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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fla Insider Poll: Will Rick Scott draw primary challenge? From Who?



Polls regularly paint Rick Scott as America's most unpopular governor, and plenty of Republicans fear that Democrats are well-positioned to take back the governor's mansion for the first time since 1997. Time for a more skilled politician to step up and save the Florida GOP from Rick Scott?

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam fueled the speculation this week by firing off a mass email touting his opposition to Gov. Scott's call to expand Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act. In case that failed to raise enough eyebrows, a Putnam said sent a tweet, by accident she said, directing people to an anti-Scott online poll.

In theory the primary challenge makes sense: Rick Scott has never had deep support in the Florida GOP, and his recent shift to the middle is antagonizing his supporters on the right without necessarily winning moderate, swing voters who been sour on him from the start. But normal considerations are out the window when you're talking about an incumbent who can spend tens of millions of his own money to ensure a second term.

A new Florida Insider Poll by the Tampa Bay Times finds more than seven in 10 of the state's most experienced politicos say Scott is unlikely to face a serious primary challenge.

"It is safe for a GOP contender to say a few negative comments about the Governor this early out. This will allow them to seperate themselves in a future gubernatorial election," said one Republican. "All the GOP contenders will fall in-line. At the end of the day - who has $100 million of their own to spend on their own campaign? Checkmate - Rick Scott."

Said another: "Rick Scott has made himself quite vulnerable in an off year primary where he will be the top of the ticket.  No Marco Rubio to lift turnout, and Scott has lost the confidence of conservatives and key Republican clubs around the State.  Imagine how Republican Senate and House candidates are going to feel about that photo op when Rick comes to town.  He has negative coattails, and it's in the best interest of the Republicans to take him out."

Our latest Florida Insider Poll included 131 veterans of Florida politics - campaign operatives, fundraisers, lobbyists, political scientists, and a few recovering political reporters - and produces a good snapshot of conventional wisdom at this early stage. Florida politics, of course, are always unpredictable, and it's worth remembering that at this stage of the 2010 cycle, no one had heard of Rick Scott, Charlie Crist looked like a sure winner either for a second term as governor or for U.S. Senate, and few people outside of Tallahassee and Miami had heard of Marco Rubio.

We asked who would make the strongest primary challenger to Scott, Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Don Gaetz, or House Speaker Will Weatherford. Putnam was the clear favorite, with 53 percent picking him, Bondi and Atwater each earning 15 percent of the vote, and Weatherford 14 percent. Still, 55 percent said Scott would still win even against the strongest challenger.

Sorry, Mr. Senate President, but not a soul named you the strongest primary candidate.

Nearly all of those surveyed were confident Scott will in fact run for a second term, but Democrats and Republicans split on the likelihood of him winning a second term. Strikingly, neither the Republican nor Democratic insiders were overwhelmingly confident about the 2014 governor's race. Three out of four Democrats predicted Scott would lose re-election, while just 59 percent of Republicans predicted he would win a second term.

"I do not know if Scott will win, but he could win," said one Republican. "You could liken Scott's situation to that of Bob Martinez in 1990, except Martinez wasn't rich and no potential Democrat candidate, including Crist, is a Lawton Chiles.  Edge to Scott."

"Rick Scott will win re-election by making the race a referendum on Charlie Crist's lack of values," said a Democrat. "If Democrats nominate a well-funded alternative to Crist, then Rick Scott better pack his bags."

Overall, our Insiders were evenly divided on whether Scott helped himself politically by declaring his support for expanding Medicaid coverage in Florida, 65 percent of Democrats said he helped himself and only 41 percent of Republicans he helped himself.

"The voters who support Medicaid expansion, by and large, are already going to be in the other camp," said a Democrat. "He has to win moderates and independents to win.  Therefore, I think he needs to stand up and say something like this:  ""I know you don't like me -- and you might not even think much of my business career, but I didn't run to win a popularity contest, I ran to get Florida back to work and you can't argue with facts:  When I became Governor unemployment was 12%.  Today it is 8%.  Like me or not, those are results.  So why risk turning back now?"

Our Florida Insiders included 68 Republicans, 52 Democrats, and 11 independent or third party registrants. They are:

Bob Poe, Ben Pollara, Gus Corbella, Cort Tilley, Kirk Pepper, Ana Navarro, Kirk Pepper, Greg Turbeville, Meredith O'Rourke, Ron Greenstein, Joe Perry, Tyler Hudson, Sarah Bascom, John French, Alia Faraj, Rodney Barreto, Screven Watson, Alex Heckler, Mark Ferrulo, Nancy McGowan, Damien Filer, Todd Wilder, Jill Chamberlin, Kathy Mears, Ken Jones, Brian Crowley, John Wehrung, Cynthia Henderson, Scott Peelen, Ellen Freidin, Chris Korge, Mitchell Berger, Chris Kise, Tom Lee, Derek Newton, Stephanie Grutman, Roger Stone, Jim Kane, Patrick McQuillan, Dave Aronberg, Justin Day, Darryl Paulson, Kelly Cohen, John Stemberger, Alex Sink, Dan Gelber, Towson Fraser, Dave Karvelas, Rick Wilson, Adam Goodman, Aubrey Jewett, Monica Russo, Jeff Johnson, Don Hinkle, Trey McCarley, Ryan Duffey, Richard Gentry, Susie Wiles, Brian May, Dan McLaughlin, Carlos Curbelo, Michael Albetta, Jim Davis, Mac Stipanovich, Lucy Morgan, Frank Tsamoutales, Barry Edwards, Jim Kitchens, Kirk Fordham, Van Poole, Mark Gilbert, Greg Truax, Bud Shorstein, Andrew Gillum, Nancy Watkins, Christina Johnson, Cindy Graves, Al Cardenas, Husein Cumber, Erin VanSickle, Fred Cunningham, John Morgan, Abel Harding, Stephen Shiver, Jason Fischer, Sally Bradshaw, Ashley Walker, Bernie Campbell, Brett Doster, Kathleen Shanahan, Mike Hamby, Doc Dockery, Alan Clendenin, Peter Schorsch, Caitlin Fishman, Shannon Gravitte, Andy Ford, Michelle Todd, Steve Yerrid, Mel Sembler, Stephen Bittel, James Harris, Doc Dockery, Marty Fiorentino, Cynthia Henderson, Jamie Miller, Joe Colutta, Alex Patton, Marion Hammer, Robert Coker, David Johnson, Ron Sachs, Tom Gaitens, Marc Reichelderfer, Justin Day, Sarah Rumpf, Steve Schale, Ryan Tyson, Ann Herberger, Tom Tillison, Henry Kelley, Chris Ingram, Paula Dockery, Brian Hughes, John Long, Kevin Akins, Eric Jotkoff, Seth McKee, Roly Marante, Dan Krassner, Susannah Randolph, Steve Geller.

[Last modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 5:51pm]


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