen Borelli, conservative author, columnist, and television personality. She is best known for writing Blacklash: How Obama and the Left are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation, a political critique of what she describes as progressivism, crony capitalism, and elitism under the Obama administration.
-- Tom Borelli, contributor to Conservative Review, a TV and radio commentator who addresses political issues from a conservative grassroots perspective. He has also written for The Washington Times and Newsmax Magazine. He is a regular political panelist on i24 News, NewsmaxTV and co-hosts radio programs on SiriusXM Patriot with his wife Deneen Borelli.
-- Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a Fox News political contributor. He previously was vice president of federal affairs at Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. and served as George W. Bush’s deputy assistant and political director.
-- Grover Norquist, political advocate, author, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform. He is the primary promoter of the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," a pledge signed by lawmakers who agree to oppose increases in marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses.
-- Kayleigh McEnany, political commentator and writer. In 2017, she was appointed national spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. She is a former CNN contributor, and once interned for Floridians Tom Gallagher and Adam Putnam.
-- Stephen Moore, writer and economic policy analyst. He founded and served as president of the Club for Growth; former member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board; former Heritage Foundation chief economist, now distinguished visiting fellow. He is known for advocating free-market policies and supply-side economics.In 2017, he left Fox News Channel to join CNN as an economics analyst.
-- Jason Chaffetz, commentator and congressman from Utah from 2009 until 2017. He most recently was chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from 2015 until 2017. During his tenure, his political positions included opposition to the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, and the scientific consensus on climate change.
Meanwhile, Chairman Ingoglia, who calls the event "a labor of love," took a moment for reflection Friday.
Asked what the Florida GOP Sunshine Summit means to him personally, Ingoglia cited two accomplishments. "Sure, they're big to me," he admitted, "but I think they're big for Florida and the Republican Party, too.
"This Sunshine Summit is the first time in the history of Florida politics a (party) chairman has been able to get a gubernatorial primary debate televised nationally. I admit, I'm proud of that. The anticipation of a FOX News debate excites the voters in our state and elevates Florida on the political stage nationally. We have a great team and I am proud of this accomplishment."
The second accomplishment Ingoglia mentioned is the Sunshine Summit itself. From the beginning, it was his baby. "This is a legacy item for me," he said. "My vision was something big and important and exciting, and that's what the Sunshine Summit has become. It isn't even a presidential year, yet this Summit is bigger than the last one. This time we didn't have to lure speakers, they wanted to be here. Hopefully, one day the Sunshine Summit will be a staple to Florida politics, as CPAC is to national politics.
"I admit, I'm pretty proud of all of it," the chairman said.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith