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Rick Perry front-runner heading into Florida straw poll

Florida's most experienced political professionals are closely divided on whether Rick Perry or Mitt Romney will win Florida's Republican presidential primary, but overwhelmingly they see Romney as the stronger candidate to beat President Barack Obama in Florida.

More than 100 of Florida's sharpest political minds — including campaign consultants, lobbyists, politicians — participated in the latest St. Petersburg Times Florida Insider Poll, and the results were striking: Two-thirds of Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans pegged Romney as the stronger general election candidate, though Democrats were considerably more confident than Republicans that Perry would win Florida's crucial presidential primary early next year.

Half of the Republicans predicted Romney would win the primary, and 41 percent predicted Perry. Among Democrats, 56 percent expect Perry to win the primary, and 37 percent said Romney.

The survey included 54 Republicans, 43 Democrats and seven people not registered to either party. It was taken after last week's debate in Tampa and just as the candidates are about to descend on Orlando for the state GOP's Presidency 5 this week: a Fox News debate, Conservative Political Action Committee conference and a straw poll of nearly 3,500 party activists registered as delegates.

Is that mock election a credible indicator of a candidate's strength with Florida Republicans? Fifty-six percent of our Republican insiders said it was, and 43 percent said no. More than 80 percent of our insiders, Republicans and Democrats alike, predicted Perry will win that straw poll Saturday.

Trying to downplay its significance, Romney and Michele Bachmann are not planning to address the delegates on the day they vote. More than 70 percent of poll respondents said that was an unwise decision.

To see who participated in the Florida Insider Poll check the Buzz blog.

Jeb, disaster planner

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is getting into the for-profit disaster response business. A veteran of emergency response operations — having personally weathered Hurricane Andrew and then shepherded the state through seven mega-hurricanes as governor — Bush has joined forces with O'Brien's Response Management, an emergency planning company, according to a story in the Maritime Executive.

Brushing up on ethics

Spotted: former Gov. Charlie Crist attending an ethics class put on by the District of Columbia Bar last weekend. The class is required to be admitted to the D.C. Bar. Crist told Buzz he had let his membership lapse and wanted to get it reinstated because "you never know what may come up."

Sink means business

Former Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink barely lost the gubernatorial race to Rick Scott last year, but said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 that there's little about her campaign she second-guesses.

"I keep going back to two things: One is a guy who put up $75 million of his own money and outspent us probably two- or three-to-one. And the second very important thing, as you've reported on, is just the environment of the nation — a very anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, anti-the president (mood)," Sink said in the interview airing today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

She has launched a new public policy foundation,, to focus on boosting small businesses in Florida. What would have been her first steps to get Florida back to work as governor?

"I would have put together an incentive package directly relating to incenting businesses who are actually hiring more Floridians. The across-the-board idea doesn't work, because if you give people across-the-board tax cuts, who's to say it doesn't just go into their back pocket for a vacation or a vacation home," Sink said. "I would have really directly tied it to a business that's hiring additional employees and putting Floridians back to work."

Becky Bowers, Constance Humburg and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this week's Buzz.

Winner of the week

Al Cardenas. The chairman of the American Conservative Union and former Florida GOP chairman has put together a political blockbuster for Friday in Orlando: CPAC-FL. He's making the Florida GOP look good, holding the conference during the party's three-day Presidency 5 gathering. CPAC-FL will feature every major presidential candidate as well as conservative stars ranging from Marco Rubio to Ann Coulter and the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre.

Loser of the week

Tea partiers. Last week's CNN-hosted Tea Party Express debate was a lively affair, including a jarring moment when audience members cheered at the suggestion that society should let an uninsured 30-year-old die. That's American exceptionalism? Really?

Rick Perry front-runner heading into Florida straw poll 09/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 17, 2011 7:07pm]
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