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Florida Insider Poll finds doubt Democrats will nominate strongest candidate

But more than 200 experts in Florida politics heavily favor Adam Putnam to win his primary - and the governor's race
Clockwise from top: Gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Ron DeSantis, Adam Putnam, Chris King and Philip Levine. Graphic by Paul Alexander; Credit: AP, AFP/GETTY, Tampa Bay Times
Clockwise from top: Gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Ron DeSantis, Adam Putnam, Chris King and Philip Levine. Graphic by Paul Alexander; Credit: AP, AFP/GETTY, Tampa Bay Times
Published Jun. 15, 2018
Updated Jun. 16, 2018

The verdict is clear among Florida's political elites as to who would be the strongest gubernatorial nominees for the general election: Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Adam Putnam.

But among more than 200 Florida political experts participating in the latest Florida Insider poll, the verdict is much less clear about whom the Democrats are likely to nominate.

Nearly six in 10 of the campaign professionals, money-raisers, lobbyists, activists, and political scientists surveyed said former U.S. Rep. Graham of Tallahassee would be the strongest general election candidate for the Democrats.

Putnam is heavily favored to win not just the Republican primary but the general election as well.

Only  42 percent expect Graham to win the primary pitting her against four other men. Most, 51 percent, predict the nominee will be Miami beach businessman Philip Levine, who has spent about $10 million of his own money on TV ads airing for months that have launched him into first place in early polls.

"Levine in many ways is perceived as the front runner and rightfully so. He has been spending money wisely on tv but also has quietly built a strong and robust field presence- especially in Tampa and south Florida. Many democrats would make their peace with him mainly because he has he money to self finance his run, allowing money to be spread around to save Nelson, put the state senate in a posture to be flipped to the Dems and flip a Congressional seat or 3," said a Republican.

Less than 6 percent of those surveyed predicted any of the other credible Democrats running — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Greene, or Winter Park businessman Chris King –would win the nomination.

On the Republican side, an overwhelming 87 percent said Agriculture Commissioner  Putnam would be the strongest Republican for the general election and 72 percent (77 percent of Republicans) predicted he would beat U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the primary.

Putnam, as part of the GOP establishment in Florida, has far more ties to and friends among the Florida Insiders than DeSantis.

"Putnam will survive the recent problems in his campaign. He has a strong grass roots campaign. You can't win just being on Fox News," said one Republican, noting DeSantis' campaign strategy of relying mainly on Fox News appearances to reach Florida primary voters.

Another Republican: "Adam Putnam holds an almost insurmountable fundraising lead over Ron DeSantis, as well as a huge head start. Putnam will be the Republican nominee because he campaigns, connects with ordinary Floridians on issues Floridians care about, and knows how to win in Florida. DeSantis' campaign is showing almost no signs of life.

Florida Insider polls are unscientific surveys of people closely involved in the political process – including people working for or actively helping the candidates in question. We allow anonymous comments to encourage frank assessments and answers.

The polls reflect the conventional wisdom of Florida's political establishment, rather than actual public opinion or reality.

Asked which of the seven major candidates they expected to be Florida's next governor. Putnam was favored by an overwhelming  47 percent, followed by Graham with 23 percent, Levine with 17 percent, and DeSantis with 7 percent.

"Gwen Graham is the strongest Democrat in a Statewide election," said a Democrat. Adam Putnam is the strongest Republican. Graham beats DeSantis, Putnam beats anybody but Graham, Putnam v Graham is close, with a slight edge to Putnam without any headwinds. I can't predict what the political mood about Trump will be in October."

Among Republicans, 12 percent foresaw a Gov. Levine and 5 percent a Gov, Graham. Among Democrats 23 percent predicted Putnam will win the general election and 1 percent said DeSantis.

And the Trump factor?

A slight  majority, 51 percent, said Trump's standing with voters will hurt Republicans up and down the ballot "a little," 17 percent said "not at all," 16 percent said Trump will hurt other Republicans "a great deal," and another 16 percent said Trump in the White House will help Republicans on the ballot. Put another way, 16 percent think Trump is helpful to Republican candidates this year, and 68 percent think he will hurt them at least somewhat.

The 218 politicos participating in this month's Florida Insider poll included 112 Republicans, 89 Democrats, and 17 women and men registered to neither major party. They were:

Tom Alte, Jason Altmire, Gayle Andrews, Scott Arceneaux, Donna Arduin, Dave Aronberg, Rick Asnani, Jon M. Ausman, Roger Austin, Tim Baker, Brian Ballard, Ryan Banfill, Michael Barnett, Scott Barnhart, Rodney Barreto, Ashley Bauman, Alan Becker, Geoffrey Becker, Samuel Bell, Allan Bense, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Bilbao, Barney Bishop, David Bishop, Stephen Bittel, Greg Blair, Katie Bohnett, Matt Bryan, Bob Buckhorn, Alex Burgos, Dominic M. Calabro, Christian Camara, Bernie Campbell, Kristy Campbell, Dean Cannon, Chip Case, Betty Castor, Kevin Cate, Mitch Ceasar, Jill Chamberlin, Jim Cherry, Alan Clendenin, Kelly Cohen, Brad Coker, David Colburn, Mike Colodny, Gus Corbella, Jon Costello, Brian Crowley, Husein Cumber, Fred Cunningham, David Custin, Darrick D. Mcghee, Jim Davis, Justin Day, Nelson Diaz, Pablo Diaz, Victor Dimaio, Michael Dobson, Doc Dockery, Paula Dockery, Bob Doyle, Charles Dudley, Ryan Duffy, Vickie Dunn, Barry Edwards, Eric Eikenberg, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mikec Fasano, Peter Feaman, Cesar Fernandez, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Mark Foley, Andy Ford, Towson Fraser, John French, Jack Furnari, Tom Gaitens, Eduardo Gamarra, Wayne Garcia, Steve Geller, Richard Gentry, Julia Gill Woodward, Susan Glickman, Susan Goldstein, Alma Gonzalez, Jose Gonzalez, Adam Goodman, Cindy Graves, Jennifer Green, Ron Greenstein, Thomas Grigsby, Joe Gruters, Stephanie Grutman, Ron Gunzburger, Mike Hamby, Marion Hammer, Chris Hand, Abel Harding, James Harros, Jeff Hartley, Chris Hartline, Jack Hebert, Rich Heffley, Bill Helmich, Cynthia Henderson, Ann Herberger, Brad Herold, Max Herrle, Mike Hightower, Don Hinkle, Jim Holton, Erin Isaac, Christina Johnson, David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Jeff Johnson, Stafford Jones, Eric Jotkoff, Doug Kaplan, Fred Karlinsky, Joshua Karp, Michael King, Erik Kirk, Chris Kise, John Konkus, Jeff Kottkamp, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Stephanie Kunkel, Bill Lee, Tom Lewis, Beth Leytham, Nikki Lowrey, Susan Macmanus, Jose Mallea, Al Maloof, Roly Marante, Beth Matuga, Kim Mcdougal, Nancy Mcgowan, Clarence Mckee, Seth Mckee, Dan Mclaughlin, Kathy Mears, David Mica, Jamie Miller, Jon Mills, Frank Mirabella, Ed Miyagishima, Lucy Morgan, Samuel Neimeiser, Meredith Orourke, Maurizio Passariello, Alex Patton, Darryl Paulson, Jorge Pedraza, Scott Peelen, Rockie Pennington, Kirk Pepper, Evelyn Perez-Verdia, Joe Perry, Lisa Perry, Sean Phillippi, Gretchen Picotte, Ron Pierce, JC Planas, Bob Poe, Ben Pollara, Jeff Porter, David Rancourt, Susannah Randolph, Marc Reichelderfer, Andrea Reilly, George Riley, Jim Rimes, Franco Ripple, Pat Roberts, Monica Rodriguez, Jason Roth, Sarah Rumpf, Ron Sachs, Tom Scarritt, Steve Schale, Tom Scherberger, April Schiff, Jack Seiler, Kathleen Shanahan, Bud Shorstein, Patrick Slevin, Susan Smith, Roger Stone, Alan Stonecipher, Richard Swann, Kevin Sweeny, Cory Tilley, Greg C. Truax, Frank Tsamoutales, Greg Turbeville, Steve Uhlfelder, Christian Ulvert, Jason Unger, Greg Ungru, Matthew Van Name, Ashley Walker, Nancy Watkins, Screven Watson, John Wehrung, Andrew Weinstein, Susie Wiles, Mike Williams, Gregory Wilson, Jamie Wilson, Leslie Wimes, Jon Woodard, Jeff Wright, Zachariah Zachariah, Christian Ziegler, Mark Zubaly.