1. Florida Politics

March column: Willis commission campaign pushes back on poll numbers

Published Jul. 1, 2016

Backers of Brian Willis in the tough Democratic primary campaign for the District 6 Hillsborough County Commission seat weren't happy about the results of a recent poll showing Willis running a distant fourth in the four-candidate race.

They say their own internal polling looks much better. In fact, it shows Willis could win.

The StPetePolls robo-poll showed Pat Kemp with 34 percent, Tom Scott 24 percent, John Dicks 6 percent, and Willis, the leading fundraiser in the primary, 4 percent.

It was paid for by political consultant Barry Edwards, who said he isn't working for any of the candidates but funded the poll because he may do so later.

But Willis backers contend the StPetePolls survey has a crucial flaw: Because the company uses automated surveying, it's not allowed to call cell phones. Young people, those most likely to use cell phones only, are a crucial demographic for Willis, a young lawyer active in transportation issues.

In response, the Willis campaign released a poll showing that when voters are given biographical information about the candidates, Willis actually leads the field with 28 percent to Kemp's 26 percent, Scott's 25 percent and Dicks' 4 percent.

It was done by EMC Research, which includes veteran Democratic Florida pollster Dave Beattie.

Internal campaign polls that use this technique — asking respondents their view a second time after providing a snippet of information about the candidate — aren't known as reliable, and the campaign didn't release any other data from the poll, such as the initial responses.

But Matt Florell of StPetePolls acknowledges that his company's inability to contact cell phones is also a weakness.

"It's partially true," Florell said. "We do miss out on some of the younger demographic. But in primaries, younger demographics are very low-turnout voters. If you're in a primary and you're depending on the younger demographic, chances are you're not going to get it."

He said the company weights its responses to get a more equitable age distribution in its polling samples.

Harrison seeks Democratic endorsers

State Rep. Shawn Harrison faces a tough nut in his District 63 re-election campaign – a region that includes much of the University of South Florida area, which tends to swing Democratic in presidential election years because of student turnout.

Harrison is trying to counter that with Democratic endorsements to show he's the kind of Republican capable of bipartisanship.

Last week, he announced backing from Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, and now he's adding a second prominent black Tampa civic leader — Fifth Third Bank president Brian Lamb. He also has backing from former Mayor Dick Greco.

Though he's a Democrat, Greco often backs Republicans for office.

Lamb and Harrison are close because of their shared interest in their alma mater, USF.

Lamb is chairman of the USF board of trustees and a former standout point guard on the basketball team. Harrison is a member of the Order of the Golden Brahman society and a lifetime alumni association member.

Young piles up campaign cash

With the help of a $20,000 check from U.S. Sugar Corp. and $25,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Dana Young has now boosted her campaign war chest for Tampa's District 18 state Senate race to nearly $1.4 million.

As of June 24, Young had raised $526,362 in her campaign account and $856,516 in her Friends of Dana Young political committee.

By comparison, her Democratic opponent Bob Buesing has raised $129,838. Joe Redner, who just qualified as a no-party candidate, has put $5,000 into his campaign and says he's willing to spend around $200,000 of his own money plus whatever contributions he pulls in without actively fundraising.

Other big contributions for Young during May and June included $15,000 from USAA insurance company and $10,000 each from John Rood's Vestcor Cos., Duke Energy, the Geo Group private prison operator, JM Family Enterprises auto dealership empire, Disney, a leadership PAC associated with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and the lobbying firm of former House Speaker Dean Cannon.

William March can be reached at