A 50-state survey by Morning Consult on the approval ratings of every senator and governor last week offered good news and bad for Sen. Bill Nelson as Florida's top Democrat heads toward an expected 2018 challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Nelson's good news in the January to March survey of 8,793 Florida voters: 53 percent of voters approve of Nelson's performance and 26 percent disapprove, giving him a higher net favorability (net +27) than either Scott (+21) or Sen. Marco Rubio (+14).
The bad news: More than one in five voters don't know enough about their three-term senator to have an opinion on Nelson. It's safe to assume that Scott will have considerably more money to spend defining Nelson than the incumbent's last two challengers, Connie Mack IV and Katherine Harris.
"Both Sen. Nelson and Gov. Scott have relatively strong approval ratings," said Morning Consult chief research officer Kyle Dropp. "However, if Scott enters the race he will immediately have a valuable leg-up in terms of name ID. More than a fifth (21 percent) of Florida voters aren't familiar with Nelson, compared to just 7 percent for Scott."
More bad news for Nelson: Scott's popularity is growing. Morning Consult's last survey, in September, found 49 percent approving of Florida's governor and 41 percent disapproving.
That doesn't exactly make him a national star, however. He had the 34th-best net favorability rating in the country. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, came in on top with +58 net approval and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also Republican, was dead last with a -46 net approval.
Among the U.S. senators, the independent gentleman representing the People's Republic of Vermont, Bernie Sanders, came out on top, with net approval of +54, while Kentucky's Mitch McConnell was at the bottom with a -3 net approval.
Morgan polls well
An April 4-10 automated poll by Gravis Marketing for the Orlando Political Observer found that in a hypothetical Democratic gubernatorial primary personal injury lawyer John Morgan would draw 14 percent support, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum 13 percent, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee 12 percent, Miami Beach Mayor and businessman Philip Levine 3 percent, and billionaire Palm Beach businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene 1 percent. That poll showed Nelson beating Scott for U.S. Senate, 56 percent to 28 percent.
Rubio is keynote
Sen. Rubio, who seems to be spending much more time paying attention to his home state than he has in years, will headline the Pinellas County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner on May 19.
"I am excited to have Marco Rubio as our keynote speaker," said Pinellas GOP Chairman Nick DiCeglie. "Marco has a bright future in front of him and I am proud that Pinellas County turned red for him in 2016."
Pinellas County also turned decidedly red for Donald Trump in 2016 after years of trending toward the Democrats. With the possible exception of Volusia County on the opposite end of the I-4 Corridor, there seems to be no remaining swing county in Florida besides Pinellas. Hillsborough had long been viewed as the most reliable bellwether county, but it has become pretty solidly blue in presidential elections.
Pinellas has a special place in Rubio's heart. Pinellas GOP activists provided him a key early boost when he was a long-shot challenger to then-Republican U.S. Senate candidate and home county favorite Charlie Crist in 2010.
DeSantis for governor?
A conservative political action committee is trying to rally national support around U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in hopes he will run for governor of Florida in 2018.
The Madison Project, which backed DeSantis' brief 2016 U.S. Senate campaign, put out a statement on a popular conservative website telling readers that DeSantis should run.
"He's not just a regional candidate — Ron is a congressman who has worked hard to represent the entire state of Florida," the statement attributed to Madison Project president Jim Ryun says. "Running for governor is a no-brainer for him."
The statement was on the Resurgent, a popular blog site created by Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host and political commentator. The same site also ran results from a poll from WPA Intelligence saying DeSantis matches up well with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican expected to run for governor next year. WPA Intelligence was a pollster for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in his campaign for the White House.
According to the Resurgent, which says it had "exclusive access" to the poll of more than 2,000 Republican primary voters — not verified by the Buzz — Putnam is the choice of 17 percent, while DeSantis is next at 9 percent. The poll showed Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Sen. Jack Latvala at 3 percent each, according to the Resurgent report.
DeSantis, 38, is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and has represented parts of northeast Florida in Congress since 2012.
Jeremy Wallace and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.