Florida Gov. Rick Scott's re-election prospects continue to improve, based on our latest Florida Insider Poll, and Republicans can sum it up in three words:
Thank you, Obamacare.
While just over half of the 130 veteran Florida politicos participating in this week's Tampa Bay Times Insider poll predicted that Republican Scott would beat Democrat Charlie Crist, 87 percent of Republicans expect a second term for Scott. Four months ago, 75 percent of Republicans expected Scott to win.
"Obamacare fiasco a total game-changer — an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats that's not going away," said one Republican.
Three out of four participants in the poll said they expect Obamacare to remain a significant liability for Democrats through the 2014 election.
"The debacle that is the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is shaping up to be the perfect storm for Democrats," a registered independent said. "And at this point, it is a huge liability for Charlie Crist because of his efforts to weld himself to President Obama's coattails."
Democrat Alex Sink is favored to win the special election in Pinellas County to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young by an overwhelming 80 percent of our Insiders, though several savvy participants expect the troubled health care rollout will help elect a lesser-known Republican.
"Alex Sink will be a victim of timing. The special election is too close to the botched health rollout," said one Democrat. "That with the inability to turn out the Democratic base in a nonpresidential cycle will be tough for her to overcome."
David Jolly, a lobbyist and former aide to Rep. Young, is the only significant Republican running so far, but another candidate such as state Rep. Kathleen Peters could get in by the time qualifying ends Tuesday. Jolly is already working aggressively to depict Sink as a carpetbagger since she has never lived in Pinellas County, but our Insider Poll participants are skeptical about the effectiveness of that attack.
Asked whether being from Hillsborough County or being a federal lobbyist is a greater political liability, nearly 8 in 10 Insiders said being a lobbyist is more problematic.
A ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Florida requires nearly 700,000 valid signatures by February — a tall order considering the state has only validated about 126,000. Still, 60 percent of the Insiders expect it to make it on the ballot.
These surveys of campaign operatives, fundraisers, lobbyists, political scientists and the like are unscientific, but offer a good snapshot of conventional wisdom among Florida's political elite. Participants this time included 67 Republicans, 54 Democrats and nine people registered to neither major party.
See a list at tampabay.com/buzz.
Former state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, has been running for governor for more than a year and shown little or no traction. At some point journalists, pundits and political junkies are going to have to decide whether the respected former legislator should even be taken seriously as a candidate.
In October, Rich raised $8,300 and spent nearly $8,800, leaving her with about $62,000. Crist raised about $870,000 in less than two weeks this month.
What do our Florida Insiders say? Nine in 10 said Rich is not a factor in the Democratic primary.
Ready for Hillary
More than 150 people from across the country gathered in Manhattan last week to discuss how they can help Hillary Rodham Clinton win the presidency in 2016. The Ready for Hillary super PAC is working — without the former secretary of state's blessing or candidacy declared — to build a grass-roots campaign and infrastructure to help elect Clinton once she decides to run.
Among the Floridians we've heard attended the national finance committee meeting: Florida Democratic Party vice chairman Alan Clendenin of Tampa, Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen, state Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Broward, Craig Smith of Miami, Ronald Feldman of Pompano Beach and Andy Tobias of Miami.
On Bay News 9
Check out Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Running mate buzz
A couple of interesting names we've heard lately as prospective Crist running mates: First, Val Demings, the popular former Orlando police chief who narrowly lost her congressional race against Dan Webster in 2012. Second, Bob Butterworth, the former Democratic state attorney general who joined Crist for his announcement this month and led then-Republican Gov. Crist's Department of Children and Families to overwhelmingly positive reviews.