Although it may never come to pass, a redrawn Senate District 20 that would have Pinellas County Republicans Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes competing against each other shows that Latvala would come out on top, and it wouldn’t be close.
The St. Pete Poll survey shows that Latvala would defeat Brandes in a primary, 48-23 percent. Nearly a third of all voters, or 29 percent, are undecided.
However, the poll also shows that Brandes is more popular with Republicans across all of Pinellas County, getting 40 percent support to Latvala’s 33 percent, with 27 percent undecided.
In other words, this poll has something for both Latvala supporters and Brandes supporters.
Latvala’s side can argue that the longtime senator still owns north Pinellas, probably even more than Brandes’ camp would like to admit.
However, Brandes’ proponents can argue that among Republicans that know both Brandes and Latvala, the St. Petersburg Republican is competitive. And with enough money — which Brandes’ camp certainly has — anything is possible.
Then again, the biggest doubter of this poll may be Latvala himself, who took to Twitter Tuesday night to cast doubt on the poll’s methodology.
Undoubtedly, the poll comes with multiple caveats, with the largest being that all of the current Senate districts will soon be redrawn. The Florida Legislature has scheduled a special session for later next month to do so.
In their legal opinion striking down the Florida Legislature’s redistricting of eight congressional districts, the Florida Supreme Court wrote that U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s district should not cross Tampa Bay into Pinellas County. That’s led to speculation that the Legislature would redraw Arthenia Joyner’s SD 19 seat (which, like Castor’s, spreads across the Bay into Pinellas), keeping it in Hillsborough County. If that were to happen, it would likely make Brandes’ SD 22 seat (which includes most of the Pinellas beaches along with some of South Tampa) more Democratic leaning by cutting out South Tampa, creating a scenario where Brandes would look elsewhere to run for office, perhaps going up against Latvala in his Northern Pinellas SD 20 seat.
Under St. Pete Polls’ new SD 20, the demographics wouldn’t change much, but would become slightly more Republican in nature. Registered Republicans would increase by .03 percent. Democrats would drop by .4 percent, and independents would increase by 1 percent.
Latvala was first elected by Pinellas voters to the state Legislature in 1994, whereas Brandes has only been serving in Tallahassee since 2010. That factor plays out in the poll when it comes to name recognition. A full 60 percent of voters in SD 20 say they are undecided when asked about Brandes. In comparison, only 31 percent of SD voters say they are unsure when asked their opinion about Latvala.
St. Pete Polls interviewed 499 likely Republicans primary voters in what they have deemed the new District 20 seat, with a 4.4 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level. Overall, they interviewed 953 likely Republican primary voters in all of Pinellas County with a 3.2 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level. The poll was conducted on Tuesday, September 22, 2015.