Marco Rubio says he intends to serve out a full U.S. Senate term if he wins re-election and is not eyeing another presidential run in 2020.
The vast majority of Florida politics experts surveyed in our latest Florida Insider Poll, however, don't seem to buy it. Nearly three in four of the more than 160 Sunshine State campaign professionals, fundraisers, lobbyists, and academics we surveyed expect Rubio to run for president in 2020 if Hillary Clinton wins the White House this year.
"Take this to the bank: If Marco Rubio is re-elected on Nov. 8, his total lack of interest in the work of the United States Senate will return on Nov. 9. Rubio '20 starts that day," said a Democrat.
Rubio is running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. A whopping 87 percent of our Insiders expect the Miami-Dade Republican to win the second term that he had spent much of the year insisting he did not want as he ran for president.
"Marco will win the TV war. He would not have jumped into race so late without a promise of $40M to $50M from national committees," said a Republican.
"Unfortunately for Patrick Murphy, the Senate race is not the same race he signed up for," a Democrat said. "Floridians seem to accept Rubio's flip-flop back into a race for a job he doesn't want. BIG IF, if the polls are wrong, and Hillary Clinton wins Florida by a larger margin with a huge turnout in the I-4 corridor including the large Democratic-performing Hispanic communities, maybe Murphy will squeak out a victory."
Polls show a neck-and-neck race for president in Florida, with Donald Trump barely leading in the RealClearPolitics polling average, but the Florida Insiders remain skeptical about Trump's Sunshine State prospects.
About 57 percent expect Clinton will win Florida's 29 electoral votes. Nearly seven in 10 expect her to win the presidency.
"Hillary should be able to win Florida, but it will be close. Trump has proven to be far better than anyone at getting earned media and Hillary has certainly given him a lot of new fodder recently between her health "scare" and "deplorables" comment," said a Democrat. "The more she makes mistakes, the more she'll have to spend to dig herself out and to win swing states like Florida."
"Marco will win Florida by about 4-5 points, and Trump will lose Florida by about the same," a Republican predicted. "It would be larger except Hillary is the worst Democratic presidential candidate since McGovern '72. The difference is the overwhelming non-Cuban Hispanic margin, which will put Trump in a position he cannot make up."
We allow participants to participate anonymously in Florida Insider surveys to encourage honest assessments. The names of this month's Florida Insiders are listed on the Buzz blog: tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics.
Reminder: These are thoroughly unscientific surveys that reflect the conventional wisdom of Florida's political elites. A year ago, 85 percent of the Florida Insiders said they expected Jeb Bush would win the Florida primary. He dropped out before it even happened.
An automated poll of more than 1,000 registered voters in the Florida bellwether county of Hillsborough — which Barack Obama won by nearly 7 percentage points in 2012 and has gone with the winner in every election since 1960 except one — shows Trump leading Clinton 44.6 percent to 43 percent to 6.9 percent for Libertarian Gary Johnson.
That's within the margin of error for the Sept. 7 robopoll by St. Pete Polls, but Hillsborough has generally been seen as trending into a reliably Democratic county.
"This should be a clarion call to Democrats not to take this election for granted," said Democratic consultant Barry Edwards, who paid for the poll on behalf of local candidates.
The qualifier here is that St. Pete Polls does not reach cellphones, which means it likely misses younger voters.
Negron changing staff
Fresh off a bitter two-year fight to become state Senate president, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is shaking up the Senate's professional staff in a way the Legislature hasn't seen since former Senate President Mike Haridopolos six years ago.
The biggest turnover will occur in the Appropriations Committee, where nearly every high-level staff director has been moved out.
As part of his rapprochement with his former rival, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Negron named Latvala head of the Appropriations Committee. But the scenario means that Negron must include people in his inner circle who had been rivals previously, so he has used his hiring power to surround himself with people Negron has brought to the job — a management tactic often intended to increase staff loyalty.
Latvala, reached Thursday after a visit to Stuart where he met with Negron, said he had no problem with the staff shakeup.
"It is the prerogative of the Senate president to do the staffing,'' he said. "I have no problem with it."
Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this week's Buzz.