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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Insider Poll: Uncertainty reigns for presidential race

Jeb Bush speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday in Las Vegas. [Associated Press]

Associated Press

Jeb Bush speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday in Las Vegas. [Associated Press]



Florida's political insiders aren't giving up on Jeb Bush yet.

Despite his months-long struggle to gain traction and lift himself out of single digit support, the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll found an overwhelming majority — 78 percent — of the more than veteran Florida political operatives, fundraisers, and other politicos surveyed this week expect Bush still will be running by the time Florida holds its presidential primary on March 15.

Even after Bush and his allies have spent more than $50 million, he lags well behind Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz in early state and national polls. He would have to get through some two dozen caucus and primary elections before Florida, where the latest polls put him in fifth place. 

Still, among the Florida Insiders who know Bush far better than most political observers, 29 percent say they expect Bush to win the Florida primary, while 35 percent predicted Rubio would win Florida, 30 percent said Trump, and 5 percent Cruz. Mind you, any poll of Florida's political establishment is sure to have a pro-Bush bias.

"I still hold out hope for Jeb," on Republican said. "In Tuesday's debate, he showed his willingness to fight. Trump will fade. Trump is like the TV show you thought was amazing as a kid but is stupid when you watch it as an adult. The question is how soon Trump's supporters grow-up."

A Democrat was skeptical: "Jeb Bush has to make it though nearly 30 primaries or caucuses before he even gets to Florida. Unless he can unexpectedly break through with an early success in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or several of the March 1 states, it's hard to see how he will still be standing on the Ides of March."

The Insider Polls are entirely unscientific survey of Florida's political establishment. They include many of longtime Bush admirers, including people currently working on his campaign or actively raising money for him. They reflect conventional wisdom and perhaps wishful thinking among Sunshine State political elites who used to be far more bullish about Bush's prospects.

In an April Insider Poll only 2 percent of participants said they expected Bush to be out of the race by March, and 37 percent expected Rubio's presidential campaign would be finished. This week, less than 6 percent predicted Rubio would be out by March and 22 percent said Bush would be gone from the race. And one year ago this week, nearly 80 percent of the Florida Insiders said Rubio would be unable to raise enough money to compete if Jeb ran, and eight in 10 said Bush would be stronger in the GOP primary.

"Sad to see what's happened to Jeb. He's a long way from the confident governor we know. He started off as a happy warrior, but getting tagged with the "low energy guy" morphed him into a guy who seems uncomfortable in his own skin," lamented one Republican. "I think Marco will carry Florida in the general but won't have the coattails to win the senate for the GOP, not unlike Bush and Nelson in 2000."

Asked whom they expect to win the Republican nomination, 27 percent said Rubio, 25 percent said Bush, 24 percent said Cruz, and 22 percent Trump.

"I've finally given up on Jeb — $35 million on TV and he hasn't moved the needle," a Democrat said. Rubio is the only candidate on the stage at the last debate that actually looked like he could win the nomination. Everyone else is just not inspiring or straight up crazy. I just can't imagine they nominate a Cruz or Trump — who would have a slim to zero change of winning the general."

The Florida Insiders were divided on the general election, with 53 percent predicting a Democrat will win the White House and 47 percent predicting a Republican. This month's Insiders included 86 Republicans, 61 Democrats, and 10 people registered to neither major party.

"GOP electorate seems hell bent on an outsider who is unelectable," one Republican said.

Asked about Florida's much lower-profile U.S. Senate race, 55 percent predicted Republicans would hold the seat being vacated by Rubio and 45 percent said a Democrat would win it.

A whopping 90 percent of the Insiders expect U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy to be the Democratic nominee, rather than U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, but the Republican primary appears more unpredictable. Forty five percent said Pinellas U.S. Rep. David Jolly would be the GOP nominee, 29 percent predicted U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida, 18 percent said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, and 2 percent predicted defense contractor Todd Wilcox of Orlando. Six percent said they expected someone else - someone not yet in the race - to win the Republican nomination.

"Look for two especially capable U.S. Senate candidates — R David Jolly and D Patrick Murphy — to grapple next November," said one independent Insider. "Republican candidates firmly hold an historical advantage in Florida Senate races during presidential election years when no incumbent is running. Like in 1980, 1988 and 2004, important in 2016 for a R Senate win in Florida will be long coattails of the R presidential candidate heading the ticket, like Sen. Marco Rubio."

This round of Florida Insiders included: Allan Bense, Bob Poe, Christian Ulvert, Bill Helmich, Rich Heffley, Bernie Campbell, Joe Perry, Ann Herberger, Gretchen Picotte, Steve Geller, Jim Rimes, Richard Gentry, Rodney Barreto, Eric Jotkoff, Dave Beattie, Alex Sink, Ron Greenstein, Frank Mirabella, Ashley Walker, Marc Reichelderfer, John Konkus, Sarah Bascom, Alex Patton, Marion Hammer, Pete Mitchell, Mike Fasano, Frank Tsamatoules, Bud Shorstein, Christian Ziegler, Screven Watson, Christian Camara, Ben Pollara, Steve Schale, Rich Ramos, John Stemberger, Don Hinkle, Husein Cumber, Kelly Cohen, Mike Hightower, Gus Corbella, Darryl Paulson, Mitch Ceasar, Bill Lee, Kevin King, Eric Johnson, Towson Fraser, Stephanie Grutman, Karen Unger, Nancy McGowan, Jason Unger, John French, Kathleen Shanahan, Steven Vancore, Susie Wiles, Erin VanSickle, Jeff Wright, Oscar Anderson, Zach Zachariah, Alan Becker, Matthew Isbell, Matthew Corrigan, Damien Filer, Nikki Lowry, David Bishop, Richard DeNapoli, John Wehrung, Christina Johnson, Slater Bayliss, Jon Ausman, Sarah Rumpf, Joshua Karp, Eric Eikenberg, Roly Marante, Brian Crowley, Andrew Gillum, David Colburn, Jim Davis, Darrick D. McGhee, Fred Piccolo, Nels Kingston, Kristen Borman Dougherty, David Singer, Chris Dorworth, Brad Coker, Betty Castor, Brad Coker, Mark Ferrulo, Brad Herold, Peter Wallace, Scott Peelen, Julia woodward, Tom Lewis, Ryan Tyson, Ellen Freidin, Kathy Mears, Robert Wexler, Jeff Johnson, Scott Arceneaux, Larry Cretul, Barry Edwards, Chris Hand, Jamie Wilson, Wayne Bertsch, Pablo Diaz, Paul Mitchell, Greg C. Truax, Justin Day, Jason Altmire, David Rancourt, Chris Hand, Jason Rosenberg, Doc Dockery, Kirk Fordham, Ana Navarro, Kevin Cate, Aubrey Jewett, Travis Blanton, Nancy Watkins, David Custin, Stephanie Kunkel, Bob Sparks, Jon Mills, Marty Fiorentino, Mike Hamby, Seth McKee, Josh Geise, Mel Sembler, Ryan Wiggins, Tom Gaitens, Jill Chamberlin, Gayle Andrews, Jamie Miller, Stafford Jones, Brett Doster, Tom Scarritt, Tom Tillison, Ron Gunzberger, Kristy Campbell, Mark Zubaly, Richard Swann, James Harris, Andy Ford, Dave Aronberg, Javier Janjarres, Alan Clendenin. Jackie Lee, Jason Roth, Clarence McKee, Pat Neal, Roger Stone, Andrew Weinstein, Lucy Morgan, Donna Arduin.


[Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 1:04pm]


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