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Former Sen. Mel Martinez endorses Mitt Romney

Monday, October 10th, 2011 by George Bennett


Former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez is endorsing Mitt Romney in the crowded GOP presidential race.

As a sitting U.S. Senator four years ago, Martinez’ endorsement of John McCain a few days before the 2008 Florida primary helped McCain edge Romney and effectively clinch the Republican nomination. Martinez and McCain were cosponsors of immigration reform legislation that many in the GOP criticized as “amnesty.” Romney has emphasized a tough-on-illegals immigration stance in his 2012 campaign and blasted rival Rick Perry for supporting in-state tuition benefits in Texas for the children of illegal immigrants.

Says Martinez in a statement released by the Romney campaign this morning: “I have great confidence that Mitt Romney is the candidate to get our country back on track. Unemployment remains a pressing issue both in Florida and across the nation. Now more than ever, we need a leader who will get our country’s fiscal house in order. From his experience in the private sector, Mitt Romney understands how the real economy works and how jobs are created. As Governor of Massachusetts, he balanced the budget without raising taxes. I am proud to support him.”

Rubio: ‘We have won the battle of the ideas’ — now get out the vote

Saturday, October 30th, 2010 by George Bennett

LAKELAND — Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio began the final Saturday of the campaign urging about 150 supporters who packed into a GOP call center here to ignore polls forecasting big Republican gains and work hard through election day.

“We’ve won the battle of the ideas. We’ve won the battle of public policy. We won that weeks ago,” Rubio said. “You know how you know we won it? Because our opponents stopped talking about those things. They’re not bragging about Obamacare anymore. They’re not campaigning on how well they think the stimulus worked.”

He added: “We have won the battle of the ideas. Now we have to win the battle of the vote, which means turnout. That’s what this is about at this point. I don’t care how far up we are in the polls…People have made up their minds. The only difference between the winners and losers now is who can get their people to vote.”

Rubio has stops in Tampa, Pinellas Park and Pasco County on his schedule today.

Ex-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez joins Progress Energy board of directors

Thursday, March 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who left office last year before finishing out his first term, has joined the board of directors of the state’s second largest utility.

Martinez, 63, was elected to Raleigh, N.C.-based Progress Energy’s board earlier this month.

Progress Energy operates Progress Energy Florida, which provides power to nearly 2 million customers in the Tampa Bay area. State utility regulators recently turned down the utility’s $500 million rate hike request.

Not a bad part-time gig for Martinez. The annual pay for outside directors like him is $80,000 including $30,000 towards a deferred compensation plan, according to the company’s federal SEC filings.

Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 2005, Martinez was the mayor of Orange County and was on the Orlando Utilities Commission. He’s been lobbying as a partner with the law firm DLA Piper since leaving office last year.

Martinez’s early retirement set off a political cascade in Florida and paved the way for Gov. Charlie Crist to take his place.

Crist appointed his own former chief of staff George LeMieux as a place-holder to fill in for Martinez until the November election. Crist is running in a GOP primary for the seat against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

New Sen. LeMieux sworn in, pledges to work hard in short time

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by George Bennett

Sen. LeMieux

Sen. LeMieux

George LeMieux was sworn in as a U.S. Senator this afternoon by Vice President Joe Biden in the U.S. Capitol. LeMieux, an attorney was was a Broward County GOP chairman and right-hand man to Gov. Charlie Crist, was appointed by Crist last month to replace Sen. Mel Martinez, whose resignation took effect Wednesday.

LeMieux, who’ll serve the final months of Martinez’ term, has said he won’t seek election to the seat in 2010 when Crist runs for it.

“There are tremendous issues facing this nation, and although my time in Washington will be brief, I intend to work hard every day to address these critical challenges and serve the people of this unique, diverse and wonderful state,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Read LeMieux’s entire statement after the jump……


C-Span 2 alert: LeMieux Senate swearing-in at 2:45 p.m.

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by George Bennett

Senator-designate George LeMieux

Senator-designate George LeMieux

George LeMieux, the attorney and former top aide to Gov. Charlie Crist who was tapped by Crist to serve the last 16 months of Mel Martinez’ Senate term, will be sworn in this afternoon on the Senate floor at 2:45 p.m.

Martinez officially retired Wednesday.

Vice President Joe Biden, in his constitutional role as president of the Senate, will administer the oath to LeMieux.

C-Span 2 will carry it live.

Crist tells CNBC Florida population decline “not that big a deal”

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist performed as the Sunshine State’s chief pitch-man, blowing off Florida’s historic population loss and touting the fine weather in a CNBC interview this morning.

Florida saw a drop of 58,000 residents last year, the first population decrease since military residents left the state after World War II.

“It’s not that big a deal, to be honest with you,” Crist shrugged off the decline on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” show today.

The governor then launched into a Sunshine State sales pitch, touting declines in property taxes and property insurance rates and the weather.

“And it’s Florida. It’s a beautiful place. It’s a gorgeous day today down here in South Florida. You just can’t beat the Sunshine State,” said Crist, who is in Miami. Florida I really think is on the rise and it’s a great deal for an awful lot of people, too.”

Although Florida’s unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent, Crist was upbeat about the job market and pointed to Palm Beach County as a shining example.

Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate was 11.7 percent in July, one percentage point above the state average.

“Even in the Palm Beach County area where Scripps and Torrey Pines and some of these other scientific institutes have located, Max Planck…it’s been great for that area of the state,” Crist said. “We’re very pleased with the direction things are going. We wish they were better, don’t misunderstand me. But we’re not sitting still. We’re on the move. And I continue to be optimistic and encouraged about where we’re going.”

Crist, who drew the wrath of fellow Republicans by urging Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, reversed that position on the health care reforms now being considered in Washington.


What they’re saying about LeMieux and Crist

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam



U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez:“I congratulate George LeMieux for being appointed by the governor to fill the remainder of my term. George is bright, capable, and an accomplished
administrator. My staff and I stand ready to ensure a smooth transition.”



Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running against Crist in the GOP primary to replace Martinez: “This is a disappointing pick for Florida. George LeMieux is a talented political operative and the governor’s best friend, but that doesn’t make him the right choice to represent Florida in the Senate. Governor Crist had a wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates to choose from, all of whom would have been a reliable check and balance on the excesses of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda.”

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate: “Governor Crist was afforded a high responsibility with this appointment. Instead, he treated this process like a mockery, politicizing his selection by flying around the state at taxpayers’ expense, touring major media markets and drawing this selection out. Well respected Floridians with a wealth of elected service experience from Congressman Clay Shaw to Mayor John Delaney to various Hispanic leaders were in a position to hit the ground running if appointed, but that possibility is now nonexistent.”

jimgreerRepublican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer: “Once again, Charlie Crist has demonstrated his commitment to serving Floridians, by appointing George LeMieux who is well qualified, a dedicated public servant, conservative Republican and an excellent choice!”

Progress Florida executive director Mark Ferrulo: “It’s shocking. We wonder why Gov. Crist didn’t just appoint himself if he was going to pick his former chief of staff and campaign ‘maestro’. “The so-called ‘People’s Governor’ has made clear through this appointment that he places personal loyalty and his own political benefit above the interests of Floridians.”



Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running to replace Crist as governor: “I congratulate George LeMieux on his appointment as Florida’s U.S. Senator. I have known George for a long time, both as a friend and as a former Deputy Attorney General, a capacity in which he served this office
well. I wish him the best in serving the people of Florida in the U.S. Senate.”

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Hari Sevugan: “With Florida’s economy in shambles, Charlie Crist could have selected a Senator who would be able to hit the ground running in Washington to tackle the problems that face Floridians. In appointing a political crony as a placeholder until he can run for Senate himself, Charlie Crist is using the Governorship to advance his own political ambitions rather than advancing the lives of the Floridians he was elected to serve.”



U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Boca Raton: “In short, George LeMieux will make an excellent Senator. I wish him great success and look forward to working with him in any way I can.”

Republican operative and political consultant Mac Stipanovich: “He was not the obvious choice.”



Marion Hammer, former NRA president who now lobbies for the same organization and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida: “The NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida are very pleased with Governor Crist’s appointment of George LeMieux as Florida’s new junior U.S. Senator. George is rated ‘A’ by the NRA and will be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment in the U.S. Senate. Gun owners can count on George LeMieux to fight to protect freedom and the Second Amendment.”

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff: “This is just one more example of the Republican leadership in Tallahassee putting cronyism and corruption above the people of our state. From Ray Sansom, to former lobbyist Bill McCollum, to George LeMieux, it is clear that we must stand together and pledge to end the Republican culture of cronyism and corruption in Tallahassee.”



Former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, who was a finalist on Crist’s list of possible Martinez replacements and for whom LeMieux once worked as an intern: “George is a very, very capable guy and I’m sure he’ll do a good job. He’s a quick study, he’s articulate, he’s very close to the governor. I think it’s a good choice.”



State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, active with LeMieux in Broward County GOP politics since the mid-1990s: “He’s a smart guy, politically savvy, a hard worker. There’s nothing negative to say about George….He’s certainly smart enough to wade through the issues.”



Kirk Fordham, head of the Everglades Foundation: “George LeMieux is the right pick for Florida. He has a deep understanding of a wide range of regional issues that are unique to Florida. When it comes to protecting the people’s water supply and restoring the Everglades, we couldn’t ask for a better ally than we’ll have in Senator George LeMieux.”

Rubio rips Crist’s appointment of LeMieux

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by George Bennett

Gov. Charlie Crist’s rival in next year’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, blasted Crist’s appointment of former chief of staff George LeMieux to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy for the next 16 months.

Said Rubio: “This is a disappointing pick for Florida. George LeMieux is a talented political operative and the governor’s best friend, but that doesn’t make him the right choice to represent Florida in the Senate. Governor Crist had a wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates to choose from, all of whom would have been a reliable check and balance on the excesses of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda.”

Crist names ‘maestro’ LeMieux to fill rest of Martinez’s U.S. Senate term

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam

George LeMieux

George LeMieux

After weeks of intrigue, Gov. Charlie Crist made it official this morning: He’s appointing George LeMieux, his former chief of staff and close political mastermind, to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.

LeMieux — a fellow Republican whom Crist has dubbed “the Maestro” — would serve as a placeholder, keeping the Senate seat warm until Crist can run for the post himself in the 2010 election.

“I know his soul,” Crist told reporters and others at the old state capitol building (now a museum) in Tallahassee.

Early on, Crist had ruled out appointing himself to the Senate seat, a gambit that could have alienated the voters he still would need to face next year. Crist also bypassed potential elder-statesman figures such as Jim Smith, a former Florida attorney general and secretary of state, or former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale.

LeMieux said he is resigning immediately as chairman of the influential law and lobbying firm Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart. The firm has been representing U.S. Sugar Corp. in negotiating a proposed $536 million land deal with Crist’s water managers, although LeMieux has said he’s had no role in the talks. LeMieux also has been sitting in on the state’s casino gambling negotiations with the Seminole Indian tribe, even after leaving Crist’s office last year.

LeMieux, a Fort Lauderdale native, said he will move next week to Washington, where his top priorities will be health care and the budget deficit.

Crist puts Dan Webster on list of U.S. Senate candidates

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

WebsterGov. Charlie Crist added former House Speaker Daniel Webster to the list of possible appointments to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez who announced his resignation earlier this month.

Webster is the seventh politician tapped by Crist to apply for the post, which he is leaving office after one term to pursue.

Webster served in the Florida legislature for two decades, winning election to the Florida House where he served as speaker from 1996-1998 before leaving for the state senate where he eventually became Majority Leader.

Webster, an engineer who owns a heating and air conditioning business in Orlando, is a favorite of conservative Republicans who have pressured Crist appoint him to fill Martinez’ seat. Webster actively supported Gov. Mike Huckabee in his presidential bid.

Crist has interviewed several candidates over the past several days:
- State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville, the legislature’s only black Republican;
- University of North Florida President John Delaney, Jacksonville’s former mayor and a long-time Crist supporter;
- Miami trial lawyer Bobby Martinez, who served as a U.S. Attorney, headed Crist’s transition team and was appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. Jeb Bush and reappointed by Crist;
- George LeMieux, Crist’s former chief of staff who also managed his gubernatorial campaign and remains close to the governor.

He’s also considering at least two others:
- Jim Smith, a former Florida Cabinet member who served as both attorney general and secretary of state. Smith, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican, is now a top-tier Tallahassee lobbyist whose partner, Brian Ballard, is also his son-in-law and one of Crist’s chief advisors.
- Long-serving U.S. Rep. Bill Young, an Indian Shores Republican from Crist’s hometown of Pinellas County. Young is in his 20th term in Congress.

McCollum tops Sink for governor in latest Q-Poll

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum edged out Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, by 38-34 percent in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. Twenty percent of the state’s likely voters polled remain undecided.

That flip-flops Sink’s 38-34 percent lead among likely Florida voters two months ago. Sink remains relatively unknown to Floridians, according to the poll from Aug. 12-17 of 1,136 likely voters. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they don’t know enough about her to have an opinion of her job performance.

McCollum and Sink are both leaving office after one term in pursuit of the governor’s mansion. Gov. Charlie Crist is also vacating after one term to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who stepped down before his first term in Washington is complete.

The poll also shows Crist with a healthy 55-26 percent lead over GOP primary opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio. In June, Crist held a 54-23 percent margin over Rubio.

Crist adds Bill Young, LeMieux to list of U.S. Senate hopefuls

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

youngGov. Charlie Crist is screening long-serving U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young and former chief of staff George LeMieux to fill U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’ seat. Martinez quit before his first term ends in 2012.

Crist, who is leaving office after one term to replace Martinez himself, spent yesterday and today interviewing possible candidates – including state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, UNF president John Delaney, former U.S. Attorney Bobby Martinez and LeMieux, a former deputy attorney general under Crist. They’re all Republicans who presumably have no interest in challenging Crist, who is running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio in a GOP primary, for the seat next year.

Also on the list: former state attorney general and secretary of state Jim Smith, now a Tallahassee lobbyist.

Young is in his 20th term in Congress and is from Indian Shores near Crist’s St. Petersburg hometown in Pinellas County.

Crist meets with LeMieux as he considers U.S. Senate pick

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

lemieux1Gov. Charlie Crist is meeting with former chief of staff George LeMieux today as he ponders his replacement for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez who resigned from office earlier this month.

The hastily-added meeting with LeMieux, a close ally who headed Crist’s gubernatorial campaigns and is now the chairman of the largest law firm in the state, raises speculation about whether the governor will tap LeMieux to fill in for Martinez for the remainder of his term.

Crist is seeking the office himself, running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio in a GOP primary next year.

Last week, Crist asked for applications for the temporary post from U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, former attorney general and secretary of state Jim Smith and former U.S. Atttorney Bobby Martinez. Diaz-Balart dropped out of consideration late Monday.

Crist met with Martinez yesterday before hurriedly asking state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, a Republican from Jacksonville and the only black Republican in the legislature, and University of North Florida President John Delaney. He visited with the Jacksonville pair in their hometown yesterday as well.

Crist adds two Jax officials to Martinez replacement list

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist added two names to the list of candidates he’s interviewing to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez: state Rep. Jennifer Carroll and University of North Florida President John Delaney, both of Jacksonville.

carrollCarroll is the only black Republican serving in the state legislature. delaney-2Delaney was formerly the mayor of Jacksonville and a long-time Crist supporter.

Crist plans to interview both tomorrow in Jacksonville. Neither was among possible candidates speculated on by political insiders around the state.

Crist today met with Bobby Martinez, a Miami lawyer who oversaw his transition when the governor took office in 2007 and a former U.S. prosecutor.

The governor, who is running in a GOP primary next year against former House Speaker Marco Rubio to take the seat himself, must appoint someone to fulfill the remainder of Martinez’ term, which ends in January 2012.

Crist also asked U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Jim Smith, a former state attorney general and secretary of state who is now a lobbyist, to apply for the post. Diaz-Balart pulled out yesterday and a visit with Smith has yet to be scheduled.

Crist U.S. Senate list not limited to Martinez and Smith

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to request more candidates to apply to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez after initially asking three GOP allies to apply.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart withdrew his name from the list late last evening, the day before Crist is scheduled to meet with another Hispanic potential replacement, former U.S. prosecutor Bobby Martinez.

Crist will meet with Martinez at the Miami airport at 1 p.m. today.

Crist hasn’t scheduled an interview yet with former secretary of state and attorney general Jim Smith – now a Tallahassee lobbyist – the last of the three candidates the governor asked last week to apply for the job.

But he said today the “short list” isn’t limited to just Smith and Martinez.

Crist called Bobby Martinez a “brilliant man” and “a dear friend and a loyal ally.”

But, he added, “There are others who we’ll be interviewing, too. And I look forward to the process.”

Crist, who is running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio in a GOP primary in November to replace Martinez, cited integrity rather than someone who would mirror his own votes Congress as his top priority in making the selection.

“I have to appoint somebody who in my belief number one has great integrity, will serve our fellow Floridians with honor and will do an incredible job of making sure that we continue to be well represented in both seats in the United States Senate,” Crist told reporters after a morning meeting with educators at the governor’s mansion. “Those are my primary considerations.”

Lincoln Diaz-Balart bows out of U.S. Senate consideration

Monday, August 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

diaz-balartU.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart withdrew his name for consideration to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez this evening.

Diaz-Balart issued a statement this evening saying he told Gov. Charlie Crist to remove him from the short list of three to fill in for Martinez until next year’s November election.

“I have informed Governor Charlie Crist this evening that I will not be submitting the Questionnaire for appointment to the Senate he kindly asked me to consider submitting. It was a great honor to be considered by Governor Crist for appointment to the United States Senate. I thank him for his kind gesture of confidence. After giving the Governor’s request serious consideration and deliberation, I have decided to remain in the U.S. House of Representatives fighting for the causes which I deeply believe in,”‬‪‬‪‬‪ the statement reads.

That leaves Tallahassee lobbyist Jim Smith, a Democrat-turned Republican who served on the Florida Cabinet as both Attorney General and Secretary of State, and former U.S. prosecutor Bobby Martinez.

Crist is scheduled to meet with Martinez tomorrow at the Miami airport at 1 p.m.

Crist is leaving office after one term to run for the seat and is being challenged in a GOP primary by former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Diaz-Balart out; Crist to meet with to meet with possible Martinez replacement Martinez

Monday, August 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

From left to right: Diaz-Balart, Martinez, Smith

From left to right: Diaz-Balart, Martinez, Smith

Gov. Charlie Crist will meet with Bobby Martinez, not the former governor, tomorrow afternoon at the Miami airport.

Martinez is on Crist’s short list to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who is stepping down 15 months before his term ends in November.

Martinez (Bobby) is a former U.S. prosecutor who sits on the state Board of Education and was a chief transition aide to both Crist and Jeb Bush when they took over as governor.

Last week, Crist asked Martinez (Bobby), U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jim Smith, now a top-tier Tallahassee lobbyist, to apply as Martinez’ fill-in for the next 15 months.

Crist is leaving office next year after just one term to run for the post himself.

Bobby Martinez is considered by some GOP operatives to be the likeliest candidate to replace Mel Martinez, and not because they share the same surname.

Sources close to Diaz-Balart say that he today withdrew his name from consideration for the post.

And Smith’s lobbying career could make him vulnerable to criticism, although he’s considering retiring. Quitting his lobbying job may not quell objections, however. His partner Brian Ballard, one of Crist’s closest advisers, is also his son-in-law.

Greer: No one knew Martinez would quit until he quit

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

chairman_greerGov. Charlie Crist and top GOP officials didn’t know of U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’s decision to resign early until the senator issued a press release on Friday, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer told reporters this morning.

“There is no one who actually knew the event was actually going to take place until immediately prior to or immediately surrounding that statement,” Greer said.

Although rumors that Martinez would step down early circulated for more than six months prior to his resignation, Greer said Martinez repeatedly assured him he was not quitting. Sort of.

“He would say, ‘No I’m not resigning. Tomorrow,” Greer said.

And despite speculation that Martinez quit early to make it easier for Crist to succeed him, Greer said the senator quit to spend more time with his family and not to help the governor.


Do straw polls, censure votes signal a problem for Crist?

Sunday, August 9th, 2009 by George Bennett

As he seeks the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2010, Gov. Charlie Crist is riding high in polls of GOP voters. But it’s a different story with many of the party’s grass-roots activists around the state.

Read about it here and see how Palm Beach County’s GOP fits in.

Martinez’s short Senate tenure leaves questions about his legacy

Friday, August 7th, 2009 by Palm Beach Post Staff

This story was printed in the Aug. 8 edition of The Palm Beach Post.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

ORLANDO — By ending an already brief U.S. Senate career Friday, Mel Martinez risks being remembered for little more than just getting elected.

“You don’t get an opportunity to leave a big footprint in the sand unless you’ve been there a while,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade.

melmartinezHistory will remember Martinez, a Republican, as the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Senate, a feat he achieved in 2004 by obliterating his primary opponents with record-setting fund raising and outlasting Democrat Betty Castor in an election night nail-biter.

Several politicians and strategists said Martinez, whose announcement comes a day after his vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court justice, will always be held in high esteem among the state’s critically important Hispanic voters.

Hispanics account for one of the fastest growing groups of swing voters in the state.

“When he ran for the U.S. Senate, the conventional wisdom was that a Hispanic could not get elected statewide in Florida,” said Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio, the first Hispanic Florida House speaker. “He dispelled all of that.”

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