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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Insider Poll: Jeff Atwater would be Senate race game-changer



Florida's Republican U.S. Senate primary to replace Marco Rubio has been a hum-drum affair featuring three credible but little-known candidates overshadowed by the presidential campaign. But now Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is reconsidering his decision not to run, and in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll of nearly 160 Florida politicos, more than two thirds predicted Atwater would win the nomination.

Even with another well-known name in the race - former Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is strongly considering running as well - 68 percent of those surveyed predicted Atwwater would win the race, 13 percent predicted U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores would win, 9 predicted U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, 6 percent predicted Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and 4 percent predicted McCollum.

"Atwater looks wishy-washy but it's the right thing for him to reconsider. No Republican has gained traction and if the GOP wants to keep this seat during a presidential election year, it's critical to have a candidate with name ID. Running twice statewide, even down ticket, is better name ID than any other Republican currently in the race. If Atwater gets in, and I expect him to do so, a lot of the field will clear," said one Republican.

Without Atwater in the race, Jolly is the strong favorite to win the nomination among those surveyed. Thirty nine percent said the Pinellas congressman would likely win, 23 percent said DeSantis, 20 percent said Lopez-Cantera, and 18 percent said McCollum, 71, a former Orlando-area congressman who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2004 and for governor in 2010. Without McCollum or Atwater in the race, 48 percent of our insiders predicted Jolly would be the nominee, and the remainder were evenly divided between DeSantis and Lopez-Cantera.

The two major Democratic candidates are U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. Nearly three out of four of the Insiders predicted Murphy would win the nomination.

"Grayson hasn't had a real race since 2010, beating weak opponents in 2012 and 2014. Grayson needs to raise a large sum of money to have any shot, and if his finance report isn't stellar this last quarter, than it means his controversies can't be outweighed by a financial advantage," said one Democrat. "The Democratic primary polls are close right now, but I expect as the ad wars begin later on, Murphy will pull ahead. Grayson's controversies are many and they won't play well with voters in the primary or general."

Ninety five percent said Murphy also would be the strongest general election candidate, and 70 percent said Atwater would be the stongest nominee for the Republicans.

"Jolly, much like Adam Putnam, represents the Florida middle, both in temperament and ideology. He is the closest to those who have served before like Graham, Chiles, Martinez and Nelson," said a Democrat.

Insider Polls are entirely unscientific surveys of veteran fundraisers, campaign operatives, academics and other veterans of Florida politics, and many of our participants are actively working for or supporting some of the candidates we're asking about. The polls tend to represent conventional wisdom among Florida's political establishment, and we allow they to answer anonymously to encourage honest assessments.

Even with Atwater heavily favored to win if he runs, quite of few of those surveyed sounded decidedly unimpressed with how Atwater shocked much of the political world when he called off his all-but-announced campaign in April, only to crack the door back open now.

"Atwater may have more statewide wins under his belt, but his perpetual vacillating about running reeks of timid indecisiveness at a time when voters are demanding courage and boldness -- a fact his opponents will point out. Even Charlie Crist is more resolute, and that's saying a lot," said a Republican.

This week's Florida Insiders included 51 Democrats, 96 Republicans, and nine people registered to neither major party. They are: Paul Bradshaw, Ann Herberger, Aubrew Jewett, Alex Sink, Andrew Gillum, Cynthia Henderson, Roger Stone, Eric Eikenberg, Stephen Shiver, Frank Tsamoutales, Scott Arceneaux, Brian Hughes, Rodney Barreto, Rich Heffley, Nancy Watkins, Kelly Cohen, Sarah Rumpf, Richard Swann, Kirk Pepper, Slater Bayliss, Ellen Freidin, MaC stipanovich, Eric Jotkoff, Ron Sachs, Susan MacManus, Jeff Wright, Peter Antonacci, Jason Unger, Marc Reichelderfer, Ana Navarro, Erin VanSickle, Pablo Diaz, Jeff Johnson, Gretchen Picotte, Nels Kingston, Henry Kelley, Screven Watson, Husein Cumber, Javier Manjarres, Bud Shorstein, Christian Ziegler, Stafford Jones, Matthew Corrigan, Brian Burgess, Christian Camara, Jason Altmire, Kevin Cate, Brian Ballard, Jason Roth, Bob Poe, Bernie Campbell, Brad Herold, John Konkus, Ana Cruz, Chris Hand, Mike Hamby, Ryan Wiggins, Lanny Wiles, Alex Patton, Zach Zachariah, Steven Vancore, Scott Barnhart, Roly Marante, Kirk Fordham, Mike Fasano, Jason Rosenberg, Tom Lewis, Joshua Karp, Richard Ramos, Donna Arduin, Stephanie Grutman, Robert Coker, Paul Mitchell, Mel Sembler, Julia Gill Woodward, Mark Ferrulo, Wayne Bertsch, Bob Sparks, Tim Baker, Allan Bense, Ron Bilbao, Jamie Miller, Richard Gentry, Jim Davis, Steve Uhlfelder, Marion Hammer, Meredith O'Rourke, Christina Johnson, Justin Day, Frank Mirabella, Steve Geller, Dan Smith, Kevin King, Michael Albetta, Eric Johnson, Rick Wilson, Nancy McGowan, April Salter, Towson Fraser, Alan Becker, Chip LaMarca, Greg Turbeville, Barry Edwards, Scott Peelen, Arlene DiBenigno, Greg C. Truax, Darryl Paulson, Sarah Bascom, Fred Karlinsky, Paula Dockery, Travis Blanton, Kathleen Shanahan, Hayden Dempsey, Mattew Isbell, Chris Korge, Anthony Traviesa, Tom Gaitens, Tom Scarritt, Don Hinkle, Jack Funari, Fred Piccolo, Ryan Tyson, Clarence McKee, Joe Perry, Brett Doster, Darrick McGhee, Seth McKee, John Stemberger, James Harris, Stephanie Kunkel, Brad Coker, Alan Clendenin, Bill Lee, Tom Tillison, Tami Torres-Fillyaw, Andrew Weinstein, Mark Zubaly, Jim Rimes, Jon Mills, Ron Klein, Chris Kise, Cindy Graves, John Morgan, Thomas Fiorentino,Fred Cunningham, Mike Williams, Richard DeNapoli, John Wehrung, Nick Hansen.

[Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2015 11:35am]


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