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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fla Insider Poll: Should Jeff Atwater have run for U.S. Senate?



Had he jumped into the U.S. Senate race, Jeff Atwater was no shoo-in to win the primary, let alone the general election against Bill Nelson. But it still struck us asa a no-lose, no-brainer where, at worst, he would ramp up his statewide profile without risking his CFO seat. That two Republicans who participated in our latestFlorida Insider Poll likened the Connie Mack campaign to Katherine Harris' in 2006 points to the skepticism about Mack's strength. As it stands, Atwater is on acollision course with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for the 2018 gubernatorial race.

More than 100 savvy politicos who participated in the Tampa Bay Times' latest Florida Insider Poll  - before Atwater made his announcement today - saw it as a close call. A bare majority, 51 percent, said if theywere advising Atwater, they would encourage him to run. Republicans frequently pointed to incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson's vulnerability, Mack's unimpressive campaignto date, and lack of enthusiasm for the current field among grassroots conservatives. Thirty of the Republican respondents said they would have advised Atwater to run, and 27 would have advised against it.

"CFO Atwater has a strong grassroots organization which could be turned on at a moment's notice. He has done an incredible job of staying in touch with the grassrootsand his outreach efforts are solid and continous," said on Republican. "The conservative staunch Republican voter is looking for a candidate that represents theirvalues/voice and they don't trust Lemieux or believe that Mack is a true conservative..... enter Atwater. He is respected, trusted and speaks the speak. He has also done an incredible job of listening to the tea party and engaging them where Scott has dropped off. He would have no problem fundraising and even if he were to lose regains his position and his name id increases."

Said another: "Atwater needs to listen to people who won't personally gain from his run for the US Senate. The money he would have to raise to compete against Mack andthen Nelson make it an impossible task."

The Insiders were evenly split on whether Atwater would win the primary: 48 said he would likely win, 47 said Mack would win, and eight predicated George LeMieux would still come out on top. No one expected retired Army Col. Mike McCalister to win.

Still, nearly two thirds of our Insiders said Atwater would be the strongest general election candidate against Nelson, while roughly 22 percent named Mack and 13 percent named LeMieux.

The Insiders included 34 Democrats, 62 Republicans, and nine NPA/other. They were: Rodney Barreto, Ben Pollara, Damien Filer, Ana Navarro, Tre Evers. Eric Jotkoff,

Towson Fraser, Dylan Sumner, Justin Day, Jim Davis, Kirk Pepper, Kathy Mears, Henry Kelley, Peter Schorsch, Bernie Campbell, Dave Aronberg, Todd Wilder, Cory Tilley, Nancy Watkins, Alex Patton, Dave Karvelas, David Johnson, Jim Rimes, Christina Johnson, Brian Seitchik, Sandy Safley, Tim Baker, Steve Schale, Mike Hamby, Abel Harding, Steve Geller, Kristy Campbell, Screven Watson, Brian Ballard, Chris Ingram, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mike Hightower, Mark Ferrulo, Trey McCarley, Robin Rorapaugh, Daniel Smith, Ed Armstrong, James Harris, Kirk Fordham, Tom Tillison, Tom Lee, Tyler Hudson, Erin VanSickle, Jeff Garcia, Meredith ORourke, Richard Swann, Jamie Miller, Apryl Marie Fogel, Aubrey Jewett, Kevin Cate, Cindy Graves, Michael Albetta, Bud Shorstein, Arlene DiBenigno, Derek Newton, John Stemberger, David James, Nancy McGowan, Greg Turbeville, Ryan Tyson, Alberto Martinez, Gus Corbella, Marty Fiorentino, Cynthia Henderson, Amber Stoner, Susannah Randolph, Karen Unger, Jill Chamberlin, Andrew Weinstein, Adam Goodman, Michelle Todd, Husein Cumber, Anna Nix, Greg Truax, Darryl Paulson, Sally Bradshaw, Christian Ulvert, Eric Johnson, Lucy Morgan, Ken Jones, Jordan Raynor, Brian Crowley, Ellen Freidin, Ashley Walker, Monic Russo, Rich Heffley, Jeff Johnson, Karl Koch, Phil Vangelakos, Roger Stone, Stephen Shiver, Jim Greer, Dan Gelber, Ryan Duffy, Marc Reichelderfer, Deborah Cox Roush, Nick Hansen, Jim Cherry.

More comments:

Democrat: "Atwater has nothing to lose by entering the race. He doesn't have to resign to run and will be able to raise a ton of money from special interests that feed off the CFO's office."

Republican: "Charlie Crist's pie in the sky Senate race against Bob Graham helped him evenutally become Governor. Everyone knows Atwater's ambition is to be governor. If he runs for Sen., he'll increase his statewide name ID, build a statewide network, and the worst thing that could happen to him....that he actually gets elected!"

Democrat: "Jeff Atwater is one of the dullest politicians in Florida, who has never had to raise federal money and who led the Senate to raising taxes by $2 billion. Remember how many ads were run against Crist on that issue?"

Republican: "No. Do not want to to give the Democrats any toe hold possibility or glimmer of hope of sniffing a cabinet seat - or the platform to raise a statewide profile for a future run at Governor in two years."

Republican: "Jeff Atwater will outwork Mack and outraise Lemieux. Doesn't have near the stench of Crist past on him as they do, either. Comes from Palm Beach County, has represented Broward as well, and can help cut margins there that others cannot. Atwater has the great fortune of running as a first term, midterm incumbent CFO, and many smiling interests would be interested in participating in outside groups to help him out, especially in this primary. Ball clearly in his ourt, but the clock is nearly showing the tenths of seconds, it is getting very late."

Republican: "Atwater has never been afraid of a challenge and is a tireless campaigner. Those who tell him it can't be done (Butterworth race) have come to regret their advice. He will need to raise personal dollars and millions of it in 3 months (May-June-July) to buy August prime time. High ballot placement, first or second spot, may help. LeMieux has limited funds, and has done the dirty work in wounding Mack, won't be able to do same to Atwater."

Republican: "Mack is running the worstcampaign in the country, he would have ZERO shot against Bill Nelson and his $9+million."

Democrat: "Every passing day,Connie Mack seems more like Katherine Harris than his father. Atwater is a serious candidate. Nelson is still the favorite, but Atwater would make it a real race. And even if he loses, he gains critical name ID for other future statewide goals. It feels like a low-risk decision."

Independent: "It's hard to imagine what the downside is for Jeff Atwater here. The Connie Mack IV campaign seems to be following the trajectory of Rick Perry's presidential campaign. The best day was the day he announced - its been all downhill from there. Atwater is fresh off an easy statewide win. He's got roots that go back over 100 years in the state. He's not a dynamic speaker by any means - we're not talking Marco Rubio here - but he's got that folksy, aw shucks kind of persona Floridians seem to love in their politicians. His biggest challenge would be fundraising, but lots of Republicans have been waiting for someone serious about winning."

Democrat: "Atwater would be the strongest candidate, but would probably lose to Nelson, thereafter hurting his future political chances. Atwater should stay with current plan, run sucessfully against Putnam in Republican Primary in 2018, then be Republican Nominee for Governor"

Republican: "Even with Jeff "say anything" Atwater in the race, Republicans are doomed. Hello 6 more years of Sen. Bill Nelson."

Republican "(Atwater is) the only REAL Republican Conservative that has a State-wide Grassroots Organization plus would unite Conservative Voters and Multiple Grassroots Groups."

Democrat: "Connie Mack's first TV ad, the monkeys on cocaine bit, is the best argument a GOP sympathizer could make to Atwater to get him in the race. If that's Mack's best shot out of the gate, the race is already over."

Republican: "It's simply too late. A U.S. Senate campaign is much different than a Cabinet seat. He has gotton a lot of free press but at the end of the day he won't pull the trigger."

Republican: "Jeff Atwater is one of the most detail oriented campaigners in Florida. He raises money like no one's business and has friends/supporters with deep pockets.He has raised record amounts of money for his campaigns, and his ground game is in full force, as evidenced by his strong showing at RPOF's Presidency 5 (where he was the only statewide GOP'er to host grassroots receptions AND raise money to underwrite the events.)

Democrat: "It's no lose for Jeff Atwater, nothing but upside. He currently holds the most powerful state office, and if he does nothing else he will be able to solidify and grow a politcial network for reelection, then something else. If I were his advisor, i would strongly urge him to jump in. Who knows, he might win. His primary opposition is weak. The nomination will be worth something as i expect the presidential to be heated. If Romney wins by a reasonable margin, Atwater could be swept in. Remember the senate in 1980 when Gunter looked like a sure winner? Paula Hawkins was swept in by the Raegan vote."

Republican: "Atwater is a hands down accomplished fund raiser and a forthright, winning public servant. He is a proven leader as the FL senate president and probably the finest gentlemen in government but certainly no pusher over and has proven he can be tough as nails. He is the man for Florida. The rest of this back and forth, rotten baggage and just plain poor campaigning is a distraction from the issues Foridians care about. The other candidates are flawed. Mack's campaign seems to be focused on justifying his presence in the race. The father's letter to the media was ridiculous. LeMieux could have had a brilliant but for that small Crist odor that will not go away especially with the latest Greer court proceedings. Is McCalister still in?"

Republican: "Connie Mack's fiscal record puts him well ahead of either Atwater or Nelson in any election match up. Additionally, Mack's fundraising and SuperPac place him well ahead in the race for needed resources to defeat Nelson. At this point, the motives of Atwater to get int he race are more selfish and less about defeating Nelson. Respectfully, the Adam Smiths and Marc Caputos of the world would love to see a messy primary for Connie Mack in order to protect Bill Nelson as well; again requiring those additional resources."

Republican: "It's a no-brainer. Atwater can sit around Tallahassee for 6 more years in a job that is a graveyard for political careers, or he can save the party from 6 more years of Bill Nelson. As long as he stays away from terrible chalk board ads, Atwater is the Republican Party's best and last hope at defeating Nelson."

Republican: "I don't think Atwater is the strongest general election candidate, but what does he have to lose. He doesn't have to resign to run. Can only benefit him politically to continue to keep his statewide name ID and fundraising network strong."

Republican: "Tough question. At first it seems like a no lose proposition for Atwater to get in the race. If he wins the primary and loses the general he remains a credible candidate for future runs. If however he loses the primary, and that is a real risk, he does significant harm to any chance of becoming Governor down the road."

[Last modified: Saturday, April 21, 2012 6:35pm]


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