Joe Henderson: Stock up on popcorn because the Governor’s race is getting real

in 2017 by

Set controls for the Wayback Machine to 2013, when the race (such as it was) to be Florida’s governor was taking shape.

Incumbent Republican Rick Scott was still battling the perception that he was one of the least popular governors in the country. And Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist was, to put it discreetly, an uninspiring choice to oppose him.

Barely half of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. Yes, that was an off-year election when turnout is always lower; it was 75 percent in last November’s presidential election. But if the last governor’s race was bland vs. bland, the one shaping up for 2018 should get voters worked up a lot more.

This is getting real.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam just made official what everyone already knew, namely that he is running for the Republican nomination. He is smart, great on the stump, popular, well known, and, as my wife noted this morning when his picture flashed on the TV, “He looks so young.”

In past elections, that combination would likely have guaranteed about 60 percent of the vote. But as has been noted here in recent weeks, this is not the Democratic party that gave us Recycled Charlie.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham officially joins the Democratic field today, and that changes everything. The panhandle has been the exclusive property of Republicans in recent elections, but Graham puts it back in play for her party.

As a member of Congress, she did a 14-county farm tour in northern Florida back in 2016, listening to issues and building alliances with community leaders.

Compared to Putnam, Graham is a fiery liberal. Her voting record in Congress, though, shows an independent streak and a willingness to go against her party bosses when she believed it was the right thing to do.

That will play well on the trail.

This might be the biggest thing she has going though (other than the fact she is Bob Graham’s daughter) – she really wants this job. I always suspected Charlie Crist campaigned partly out of revenge for the way Republicans treated him, but mostly because it’s a sweet gig and Charlie craves the spotlight.

I think Graham is running because she is on a mission and being governor is the best way she can accomplish that. She is a ferocious advocate for the environment, strongly opposing fracking and off-shore oil drilling.

She has been building support with state seniors on issues like Medicare and Social Security.

Graham will have a fight on her hands for the nomination. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Christopher King have already declared, and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine might jump in too. It’s too soon to predict an outcome, given variables that include President Trump’s popularity (or lack) on the next election day.

Here is one safe prediction, though. Compared to recent governor’s races, this one is going to be entertaining. Better stock up on popcorn.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.