State Sen. Jack Latvala continues to make moves that suggest he is serious about running for governor in 2018.
A political committee the Clearwater Republican runs is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. today on Treasure Island with top supporters and political consultants. Latvala told the Times/Herald last week that his interest in running for governor is real and he expects to make a decision later in the summer.
Latvala has raised $8.2 million in that political committee, called the Florida Leadership Committee, since 2013. He has spent $5 million of that, leaving him with more than $3 million in the committee. That puts him well behind fellow Republican Adam Putnam, who has already declared for the governor's race. Putnam has raised $11.4 million for the political committee he calls Florida Grown. He has spent about $3.1 million, leaving him with $8.3 million in the committee.
While Latvala is hardly a household name statewide, his long tenure in Tampa Bay politics would be a key part of any decision on whether he runs. The Tampa Bay area represents more than one-quarter of the Republican electorate in a potential primary race. Latvala was in the Florida Senate from 1994 to 2002 and then was elected again in 2010 and has been in office since.
Insiders weigh in on governor's race
Florida Democrats and Republicans are 15 months away from picking their 2018 nominees for governor, but the state's political elites see overwhelming early frontrunners.
The heavy Republican favorite is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, according to the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll. The Democratic favorite is former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, according to the more than 200 veteran political operatives, fundraisers, lobbyists and activists participating in the unscientific survey.
Putnam's poll position is no surprise, since he's the only one running so far and for all purposes has been running for years. Others looking at the race include House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes — more than three in four of the Insiders expect him to run — and state Sen. Latvala — more than 6 in 10 doubt Latvala will.
Seventy-four percent expect Putnam will face a strong primary challenger, but it's not clear who that would be. Asked about a hypothetical GOP primary pitting Putnam, Corcoran, Latvala and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of northeast Florida, a whopping 79 percent said Putnam would win, 10 percent said Corcoran, 7 percent said DeSantis and 4 percent Latvala.
"The field is not yet set on the Republican side. We expect an outsider to be in the race for the nomination. Just ask Governor McCollum if it matters to be the early frontrunner," said one Republican, referring to former Attorney General Bill McCollum, who was defeated by Rick Scott in 2010.
Said a Democrat: "Putnam is well-known and very likable. He is experienced and relatively moderate, which could have killed him in 2016. I think that post-Trump, in 2018, the Republicans may vote for moderate experience. Never count out Jack Latvala, a knife fighter and really smart tactician."
The Democratic field is already crowded, with Graham, the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, actively campaigning, along with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King and Miami Beach businessman and Mayor Philip Levine. Nearly 73 percent predicted Graham would win that four-person primary, while 12 percent said Gillum, and King and Levine each drew nearly 8 percent.
Levine told a crowd at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Friday that he is keeping the door wide open to running for governor as an independent candidate.
But the big question mark is whether multimillionaire trial lawyer John Morgan jumps in. More than 55 percent predicted he would win the primary if he ran, while nearly 35 percent said Graham would win. The good news for Graham? More than 57 percent of the Florida Insiders doubt Morgan will wind up running.
"Morgan is the wild card and would be the favorite in a primary," said a Democrat. "He is the Democrats' antidote to Trump and would not need as much money as the other candidates to build name recognition. If Morgan doesn't run, I think a fresh face like Chris King could gain traction in a primary. His Achilles' heel will be fundraising but if he keeps up his pace, his momentum will carry him through."
"Nobody on the D side will outwork, or outraise Graham. She's proven she knows how to work a campaign," another Democrat said. "Ultimately I think Morgan will decide his highest and best use is not jeopardizing the brand he's spent a lifetime developing, but working to force the Legislature to enact the medical marijuana amendment and (hopefully) to mount another statewide campaign to raise the minimum wage."
We allow Florida Insiders to weigh in anonymously to encourage frank assessments and predictions. This month's participants included 106 Republicans, 87 Democrats and 15 registered to neither major party. They are listed at tampabay.com/buzz.
Jeb called it
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday in Las Vegas: "When I ran for office, I said he is a chaos candidate and would be a chaos president. Unfortunately, so far, chaos organizes the presidency right now."
The former Trump rival said it appears the Trump administration is "living in the tyranny of the moment" instead of "executing on a clear agenda."
Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary contributed to this report.