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Insiders poll: Jeb Bush tops Marco Rubio as presidential candidate

As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hits the Florida fundraising circuit this weekend still smarting from his bridge scandal, we can't help wonder how closely Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush will be monitoring his progress. After all, both Rubio and Bush are potential 2016 presidential rivals to Christie and Florida's deep pool of GOP campaign bundlers will be crucial to any candidate in 2016.

So it seemed a good time for a new Florida Insider Poll to check in on the perceptions of the Florida GOP's two favorite sons. We surveyed 124 of Florida's smartest politicos and found some overwhelming and bipartisan consensus:

Nearly 90 percent of the campaign consultants, activists, fundraisers and lobbyists — these are Florida politicos who know Bush and Rubio the best — said Bush would be a stronger presidential candidate than Rubio. We asked the same question two years ago, and 81 percent said Bush would be stronger.

"Jeb Bush is sure to have more support from Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., than Rubio, who's struggling to repair the damage to his brand brought on by his early support of immigration reform," said one Republican.

It's highly unlikely both would run, and it's not certain either will run. But what surprised Buzz is that our Florida Insiders think Bush is more likely to run for president than Rubio.

Only 44 percent expect Rubio to run, while 52 percent expect Bush will jump in. The Buzz's view is that Rubio is much more likely to run, but the recent damage done to Christie's image is likely to make some folks in the GOP establishment more skeptical about the New Jersey governor — and more interested in Bush.

"Chris Christie's recent problems have Republicans whispering Gov. Bush's name more and more loudly lately," one Republican noted. "New Jersey's loss may be Florida's gain."

Said another: "Never thought Jeb would run for president, still lean that way … but things are certainly setting up nicely for him with no other GOP contender being able to get much traction over the last year or so. And Jeb is the only one with the ability to continue to wait and not feel pressure to jump in early. So at this point it looks like more of a possibility than ever before."

Asked whether they expect Rubio will seek a second U.S. Senate term if he does not run for president, 97 percent said they did.

We also asked about the special election in Pinellas County to succeed the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young: 61 percent predicted Democrat Alex Sink will win and 39 percent picked Republican David Jolly. Democrats are more optimistic, with 9 in 10 predicting Sink. Two-thirds of Republicans predicted Jolly.

Our latest group of Insiders included 55 Democrats, 59 Republicans and 10 registered to no party or to a third party. They are listed on the Buzz blog at tampabay.com/buzz.

A Jolly divorce

Running to succeed Young for Congress isn't the only big development in David Jolly's life. Washington, D.C., court records show Carrie Elizabeth Jolly filed for divorce on Nov. 22 — about three weeks after the Republican formally announced his candidacy.

The records show they had been separated at least six months at the time of the filing and that Mrs. Jolly said she requires alimony. David Jolly, 41, told the court he agrees.

Jolly is already attached. He has been dating a former employee of his from his former lobbying firm in Washington. Laura Donahoe, 27, has been volunteering for his campaign. In 2010, The Hill named her the second-most beautiful person on its list of "50 most beautiful people" working on Capitol Hill.

Mother knows best?

At least one prominent fan of Jeb Bush is hoping he won't run. Barbara Bush last year declared "we've had enough Bushes" and repeated that sentiment in a C-SPAN interview last week.

"If we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office, that's silly, because there are great governors and great eligible people to run. And I think that the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes, there are just more families than that," the former first lady said, noting that she still thinks Jeb Bush is the best qualified candidate.

As his mother's comments became public, the former governor quipped on Twitter: "What date is Mother's Day this year? Asking for a friend."

Settling into the 7-2-7

Democratic congressional candidate Sink has been under attack as a carpetbagger — a longtime eastern Hillsborough County resident who snapped up a Feather Sound rental to appear more local for her Pinellas congressional bid.

Sink didn't help her case when she decided to rent in Feather Sound — the spot in Pinellas from where it's easiest to get back to Hillsborough. But give the Sink campaign points for not taking these questions for granted.

She got herself a cellphone with a 727 area code, for instance. And Buzz found that Sink on Dec. 2 renounced the homestead exemption on her lakefront home in eastern Hillsborough.

By officially declaring that the 4,000-square-foot home she and the late Bill McBride built in 1996 is no longer her primary residence, her tax bill will increase about $1,000. On top of that, she will lose her "Save Our Homes" property tax cap.

On Bay News 9

Check out St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Winner of the week

David Jolly. An obscure federal lobbyist and former aide to the late C.W. Bill Young suddenly looks like he could well be the next congressman in a seat long-coveted by countless more prominent Pinellas Republicans. You have to admire the chutzpah of a Washington insider running against Washington.

Loser of the week

Jack Latvala. The Republican kingmaker and state senator from Clearwater scrounged for another Republican to deny the GOP nomination to Jolly. Not only did his client Kathleen Peters get stomped, but at Jolly's victory party, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker declared Latvala nemesis Jeff Brandes Florida's best state senator. Ouch.

Insiders poll: Jeb Bush tops Marco Rubio as presidential candidate 01/18/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 18, 2014 7:35pm]

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