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2022 Midterm Election

Florida’s Top Puerto Rican Lawmakers Face Re-Election Challengers

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Congressman Darren Soto's photo: U.S. House of Representatives, State Senator Victor Torres photo: Florida Senate, State Representative Daisy Morales photo: Florida House; collage by Florida National News.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Florida’s Top Puerto Rican elected officials–US Congressman Darren Soto, State Senator Victor Torres, and State Representative Daisy Morales, all elected Democrats–have all qualified to have their names placed on the ballot for the 2022 August primary election and/or the November general election.

Congressman Soto is running for re-election in the newly redrawn Congressional District 9, Sen. Torres is running for re-election in the newly redrawn Senate District 25 and Rep. Daisy Morales is running for re-election in the newly redrawn House District 44.

 

Safe Democratic Puerto Rican Seats (Congressional District 9, Senate District 25, House District 44)

Central Florida districts oversee one of the largest and fastest growing Puerto Rican communities in the U.S. Soto, Torres, and Morales are all of Puerto Rican descent, and these longtime elected officials have campaigned with Puerto Rico as a big part of their platform, winning their Democratic-leaning seats by landslides. The three elected leaders can have an impact on every local, statewide and federal election as well as elections in Puerto Rico due to their representation of this massive Puerto Rican community.

They will face one or more opponents looking to end their winning streak in Orange and Osceola county districts dominated by a large Puerto Rican population, dubbing theirs as “Puerto Rican seats.” According to NBC News, Puerto Ricans, the fastest growing Latino group in the state with 1.2 million people, command one-third of the Florida vote, about the same as Cuban-American voters.

If Rep. Morales ends up losing her seat, that’s one less Puerto Rican voice to represent that population in the Florida House, given that her opponent is Caucasian. Should Soto lose, there’s the possibility that Florida may elect a Republican Puerto Rican for his seat (Sergio Ortiz). Sen. Torres’s seat would remain Puerto Rican, since his opponent, Peter Vivaldi, is also Puerto Rican.

 

The Puerto Rican Vote is (Still) Key

The sharp spike in Central Florida’s Puerto Rican population has also transformed Florida’s politics. According to NBC News in 2020, one of the concerns among organizers and Democratic activists is “what they say is a lack of attention to the growing number of Puerto Ricans in the state.”

The NBC News story, which was reporting on the presidential election at the time, went on to report that Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly against Donald Trump in 2016, “but in the 2018 midterm election their turnout was soft, which worried Democrats.”

Trump won Florida in the 2016 presidential election by just 1 percent, and Biden was leading in the state by 5 points in 2020.

NBC News spoke with Natascha Otero-Santiago, a board member of the National Puerto Rican Agenda, who is involved with numerous Puerto Rican organizations in Florida. She observed that organizers believed the Biden campaign at that time was “not taking the right steps and using 100 percent of their knowledge and experience with the Puerto Rican community.” She also noted that she had been “advising Democrats in Florida and nationally for months that more needs to be done to court Puerto Rican voters.”

The Central Florida Puerto Rican microcosm faces a similar dilemma. The Orlando Sentinel reports that, according to 2018 Census Bureau statistics after the large Puerto Rican migration to Florida after Hurricane Maria, Orange County has 209,151 Puerto Rican residents, and Osceola County boasts 123,897 Puerto Rican residents. Despite that, there still appears to be a need to more adequately reach the Puerto Rican population.

 

Underestimating the Latino Vote

The three incumbents share an advantage of being bilingual, which is a high priority among Puerto Ricans. Their opponents are at an immediate disadvantage there in terms of representation. Congresswoman Val Demings, who is currently running for Senator Marco Rubio’s seat, is seeing this firsthand. While she launched her “Todos con Demings” Spanish-speaking community campaign immediately following the Florida Puerto Rican Parade in downtown Orlando in April, the kickoff saw the absence of two of the three Puerto Rican leaders: Congressman Soto and Rep. Morales, who represent the largest bloc of Puerto Rican voters compared to Torres, weren’t in attendance. That speaks volumes.

 

Val Demings, Democratic Senate candidate in Florida, launches "Todos con Demings," its Hispanic press engagement campaign to highlight its message to Latino communities across the state. Photo: Adrian Carrasquillo, Newsweek

Val Demings, Democratic Senate candidate in Florida, launches “Todos con Demings,” its Hispanic press engagement campaign to highlight its message to Latino communities across the state. Photo: Adrian Carrasquillo, Newsweek

 

Sen. Rubio, though Cuban and not Puerto Rican, still has the advantage in the Hispanic community compared to Congresswoman Demings, despite her many attacks against him. Senator Rubio pointed out in Newsweek that she didn’t care about issues impacting the Hispanic community prior to joining the race. “She’s been in Congress for over six years and never cared about any of these issues,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe she would be a champion on these issues.”

Congressman Darren Soto’s Race

Photo via Congressman Darren Soto's (center, at podium) website.

Photo via Congressman Darren Soto’s (center, at podium) website.

Congressman Soto is the Democratic incumbent with no primary challenger for Congressional District 9 and is currently facing three Republican opponents: Jose Castillo, Adianis Morales and Sergio E. Ortiz, a fellow Puerto Rican. His race will come down to whichever Republican candidate wins the August 23rd primary election.

There was, in fact, an additional candidate, Republican Scotty Moore, who ended up having to drop out of the race for disqualification due to wrongly completed paperwork, according to Florida Politics. He filled out a state/local party oath form instead of a federal form, a big mistake for a Congressional run, despite having filed early. Florida Politics also reports that he was first listed as qualified on the Florida Division of Elections website on June 17. However, the Florida Division of Elections eventually revised that listing to “Did Not Qualify” late last Friday.

As of March 2022, Congressman Soto has raised over $700,000. Castillo has raised over $71,000, Ortiz has raised over $8,000 and Adianis Morales has raised $950.

Soto, the only Puerto Rican member of Congress currently representing Central Florida, represents a high Puerto Rican population in his district.

State Senator Torres’s Race

Photo: State Senator Victor Torres (at podium) (Twitter).

Photo: State Senator Victor Torres (at podium) (Twitter).

 

Sen. Torres got a last minute general election opponent in Republican and syndicated conservative radio talk show host Peter Vivaldi, who jumped in the race just in time to meet the qualifying deadline. Vivaldi and Torres faced off in 2016, and Torres won with 51 percent of the vote to Vivaldi’s 49 percent.

In June, Vivaldi raised $1,400 and loaned himself $400, then paid the $1,781.82 qualifying fee. Sen. Torres has over $66,000 in his campaign coffers.


State Representative Daisy Morales’s Race

Photo: State Representative Daisy Morales (Facebook).

Photo: State Representative Daisy Morales (Facebook).

 

Rep. Morales has the opposite circumstance: She has no general election challenger in November, but faces Democratic opponent Jennifer “Rita” Harris in the August 23rd primary. Harris, who is white, has raised over $26,000 as of June while Rep. Morales has raised over $12,000.

District 44, which is one part of Morales’s current District 48, still has a high Puerto Rican population, despite the addition of the International Drive and tourism corridor as well as Dr. Phillips, Williamsburg, and Lake Nona. Congressman Soto has endorsed Rep. Morales for her 2022 re-election bid for the Florida House, a repeat endorsement–he also endorsed her first campaign for State Representative in 2020.

Sen. Torres has endorsed Rep. Morales’s opponent in the race, Harris, outraging some Puerto Rican leaders who see it as Torres abandoning the Puerto Rican political voice in the Florida House.

 

Democrats Need All Hands on Deck…if They Want to Win

Newsweek reports that Latinos, who are now 26% of the Florida population and were a record 17% of registered voters in 2020, will be the center of attention again in November in a state that is becoming tougher terrain for Democrats. Former Florida Democratic Party finance director Devon Murphy-Anderson told Newsweek that more than 87,000 Democrats have left the Democratic party to become NPA–a majority 55% voters of color among Democrats are leaving the party.

Democrats will need all hands–all communities–on deck if they want to be successful in the upcoming elections.

The Florida primary takes place August 23, 2022. The general election happens November 8, 2022.

________________________________________

Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | mellissa.thomas@floridanationalnews.com

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2022 Midterm Election

Voters Question Unemployed Rita Harris’s $10,000 Campaign Loan

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Jennifer Rita Harris speaks during the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida's candidate forum. Image: WESH 2 News (screen capture).

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Jennifer “Rita” Harris nabbed the victory in Tuesday’s primary, defeating incumbent State Rep. Daisy Morales by eight percentage points (just over 1,000 votes).

Despite that, heated conversations have continued on social media even in the aftermath of the election, and some concerned voters pointed out Rita Harris’s $10,000 campaign loan in the final two weeks of the election. According to Harris’s campaign financial reports with the Florida Division of Elections, she (under the misspelled Jennifer Harris with the typo “Jennider”) loaned her campaign $10,000 on August 12, 2022, despite having what the Orlando Sentinel reported as a $78,000 IRS tax debt.

Some comments also rehashed the contribution by Harris’s adult daughter, who is listed as unemployed on the report and as a dependent in Harris’s tax forms (included in Harris’s financial disclosure), but donated $1,000 to Harris’s campaign.

As an aside, other campaign donations include her husband’s $1,000 donation as well as $1,000 from Valeo Cloud Consulting, a company for which her husband is a partner.

Jennifer Rita Harris (right), her husband John and daughter Anissa. Photo: Facebook (Jennifer "Rita" Harris for FL HD 44).

Jennifer Rita Harris (right), her husband John and daughter Anissa. Photo: Facebook (Jennifer “Rita” Harris for FL HD 44).

More concerningly, Harris has loaned her campaign money several times, but for whatever reason alternated between listing herself as Rita Harris and Jennifer Harris and bounced between using her campaign PO Box and her personal address for each. She didn’t assign the PO Box address for one name and the home for the other, she mixed the addresses between both names. Additionally, while most of the donations have her listed as “Not Employed” or “Candidate,” there’s one $50 loan on April 5, 2022, in she’s described as “Writer.” This is a contrast to her touting herself as a housewife and, as she explained to the Orlando Sentinel in a recent article, doesn’t receive a paycheck from her husband’s company, Harris Cloud Consulting, for which she named herself as CEO on her LinkedIn profile.

Source: Florida Division of Elections.

Source: Florida Division of Elections.

Source: Florida Division of Elections.

Source: Florida Division of Elections.

 

Campaign’s Quiet Corrections

Florida National News reached out to the Rita Harris campaign via email at 4:04pm Thursday for clarification, but received no response. (The screenshot above were taken earlier in the day.) Interestingly enough, after revisiting the Florida Division of Elections site to review Harris’s reports again at 6:30pm, Florida National News discovered that the names were corrected to Jennifer Rita Harris (except the June 15, 2022 donation for $275 which is listed as Jennifer Harris), the occupation for all five donations are now listed as “Candidate” and all of the donations have been corrected to reflect that they’re loans instead of just checks.

This still begs the question: Where did Harris get the $10,000 from? All eyes and negative comments flew at State Rep. Morales after she announced her $50,000 campaign loan. Scrutiny is no respecter of persons–at least it shouldn’t be, and has been over the course of the HD 44 race.

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2022 Midterm Election

Orlando Sentinel Endorses Angel Perry for Florida House District 36

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Florida House District 36 candidate Angel Perry. Photo: Angel Perry campaign.

SANFORD, Fla. – The Angel Perry campaign announced today that the Orlando Sentinel has endorsed the Republican candidate in her bid for Florida House District 36.

Perry’s campaign priorities include following and protecting the Constitution, including keeping the Second Amendment intact; protecting and paying our first responders well, creating more programs for our veterans so that they can live out their days in success and prosperity, creating more opportunities for small businesses to thrive, and transparency and accountability for all elected officials.

Perry has a chance to make history with a November win–it would make her the first African American Republican woman from Central Florida to be elected to the Florida House. She has two Republican opponents in the August 23rd Republican primary for House District 36: Richard Santos and Rachel Plakon.

The Orlando Sentinel lavished cautious praise in their endorsement of Perry.

“Angelique “Angel” Perry has her eyes on the prize. Her positions are every bit as conservatively dogmatic as Plakon and Santos. And her calm demeanor and focus could make her a formidable presence in Tallahassee, where she’d bring a welcome fresh perspective on the challenges facing Florida in the coming two years. That’s not to say we agree with her, because there are few areas where we do… If voters want solid Republican ideology, free of baggage and uncertainty, she’s the best choice.”

 

“For too long the government has done nothing but in-fighting while the work of the people is not getting done,” Angel Perry said in her press statement. “I don’t have to reach across the aisle–my record shows I can work with all viewpoints without compromising my beliefs.

“We the people mean everyone together. There is no way forward without that. A left-leaning newspaper’s endorsement of a right wing conservative is proof in the pudding and I am very grateful for the Orlando Sentinel’s endorsement.”

For more information, visit angel4florida.com.

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2022 Midterm Election

State Representative Daisy Morales Pumps $50K into HD 44 Campaign

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Photos courtesy of the Daisy Morales and Rita Harris campaigns.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – State Representative Daisy Morales’s re-election campaign announced today she has added $50,000 to her campaign coffers in addition to incoming donations.

The campaign plans to make media ad buys over its final few weeks leading up to the August 23rd primary.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports on the Florida Division of Elections website, Rep. Morales’s campaign now sits at approximately $62,000 cash on hand after expenses while her primary opponent Jennifer “Rita” Harris has approximately $11,800 in campaign funding after expenses.

I wanted to have a war chest available to me,” Rep. Morales said in the campaign press release. “I have an eight-year track record of winning elections in Orange County, having won four of them and defeating nine opponents who had more endorsements and greater funding than I did. I have name recognition countywide thanks to the strong relationships I’ve built in the community, and a track record of working across the aisle in Tallahassee to get key legislation signed into law.”

Rep. Morales touched on some of her campaign priorities in the press release, and continued to beat the drum about her track record.

Inflation, our current affordable housing crisis, healthcare and public safety are still the most pressing issues on voters’ minds. I’ve already sponsored and co-sponsored dozens of key bills addressing these challenges that will benefit Floridians and have been signed into law by the governor.”

One such legislation is House Bill 13, the taxation bill Rep. Morales sponsored with Rep. Mike Gottlieb, which was moved into the bigger Taxation Bill, CS/HB 1707, which she co-sponsored. This taxation bill provides the largest tax cut in Florida’s history. It increases the property tax exemption for residents who are widows, widowers, blind persons, or disabled persons from $500 to $5,000, reduces sales taxes and expands several tax holidays. The governor signed the bill into law in May.

In a recent interview with FNN News, Rep. Morales expressed another major reason for the extra campaign funding boost. She wants to continue her work in Tallahassee in order to draft her Active Shooter Alert bill again, especially after another deadly shooting–this one taking place in downtown Orlando Sunday, injuring seven people.

The Active Shooter Alert would function similar to the Amber, Silver and Purple alerts that come through on cell phones, alerting Florida residents of an active shooter that is on the move, which would allow for people to find safety before the shooter can cross state lines into Florida or get close enough in a city or township to cause massive damage. Gun violence is a huge problem, and the Active Shooter Alert is at least one solution that can save lives.

Morales highlighted the urgent importance of the Active Shooter Alert shortly after the mass shooting in Atlanta, killing Asian massage parlor employees. The shooter, who is in custody, had originally planned to travel to Florida after his carnage in Atlanta had he not been apprehended. She sounded off on it again after the disgruntled shooter in New York City was apprehended.

Morales’s list of campaign priorities is long, but she said she’s ready to take them on.

“Real change takes time,” she said, “And I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Tallahassee to make even more tangible improvements to Floridians’ quality of life.”

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