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Sabato’s Crystal Ball calls Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race a ‘toss-up’ in initial ratings

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With so much uncertainty about who is in or out of the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race, it’s not surprising that at least one political seer has deemed Florida too-close-to-call.

Initial 2018 gubernatorial ratings released Thursday by Sabato’s Crystal Ball ranked Florida as one of 10 states considered a “toss-up” going into the 2018 election cycle. The ratings found more than half of the 38 gubernatorial races on the ballot next year either start in “competitive toss-up or leans Republican/Democratic categories.”

The report noted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been “gearing up for a gubernatorial run for years” and is seen as the favorite on the Republican side to succeed Gov. Rick Scott. But with several other Republicans considering a run, authors Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik report it is “hard to say just how clear his path to the nomination will be.”

Putnam has been touring the state meeting with local Republican and business group to talk about his vision for the future, and has been building up his campaign coffers in advance of his expected bid. State records show Florida Grown, the political committee expected to fuel his gubernatorial bid, has raised more than $10.5 million since 2015, and had more than $7.7 million cash on hand at the end of March.

The Bartow Republican is scheduled to have a barbecue in his hometown on May 10, just five days after the expected end of the annual 2017 Legislative Session. The event, according to the Tampa Bay Times, will be held at the Old Polk County Courthouse.

But Putnam could face competition from Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, both of whom are believed to be considering a 2018 bid.

Latvala, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, raised more than $246,000 for his political committee, the Florida Leadership Committee, in the days leading up to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. That one-week fundraising haul in March came after one of his best fundraising months to date, when his committee raised nearly $1.1 million in February.

The Democratic side isn’t any easier to predict, according to the team at Sabato’s. While the authors write it might “come down to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and ex-Rep. Gwen Graham, both of who could be considered rising stars in the party,” the team does note there are “some wealthy wild cards who could self-fund, such as 2010 Senate candidate Jeff Greene, businessman Chris King, and well-known attorney John Morgan.”

Gillum and King are the only Democrats who have filed to run, but Graham is widely expected to jump in the race soon, as is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who could fall into the self-fund category.

State records show Levine pumped $2 million of his own money into his political committee, All About Florida, in March. Levine has spent the last few weeks touring the state meeting with community members.

Both Gillum and King have been staffing up. Gillum announced this week that Scott Arceneaux, the former head of the Florida Democratic Party, would be joining his campaign as chief strategist; while King unveiled a host of key hires, including Raymond Paultre as his director of strategic engagement and Stephanie McClung as his finance director.

Gillum announced earlier this month he had raised $765,000 — spread between his official campaign and his political committee Forward Florida — since the start of 2017, most of which was raised since March 1. Meanwhile, state records show King brought in nearly $1.2 million for his official campaign in March. That sum included a $1 million contribution King made to his own campaign.

But a crowded field could be an issue for Democrats hoping to turn Florida blue, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The rankings noted that although Democrats came close to winning in 2010 and 2014, they “haven’t won a gubernatorial race in Florida since 1994 … so an extremely crowded field in an expensive state with a late primary could be problematic for them.”

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