Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Politics

Dems already campaigning to be governor

For the first time in decades, Florida is poised to see a crowded, wide-open primary for the gubernatorial nomination. Crazy as it seems, the 2018 contest already is well under way.

More than 440 days before the deadline to qualify, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, the 54-year-old daughter of former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, spent Friday night courting Democrats in Pensacola. On Saturday, members of the Florida College Democrats gathered at USF in Tampa to welcome the three already-announced candidates: Andrew Gillum, 37, the mayor of Tallahassee and a longtime Democratic activist/organizer; Chris King, 38, an Orlando businessman and political newcomer; and Philip Levine, 55, a multimillionaire entrepreneur and mayor of Miami Beach.

Meanwhile, trial lawyer John "For the People" Morgan is content to publicly flirt with a run without committing. The ubiquitous TV ad man and force behind legalized medical marijuana in Florida has the money and name recognition to allow him to wait until next year to launch a campaign if he decides to run.

"The campaigns never end. Why do we need 2 years instead of 5 months?" Morgan, 61, tweeted last week.

Graham hasn't pulled the trigger to kick off her campaign, but it's only a matter of time. She is a high-energy charmer who in 2014 unseated a Republican incumbent in a heavily Republican Panhandle district. At this point, she looks like the early frontrunner for the nomination.

Among the most intriguing questions about her gubernatorial candidacy is how big a price Graham will pay for having campaigned and served as a centrist, nonpartisan congresswoman.

In today's era of Donald Trump, Florida's once moribund, liberal Democratic base appears more fired up than perhaps ever before. It's no accident that the ever-cautious Sen. Bill Nelson supported the filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, rather than risk backlash from his Democratic base.

Back when she was representing Republican-leaning north Florida, Graham suggested her dad was further to the left than she was on gun control. She supported the Keystone XL pipeline, supported rolling back Dodd-Frank restrictions on Wall Street banks and worked hard not to allow Republicans to associate her with the Affordable Care Act.

"Both parties got it wrong," she said in a TV ad during her campaign against U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in 2014. "Democrats bit off more than they could chew, while Republicans and congressman Southerland voted over 50 times to let insurance companies keep charging too much and denying you care."

A CQ Roll Call analysis in 2016 pegged Graham as the most independent-voting member of the Florida congressional delegation and the ninth-most independent member of either party among 435 members. That would normally be seen as the perfect selling point for a general election in swing-state Florida, but we don't yet have a solid sense of what the climate is for the Democratic primary electorate.

Normally, Florida Democrats shun the more reliably liberal choice. See Janet Reno (who lost to Bill McBride in 2002) or Nan Rich (who lost to Charlie Crist in 2014). This cycle may be different, with Trump helping rev up the Democratic base.

Gillum seems to have concluded his path to the nomination is to campaign as the second coming of Bernie Sanders. He has drawn financial support from liberal stalwarts including George Soros, Jane Fonda and Norman Lear.

At some point, Graham may want to remind liberal activists that Gillum actively supported the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, while she voted against fast-track authority when in Congress.

In this "invisible primary" stage, among the most important measures of candidates' viability in a state as large as Florida is how much money they can raise. Morgan and Levine both are capable of spending tens of millions of their own dollars, so the money question mainly applies to Gillum, Graham and King.

The latest financial reports have not been released, but Gillum's campaign said he has raised about $765,000 so far this year. That would be a more impressive haul if some of his supporters hadn't been talking about him raising at least $1 million in that period and had King — a virtual unknown in Florida politics — not reported raising about $500,000 in less time and also tossing in another $1 million of his own money.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, already has $6.8 million in his own political committee, though he has not formally entered the race.

Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.

Comments
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

This has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. As the force behind a number ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18
Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

You would have thought the controversy over whether chickens should be left alone to keep boldly roaming the streets of historic Ybor City — and the impressive pro-chicken lobby that showed up to argue on their behalf — would be the quintessential on...
Published: 09/15/18

5 takeaways from Paul Manafort’s plea agreement

Five takeawaysWASHINGTON — Paul Manafort’s agreement to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel marks a milestone in the investigation led by Robert Mueller. Here are several key elements:Mueller knows more than we doThe public doesn’t kn...
Published: 09/14/18
Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

CLEARWATER — Residents can hear varying perspectives on the Nov. 6 referendum on whether to change Clearwater’s form of government into a strong mayor system at two upcoming forums.The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a forum Monday ...
Published: 09/13/18