Election 2020

Trump Driving Both Dem and GOP Leaders in Florida Governor Race

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) speaks at a rally with President Donald Trump on July 31, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Immigration, healthcare, the economy and gun control are at the top of voters’ minds going into Florida’s August primary, according to a recent Florida Atlantic University poll, but the top issue for front-running GOP and Democratic candidates is President Donald Trump.

Former Rep. Gwen Graham leads the Democratic primary field. Rep. Ron DeSantis is on top of the GOP pack of gubernatorial candidates. Neither would be where they are in the polls if it wasn’t for Trump.

And don’t think DeSantis doesn’t know it. A new campaign ad, “Casey,” featured DeSantis showing his children how to “build the wall,” telling them stories about President Trump, and using Trump campaign signs to teach his offspring how to read.

Putting a woman in office to decide issues that affect women is the crux of Graham’s campaign. Since she’s the only female candidate, the 2018 Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary is Gwen versus The Men. But when Hollywood does the movie, that will only be the subplot. The overriding narrative for Gwen Graham is stopping Donald Trump – a song Democrats love to sing.

“If this is the way the general turns out, this will be a race that’s all about the national dynamic for Democrats to motivate the women’s vote against Trump because of his positions and what he has said,” Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon pollster, said to Politico.

Coker said Graham’s played her gender card to create a winning political hand. She has the highest name recognition of any of the Democratic candidates and the highest favorable rating.

DeSantis, on the other hand, wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for Trump. If he and Granholm win Florida’s Aug. 28 primary, Trump has to be the issue that drives the election.

“Having a woman candidate face off against Trump’s guy,” Coker added, “is the beating heart of the type of campaigns that Democrats are counting on.”

Graham warned more than 20 women during a roundtable discussion in mid-July that if she loses in November, they will undoubtedly lose their right to a safe, legal abortion.

The Associated Press reported Graham’s logic followed the favorite Democratic Party line on abortion rights. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, if he makes it to the bench, could be the vote that overturns Roe v. Wade. And when that happens, Graham said, women are going to want a woman sticking up for their healthcare rights in Tallahassee.

“The line of defense for women’s healthcare rights — for women to be able to determine their own rights with their own bodies — becomes the states. The states will either protect a woman’s right to choose or not,” Graham said. “We all know what’s on the line.”

DeSantis has already said if he becomes governor, he’ll push state lawmakers to restrict a woman’s right to get an abortion.

An early favorite in the Democratic governor’s primary if only because of her high name recognition — she is a former member of Congress and her father, Bob Graham, was both a U.S. senator from, and a past governor of, Florida — Graham held a narrow lead in the Florida Atlantic University poll released July 25.

She topped Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine 20 percent to 16 percent. However, 31 percent of people likely to vote in the Democratic primary described themselves as undecided.

The Florida Atlantic University poll showed DeSantis held a 36 percent to 27 percent advantage over state Agriculture Commissioner and former Rep. Adam Putnam. That’s a 180-degree turn from earlier surveys.

Such a drastic change of Republican voters’ minds can only be explained one way: Trump endorsed DeSantis, not once, but twice. At least that’s the opinion of Tony Fabrizio, a GOP pollster who conducted an independent survey for an unnamed political group.

Fabrizio’s poll showed DeSantis with a 12-point lead over Putnam: 42 percent to 30 percent. When Fabrizio factored in people who said they were probably going to vote but also had a track record of voting, DeSantis’ lead ballooned to 47 percent to 30 percent.

Putnam has run far more TV ads than DeSantis. So why isn’t Putnam the leading candidate? He should be ahead by a mile. In fact, Putnam held a double-digit lead over DeSantis. And then came Trump.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida,” President Trump tweeted June 22. “Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes — Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!”

The June tweet was not the first time Trump announced support for DeSantis’ campaign.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law,” Trump tweeted December 22, 2017, “who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Fabrizio told Politico more than half of the voters he surveyed were aware of Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis and they supported the congressman 58 percent to 27 percent. He could only find 8 percent of voters in his survey group who had not heard of the endorsements, and they favored Putnam by 23 points.

“Usually, if people have seen your ads, they support you. And if they see your opponent’s ads, they support him,” Fabrizio said. “The problem for Adam is people in both groups like DeSantis. And he’s winning those who have seen both.”

“It’s clear,” Fabrizio added, “this is all about Trump, and this is bad for Adam Putnam.”

Still, a primary win does not a governor make.

“(Graham’s) finally got her act together,” Coker said. “If she gets past the primary and gets to the general election, she’ll be tough. She has the highest favorable and the lowest negatives. She is set up pretty well in the general.”