Florida Backroom Briefing: ‘Toss-Up’ Time in ‘Swingy’ State

Florida will be the center of the political universe until November


Florida has a new proxy war of a gubernatorial contest, pitting President Donald Trump’s candidate against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ pick, landed a quick “toss-up” rating nationally.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political prognostication site from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Thursday it’s too early to pick a favorite in the Nov. 6 election between Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis and Sanders-backed Democrat Andrew Gillum.

Gillum pulled off a major upset in Tuesday’s Democratic primary when he defeated former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and three other candidates. DeSantis, a Northeast Florida congressman, handily defeated Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who went into the race with the backing of much of the state GOP establishment.

“Had this been Graham versus DeSantis, it might have been tempting to move this race to Leans Democratic,” Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley wrote for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Had it been Gillum versus Putnam, it might have been tempting to move it to Leans Republican.”

Outgoing Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott narrowly won the state in the 2010 and 2014 midterms that were good years for Republicans. This year, the national environment is trending toward Democrats, Kondik and Skelley noted.

“DeSantis is as about as closely tied to Trump as one can be, a dangerous place to be in a swingy state (although Trump’s approval generally seems to be a little bit better in Florida than it is nationally.),” Kondik and Skelley wrote.

Gillum, the outgoing Tallahassee mayor, has his own issues. “Gillum will have to pivot to facing a general electorate, and an FBI investigation of Tallahassee city government still hangs over his campaign, making Gillum a potentially very risky choice for Democrats,” the Sabato release said.

Sabato also lists Scott’s bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson as a “toss-up.”

In general comments about the contests, Sabato noted the pluses for Republicans are that “the economy is good and we’re not in the midst of an unpopular war, two sometimes-predictors of poor midterm performance for the White House party.”

For Democrats, the upside is that “Trump’s approval rating is perpetually low, and more than the whiff of scandal — one other factor that has hurt the presidential party in past midterms — helps keep it low.”

It also pointed to unknowns ahead: “Future developments in Robert Mueller’s investigation, the impact of tariffs and trade policy, particularly in agriculture-heavy states that otherwise might lean Republican.”


In Florida, the two most-frugal gubernatorial candidates in Tuesday’s primaries are the one’s squaring off in the general election.

Gillum spent $13.13 per vote to emerge from the five-candidate field to take the Democratic nomination. DeSantis, a Fox News favorite who benefited from free media, spent $17.55 per vote to defeat Putnam.

At the other end of the spending, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who put $36 million of his own money into his bid for the Democratic nomination, ended up spending $227.90 per vote.

“I don’t regret a moment or a dollar spent on this election,” Greene said in a statement Tuesday night. “Having been blessed with great success, there is nothing more important for me than investing time and resources in addressing the problems of Florida’s most vulnerable. I’ll forever be grateful for this summer spent with my kids traveling across this beautiful state, meeting people from all walks of life, sharing ideas, and fighting to create pathways for everyone to thrive.”

In Florida, overall, the candidates spent $151.98 million out of their campaign accounts and affiliated political committees, which translated to $50.63 per vote cast,

The figures do not include spending by outside groups on the candidates’ behalf.

Of course, in this post-election math exercise, the more votes a candidate got translates to a cheaper cost per vote.

Each of the 1,507,490 Republican votes cost $32.73, and the 1,494,317 Democrats votes came in at $68.68. Again, that was just candidate spending, not money from state parties or other outside sources.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who put $26.6 million of his money into the Democratic contest, ended up spending $123.10 per vote. Winter Park businessman Chris King spent $174.20 per vote for a campaign that included $4 million of his own money.

Graham, who finished second to Gillum, spent $34.76 per vote.

Gillum spent just under $6.85 million and received 521,408 votes. DeSantis spent $16.07 million and received 915,413 votes.

Greene’s $34.8 million in campaign costs landed him 152,693 votes.

DeSantis, whose campaign benefited from an estimated $9.3 million in free media based on his numerous appearances on Fox News, would still have the second lowest expenses-to-vote ratio — $27.71 — if he had to pay for that air time.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Thank you for your love, your tireless efforts and for your prayers, which have sustained me and my family. God bless you, and may God continue to bless our great state.” — Adam Putnam (@AdamPutnam) after failing in his bid to become the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination.



Gillum, DeSantis Take Different Roads To Party Nominations