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Is Richard Corcoran running for Florida Governor or not?

The outgoing House speaker repeatedly delays decision on his political future.
House speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, pounds the gavel to start the first day of legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
Published May 4, 2018
Updated May 4, 2018

After months of vacillating, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran still has not entered the race for governor, and it might be too late to mount an effective bid for the Republican nomination.

Corcoran has twice postponed planned announcements — first on April 16 and again next week. His poll numbers are dismal and his fund-raising has slowed to a trickle.

The consensus among Republican strategists and experts is that Corcoran still has time, but that by waiting this long, he has made his job a lot more difficult. The statewide primary election is Aug. 28.

Amid prolonged indecision, Corcoran sought to attract attention Thursday night with a Tweet promising a "big announcement."

The speaker was in Washington late this week on a trip friends called a last-ditch attempt to attract high-dollar commitments for a race against two better-known and better-funded opponents, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Corcoran was invited to participate in a debate with his two rivals in Orlando on Saturday if he was definitely going to run, but he is not scheduled to appear.

"He needs to stop this Hamlet business and make a decision," said long-time Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich. "Richard has a steeper hill to climb and the sooner he begins to climb it, the better."

Corcoran calls himself a fiscal conservative, but he has burned through $4.6 million of nearly $7 million collected by his political committee, Watchdog PAC.

That's a huge sum for a non-candidate — and he has little to show for it.
Corcoran has spent $345,000 on polling alone in payments to Tony Fabrizio over an eight-month period that began last August.

He spent about $2.4 million on a TV ad buy highlighting his opposition to so-called sanctuary cities. The commercial shows a bearded man in a hoodie stalking and aiming a handgun at the face of a young woman.

The ad's violent images brought charges of race-baiting and did nothing to prop up Corcoran's low poll numbers.

It was the work of Corcoran's well-paid team of political and media advisers and was as ill-timed as it was controversial.

The ad began airing two weeks before the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland that inspired an historic debate over Florida's gun laws, and got pulled off the air quickly.

Read more: Ad warns anyone can get killed by undocumented immigrants

Corcoran did not respond to several interview requests. A spokesman for his PAC, Taylor Budowich, declined to comment.

With the odds seemingly stacked decisively against Corcoran, friends have urged the Land O'Lakes lawyer to switch races and seek the elected Cabinet office of attorney general. He has repeatedly said he would not.

"I'd either run for governor or go home," he told the Times/Herald in late January.

To switch races now would open Corcoran to criticism that he's a rank opportunist looking to further his political career.

Corcoran helped write a 2012 political manifesto, Blueprint Florida, that formed the basis of his agenda as speaker.

He has followed one of the blueprint's conclusions, that legislators should never declare for a higher office until after an election-year session.

The report, which Corcoran has cited as a proud achievement, condemned "self-promotion" in a state Capitol where lawmakers use public offices as stepping stones to "a greater political journey," a practice labeled as "expedient."

Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano said Corcoran has "absolutely no desire" to run for attorney general.

"There's not much time left for raising money," Fasano said.

Only once in the past four decades did a candidate wait until June to announce and still won: Democrat Bob Butterworth, who became attorney general in 1986.

Corcoran's former law partner, Paul Hawkes, a lobbyist and former judge, declined to speculate on Corcoran's plans.

Another ally, Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said Corcoran is still weighing a run for governor but declined further comment.

It would have to be an unconventional campaign to draw public and media attention, because Corcoran is so little-known and has so little money.

"Corcoran has been unconventional in all aspects of public service," said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, the House majority leader. "I wouldn't expect his campaign for governor to be conventional either."

While his statewide name recognition hovers at around 3 percent, polls show that more than 60 percent of Republicans are undecided on their choice for governor.

Experts say Florida voters are notorious for not paying close attention to political campaigns until the final weeks, and Corcoran has a proven track record of in-your-face-style politics.

"He would give the other candidates fits," said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist and Republican fund-raiser.

Political scientist Aubrey Jewett at the University of Central Florida said Corcoran's timing puts him at a disadvantage, but his flirtation with running for governor is widely known.

"It may have hurt him some with endorsements. On the other hand, this is one of the worst kept secrets in Florida politics," Jewett said. "In terms of coverage, he still was able to get a fair amount because he's speaker."

Jewett said Corcoran needs a deep-pocketed donor to spend money on his behalf — someone like the Koch brothers, who have backed some of Corcoran's initiatives through their advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity.

But AFP likes DeSantis, and the group does not always endorse a single candidate in major races.

"The bad news for Corcoran is he's a distant third. The good news is there's a heck of a lot of people who are undecided," Jewett said. "He could still have a shot."