Jeb Bush says he hasn't made up his mind about running for president in 2016, but the overwhelming verdict from 121 of Florida's most plugged-in politicos is that Bush ultimately will take the plunge.
Seventy-four percent of the participants in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider poll predict Bush will enter the race for president in 2016, while only 33 percent expect that Sen. Marco Rubio will.
"Jeb is showing all the signs of running," said one Republican. "Rubio is just too young and unseasoned yet for the presidency. Needs to wait a bit longer."
Rubio, 42, also says he is undecided about 2016 and that Bush, 61, will have no bearing on his decision. Our Insiders don't buy it.
A whopping 86 percent said Rubio will not run if Bush does.
"Marco will do everything in his power to be prepared should Jeb decide not to run, but he will not enter any campaign until Jeb makes his decision known - nor should he," a Republican said. "Jeb would be the bridge Marco needs to major donors and the consensus Republicans that will determine the nominee, and he will do nothing to light any match near that bridge."
Another Republican said, "I think Marco Rubio will run for president because he can't help himself, but it will be the literal end of his career. Everyone will see that his meteoric rise is a mile wide and an inch deep. I also take the contrarian view that Jeb Bush will not run for president in 2016. I think once he takes a look at what it will actually take to run (not win but just run), he will opt to continue to be one of our party's best elder statesmen."
And there was this intriguing GOP prediction: "Rubio eventually drops out and endorses Jeb. Rubio comes home in 2018 to run for governor and wins."
On the more immediate marquee race, Charlie Crist vs. Rick Scott for governor, our Florida Insiders were evenly split on whether Crist or Scott prevails, with 51 percent predicting Scott and 49 percent Crist.
"For all the hubris in Scottworld, they still have a guy that less than 40 percent of Florida voters want to re-elect for governor," a Democrat said. "The one-sided nature of the TV wars will go away by August, if not sooner, and when it does, absent some national trend, voters will be reminded why they like Crist and why they don't like Scott."
Another Republican said that "despite the ineptitude of Scott's out-of-state campaign staff, there's a lot to be said for a $4 million-to-zero TV ad blitz. By October, both candidates will have sky-high negatives, and the race will come down to voter enthusiasm, which favors Republicans during the off cycle."
Republicans and Democrats alike are overwhelmingly confident in their nominee, though Democrats a tad more so. Eighty-four percent of the Democratic Insiders said Crist would win, while 80 percent of the Republicans predicted Scott.
"I don't think Scott realizes how many people don't trust him. Money will not buy this election," said one Republican predicting a Crist victory. "After the session and veto period, watch how many will jump to the other side."
The Florida Insider Poll surveys political operatives, activists, fundraisers, donors, academics and more. This month's group included 51 Democrats, 60 Republicans and 10 people registered to neither major party.
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The first-quarter fundraising numbers are out and, judging by the announcements from the leading governor's candidates, everyone is thrilled.
"Find someone to high-five,'' the Crist campaign said as it announced $1.5 million raised in March by both his "Charlie Crist for Florida" political committee and his campaign. The campaign launched in November and it was a record month.
What they didn't say: they raised $6.1 million for the quarter.
Scott's campaign is happy too.
"The first quarter and the numbers speak for themselves,'' said Matt Moon, campaign spokesman as he announced quarterly totals of $17.1 million. "We out-raised Charlie Crist's operation by $11 million."
What Moon didn't say: Crist edged Scott in the month of March as Scott raised $1,196,571 for his campaign and $361,910 for "Let's Get To Work."
Of course, Crist's operation notes that the Scott campaign also spent about $4 million in campaign ads during the quarter as well.
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State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, is pushing several pieces of pro-consumer legislation regarding utilities, including repealing a utilities tax, deregulating renewable energy, and allowing tax incentives for businesses that use solar energy. None of them appears to be going anywhere in Tallahassee, however, and he talked about it in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.
"That's not really a shock when you look at the Legislature and the contributions that have been given to legislators this session. We're already up to about $3 million. And they've got one lobbyist for every two legislators, so any shock or surprise that anything that effects the utilities is not moving would be very naive," said Dudley in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
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Winner of the week
David Jolly. The rookie Republican U.S. representative for Pinellas County kept a campaign promise to vote against his leadership's budget proposal; in a Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll, 3 out of 4 said Alex Sink would be unwise to challenge Jolly again in November; and national Democrats have no strong plan B should Sink take a pass.
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Loser of the week
Florida correctional officers. As the 2014 legislative session winds down, it looks increasingly unlikely that Florida's prison guards will see the kind of long-sought pay raise to bring them more in line with other law enforcement officials.
Connie Humburg, Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this week's Buzz.