In the hottest Broward election on the Aug. 23 ballot, a conservative group best known for opposing abortion rights lists Lauren Book as its “preferred” candidate in her contest with Barbara Sharief.
Book’s campaign does not see the rating as helpful.
The Book-Sharief race is one of many contests in which the conservative group Florida Family Action is making suggestions to voters in the heavily Democratic county. The county’s registered voters are 48% Democratic, 29% no party affiliation/independent, 21% Republican, and 2% minor party.
Another conservative organization, Moms for Liberty, along with the Broward Republican Party, is endorsing — or giving a seal of approval — to multiple other candidates on the August ballot.
The question is, does support from groups on the political right or the Republican Party help or hurt in Broward County, which is overwhelmingly Democratic?
Book’s spokeswoman rejected the “preferred status.”
“Lauren Book has been endorsed by Democrats across the state, by labor unions, and dozens of Democratic organizations. We were not previously aware of and did not seek the Florida Family Council’s recommendation,” spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren said Friday via text.
Florida Family Action is outspoken in its opposition to abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Book is on the opposite side of those issues, and has been endorsed by the Equality Florida LGBTQ organization and abortion rights groups Ruth’s List Florida and Planned Parenthood.
Book, currently a state senator, and Sharief, a former Broward County commissioner, are both Democrats competing on Aug. 23. The election in the southwest Broward 35th District is open to all voters, and the winner will win the Senate seat, because no Republican came forward to run.
In the Democratic primary in the 20th Congressional District, Florida Family Action listed state Rep. Anika Omphroy as “preferred.” Democrats in Tallahassee have viewed Omphroy warily, after she started building a record that included voting with Republicans on controversial measures, such as a 2020 bill to require parental consent for minors to have abortions.
She is competing for the nomination in the Broward-Palm Beach county district against U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness.
Joanne Goodwin, former president of the North Broward Democratic Club, used the endorsements Moms for Liberty made in Broward School Board races as litmus test of whom not to vote for, emailing the endorsements to her political friends, and posting them on Facebook.
“Voters beware,” Goodwin said, adding that she recommends voters “do their research, and not vote for these candidates.”
The Broward Republican Party endorsed three School Board and six judicial candidates. “I think it [the party endorsement] does help, especially in an August primary, because the turnout is historically around 25%,” said Richard DeNapoli, the elected state Republican committeeman for Broward and a former county party chairman.
“The further down on the ballot, the less awareness there is,” he said. “In nonpartisan races, I think it is very helpful.”
School Board and judicial races are officially nonpartisan, though activists from both parties have long been involved in the Broward contests. The Aug. 23 elections in those races are open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation.
In her email, accompanying a screenshot of Moms for Liberty recommended candidates, Goodwin wrote: “Moms for Liberty has county-specific chapters across the country that target local school board meetings, school board members, administrators, and teachers. The group advocates to strip districts of protective COVID-19 measures and modify classroom curriculum to exclude the teaching of ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) and sex education, all in the name of ‘parental rights.’”
In the screen shot, the group said: “Accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility, safety, student first, parental rights, teacher support, community involvement. These are characteristics of a successful school district, and what the current Broward county school board is sorely lacking. It is so important to vote for change in this upcoming election on August 23rd. We believe that these five candidates can bring the change that Broward County needs and deserves. As always, do your own research and due diligence, and get out and vote!”
School Board candidate Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, who is supported by Moms for Liberty and received a $250 campaign contribution from the organization, said Friday she wasn’t sure if the endorsement is helpful, given Broward’s political leanings.
“It may or may not be. I think for anyone else, it might be problematic. I am not going to be bullied,” she said.
“I think they [Moms for Liberty] were trying to show support and didn’t realize how closed-minded Broward County can be,” Lynch-Walsh said. “If I were a weaker person, I would be clamoring to have my name removed and returning my check.”
Lynch-Walsh strenuously objected to what she sees as the message from Goodwin that she is in sync with all of Moms for Liberty’s views, and said she is not a member.
“Where we find common ground is transparency, accountability, support for teachers, community involvement, parental rights. We don’t all agree about what that means,” Lynch-Walsh said.
A Moms for Liberty representative couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on Friday.
In April, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure imposing restrictions on the way race-related issues are taught in public schools and in private workplaces in Florida — banning lessons that might make some people uncomfortable — he had the chairwoman of the Broward chapter of Moms for Liberty as a speaker. Last month, the statewide Moms for Liberty endorsed DeSantis’ re-election.
The governor has endorsed candidates in school board contests around the state, but not in Broward.
Florida Family Action puts candidates in three categories: “endorsement,” which means “vetted and recommended,” based on factors including a conservative record and research, and “indicates a very high likelihood of confidence that this candidate will govern and vote as a conservative.”
An “ally” rating indicates two or more candidates meet all or most of the criteria for an endorsement.
And a “preferred” rating goes to those seen as “more conservative or more competent than the other candidates running…. May have mixed voting record,” but who is “still a better option than other candidates.”
Congress — Florida Family Action: Republicans Joe Budd, District 23; Lavern Spicer, District 24; and Carla Spalding, District 23 are “preferred.”
State House — Florida Family action: Incumbent Democrats Patricia Hawkins-Williams, District 98; Daryl Campbell, District 99; and Marie Woodson, District 105 are “preferred.”
School Board — Broward Republican Party: Brenda Fam, District 6; Merceydes Lydia Morassi, District 7; Mourice Hirra Hylton, District 8.
School Board — Moms for Liberty: Nathalie Ingrid Lynch-Walsh, District 5; John Christopher Carter and Brenda Fam, District 6; Merceydes Lydia Morassi, District 7; and Mourice Hirra Hylton, District 8.
Circuit court judge — Broward Republican Party: Lauren Melissa Alperstein, Group 9; William W. “Bill” Haury Jr, Group 14; Rhoda Sokoloff, Group 23; Lorena Mastrarrigo, Group 51.
County Court judge — Broward Republican Party: Chris M. Brown, Group 15; Mardi Anne Levey Cohen, Group 26.
County Court judge — Florida Family Action: Chris M. Brown, Group 15. Florida Family Action listed several other judicial candidates in Broward as “acceptable.”