It seems like an eternity since Bob Buckhorn ended speculation that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Governor, but the popular two-term Tampa Mayor could very well end up spending the next four or eight years in Tallahassee.
According to a new poll conducted by ClearView Research, Buckhorn is still wildly popular among Tampa voters, making him a top-tier contender to join the Democratic gubernatorial nominee as their Lieutenant Governor pick on the November ballot.
The poll, conducted in May, found no evidence of “Buckhorn fatigue” among Tampanians. More than three quarters of respondents said they had a positive view of the 60-year-old politician more than seven years into his reign at City Hall. Of those, 36 percent said they saw Buckhorn as “very favorable.”
The rest of the crowd weren’t too down on him. Just 7 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” impression of Buckhorn, while 5 percent were resolute in their dislike. The remainder, per the poll, were either unsure or refused to answer the question.
Of course, those numbers could shift in the current sharply divided political climate. It’s no secret that Buckhorn is a Democrat, but Tampa Mayor is a non-partisan office and no voter saw a “D” next to his name on the ballot in either 2011, when he won the job with 63 percent of the vote, or 2015, when he was re-elected with 96 percent support.
Buckhorn has his detractors, and while most attacks have rolled off him like water off a duck’s back during his time as mayor, their attacks would be magnified if his name was on the statewide ballot. Think the Koch brothers-backed blasts on Buckhorn’s involvement in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal.
Still, would adding Buckhorn to the ticket help the Democratic gubernatorial nominee? It’s not unlikely.
Hillsborough County is among the most important in any statewide election. It has accounted for about 6 percent of the state wide vote in the last four general elections, but despite voting plus-7 for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election and for Hillary Clinton by the same margin two years ago, the county has been much tighter in the past two gubernatorial races.
Charlie Crist won Hillsborough by a slim 48-46 margin when he ran for his old job as a Democrat in 2014, which was a downgrade from Alex Sink’s 50-47 performance in the county four years prior.
Take Buckhorn’s ubiquity in Tampa politics and his popularity and toss in the fact that Nov. 6 is shaping up to be a showdown between a loyal Donald Trump Republican and a Democrat — be it current poll leader Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene or Philip Levine — that has vowed firm opposition to the president.
That’s a recipe for running up the score in Tampa Bay.
But does Buckhorn even want to be Lieutenant Governor? It’s a largely ceremonial position that has no real assigned duties unless, per the Florida Constitution, the Governor doles them out.
That remains to be seen. Few believe he’ll sit on the sidelines after his term runs out in the spring, and rumors indicate he’s actively gunning for the job.
The ClearView Research poll was conducted May 1 through May 10 and took responses from 301 Tampa voters via live phone interviews, 38 percent of whom were reached by cell phone. The sample was balanced by gender, race, age, and party in order for our distribution to be consistent and similar to the actual voting population.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.64 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.