TAMPA — The election is still nearly two years away, but a poll of the 2019 Tampa mayor's race this week found that a plurality of voters with an opinion liked former police Chief Jane Castor more than five other prospective candidates.
The automated telephone poll, commissioned by Tampa insurance executive Guy King and done by StPetePolls.org, surveyed 647 registered voters in Tampa. It had a 3.9 percent margin of error and a 95 percent confidence level.
When respondents were asked if the election were held today and were given six names to choose from, they responded:
• Jane Castor, 37.3 percent.
• Unsure, 29.1 percent.
• City Council member Mike Suarez, 9.7 percent.
• Former state Rep. Ed Narain and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, 7.7 percent each.
• City Council member Harry Cohen, 6.2 percent.
• Architect Mickey Jacob, 2.3 percent.
King said he commissioned the poll because, "I've seen the last few years how important having good leadership in the mayor's office is, (and) I started wondering, 'When our current mayor is gone, who's going to fill those shoes?' " Term limits will force Mayor Bob Buckhorn to step down after his second term.
King said he does not yet support anyone in the mayor's race. But he noted a poll question asking which of five issues — jobs, transportation, environment, crime and education — is the most serious facing Tampa that found that crime was No. 2 behind transportation. He said a former police chief would know something about how to address crime.
"I like all those people, but I'll tell you I think Jane Castor makes a lot of sense," King said.
Castor, who last year said she was exploring a run, on Wednesday texted a Tampa Bay Times reporter a statement that sounded like something that would come from a candidate.
"Tampa is on the cusp of something truly amazing, and, as someone who grew up here and has served our community for 31 years, there would be no greater honor than to lead this amazing city," Castor said. "Over the next few months I look forward to hearing from residents in neighborhoods across Tampa to discuss what their needs are and what they see as the vision for our future."
Cohen said he is "absolutely considering" a run for mayor and thought the high percentage of respondents who said they were unsure about a preference suggests that many voters "aren't terribly engaged" with thinking about the race yet. The city elections, he said, would likely be influenced by what happens during and after the 2018 elections.
"It's awfully early," he said. "We're way over a year out, and I really don't think that it's something that people are focusing on yet. We don't even have a full field of candidates for the governor's race in 2018 at this point."
Suarez said "the chances of me running are better than me not running," but he has not decided and couldn't say Wednesday when he would decide.
Still, he said, "name recognition polls, a little less than two years out, make no sense whatsoever."
The Atlanta Falcons probably didn't know two years ahead of time that they would play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl this year, and they didn't know at halftime that their 21-3 lead would collapse, he said.
"There's a reason why you continue playing the game," he said. "There's a lot of things that happen."
Suarez also said he thinks it would be useful for that kind of poll to sort out whether respondents who favor Castor are distinguishing her from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who could be assumed to have high name recognition.
He also said he was surprised that when voters were asked what they thought of Buckhorn, about 61 percent approved of his performance, 18 percent disapproved and nearly 21 percent were unsure. Buckhorn has served more than six years as mayor and Suarez said he was surprised that at this point there would be so many people who did not have an opinion about him.
Finally, Suarez said, "I've got to figure out where this 'Unsure' lives and try to get him out of the race."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @Danielson_Times.