Mitt Romney's smartest vice presidential choice would come from Florida, say an overwhelming number of Florida's smartest politicos. It's not Marco Rubio, however.
It's Jeb Bush.
The ex-governor overwhelmingly topped the list in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll asking more than 100 insiders who would be Romney's best choice for vice president. Thirty-six percent of our participants — and nearly 47 percent of Republicans — named Bush, while 15 percent named Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, 12 percent named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and nearly 9 percent named Rubio. Among Republicans, Rubio and Christie tied with 8 percent.
Gov. Bush has downplayed his interest or the likelihood of him winding up on the ticket, though he has not been nearly as adamant about it as, say, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. ("If I thought that call was coming, I would disconnect the phone," Daniels said recently.)
Our periodic Florida Insider Poll is a measure of conventional wisdom among Florida's political elites — fundraisers, campaign operatives, lobbyists and the like — and is not scientific. This month's poll consisted of 119 people: 65 Republicans, 45 Democrats and nine independents.
These are the political professionals who best know the pros and cons of Bush and Rubio. Even if many doubt Bush will wind up on the ticket, the clear consensus in Florida political circles is that he's far and away the smartest pick for Romney.
Other vice presidential prospects receiving multiple votes but less than 5 percent overall included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Daniels. Mind you, these were not predictions of who will wind up on the ticket, but assessments of who would be the strongest choice.
Our insiders are not especially bullish on Romney's prospects in November, though they expect him to win Florida's 29 electoral votes.
While 55 percent of participants predicted Romney will win Florida — including 80 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats — nearly two-thirds of respondents expect Barack Obama to win a second term. That includes 96 percent of Democrats who participated and 42 percent of Republicans.
When we last asked for that prediction in January, half of the Republican Insiders predicted Obama would win the overall election, so GOP optimism is slowly ticking up.
LeMieux's tough talk
Polls show Connie Mack IV overwhelmingly leading former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux in Florida's Republican U.S. Senate primary, but there's no question Mack so far generates little grass roots excitement among activists paying close attention. And that may explain why the Fort Myers congressman — often confused with his popular father, a former senator of the same name — lately has been avoiding local party meetings where LeMieux or other GOP rivals attend, and where Mack has consistently lost nonbinding "straw polls."
"People are figuring out that Connie Mack IV is not Connie Mack III, and when they find out about this guy's record and the fact that he misses 40 percent of his votes, that he may or may not live in Florida, and that he's got a checkered past at best, we're doing better and better, and we're seeing that with grass roots Republicans, business leaders, tea party Republicans across the state," LeMieux, demonstrating the negativity of this primary, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Other Tampa convention
The Florida Democratic Party will host its 2012 delegate nominating convention titled "Florida's Time to Shine" in Tampa on June 2 at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. After electing delegates to the national convention, the party will hold a reception honoring them and assorted Democratic speakers. Honorees include Bob Graham, Betty Castor and Les Miller. Speakers include Bob Buckhorn, Kathy Castor and Jim Davis.
A Florida giant retires
Charlie Reed, a blunt-talking champion of higher education who left Florida 14 years ago to run California's universities, is retiring. Reed announced Thursday that he will step down as chancellor of CSU and that he and his wife will return to Florida.
Reed left Florida in 1997 in part because of what he saw as a steady erosion of support in the Legislature for this state's universities.
"Florida has a motto: We're cheap and we're proud of it," Reed said as he prepared to depart Florida. Five years ago, on a brief return visit to Tallahassee, he criticized state leaders for their constant meddling in the governing structure of higher education, and sharply criticized the Bright Futures scholarship program as the "dumbest" higher ed policy he had seen.
Welcome home, Charlie.
Rubio's book tour
Rubio will go on a tour to promote his book, An American Son, starting June 30 in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Coral Gables. On July 1, he'll hit Naples, Sarasota and Tampa. From there, more of Florida, then Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. The book publishes June 19.
Buzz saw some interesting faces last week at a St. Petersburg fundraising reception for former state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who is running for state attorney in the Palm Beach area: former Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida GOP finance chairman A.K. Desai.
Separately, both explained their presence at the Democratic fundraiser at Cassis American Brasserie the same way: "He's a friend."
Trump at #RNC2012?
Donald Trump tweet from Tuesday: @realDonaldTrump: Hmmm...can you imagine me speaking at the RNC Convention in Tampa?thedc.com/MhqIMF That's a speech everyone would watch
Alex Leary and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz. For the latest Florida political news follow Adam Smith on Twitter: @AdamSmithTimes.