Florida Insider Poll: Doubts about Bill Nelson beating Rick Scott grow

Among more than 200 experts and veterans of Florida politics surveyed in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll, nearly six in 10 this week said they expect Florida's Republican governor to unseat the three-term Democratic Senator.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida (Associated Press)
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida (Associated Press)
Published May 11, 2018|Updated May 11, 2018

Even amid all the talk of the Democratic political wave this year, Florida's political elites are growing skeptical about Sen. Bill Nelson's prospects for fending off Gov. Rick Scott's challenge.

Among more than 200 experts and veterans of Florida politics surveyed in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll, nearly six in 10 this week said they expect Scott to unseat the three-term Democratic Senator.  Just over two months ago, more than 57 percent of the Florida Insiders surveyed expected Nelson to win.

"I'm very worried about Sen. Nelson," said a Democrat. "I think the Democrats need to reevaluate our candidate and Gwen Graham should jump to the Senate race immediately."

A Republican had a similar thought: "Bill Nelson's best chance is a run for Governor. He should pivot now before Scott pastes his face to the floor. At least Nelson would win his party's nomination. Better chance to win in the general than any other declared candidate in his party."

"Rick Scott is focusing on Hispanics way before Nelson is. He did this in 2014. He is traveling to Puerto Rico, getting close to Venezuelans, Cubans and Colombians," said a person registered to neither major party. "Nelson cannot ignore our Latino community and should have messages in English and Spanish. Commercials in both languages. He cannot only depend on the Dixiecrats."

Florida Insider polls are unscientific surveys that reflect perceptions among Florida's chattering class, rather than actual voters who decide elections. We allow anonymous responses to encourage frank assessments by people closely involved in the political process.

"Who wins the U.S. Senate race will depend entirely on how well Donald Trump is doing at the time of voting," a Democrat said. "Scott has run behind in his two races for governor, and needed a Republican tailwind. This time, I think he's a point or two ahead, and Nelson needs the tailwind."

A surprisingly high proportion of the Insiders — three out of four — predicted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam would win the GOP gubernatorial nomination over Donald Trump's preferred candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida.

That probably reflects the Tallahassee-centric view of those surveyed. In late February, 55 percent predicted Putnam would win, 40 percent DeSantis.

"Some have said DeSantis is following Rick Scott's playbook. He apparently hasn't reached the chapter where it says to raise and spend real money," said a Republican.

The survey came after Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced he would not run for governor, as had appeared likely a few months ago.

"The best thing that ever could have happened for DeSantis was for Corcoran to not run," one Republican said. "Putnam will now be painted as a moderate, a career politician, and part of the establishment problem in government. Now that Corcoran is out, it should free up some of the hard right money that's been on standby. Putnam has a large money lead, but that only gets you so far when your opponent is constantly on cable TV and has a better message for conservatives."

On the Democratic side of the governor's race, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham was favored by about 48 percent of the 211 people surveyed, Miami Beach businessman Philip Levine by 46 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 5 percent, and Winter Park businessman Chris King by less than 2 percent.

"The Democrats have a problem. They have four candidates, but none that the public is clamoring for," said someone registered as an independent.

"Graham's numbers have fallen from 18 percent support after announcing to 9 percent now. Not exactly the trajectory a candidate wants. Gillum is the darling of the Progressives, but of few others. King is the antithesis of Norm Petersen — no one knows his name. Levine is the favorite at the moment, but I don't see him sustaining and expanding his support. The leading Democrat is I Don't Know and I Don't Care."

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has floated the idea of running for governor with Republican former U.S. Rep. David Jolly as his running mate. Only 29 percent of the Florida Insiders said that would be a formidable ticket.

"There is no greater demonstration of the danger caused by the human ego than the Murphy/Jolly fantasy. But I love a good train wreck so let it roll," said a Republican.

The Florida Insiders see the Republican primary for attorney general as all but over, with more than three fourths predicting former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody winning.

And finally, what's the future hold for outgoing state House Speaker Corcoran, the Land O'Lakes Republican whose gubernatorial ambitions flamed out? Nearly 56 percent doubt he will serve in elective office again.

"Look for Corcoran to be appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by either Scott before he leaves office or Putnam after he enters the Govs office," said a Republican, making a prediction echoed by several Insiders. "Three Justices will be forced to retire, and Florida Legislature gave the Supremes a huge salary increase this past session."

The month's 211 Florida Insiders included 116 Republicans, 79 Democrats, and 16 others. They were:

Tom Alte, Jason Altmire, Gayle Andrews, Scott Arceneaux, Dave Aronberg, Ralph Arza, Jon M. Ausman, Roger Austin, Tim Baker, Ryan Banfill, Michael Barnett, Scott Barnhart, Ashley Bauman, Alan Becker, Geoffrey Becker, Sam Bell, Allan Bense, Mitchell Berger, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Bilbao, Greg Blair, Travis Blanton, Katie Bohnett, Anthony Bonna, Paul Bradshaw, Matt Bryan, Brian Burgess, Alex Burgos, Christian Camara, Bernie Campbell, Kristy Campbell, Chip Case, Betty Castor, Kevin Cate, Mitch Ceasar, Jill Chamberlin, Jim Cherry, Kelly Cohen, Brad Coker, David Colburn, Mike Colodny, Hunter Conrad, Gus Corbella, Jon Costello, Brian Crowley, Husein Cumber, David Custin, Jim Davis, Justin Day, Hayden Dempsey, Richard Denapoli, Pablo Diaz, Victor Dimaio, Doc Dockery, John Dowless, Bob Doyle, Ryan Duffy, Pete Dunbar, Barry Edwards, Eric Eikenberg, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mike Fasano, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Terry Fleming, Mark Foley, Andy Ford, Towson Fraser, Ellen Freidin, John French, Tom Gaitens, Eduardo Gamarra, Wayne Garcia, Steve Geller, Susan Goldstein, Jose Gonzalez, Adam Goodman, Bob Graham, Ron Greenstein, Thomas Grigsby, Joe Gruters, Stephanie Grutman, Ron Gunzburger, Mike Hamby, Marion Hammer, Mike Hanna, Nick Hansen, Abel Harding, James Harris, Chris Hartline, Alex Heckler, Rich Heffley, Cynthia Henderson, Brad Herold, Mike Hightower, Donald Hinkle, Brian Hughes, Erin Isaac, Matthew Isbell, Aubrey Jewett, Christina Johnson, David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Jeff Johnson, Ken Jones, Stafford Jones, Eric Jotkoff, Doug Kaplan, Fred Karlinsky, Joshua Karp, Henry Kelley, Omar Khan, Erik Kirk, John Konkus, Chris Korge, Jeff Kottkamp, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Bill Lee, Jackie Lee, Alan Levine, Tom Lewis, Beth Leytham, Nikki Lowrey, Susan Macmanus, Jose Mallea, Al Maloof, Javier Manjarres, Roly Marante, William March, Beth Matuga, Brian May, Kim Mcdougal, Darrick D Mcghee, Nancy Mcgowan, Clarence Mckee, Kathy Mears, David Mica, Jamie Millet, Jon Mills, Frank Mirabella, Paul Mitchell, Pete Mitchell, Ed Miyagishima, Lucy Morgan, Ana Navarro, Pat Neal, Samuel Neimeiser, Meredith O'Rourke, Edie Ousley, Maurizio Passariello, Alex Patton, Brandon Patty, Darryl Paulson, Anthony Pedicini , Jorge Pedraza, Evelyn Perez-Verdia, Joe Perry, Sean Phillippi, Gretchen Picotte, Ron Pierce, JC Planas, Bob Poe, Van Poole, David Ramba , David Rancourt, Marc Reichelderfer, Joy-Ann Reid, Nan Rich, George Riley, Jim Rimes, Franco Ripple, Patrick Roberts, Monica Rodriguez, Jason Roth, Sarah Rumpf, Ron Sachs, Steve Schale, Tom Scherberger, April Schiff, Jack Seiler , Stephen Shiver, Bud Shorstein, Scott Simpson, Patrick Slevin, John Stemberger, Alan Stonecipher, Richard Swann, Cory Tilley, Tom Tillison, Trey Traviesa, Greg C. Truax, Frank Tsamoutales, Ryan Tyson, Steve Uhlfelder , Christian Ulvert , Jason Unger, Matthew Van Name, Steven Vancore, Ashley Walker, Nancy Watkins, Screven Watson, John Wehrung, Susie Wiles, Jamie Wilson, Rick Wilson, Leslie Wimes, Jon Woodard, Jeff Wright, Zachariah Zachariah, Eric Zichella, Christian Ziegler.