Memorial Day is, as any grillmaster worth his Big Green Egg can tell you, the unofficial start of summer. With the most tumultuous election season in a generation heading into the final stretch, the answers to these ten questions will shape the immediate future for the state and – in some cases – the nation.
Can Donald Trump compete in Florida? The math for Hillary Clinton is simple: Win the 18 states every Democratic candidate has won each time since 1992 plus Florida and she’s at 271 electoral votes. It’s the second part of that equation — win Florida — that’s the hard part. But, so far, Trump has yet to invest in a real campaign for the state’s 29 electoral votes. NBC News reported last week that Trump’s presence in Florida is “nonexistent” with few staffers and no official campaign headquarters. Florida is also ground zero for #NeverTrump, the movement of dissident Republicans, many of whom supporter former governor Jeb Bush, who have sworn to not vote for Trump. Even a small percentage of the GOP base not voting for Trump would make it very difficult for him to win the state.
Will a Florida Man — or woman — be on the presidential ticket? Bill Nelson will be given the courtesy of appearing on Clinton’s shortlist for VP, but there’s little chance of him being selected. Despite what others contend, I believe Rubio is a possibility for Trump, but also possibilities (albeit long-shot) are Governor Rick Scott and, believe it or not, Attorney General Pam Bondi. Why? Because as one top GOP donor with contacts in Trump’s camp and Scottworld, Rick Scott is probably the only major pol willing to run with Trump. Stranger things have happened.
WWMD — What will Marco do? Much of the national GOP establishment — from Trump to his colleagues in the Senate — is on bended knee, pleading with Rubio to run for re-election. Rubio has been steadfast in saying he will be a private citizen come January of next year and even recently helped raise money for his friend Carlos Lopez-Cantera‘s bid to succeed him. But as the drumbeat for him to reconsider grows louder — and control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance — Rubio will be under extraordinary pressure to run for re-election.
How much money is Carlos Beruff willing to spend? Operating in a world where Rubio does not run for re-election, the wealthy Manatee homebuilder has catapulted himself into the top tier of GOP candidates by spending, by one estimate, as much as $4 million on television ads. How much more is Beruff willing (and able) to spend in the Republican primary against four other opponents, none of whom has yet to catch fire with voters. Meanwhile, when does one of Beruff’s opponents, Todd Wilcox, open his wallet and start spending some of his personal fortune? Either way, it should be a lucrative summer for Florida TV stations.
How nasty will the Alan Grayson vs. Patrick Murphy Democratic primary get? Political reporters can hardly open their email inboxes without reading a press release charging Grayson with an ethical transgression lying or Murphy lying about Grayson. The animosity between the two men is palpable as the rhetoric they employ is ratcheted up to sledgehammer proportions. With most of the Democratic establishment lined up behind Murphy, this race has taken on the same contours of the Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders rivalry that threatens to split the Democratic party.
If Rubio takes the plunge, is Charlie Crist in trouble? David Jolly‘s status as the frontrunner in the GOP primary for Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat would quickly evaporate were Rubio to enter the race. Jolly knows this and has said he’d withdraw if Rubio took the plunge. Once out of the U.S. Senate race, will Jolly turn around and run for re-election to his Pinellas-based U.S. House seat, despite it being dramatically redrawn to slightly favor a Democratic candidate? Right now, Charlie Crist has only token opposition on his way back into electoral politics, but if Jolly jumps back into CD 13, the race would be one of the most high-profile congressional campaigns in the country.
Who is going to pay for all of these competitive congressional campaigns? The good news for voters — and political junkies — is that there are at least a dozen Florida congressional districts in play this election cycle. The bad news? Where will the money come from to fund all of these campaigns. The answer is, with many Florida donors tapped out or turned off by the presidential race, the money is likely to come from outside of Florida as the D.C. special interests wage proxy fights from the Panhandle to Miami Beach.
How will Bob Buckhorn, Gwen Graham, Phil Levine, Adam Putnam, and Will Weatherford spend their summer? The 2018 gubernatorial race is already underway with Graham actively exploring a run and Putnam raising money hand-over-fist for his Florida Grown political committee. Meanwhile, Buckhorn is hard at work cementing his legacy as a two-term mayor of Tampa, Levine is campaigning hard for Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Weatherford is taking care of his personal business while quietly asking top Republican donors to give him time to make a decision. If you think 2016 is exciting, wait ’til you see Florida’s 2018 election cycle.
Will the Zika virus be the hot issue on the campaign trail? — Right now, the numbers are small. Only a couple hundred Floridians are infected with the mosquito-borne illness. But as the temperatures rise and the bug spray flows, will how to combat this horrifying disease become the sleeper issue of the 2016 campaign? Look for the Zika debate to be as loud as a mosquito buzzing in your ear once the Summer Olympics in Rio — ground zero for the outbreak — are underway and American tourists risk infection by traveling there.
What do we not know about Florida politics that we don’t know? “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” In other words, the first seven questions addressed are about known-knowns. I wonder about this every year because the beauty of Florida politics is that there is always another Florida Man storyline that comes out of nowhere and disrupts the status quo. Or there could be a hurricane or an oil spill or … who knows?