As so often happens in Republican primaries, the race for Florida's 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination is shaping up as largely a question of which candidate or prospective candidate is the true conservative. But why wait 12 months to let Florida's primary voters decide when we have our trusty Florida Insider Polls?
We asked nearly 200 of Florida's best-informed political players whether the most "genuine conservative" is House Speaker Richard Corcoran, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, state Sen. Jack Latvala or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The clear winner of that title, with 41 percent, was DeSantis, followed by Corcoran with 29 percent, Putnam with 24 percent and Latvala with 6 percent.
The Florida Insider Poll is an unscientific poll but the insiders — campaign operatives, lobbyists, political scientists, money raisers and activists — know these candidates far better than most voters. "Genuinely conservative" is in the eye of the beholder.
" 'Genuinely conservative' depends on the definition of conservative these days," said one Republican. "Someone who fits the traditional conservative Republican model of yesteryear is Jack Latvala — someone who was a Republican back when it wasn't cool or advantageous to be one. He's willing to compromise to move the ball down the field. He'd govern similarly. Ron DeSantis (who's never held a leadership role in government) meets the new (Americans For Prosperity-funded) model of conservative — he may be philosophically conservative, but that version accomplishes zilch legislatively."
We also asked our insiders to predict what the primary fields will look like a year from now. Less than 17 percent doubt Corcoran and Latvala will be on the primary ballot, while nearly 40 percent doubt DeSantis would be. A whopping 99 percent expect Putnam to be on the ballot.
Fully half of our insiders think another candidate will join the GOP field, while only one in five expects another major Democratic candidate for governor besides Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King, Philip Levine or John Morgan will emerge. In fact, nearly two-thirds expect Gillum — whose campaign has been stymied by a pending FBI investigation into Tallahassee City Hall — will be on the ballot in 2018, and nearly two-thirds doubt Morgan — who has yet to commit to running — will end up on the ballot.
"Morgan has more to gain by people talking about him running than by actually entering the race," a Republican said. "The risk vs. reward for Morgan is lopsided. He has almost nothing to gain by running or actually winning. Can we talk about Gillum??? I'm shocked that the campaign is even still operational. The hits just keep on coming for that guy. His only benefit of remaining in the race is to decry all of the information being leaked, regarding the federal investigation, as political assaults."
The Tampa Bay Times allows people to weigh in anonymously for these surveys in order to encourage honest assessments from the insiders.
More than seven in 10 expect King to stay in the race until the primary and three-quarters expect that of Levine. Nearly 98 percent think Graham will be on the ballot.
This month's Insider Poll included 106 Republicans, 80 Democrats and 12 people registered to neither major party. They are listed online at tampabay.com/buzz.
DeSantis calls to limit Mueller's investigation
Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is considering a run for governor, makes an appeal to President Donald Trump and his supporters with a proposal that would stop Robert Mueller's investigation after six months.
It is unlikely to get adopted when the House returns and takes up a spending bill, but the amendment reflects a feeling among some conservatives that Mueller's Russia probe could be too expansive.
"Congress should use its spending power to clarify the scope and limit the duration of this investigation," DeSantis said in a statement to Politico. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "has said that the DOJ doesn't conduct fishing expeditions; the corollary to this admonition should be that Congress will not fund a fishing expedition."
Alex Leary contributed to this report.