Florida Democrats’ Crowded 2018 Fight

Shut out of the top office in the Sunshine State for 20 years, Democrats face a historically diverse field looking to replace Rick Scott.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum
Chet Susslin
Zach C. Cohen
Add to Briefcase
Zach C. Cohen
March 20, 2017, 8 p.m.

Flor­ida Demo­crats are gear­ing up for one of their most crowded primar­ies in re­cent his­tory, with hopes of win­ning the swing state’s Re­pub­lic­an-held gov­ernor­ship for the first time in two dec­ades.

Demo­crats from all parts of the state and all back­grounds are lin­ing up to re­place term-lim­ited Gov. Rick Scott, with the nom­in­a­tion fight quickly be­com­ing a ver­it­able smor­gas­bord for a party that has been locked out of the gov­ernor’s man­sion since Jeb Bush took of­fice in 1999.

The win­ner will un­doubtedly face a for­mid­able Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee, with state Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mis­sion­er Adam Put­nam rais­ing nearly $10 mil­lion for a likely bid. But the primary, which will take place Aug. 28 next year, will keep much of the fo­cus with­in the party for most of the cycle.

“The hard­est race I will have to run will be the Demo­crat­ic primary,” Tal­l­a­hassee May­or An­drew Gil­lum, the first Demo­crat in the race, said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

While Flor­ida is no­tori­ously fickle in pres­id­en­tial con­tests, Re­pub­lic­ans con­trol both le­gis­lat­ive cham­bers and all elec­ted statewide of­fices with the ex­cep­tion of Sen. Bill Nel­son, who is up for reelec­tion in 2018.

The party in­creased its stand­ing in the House del­eg­a­tion to 11 out of 27 dis­tricts after the 2016 elec­tions, thanks in part to mid-dec­ade re­dis­trict­ing. But Pres­id­ent Trump car­ried the state with 49 per­cent of the vote, top­ping Hil­lary Clin­ton by just more than a point.

Ben Pol­lara, who chairs the draft com­mit­tee for Demo­crat­ic at­tor­ney John Mor­gan, cited a “big ex­ist­en­tial crisis in the Demo­crat­ic Party” be­fore not­ing, “The only way to re­take rel­ev­ance in the state is to take the gov­ernor’s man­sion.”

Gil­lum was the first ma­jor can­did­ate in the race, but he’s un­likely to be the only one from the state’s Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing pan­handle. Former Rep. Gwen Gra­ham has toured the state since leav­ing Con­gress in Janu­ary, and last month she de­pos­ited $250,000 in­to a new state PAC ahead of an ex­pec­ted bid to fol­low in the foot­steps of her fath­er, former Gov. Bob Gra­ham.

Most of the Demo­crat­ic field is based in the state’s oth­er urb­an cen­ters. Miami Beach May­or Philip Lev­ine launched a statewide com­mit­tee last month ahead of his ex­pec­ted run. Or­lando hous­ing in­vestor Chris King an­nounced a bid early this month, prom­ising “to run a cam­paign driv­en by a spir­it of in­nov­a­tion and can-do op­tim­ism.” Jack­son­ville nat­ive Henry Dav­is, a re­cently re­tired cir­cuit judge, filed to run last week on a plat­form of al­le­vi­at­ing poverty.

After Barack Obama car­ried the state twice, this crop of can­did­ates will deal with the new real­ity of Trump, who won with Re­pub­lic­an turnout in the state’s north­ern parts and sub­urbs, and des­pite Clin­ton im­prov­ing on Obama’s 2012 vote totals in Miami.

“It’s a les­son for those of us that are look­ing at ‘18 in terms of how you craft a mes­sage that ap­peals not just to in­terest groups or to iden­tity polit­ics but can res­on­ate throughout the en­tire state,” Tampa May­or Bob Buck­horn said in an in­ter­view, shortly be­fore he an­nounced he wouldn’t run for gov­ernor.

Not­ably miss­ing from the field is a state le­gis­lat­or or statewide of­fice­hold­er. Buck­horn’s de­cision not to run also leaves Demo­crats without a clear Tampa entrant for the first time in 20 years.

“That’s something a lot of folks are real happy about,” said Bob Poe, who chaired a PAC for former Gov. Charlie Crist’s failed 2014 bid to un­seat Scott. He said that in the past four cycles the Demo­crat­ic rank-and-file felt (he thinks falsely) that past nom­in­ees were “pushed down on the party.”

That’s “not go­ing to be the case this year,” Poe said.

Gil­lum has made the most con­cer­ted ef­fort to ap­peal to the party’s pro­gress­ive wing, hir­ing the same di­git­al firm, Re­volu­tion Mes­saging, from Sen. Bernie Sanders’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. Last week­end at a Demo­crat­ic Pro­gress­ive Caucus of Flor­ida meet­ing, he also de­cried the con­struc­tion of oil pipelines.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, Lev­ine high­lighted his own bona fides, not­ing his city’s battle with sea-level rise and in­vest­ment in job growth. But by con­trast to Gil­lum, the wealthy former cruise-ship-en­ter­tain­ment en­tre­pren­eur men­tioned his own sim­il­ar­ity with Trump.

“I be­lieve the worst back­ground in gov­ern­ment is gov­ern­ment,” said Lev­ine, who won his first elec­ted of­fice in 2013 when he be­came may­or. “And I think the Flor­ida voters pretty much may have said that in Novem­ber.”

Wait­ing in the wings are a num­ber of wealthy po­ten­tial can­did­ates who could shake up the race with sub­stan­tial self-fund­ing, just as Scott did in 2010 when the health care ex­ec­ut­ive rock­eted to his first polit­ic­al of­fice.

Palm Beach bil­lion­aire Jeff Greene, who lost in the 2010 Sen­ate primary, hasn’t ruled out a run. But ob­serv­ers place more stock in Mor­gan, who openly dis­cusses the pos­sib­il­ity of run­ning but has said he won’t make a de­cision un­til next year. He already en­joys statewide name re­cog­ni­tion, as evid­enced by a re­cent Saint Leo Uni­versity poll, thanks to his no-non­sense de­mean­or and TV ad­vert­ising boost­ing his fam­ily-owned law firm, Mor­gan & Mor­gan.

For now, Mor­gan’s in­de­cision is “go­ing to freeze up” po­ten­tial donors, Poe said. “There’s just go­ing to be a lot of scram­bling around.”

What We're Following See More »
WILL FOCUS ON FUNDRAISING
Katie Walsh Leaving White House for Political Role
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"President Trump's deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh is leaving her current position to work with political groups whose help the White House is seeking as it plows ahead with an ambitious agenda, two sources familiar with the move told the Washington Examiner." On the one hand, Walsh is said to be a master fundraiser. On the other, she's butted heads with many of her colleagues in the White House.

Source:
MODELED ON “GANG OF 14” DEAL
McCain Aims to Deal with Dems on Gorsuch
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. John McCain is looking to strike a deal with Senate Democrats that would confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, while preserving the right of the minority party to filibuster some nominations. McCain is trying to reprise the "Gang of 14" deal, which temporarily preserved the 60-vote threshold for lower-court nominees. This time around, "a deal would require eight Democrats to vote to advance the nomination in return for a promise that in the future they would be able to block a nominee in extraordinary circumstances." But McCain admitted he's not optimistic.

Source:
WOULD LET STATES DENY FUNDING
Pence Breaks Tie on Planned Parenthood Vote
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The GOP held open for more than an hour a vote on a measure that would "allow states to block federal family-planning funds to Planned Parenthood." Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is recovering from back surgery, was summoned to the floor to make the vote 50-50, after which Vice President Pence broke the tie in favor of the measure. Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were the lone Republicans to vote against it.

Source:
CONTRADICTS PRESIDENT
Ryan: I Won’t Work with Dems on Healthcare
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in an interview to be broadcast early Thursday said he does not want to work with Democrats on healthcare legislation, breaking with President Trump's recent comments."

Source:
WILL HE TRY TO PRIMARY THEM?
Trump Puts the Freedom Caucus in His Crosshairs
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login