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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fla Insider Poll: Sizing up Fla's '16 US Senate race



An open U.S. Senate seat is usually a once-in-a-generation opportunity for ambitious poltiticians. And with Marco Rubio moving toward a presidential run and vowing he would not hang onto his senate seat as a fall-back,  2016 is shaping up to be another huge cyce for political dominoes to tumble in Florida  -- a state with countless credible Republican contenders and a tiny Democratic bench.

Who's likely to run, and who's not? Time for another Florida Insider Poll, taking the pulse of many of Florida's most experienced and sophisticated political minds.

Nearly 130 Florida campaign professionals, fundraisers, lobbyists, political scientists, and the like participated and underscored how many more options Republicans have than beleaguered Florida Democrats. Still, there was wide agreement on the likely nominee, with 56 percent predicting Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater of Palm Beach County would wind up the GOP nominee.

"Incredibly wide open field. Putnam wants to be Governor so I'd be shocked if he ran. There is zero statewide Dem bench but it will be a bloodbath on the right. Especially if Buchanan brings his money to bear. Atwater is strong, but I-4 or Miami could produce a sleeper," said one Republican.

Another: "I think a compelling cases could be made for Will Weatherford, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee or David Jolly. Tampa Bay area pols with winning records and funding bases make good candidates.  I think most folks see Atwater getting in and are comfortable with that."

"Adam Putnam is the candidate to beat as Governor, (Jeff) Atwater may decide a run against Adam is futile," said a Democrat. " If, IF,  he decides to run for the Senate, the GOP will line up behind him. Without Atwater in the race, Weatherford could fill the vacuum."

At least initially, the field could be vast.

"If Marco doesn't run, with a wide open seat, every current and former Republican elected and with a pulse will express interest in running. But it will quickly whittle down to a smaller field of serious contenders, including some of the folks elected statewide currently serving in term-limited positions in Tallahassee," said a Republican.

Other Republicans mentioned included U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Ron DeSantis, Tom Rooney, and Dan Webster, as well as Jeb Bush, George LeMieux, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera, and  Allan Bense.

The Democratic side of the equation is much tougher, with only one statewide elected Democrat, Bill Nelson, already serving in the U.S. Senate. The skimpiness of the Democratic bench is underscored with the Florida Insider Poll, with the two most common predictions being little-known relative newcomers, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Palm Beach County and newly elected U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Leon County.

"Either Graham or Murphy would be a good candidate for the Dems. To win, the Democrat needs to avoid a primary and hope the Republicans have a messy one," one Democrat said.

Said another: "Bob Buckhorn has been picking out the drapes for the Governors mansion since his first day as Tampa Mayor, I am sure he has been rehearsing his inaugural address in his sleep. He won’t run for Senate. Alan Grayson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz would compete and split the extreme left wing of the party. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s appeal is limited to a small gerrymandered district in Broward County; she has zero statewide appeal and will come to her sences and default to her safe re-election. She is safe until the GOP redistricting in 2020."

And another: "I think Grayson toys with it. I think Debbie is more serious than people want to admit. Murphy/Atwater would be a brutally boring race."

Other Democrats mentioned included Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Dan Gelber, Buddy Dyer, Jack Seiler, Philip Levine, and Ted Deutch.

"Neither party has a blow the doors off candidate," said a Republican. "Weatherford is an excellent fundraiser particularly because of his father in law (Allan Bense) but there have plenty of Speakers who have gone plop trying to run statewide. However, he is articulate, telegenic and well liked. BonRdi is well liked by the conservatives which could help her particularly because of her opposition to gay marriage but she is indecisive and in a general moderate Republicans may avoid her ballot line. Democrats are weak across the board, they need to develop a bench."

Participants in our Florida Insider Poll are experienced enough to understand that in Florida politics, it's wise to expect the unexpected.

"Ever since Rick Scott's first win, I'm always looking out for a wealthy business person no one in politics as ever heard of. An open Senate seat will draw at least one gazillionaire," one Republican offered, a sentiment echoed by several people.
This week's participants:

Brian Ballard, Bob Poe, Bernie Campbell, John Morgan, John Stemberger, Mitchell Berger, Allan Bense, Betty Castor, Fred Piccolo Jeff Johnson, Ben Pollara, Nick Hansen, Robert Coker, Dan Worcester, John Wehrung, Nancy Watkins, Steve Geller, Nancy McGowan, Ellen Freidin, Frank Mirabella, Mark Ferrulo, Screven Watson, Cory Tilley, Fred Cunningham, Trey Traviesa, Susannah Randolph, Jamie Miller, Lanny Wiles, Darryl Paulson, Sarah Rumpf, Mike Hightower, Ana Navvaro, Alan Clendenin, Ann Herberger, Ryan Tyson, Rich Heffley, Adam Goodman, Zachariah Zachariah, Jackie Lee, David Karvelas, Stephen Bittel, Scott Arceneaux, Dave Aronberg, Kirk Pepper, Steven Vancore, Greg Turbeville, Rick Wilson, Mitch Ceasar, Stafford Jones, Scott Peelen, Pat Neal, Caren Lobo, Travis Blanton, Roger Stone, Sam Bell, Donald Hinkle, Rodney Barreto, Meredith Orourke, Tom Tillison, Eric Jotkoff, Alex Sink, Jon Johnson, Darrick McGhee, Jamie Wilson, Bob Graham, Pablo Diaz, Christian Camara, David Rancourt, Paul Mitchell, Abel Harding, Mike Hanna, Towson Fraser, Susie Wiles, Justin Day, Susan MacManus, Eric Johnson, Jim Davis, Scott Barnhart, Stephen Shiver, Sarah Bascom, Gus Corbella, Kevin King, Ron Gunzburger, Marion Hammer, Oscar Anderson, Husein Cumber, Roly Marante, Chris Kise, James Harris, Barry Edwards, Nikki Lowrey, Ryan Wiggins, Kirk Fordham, Richard Swann, Andrew Gillum, David Custin, Matthew Corrigan, Jack Funari, John Dowless, David Bishop, Frank Tsamatoules, David Colburn, Tom Gaitens, Tony Hill, Ron Bilbao, Doc Dockery, Dan Krassner, Michael Albetta, Chris Korge, Aubrey Jewett, Bob Sparks, Joe Perry, Stephanie Kunkel, Richard Ramos, Brett Doster, Ashley Walker, Karl Koch, Bill Lee, Andrew Weinstein, Greg Truax, Kevin Cate, Trey Stapleton, Mark Zubaly, Mike Hamby, Tim Baker, Alex Burgos, Josh Geis, Lucy Morgan, Dan Gelber, Richard DeNapoli, Steve Schale.

[Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2015 3:12pm]


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