By Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A North Florida Senate district controlled by Democrats for decades is in the crosshairs of incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican who is pouring money into a contest that has surprisingly become one of the most contentious legislative races in the November elections.
Rep. Loranne Ausley, a scion of one of Tallahassee’s most prominent families, was elected to two stints in the state House before launching a bid in Senate District 3, an open seat currently held by term-limited Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.
Ausley long was considered a shoo-in to win the sprawling district, which includes the capital city and 11 largely rural counties, stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border. In addition to Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, those counties are Franklin, Gulf, Taylor, Wakulla, Calhoun, Gadsden, Jefferson, Liberty, Madison and Hamilton.
Democrats make up nearly 53 percent of the district’s roughly 338,000 registered voters, while Republicans comprise about 30 percent, according to a state Division of Elections report issued before the August primary elections.
But Simpson, who takes over as Senate president after the Nov. 3 election, is funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to back Republican candidate Marva Preston, a veteran law-enforcement officer and ordained minister who is Black. A native of Wakulla County, Preston spent nearly three decades working for the Miami Police Department before returning to her home turf in Crawfordville.
The Senate district has reliably supported Democratic presidential candidates in statewide races and was solidly behind former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in his losing re-election bid against Republican Rick Scott in 2018.
But Republicans are hoping to capture enough voters in outlying counties and Black voters in Leon County to expand the GOP’s 23-17 grip in the state Senate.
Simpson, a Trilby Republican, is in charge of raising money for GOP candidates in Senate races. The battle over the North Florida seat is one of four battleground Senate contests, including two districts where Democrats hope to chip away at Republicans’ control of the Senate.
In District 3, a Simpson-led political committee has underwritten a barrage of near-daily mailers attacking Ausley or promoting Preston and has saturated the airwaves with television ads doing the same. The onslaught of ads — and the money behind them — has stunned political insiders on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s a shockingly large amount of mail that they’re spending (on) in this race. And most of it’s to attack Loranne, most of it’s negative,” Scott Arcenaux, a Democratic consultant who’s working on Ausley’s campaign, told The News Service of Florida in a phone interview.
The negative ads are focused largely on the Florida Democratic Party’s receipt of at least $350,000 in federal funds meant to help small businesses recover during the coronavirus pandemic. After the state party’s acceptance of the money was revealed, Democrats said it was given in error and pledged to return the funds.
But Simpson’s team is using the party’s participation in the federal Paycheck Protection Program to blast Democratic candidates in the four competitive Senate districts, accusing them of potential fraud.
Ausley, a lawyer, acknowledged that the party took the money but said during a recent candidate forum that she and other Democrats “condemned it at the time.”
“Our campaigns did not receive any money, and this is another page from the Trump playbook of lies and distractions because they don’t want to talk about the issues,” she said.
The Republicans’ tactic of linking candidates in the battleground districts to the federal funds “is just false,” Arcenaux said.
“They’re doing it to distract from the fact that the candidates that they’re running in these races don’t connect with the districts that they’re running in and don’t connect to the voters that they’re trying to appeal to,” he said.
The messages targeting Ausley also use images from her first TV campaign ad, which features the 56-year-old triathlete running, cycling and swimming. Some critics blistered the video, saying it depicted an elitist who is out of touch with the plight of average Floridians struggling to make ends meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Ausley’s supporters point to her record in the Florida House to illustrate her commitment to public education, the environment and people with disabilities, such as her son, Will. Ausley served in the House from 2000 to 2008 and then came back to the chamber in 2016.
Many insiders initially believed Simpson was throwing money at the North Florida race to force Sen. Gary Farmer, who will take over as Senate minority leader after next month’s elections, to drain resources that could be steered to what were considered to be more competitive races in the Orlando area and South Florida.
But Preston has Simpson’s full-throated support.
Preston’s candidacy “defies the Tallahassee establishment’s conventional wisdom about who belongs in the Senate,” Simpson said in a text message.
“But outside of that bubble, hardworking people of North Florida are desperate for leaders willing to earn their vote, rather than just take it for granted,” he said.
Ausley’s backers, meanwhile, are linking Preston to Republican President Donald Trump, who was defeated by Hillary Clinton in the Democratic-leaning district four years ago.
“Tallahassee Republicans know Marva Preston can’t run on her commitment to ending a woman’s right to choose, stripping people with pre-existing conditions of their access to health care and opposition to common-sense gun safety reforms, so they’ve resorted to the same shameful tactics used by Donald Trump,” Anders Croy, spokesman for Senate Victory, the Democrats’ campaign arm, told the News Service.
I guarantee you that if the Ausley family did not own slaves, they would say so. Their silence speaks volumes. As a black man it was difficult for me to vote for Preston because of her support for Trump, a consummate racist. So I held my nose and voted for Ausley, not exactly a profile in courage.
I want my state senator to have some clout. Experience in the legislature as a Democrat means experience at accomplishing nothing. Electing Ms. Ausley means we give up our voice in the committee rooms and during Senate votes.
I want my state senator to have some meaningful experiences in life, not just being born into a rich family that sent her to private schools and a very expensive, exclusive college. Ausley is the epitome of white privilege. It almost seems like politics is her hobby, not her commitment.
I’m voting for Marva Preston because she has accomplished much with her life. She knows my concerns and she will have the voice and votes to get things done. Let Ms. Ausley go back to the Ladies Club and hold another raffle.
Loranne is a good person and a sensible politician. It is ridiculous that Simpson is spending that much money making the same unsubstantiated claims about multiple candidates; it’s lazy really. Marva Preston has no political experience and seems inept when questioned about the most basic of issues. I’m voting Ausley.
I agree that Loranne is a good person, but she never disavowed the corruption that was so blatant and affected the quality of life of the people in this region.
When you see a pilot about to fly drunk you say something… you don’t just stand there and do nothing.
Perhaps, a time out may encourage her to reflect on that.
NO ONE has ANY Political Experience UNTIL they get Elected. Loranne wasn’t experienced at first either. I’m voting for Marva because we need NEW thinkers.
Who has a plan? Ausley
Who has most experience with legislation? Ausley
Who has exhibited the most morality and integrity in this campaign? Ausley
An individual of her years with accumulated income, and who is a serious triathlete should be expected to have the best equipment that they can afford. Just saying.
In the South, some one’s last name is part of the introduction, as we relate to those we know. What happens after that is earned.
Ausley is ineffective, Preston is a pawn manufactured by a political machine. I voted Ausley since she would do less damage.
I hope you signed your ballot, otherwise, they will throw it out and it won’t count. If you want your vote to count you should vote in person, just saying…
So… ineffective beats possibility?
No very pragmatic of you, Rick
Marva Preston’s experience is a welcome attribute for a candidate in this election cycle.
The Democratic Party local corruption scandals… I never saw Loranne denounce it and stand up against it… only endorse it and promote it.
Thank you for your service Loranne, but I believe Marva Preston has an impressive resume and is more in touch with the needs of the people.
Marva Preston for State Senate!!
Her name is what helped her get elected so I think its fair to judge her by the actions of her father and his law firm. The Ausley law firm took over a million dollars in paycheck protection loans while poor and middle class people struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic. Their business was not impacted and they took money that should have gone to small businesses like restaurants that provided livelihoods for hard working people. The Ausley firm make hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees exploiting and attacking vulnerable children with disabilities while she promotes herself as a child and disability advocate. Dubey looks down his nose on those around him because he considers himself high class, yet she depends on the votes of common people he would never deign to speak to. Their senior partners have gone around making racially offensive comments in old Tallahassee social circles for years yet she depends on the black vote. She doesn’t work for the firm, so maybe that’s reflective of something good in her, but she can’t use the name for political purposes and disavow it when its inconvenient.
It would be inappropriate to draw any appearance parallel between Ms. Ausley and that Rumpelstiltskin character from one of the Shrek movies.
So I just dont want to hear about anyone doing that.
Ms. Preston is a pleasant in appearance candidate [not that that matters] and will be approximately 100% more effective in serving the real needs of our district.
Ms. Preston’s political party is the majority party in The Florida Senate and will be able to pass legislation that will make a world of difference to all of us.
Will you locals vote in the ineffective Democrat and get an ineffective wind mill fighter or vote in Ms. Preston who can provide a real voice and get us beneficial legislation for government workers raises and helpful legislation for all of us?
Then there is that annoying racial component are locals really gonna vote against the most qualified candidate who is also a Black Female?
And do we really know that the Ausley family who go back so many generations in this area were not slave owners?
Actually in Tallahassee there is an Ausley Road that connects with Bellvue Road which is named after the Bellvue Plantation once owned by Prince Murat back in the pre Civil War times.
To quote Voltaire “common sense is not so common” and nowhere is it more apparent if the voters of District 3 elect Lorrane Ausley.. She is an incredibly nice person but would be in no political position to speak to the needs of District 3. She will be on the back row of the senate chamber and will have no place at the table where decisions for Florida and District 3 are made. Common sense would dictate that voters of District 3, particularly voters of Leon County, would elect a person from the same party as the governor and the president of the senate and not a life long back row democrat who can make promises but will have no political power to deliver what was promised. Hopefully the voters of District 3 will prove Voltaire wrong.
“Tallahassee Republicans know Marva Preston can’t run on her commitment to ending a woman’s right to choose, stripping people with pre-existing conditions of their access to health care and opposition to common-sense gun safety reforms…”
From the very first time I had the honor of voting, and every time since… I’ve read and heard the same old tired rhetoric from these people. By the way, Andy… the State Legislature has no control over any of those issues… do some homework for God’s sake.
These Democrats are like a cheap bottle of Dollar Store shampoo… no matter how many time you rinse and repeat, it still cant get the job done.
“By the way, Andy… the State Legislature has no control over any of those issues… do some homework for God’s sake.”
Chapter 390 Florida Statutes – Termination of Pregnancies
Chapter 790 Florida Statutes – Weapons and Firearms
627.6045; 627.6046;and 627.6561; F.S. – Preexisting Conditions
Brill, perhaps you Andy can do your homework together. 🙂
Neither impacts the stated:
“ending a woman’s right to choose”… 390 does not apply
” stripping people with pre-existing conditions of their access to health care”… 627.6045; 627.6046;and 627.6561 do not apply
“common-sense gun safety reforms”… 790 does not apply, and “common-sense” is not a codified descriptive in either the State Constitution or the Constitution of the United states of America.
… try again, slick… 😉
Weak sauce Brill….not worth the effort to try and explain. Have fun!
… and thus, your concession. Thanks
For someone who has been in Politics as long as she has, she sure hasn’t done much of anything worth while so I am voting for Marva Preston. It’s time for new Blood.