Did Jeff Atwater just hand a U.S. Senate seat to Florida Democrats?

in 2017/Top Headlines by

Imagine you are a well-heeled, card-carrying member of Florida’s Republican establishment. It’s already a difficult election cycle with your having to choose between supporting Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio for president.

Now, because of Jeff Atwater, your election cycle just became even more difficult.

After FloridaPoltics.com first reported that the Florida Chamber of Commerce has poll numbers showing Atwater would be the clear frontrunner were he to decide to run for the U.S. Senate, the Florida CFO told the Tampa Bay Times‘ Jeremy Wallace that he was indeed considering entering the race after earlier this year declaring that he would not run.

And with that, a thousand groans could be heard up and down the streets of Tallahassee. The Republican establishment is peeved.

Of course it is peeved at Atwater for his Hamlet act about whether or not to run. But what the Florida GOP should really be upset about is that Atwater just likely handed the seat to Florida Democrats.

That’s because, at the end of the day, Atwater likely won’t run. Yet, with the chance of him entering the race, the current field of Republicans campaigning for the seat just got screwed.

Screwed because it will be hard for Carlos Lopez-Cantera, David Jolly, and Ron DeSantis to raise money or recruit volunteers or win endorsements with Atwater looming over the race.

“Awww, I’m sorry, David, I’d love to support you, but Jeff’s my friend and I have to wait to see what he does before I can help you,” will be the refrain from the Gucci loafer-wearing set.

And while the Republicans wait to see what Atwater does, Patrick Murphy (or maybe Alan Grayson) can gather his resources and attempt to build a substantial head start over whoever emerges from the GOP primary.

My friend David Jolly will be particularly hamstrung while Atwater figures out what he wants to be when he grows up. The Pinellas Republican is targeting much of the moderate Republican base to which Atwater appeals.

Meanwhile, there are quite a few conspiracy theories out there about who is behind the Atwater boomlet. First among these is that it’s the Florida Chamber itself, with its favorable-to-Atwater poll numbers. The thinking goes that the Chamber does not want to have to choose between Atwater and Adam Putnam in the 2018 gubernatorial race. So why not encourage Atwater to run in 2016?

Of course, if Atwater ends up being partially responsible for a Democratic win in the U.S. Senate race, his chances of beating Putnam and/or Marco Rubio and/or Will Weatherford will be slim.

This is not to mention the argument that control of the U.S. Senate may come down to who wins Florida’s open seat. Imagine if Atwater dithers so long and decides not to run and that the Democrats win back control of the Senate because it won back the Florida seat.

If that happens, poor ol’ Jeff Atwater — about the nicest and one of the most competent men in all of politics — won’t be able to get a cup of coffee at the Republican Federated Women of South Florida club.

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.