Thursday, August 09, 2018

Florida Governor- Race of the Day

89 Days Until Election Day

Florida Governor

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook:  Leans Democrat

The GOP has had a political stranglehold on Tallahassee for the past 20 years, after many years of having been shut out of power. This year, while the state is still very much a political battleground, luck may be running out on the Republicans keeping the Governorship, at least, after five consecutive wins, the last two of which being by a single percentage point.

The current Governor who demonstrated his ability to win tight elections in the state is Republican Rick Scott. He is term-limited from seeking another term and is instead engaged in a very competitive battle for one of the state's U.S. Senate seats. For a long-time, betters would have said that Republicans would have a better chance of winning the open Governorship again than Scott knocking off a long-time incumbent Democrat for the Senate, but I believe that has now changed.

Republicans were believed to have a much stronger bench in the state than the Democrats and would be better funded. That only goes so far though, considering the likely GOP nominee is not someone who has either won statewide before, or is a free-spending millionaire, such as Scott was when he upset the "next in line" establishment candidate back in 2010.

The GOP bench in the state is deep but for a variety of reasons, most office holders decided not to run for Governor, including the current Lt. Governor, Attorney General, CFO, and a former House Speaker, who were all considered potential rising stars. Even Mike Huckabee, the former longtime Governor of Arkansas, who had moved to Florida, was said to be looking into the race, but he did not run. The current Speaker, Richard Corcoran looked for months like he was all but in, but demurred in the end due to lack of support. Jack Latvala, a popular State Senator had to withdraw from the race, and eventually the State Senate itself, after much self-protest, after a variety of allegations came to light  regarding sexual harassment and unwanted advances towards women.

This left two major candidates in the GOP field. The front-runner had been Adam Putnam, the two-term Commissioner of Agriculture, a statewide elected position. He had been eyeing the Governorship for many years and was the candidate considered by many to be "next in line" and the reason some others may not have entered the race. At just 44 years old, Putnam has been in office nearly all his adult life. At 26, he was elected to Congress and served for a decade, as the redheaded politician became a very visible presence on Capitol Hill. He rose in the Leadership ranks, all the way up to Conference Chairman, and seemed on path to one day be Speaker of the U.S. House, but when his party lost the majority, he determined he would rather return home to Florida, run for statewide office, and bid his time until a chance to be Governor opened up. A native Floridian with a strong background in farming, Putnam is a good fit for his current job, but it raises the question as to whether someone of his background is the strongest potential Republican to appeal to suburban voters, either in a primary or general election, who have grown up in other places around the country.

The other Republican contender is current Congressman Ron DeSantis. He is even younger than Putnam and will turn 40 next month. A native of Florida, DeSantis grew up in a more urban/suburban area than Putnam. He graduated from Harvard Law School and also served in the U.S. Navy and was decorated for service in Iraq. In 2012, he was elected to the U.S. promising to offer conservative representation. Four years later, when it looked like Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio was done with the U.S. Senate, DeSantis embarked on a bid for his seat. When Rubio jumped back into a Senate race though, DeSantis dutifully went back to run for another House term. His statewide ambition persisted, as he ran for Governor, albeit not a lot of people gave him a chance for the nomination.

One big change though was that DeSantis started to morph from a Trump critic in the Presidential primaries, to a strong supporter of the President ,a part time resident of the state, who had won Florida easily in the primary, over Rubio, the state's U.S. Senator. Trump of course also won Florida in the general election and DeSantis has gone to great lengths over the past couple of years to associate himself with Trump. For his part, Putnam has stated his support for Trump as well, but apparently not as enthusiastically.

On a couple of occasions this year, Trump has Tweeted words of support for DeSantis, but more recently has issues a full-throated endorsement of the Congressman and has traveled to Florida to campaign for him. This has definitely caused a tremendous swing in the polls and DeSantis now looks like a heavy favorite to win the primary near the end of this month. He has said he cannot think of any issue where he disagrees with Trump and his campaign ads, (for a state government election) are pretty much pro-Trump "cult of personality" testimonials in which he wears a red hat, reads a Trump book to his infant child, and implores another one of his young kids playing with bricks to "build the wall." This is all going to get him a lot of notice and probably votes in a 2018 Republican primary, where so many of his party's voters have an obsessive need to defend anything DJT, but it is not something that is as likely to help in a general election.

As for Putnam, his campaign has stalled big-time, and for all intents and purposes is now on par with the past Jeb Bush era of Florida Republican politics that is now out of vogue in the Sunshine State. The two candidates have had contentious debates, with Putnam accusing DeSantis of being an all-rhetoric empty suit, while DeSantis accuses Putnam of being in the pocket of the special interests. We saw how those sort of arguments were decided in the 2016 GOP Presidential primary. It has also been tough for Putnam to paint DeSantis as a Washington insider who has been absent from Florida, when Putnam also had served in Congress.

Of course, we must also look at the Democrats running this year. There are several of them and the primary result is more up in the air. Whom they pick will go a great deal towards deciding if the party will break it's drought on being kept out of the Governorship. As was the case with Republicans, several prominent Democrats did not run. For a while, it looked like the main contender might be John Morgan a personal injury attorney, who was little known before bankrolling the 2014 initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. He would declare his disillusionment with politics though and did not enter the race. He also left the Democrats to become an Independent.

For a short while, former Congressman Patrick Murphy, whom had lost the Senate general election to Rubio two years earlier, was said to be considering the primary race, with an unusual twist.  He would announce that recently defeated Republican Congressman David Jolly, an ardent NeverTrumper, would be his Lt. Governor running-mate. The hybrid ticket idea did not seem to go over well though with many Democrats and never came to fruition. At present, none of the major party candidates have indicated whom they may want for Lt. Governor. After the primary, the two winners will make their selection, and traditionally, these choices are done to balance the ticket in what could be a variety of ways from age to region to race and ethnicity to experience.

In alphabetical order, the five main Democrats running for Governor (out of a total of seven)consist of firstly, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. He is 39 years old and the only African-American in the field. He received some negative headlines a couple of months ago regarding his personal finances and $400,000 in mortgage debts. His campaign received a shot in the arm though when he was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator and 2016 Presidential contender who is beloved in many left-wing circles.

Attorney Gwen Graham knocked off a freshman Republican Congressman in 2014, but only served one term as redistricting made her district impossible to win for a Democrat. So, she set her eyes on 2018 and the Governorship. After all, it's basically in her blood as her father Bob Graham served two terms as Governor and then three terms in the U.S. Senate. Over a long career, the senior Graham never lost an election in Florida, though his 2004 Presidential campaign never went anywhere. His daughter is now the only woman seeking the office of Governor and that could help her considerably.

Jeff Greene is a relatively late entrant to the field. A real estate investor said to be worth billions, he was unsuccessful in attempting to win his party's nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010. (He also once lost a Congressional primary in California in the early '80s as a Republican.) While Greene says he will stand up to Donald Trump, he is also a former friend of the current President and member of the Mar-A-Lago Golf Club, who practically lives next door. He has publicized a video of him and Trump yelling at each other in the Mar-A-Lago dining room.

Businessman and attorney Chris King is another one of the several candidates running still under 40. He has tried to portray himself as an outsider and fresh face for the state politically but seems to have not gained much traction in the polls.

Phillip Levine is the former Mayor of Miami Beach who cites his business success and progressive views on social and environmental issues as a good fit for the state. Gun control issues are very much  a part of the conversation in the state after the High School shooting tragedy in Parkland  His base in Southern Florida (though he might split the Jewish vote with Greene) could be important in the primary. He can also boast of having been endorsed by Shaquille O'Neal, the former Center of the Miami Heat, although an endorsement from Dwyane Wade, whom Trump once referenced in a controversial Tweet might even be better at present.

I think it is safe to say that Republicans would most want to run against Gillum and least want to run against Graham. The third "G", Greene might also be a tough sell in a statewide general election, but he it would be a bit of an upset if he won the primary, though he has the money to be a contender. Right now, Graham and Levine look like they are most likely to battle it out for first. If Gillum is able to put the stories about his finances behind him and receive strong African-American backing in all parts of the state, in concert with the endorsement from Bernie Sanders, he could be in the game too. He seems to have stalled a bit though.

If it comes down to Graham and Levine it will be a contrast between the "Old Florida" in the northern part of the state where Graham has lived (though she is originally from the Miami area), or the Southern Florida Democrat strongholds, especially Broward County and its neighbors, where a lot of the primary voters are Jewish transplants from the East Coast, like Levine himself. One wildcard might be how the state's Latino voters, especially Puerto Ricans in Central Florida might vote and if new residents from the state, who were displaced by Hurricane Maria on their home island, might register in Florida in large numbers and play a role in the 2018 elections. The issue of dealing with natural disasters is certainly something any Florida Gubernatorial hopeful must be prepared for.

If I had to guess, I would say that Gwen Graham will win her party's primary, and being the only female contender on the ballot will be a large part of the reason why. For a variety of reasons, her opponents may split the opposition to her among themselves and a lot of older voters may recognize her name due to her father's long career.

A general election would not be a foregone conclusion by any means and Graham has yet to be truly tested in politics herself. She seems to be the Democrat best equipped to win swing votes in the state though for her party. Against Putnam, she might even be a slight underdog, but it looks like Republicans are going to follow Trump's lead and be all in on DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis is a credible candidate, despite his relative youth, with a strong biography. He might come across though as a bit too "slick" and his lapdog-like loyalty to Donald Trump can only take him so far with so many people. If he was focused on a general election instead of needing to come from behind in a primary, from the start, he might be in better shape against Graham, but early polls are already putting her ahead and the other Democrats tend to lead DeSantis in these polls as well. Ironically enough this race will probably be viewed both statewide and nationally, as the "undercard" to Bill Nelson vs. Rick Scott.

If DeSantis is nominated, as expected, for better or worse, he knows that Donald Trump will be coming back to Florida several times between now and the election and seems to enjoy doing rallies.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

4 D,  (1 Safe, 1 Leans, 2 Tossup) 4 R (2 Safe, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

11 D (7 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Leans, 2 Tossup), 11 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup)


At 11:54 AM, Anonymous NYCmike said...

That was an informative write-up.

Good job.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

You wouldn't want to bet would you? I think- clearly to me anyway- you're writing what you hope more than what you think. Trump is stranger now than in 2016, and Florida more Republican. If your other predictions are like this, my advice readers is the ignore button should be punched

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Corey said...

We will see what happens. I am agnostic as to the result, not being in Florida and all, but yes, obviously Trump has soured me on the Republican Party to a large extent. I think the party in Florida could do better than to pick a guy who is running on nothing beyond "I Love Donald Trump." If it were a Democrat political worshiping Obama like that, it would have been the same situation, to their detriment.

Clearly, the race in Florida is probably not going to be any sort of blow-out one way or another. If DeSantis is able to win in 2018, with Trump's help, then yes, he will deserve all sorts of credit and Democrats should panic because it would signal that the state might be lost to them for 2020 as well.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Don't be shocked if De Santis might run for POTUS in 2024 down the road.

The FL Dems are desperate to win any statewide office down there, it's bad.


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