7 big questions facing Florida politics heading into the fall

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Labor Day has come and gone, and with it, any sense of the doldrums of summer. Election Day is nigh. The most tumultuous election season in a generation is now heading into the homestretch. So once again, let’s ask some questions, the answers to which may hold the fate of the state, and even the nation.

How bad will the Zika-pocalypse get?

The Florida Department of Health has identified just under 800 cases of the mosquito-borne virus throughout the state, with Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood serving as ground zero. At what point, if at all, do we start to panic? When there are 1,000 cases? 2,000? 5,000? Such a large number seems far-fetched but the funding to fight Zika is running out and Congress appears unable to devote more dollars to eradicating the problem. What we need now is for the Mouse and his rivals at Harry Potter Land to lean on every pol they’ve ever helped to find another gear.

Ask yourself this: If you are a German tourist and your choices are to visit Zika-plagued Florida or somewhere with less mosquitoes, where are you vacationing? And as legislative economist Amy Baker told lawmakers Monday, state revenues are relying heavily on tourism these days, with a record 109 million visitors last fiscal year. “Currently, tourism-related revenue losses pose the greatest potential risk to the economic outlook from Zika,” her report said. “Previous economic studies of disease outbreaks and natural or manmade disasters have shown that tourism demand is very sensitive to such events.” Ya think?

By how many points will Donald Trump win Florida?

That’s right, The Donald will win the Sunshine State. Sure, sure, the difference in Hillary Clinton‘s ground game and Trump’s is like comparing Dalvin Cook to a high school running back, but it doesn’t matter. The Sunshine State is bizarro land that – despite the statistics – is still scarred from the 2008 economic collapse.

It does matter and it is telling that Trump can rally 40,000 Floridians to his events, while Clinton struggles to fill the room. And about those organizational and turnout issues, remember that the Florida GOP is running dozens of million-dollar state legislative campaigns. For Trump, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

What is Rick Scott’s ceiling?

Imagine for a moment if the Rick Scott who arrived in Tallahassee six years ago was anything like the man who is currently occupying the Governor’s Office. He would have had Donald Trump begging him to be his running mate with talk of him being a frontrunner himself in 2020.

Those disastrous first months of Scott’s tenure – along with an inexplicable aversion to the most basic understanding of the state’s open government laws – are what has the former health care executive’s approval numbers still in mixed-bag territory. But after facing head-on a summer of challenges and crisis, Scott has emerged as the kind of strong, dare I say compassionate, leader who won’t be satisfied heading off into the sunset in January 2019.

Can Patrick Murphy close the gap on Marco Rubio?

The conventional wisdom taking shape is that Rubio won this race the moment he decided to double-back on his decision not to run for re-election. Last week, Rubio crossed a very important psychological threshold, earning the support of 50 percent of those surveyed by Quinnipiac University. This despite all of the issues Republicans have at the top of the ballot. Plus, national Republicans see holding Rubio’s seat as the key to keeping control of the U.S. Senate.

How does Murphy, who seems to take one step back for every two steps forward, suppose he can close the six or seven point deficit? I genuinely don’t know other than to say it was only January when Murphy was a double-digit underdog to Alan Grayson and look how that turned out.

What kind of permanent damage is being done to Pam Bondi’s political career?

For those who know Bondi from her days as omnipresent spokeswoman for the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office and continue to see her in the Tampa social scene, it’s shocking to see “Pam” at the center of a national pay-to-play scandal involving Trump University.

Although she remains a popular figure in Republican circles and she might one day be able to score a gig with Fox News, her post-Cabinet future is unsure.

Will Sheldon Adelson pony up one more time to stop John Morgan marijuana initiative?

The only thing standing between Floridians and de facto legalization of marijuana is a billionaire in Las Vegas who in 2014 bankrolled the opposition to the medical marijuana initiative led by John Morgan. So far, Adelson is relatively quiet in 2016, both in the presidential race and in the Amendment 2 campaign.

That’s because he’s probably reading the same polls everyone else is … the ones that show Amendment 2 with nearly 70 percent support. But if Uncle Shelly pulls out his checkbook, those numbers could change quickly.

Will national Republicans get interested in David Jolly’s campaign?

The Pinellas Republican has won the first ten days of the general election campaign versus Democrat Charlie Crist. He swatted back not one, but two flimsy attacks by Crist, while gaining earned media for his work on the Zika crisis. He’s even launched a cute TV ad featuring his puppy.

But he’s still staring uphill at district registration numbers that favor Crist. And he just doesn’t have the resources to fight an air war with the former governor. Jolly’s best chance of keeping his seat is for national Republicans – some hoping to put the final nail in Crist’s coffin – to pay for the air cover that Jolly’s grassroots campaign needs.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.