Two separate developments late Wednesday underscore the rising intensity in the battle for control of the Republican Party of Florida.
Around 7:30pm, a stinging email sent by Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia trumpeted a message from State Representative Joe Gruters, who is quoted saying he is “disheartened at the negative campaigning that has been interjected into the [Republican Party of Florida’s] Chairman’s race.” Gruters then levels the finger of blame at the campaign of Ingoglia’s challenger, Christian Ziegler.
Less than three hours later, Breitbart News published a scathing story detailing “controversial reimbursements” by the RPOF – as recently as the 3rd quarter of 2016 – that uncover lavish charge card spending by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The story compares current expenditures, including a nearly $5,000 trip to a Capital Grille steakhouse, with the credit card spending of disgraced chairman and convicted felon Jim Greer.
Breitbart says the reimbursement list was obtained from an RPOF operative and is being circulated among RPOF executive committee members before Saturday’s vote. The timing of the story couldn’t be better for Ziegler, especially after Ingoglia’s email went out containing the rebuke from Gruters.
It is well known in Republican circles that Ziegler and Gruters were long time friends, which makes the email all the more potent coming from Ingoglia’s campaign. The seven-paragraph missive, written by Gruters, admonishes “the people supporting Ziegler’s campaign” for pushing a false narrative about Ingoglia’s 2016 election efforts.
But Ziegler dismissed Gruter’s allegation that his campaign engaged in negative campaigning against Ingoglia. In a statement sent to The Capitolist, Ziegler made it clear that any anti-Ingoglia narrative isn’t coming from him, and that the letter from Gruters is really a testament to the real battle that is going on for control over the party.
“I’m not shocked,” said Ziegler. “Joe is a State Representative now and my understanding is that there was a lot of pressure put on him to add his name to that email. I will say though, that having one of my best friends and the Godfather of my first child send out emails to provide cover for my opponent, from attacks launched by third party groups, is the clearest indicator to date of the enormous effort being exerted by certain Tallahassee power brokers to maintain control of our party for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of our grassroots leaders.”
Ziegler says that any negativity coming out of the RPOF chairman’s race is a byproduct of having a party chairman whose loyalties are divided between Florida state house leadership and grassroots Republicans around the state.
“I think we’ll all agree that it’ll be nice to get Saturday’s vote behind us so we can focus on strengthening the Republican Party of Florida and getting ready for the 2018 cycle when we’ll have five statewide races on the ballot,” Ziegler said.
Over the last two weeks, the race has intensified, with Ingoglia continuing to pound Ziegler with a series of high-profile endorsements, while Ziegler contends those endorsements aren’t going to matter when the voting will be done in secret. He has previously alleged that many of the names on Ingoglia’s endorsement list have privately expressed support for his campaign, and only endorsed Ingoglia because of pressure to support the incumbent.
But by even the most conservative estimates, Ingoglia still appears to have the upper hand, if the publicly announced support holds through the first vote on Saturday morning. Ingoglia is counting on a number of votes from members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, but several observers have remarked that they don’t expect many of them to show up. Even without those votes, Ingoglia could still post an impressive showing based on his endorsement lists.
The RPOF vote will be held Saturday morning, January 14th. There are 256 possible voting members, although not all are expected to show up and cast a vote. The winner must receive 50 percent plus one of all votes cast. If all 256 voting members show up, the number to win the chairman’s post is just 129 votes.
Here’s the full email release from Ingoglia:
FULL EMAIL WITH STATEMENT FROM REP. GRUTERS: