By Hastings Wyman –
Florida will elect a governor in 2018. Incumbent Rick Scott (R) is term-limited, so there is an open seat, which always draws a crowd. There is already a line of politicos in each party anxious to win the state’s top job. The ferment is especially rampant on the Democratic side, since the last Democrat to win the governor’s office was Lawton Chiles in 1994.
There are at least seven Democrats who are getting mentioned as potential candidates, including several who have announced and a number of others who are likely contenders. Three are mayors, which is unusual for a statewide race.
The first Democrat to officially enter the race was Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee. Described as a “rising star” by the Miami Herald, Gillum, 37, gained attention when he spoke at the national Democratic convention last year. “He’s a young, fresh face,” notes Professor Susan MacManus, political scientist at the University of South Florida. Gillum will be the only minority in race, which could be an asset in the primary. He has had some controversiesin Tallahassee. Moreover, no African American has ever won a statewide election in Florida, so there is a school of thought that Gillum is positioning himself to be chosen as a running mate for one of the other gubernatorial candidates. He’s already campaigning, and headed to Broward County last week, the day after he announced.
Former US Rep. Gwen Graham has not announced, but she is an early, though not certain, favorite to win the primary. Like her father, former US Senator and governor Bob Graham (D), she is a centrist. “She votes some with the Democrats, some with the Republicans,” says longtime political analyst Barney Bishop. “She is the candidate to beat. The Graham name is still magic.” He adds, “If she runs, she needs an African American as her running mate, but she won’t pick Gillum,” since both are from Tallahassee. Graham is “potentially very formidable,” says MacManus. “There are 10% more women than men among Democratic voters.” She is likely to be the only woman in a crowded primary and women are “particularly exercised in the current political climate.”
Philip Levine is the mayor of Miami Beach. He is an enthusiastic and pro-active liberal, which keeps in name in the news, but is sometimes a negative for him. During his tenure as mayor, he has been involved in several contentious issues. He’s currently involved in a lawsuit over trying to raise the minimum wage above the state law. He has pushed a failed effort to build a rail system on the island city. He is very wealthy and will appeal to the left wing of the Democratic Party, currently smarting over Donald Trump’s victory last fall.
John Morgan is a famous trial lawyer. His firm, Morgan and Morgan, advertises on television, billboards, the sides of buses, everywhere, so he’s got good name ID. Like several of the other contenders, he has a lot of money. He has been an advocate for medical marijuana, which passed in a referendum last year. On the downside, he got a DUI and lost his driver’s license and there’s a video of him in a bar cussing big time. But, says Bishop,” He’s the Democratic version of Donald Trump,” so this stuff may just roll off him. He’s from Orlando, in the I-4 corridor, Florida’s major population stretch.
Chris King, an Orlando businessman, filed to run the day after Gillum got in the race. King, a Harvard graduate, is the CEO of Elevation Financial Group, which provides affordable housing for seniors and families, in Florida and across the Southeast. King, a photogenic 38, is also from Orlando in the vote-rich I-4 corridor.
Former US Rep. Patrick Murphy has also been mentioned in the media as a potential gubernatorial prospect, but he has made no moves in this direction.
Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa, may or may not run. If he does, he will have strong appeal in the Tampa-St. Petersburg region. .
On the Republican side, the race is less crowded, but three potentially powerful contenders are expected to announce.
Adam Putnam, Commissioner of Agriculture and right of center Republican, is the early frontrunner. Florida’s “agriculture industry will be behind him, says Bishop, who adds that Putnam has already raised $7 million. Moreover, since he has been on the statewide ballot, he has considerable name ID.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also expected to run. He has little name ID with the voters at large, but has ties to Americans for Prosperity and will likely raise a lot of money. Corcoran wants to end corporate welfare and is against expansion of Medicaid. “He’s from the far, but not the far, far right,” says Bishop.
State Sen. Jack Latvala has not yet made his intentions clear, but he might run for governor. He was a state senator for eight years, was term-limited out, and is now back in the Senate, where he chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is a moderate Republican who gets along with Republicans and Democrats, including the lawyers and the unions. He is also a pro-environmental Republican, which appeals to many business people in Florida, who depend heavily on the tourist trade. On the downside, he may be labeled a RINO (Republican in name only), but if he can get through the primary, he could be the strongest Republican, says Bishop. “He has the smartest political mind in the Florida Senate.”
The most likely outcome, after the primaries, is a face-off between Gwen Graham (D) and Adam Putnam (R), which would pit two close-to-the-center candidates who could probably unite their parties, but would then fight-it-out for independent voters.
In any case, the race – both primaries and the General Election – “will be very expensive and very competitive,” concludes MacManus. Stay tuned.