Voters, be they Democrats or Republicans both want to win in November
As Florida gubernatorial candidates in both parties burn money and gobble up ad space, we can see some trends shaping up.
On the GOP side in particular, it may not be the slam dunk for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis it seemed heading into August when the congressman was talking, perhaps prematurely, about potential lieutenant governors. All of a sudden Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — the man who leads the pack in November candidate matchups — is moving up again.
There’s a clear dichotomy between the red-camp candidates: Adam Putnam is positioned as the more local, statewide politician; Ron DeSantis, the D.C. operative with White House bona fides. These positional differences were on display particularly during their first head-to-head debate at the nationally televised FOX News-Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit in July. DeSantis routinely referenced his work in Congress and invoked the president’s name, while Putnam at every opportunity returned to Florida issues and landmarks in painting DeSantis as virtually a Florida visitor.
It was President Trump’s endorsement that sent DeSantis surging ahead in the polls. From that debate, the congressman surged past Putnam.
Now all of a sudden we’re experiencing either a major shift or a strange and dramatic outlier. A poll released Monday by St. Leo University shows Putnam taking 38 percent of the GOP vote while DeSantis gets 30 percent. In that poll 5 percent back other candidates and 27 percent are still undecided. And when leaners are included, Putnam moves ahead 52 percent to 41 percent.
Just last week, on Aug. 14, MyNews13 released a poll showing the candidates in a statistical tie, with 14 percent undecided. It’s given Putnam supporters hope. Previous polls gave the Trump favorite a double-digit lead.
Where things get more revealing is in the matchups with opponents. More about that in a moment. Let’s look at the Democrats first.
Democratic voters seeing that money is a factor in their primary. A pair of multi-millionaire businessmen are leading all candidates in campaign war chests principally because they’ve been willing to dip into their own pockets. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has been employing an early-and-often strategy, using his money since April to run TV spots. Orlando businessman Chris King’s campaign has also been largely self-funded. And late-comer to the campaign Jeff Greene, from West Palm Beach, has funneled about $10 million of his own money to his bid for the governor’s mansion.
Adding to the coffers have been high profile money streams which became part of the campaign messaging. It is common to hear about outside influences regarding campaign donations, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has invited this talk with some of his high-roller backers. In fact, Gillum is on the rise — perhaps not so much due to high-profile billionaires backing him but the endorsement of 2016 progressive presidential contender Bernie Sanders.
International hedge fund billionaire George Soros ponied up multiple donations to Gillum, involving hundreds of thousands each. Additionally, California billionaire Tom Steyer’s political organization NextGen America is contributing more than $1 million to the progressive mayor. This marks the largest donation Steyer has made to a candidate in a primary. Levine, meanwhile, has drawn fire from Greene for being backed financially by a Ukrainian oligarch and investor in Miami Beach real estate.
The money torrent has not led to favorable returns for some candidates. Greene and Levine seem intent on focusing on each other. Yet, in 2018, dubbed in Democratic circles “The Year of the Woman,” more moderate, former one-term congresswoman Gwen Graham holds a solid lead over the pack. Graham is running more on her pedigree than her money. She has her father, former governor and senator Bob Graham, plus the endorsement of recording artist Jimmy Buffet.
Now let’s look at the divergence in numbers in contests between red-blue candidates.
Despite DeSantis’ still-strong position among GOP primary voters, when pitted against specific Democratic candidates, it is Putnam who comes across as the stronger choice. Against most opponents DeSantis is essentially tied, with the exception of Graham, whom he trails by 4 points. Putnam, meanwhile, leads most others and even shows a slight edge over Graham.
In Monday’s St. Leo poll, the disparity becomes even more stark as we see potential voters feel about a week from the primary date.
Putnam matches up well against Graham and Levine. Putnam takes 36 percent while Graham gets 31 percent and 24 percent are undecided. Against Levine, Putnam does better, getting 37 percent while the Democrat takes 30 percent and the rest undecided.
Graham leads DeSantis, according to St. Leo, besting him 36 percent to 31 percent with 24 percent undecided. Levine takes 34 percent while DeSantis follows with 30 percent and the rest are undecided.
“As it stands now, our data show that the GOP would have a better shot at holding the governorship if Putnam secures the nomination,” said Frank Orlando, director of the St. Leo University Polling Institute. “While President Trump has done well in anointing GOP nominees, his preferred candidates have not fared as well in general elections. We see that on display here with Putnam leading head-to-heads against Graham and Levine, and with DeSantis losing both potential head-to-head races.”
When presented to general Florida probable voters, Putnam’s local cachet comes to the fore, lending him more name recognition. That lead by Graham over DeSantis stands at the 3-4 percent spread, within grasp of the margin of error — meaning DeSantis could bridge that gap in the months following the primary.
The projected result involving two congressional candidates — Graham and DeSantis — should lead to an outpouring of funds from outside entities. The Trump endorsement meant DeSantis saw blossoming interest from money interests, as Putnam’s donor spigot lost pressure. Already he has received large support from Chicago area billionaire Richard Uihlien, a frequent backer of conservative candidates. Meanwhile, one of Graham’s largest backers has been the Emily’s List PAC. Should she secure the nomination, it is likely other national pro-choice support groups could rise to support her cause.
What will be compelling to watch after the names become cemented under the party banners is how much national money will come flooding into the state. The primary contests have already been awash in a record-breaking wave of green — and involving noted donors. The gravity of possibly flipping the party in the governor’s mansion in this important swing state will draw outside interest, from boosters on both sides of the aisle.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.
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