Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 42

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

Joe Henderson: After Florida primary election, time to swing back to the middle

Whatever results from Tuesday’s Florida primary election, we can be sure of one thing — the people who decide the primary’s outcome won’t be the ones who determine the winners in November.

That’s a flaw in Florida’s primary system that becomes increasingly apparent. Voters can only cast ballots for offices like the Governor if they are registered with a major party. There are about 13 million registered voters in Florida, and of those nearly 3.5 million have expressed no party affiliation.

While that shows a refreshing independent streak, it also freezes those people out of any say who gets nominated. Oh, they can still vote on local issues in the primary, including judgeships and some nonaffiliated local offices, but not the big stuff.

A system like that forces moderate candidates to run hard to the left or right in the primary because it’s understood that only the most dedicated voters will turn out for that. They are the ones most likely to have hard-line views about what they expect from their party’s nominee, and that forces candidates to sometimes go to extremes to show those folks they have the necessary chops (see Putnam, Adam).

After the primary fun, it’s often a shift back to moderation for the nominees.

After appealing to the hard-core voters in the party well enough to secure the nomination, the battle for those 3.5 million voters who will decide the election, as well as those registered with a party but didn’t vote in the primary, forces the conversation back to the middle.

Is this really the best way to conduct business, though?

In the Democratic primary, in particular, candidates made promises to the base that will be extremely difficult to keep if they eventually are elected.

Philip Levine, for instance, promised to raise teacher pay by $10,000 — a laudable sentiment, but likely impossible to accomplish without a significant tax increase and, well, you know how that goes.

Gwen Graham vowed to ban assault-style weapons by executive order. It sounds great, and she said the Governor has the authority to that. I would imagine significant numbers of other people, including many who are lawyers, likely would disagree.

Andrew Gillum, on his platform page, pledged he would “work to rebuild Florida’s education system so that we can make sure our kids are ready for Kindergarten earlier. By third grade, 100 percent of kids in our state should be reading at grade level and as they progress, learning critical thinking skills to compete.”

Absolutely a marvelous idea. He proposed a $1 billion additional investment in public schools to help make that happen, along with raising teacher pay, rebuilding crumbling schools, and so on. That sounds like a lot of money, but it wouldn’t even pay for the teacher raises he’s talking about.

Then there is Ron DeSantis, leading the polls for the GOP nomination.

He isn’t saying much at all unless the sentence can somehow be framed to include the words “Donald Trump.” I don’t know if you heard, but Trump endorsed DeSantis. At least for the nomination, that figures to be the only platform he needs.

Well, after the primary is done we’ll hit the reset button and watch as the pendulum swings toward those voters, possibly in the millions, who haven’t made up their minds. After all, they are the ones who will decide the election, and history suggests they can be hard to please.

Joe Henderson: John McCain set example too few lawmakers follow

Florida leaders and lawmakers from both parties were quite properly lauding John McCain’s, decency, public service, bravery and integrity following his death Saturday after battling brain cancer.

You would expect no less. The show of respect was good and proper for someone of McCain’s stature.

It would be even better if all of them actually followed his example and put country over party.

McCain knew that someone wasn’t evil just because they saw politics differently than he did.

There was a basic decency about him that incredibly was mocked as weakness by far too many people. Take Arizona Republican Kelli Ward, for instance.

Ward is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, and she was no fan of John McCain. But when his wife announced Friday that he was suspending treatment for brain cancer, Ward and a campaign staffer engaged in a most disgusting conspiracy theory.

According to The Arizona Republic, when the staffer asked if the announcement by McCain’s wife was “just a coincidence,” timed to take away publicity from a planned campaign bus tour by Ward, she responded on her Facebook page, “”I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me.”

She took it down later and replaced it with a statement of condolence following McCain’s death on Saturday, but the damage was done. Screenshots of the initial exchange boomeranged around the country.

Ward, of course, blamed the media.

What does this have to do with Florida?

Maybe more than we realize as voters head to the polls for Tuesday’s primary elections.

Florida’s politics can be just as whacked as what’s going on in Arizona. Republicans in the Legislature have basically abandoned any pretense of working with Democrats for a balanced agenda. They wouldn’t consider statewide Medicaid expansion, no matter if it hurt the neediest among us. They have tried to tell us we need to be terrified if someone doesn’t look like us.

They stripped public-school budgets. They attacked the teachers union.

It’s worth recalling that McCain cast the decisive vote that kept his party from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

We used to think that wacko conspiracy theorists lived in their mother’s basement or in a cave somewhere, but now one of the foremost spreaders of conspiracy sits in the Oval Office, and Donald Trump’s approval rating in Florida is better than in most places.

After the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was suggested that some of the student survivors were actually paid actors.

The Hillsborough County GOP organization posted a link to the mysterious “QAnon” social media site, which promotes Trump as a soldier in the battle against the “Deep State” trying to run him out of office. The link was later taken down, but why give that stuff any credence at all?

In Okaloosa County, Republican County Commissioner Graham Fountain routinely spreads anti-Muslim sentiments on social media, warning that if we elect any of them than Sharia law will follow.

Too many people actually believe that.

For too long, this kind of bile has been celebrated as “straight talk” by people who probably look back lovingly on the days of Sen. Joe McCarthy. That’s how we wind up with a serious candidate to become one of just 100 U.S. Senators suggesting the original “straight talker” John McCain timed his death to hurt her campaign.

Our social media feeds are filled with lies and distortions.

Our candidates think it’s enough to wrap themselves in the flag and platitudes, and if a media outlet comes up with a damaging story, well, you know the answer to that. Just shout “fake news” at the top of your lungs and go on about your day.

The question isn’t whether you’re red or blue. Most of us live in the middle anyway, but the pandering by candidates, at least in the primaries, is always to the extreme edge.

I don’t vote strictly red.

I don’t vote strictly blue.

I don’t expect to agree with every position a candidate holds.

I vote for common sense.

Alas, it is getting harder to find.

Joe Henderson: The “real” Adam Putnam shows up, but too late?

In the final days of his campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor, Adam Putnam has come across as the person a lot of people always thought he was.

It’s too bad he kept that person hidden for so long.

His ads now are low-key and sincere, a departure from the strident tone he set at the start and stayed with for far too long.

He is back to being the kind of person you’d like to have live next door: Friendly, smart, can dominate a room without being overbearing.

But, somewhere early in the campaign, that guy got put on the shelf. The reasoned, principled conservative was replaced by a shrill imposter who left people shaking their heads and wondering what happened to the man they knew.

Maybe Florida’s wacky primary system convinced Putnam he had to show that he, too, could be just as loud as the next guy to appeal to the hardcore Republican voters, those most likely to turn out for a primary election.

It wasn’t enough to say he supported the Second Amendment and leave it at that, he had to shout that he was a “proud NRA sellout.”

Likeability was always a major strength for Putnam by people from both political parties. But for months, he routinely blathered on about the “liberal media” and came across as a divider, not someone interested in uniting.

He couldn’t just shrug and say he still supports the policies of Donald Trump even after the president endorsed Fox News darling Ron DeSantis.

He had to keep tilting at that windmill with ill-advised Twitter messages like the one where he welcomed the president to a recent rally in Tampa – only to have Trump refer to DeSantis that night as “a true leader, a proud veteran, my great friend, a tough, brilliant cookie.”

He looked desperate.

Now, DeSantis has a 23-point lead in the final St. Pete Polls survey, and Putnam is facing the possible end of his political career after Tuesday’s primary.

Yes, it’s legitimate to say it might not have made any difference what kind of campaign Putnam ran, given Trump’s support of DeSantis. Trump likes DeSantis because, as a member of the U.S. House, he was critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of the president.

As Putnam learned, that’s all a lot of voters needed to hear.

The harder Putnam chased those voters, the farther away he seemed to be from the person that people thought they knew. Did that scare off undecided voters?


Add the outcry over donations his campaign received from Publix in the wake of the Parkland slaughter, followed by revelations that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which Putnam currently leads, mishandled thousands of concealed weapons permit applications.

All the while, DeSantis was doing his best Aaron Burr impression from the musical “Hamilton”: Not saying much, smiling a lot, and riding that Trump endorsement to build what looks like an insurmountable lead for the nomination – potentially turning the general election into a statewide referendum on the president and his policies.

Trump does have strong support in many pockets of Florida. But in many ways, Adam Putnam is Florida.

He’s a small-town guy from Bartow.

He is a Gator.

He represented his district in Congress.

He knows how state government works.

And I really do think that if a miracle happens and he wins the primary, we would see a much different candidate in the general election.

I’ll bet on some level, many Democrats would concede that they are happy to take their chances against DeSantis because Putnam would have been formidable.

We’re getting a glimpse of that candidate now. He is working the room, so to speak – shaking every hand, making every person he meets feel like they’re important and he understands their needs and concerns. He is not surrendering; give him that much.

Did that candidate show up too late? Even if he had, would it have made a difference against the Tweeter-in-Chief?

Maybe not. But at least it would have been the real Adam Putnam.

Hillsborough GOP chief tells candidates to ‘immediately cease and desist’ negative campaigning

Negative campaigning works, right?

Obviously it does, but we don’t have to like it. That’s why Hillsborough GOP Chairman Jim Waurishuk sent a straightforward message to his party’s local candidates.

The retired U.S. Air Force colonel wants, no, demands … oh, I’ll let him tell it.


The capital letters are his, by the way. They appear in a letter he sent to all Hillsborough GOP candidates telling them to knock off the mudslinging during the primary campaigns.

And in case the message didn’t get through, he added, “As Republicans, we are better than this … let’s end it once and for all!”

I caught up with him Thursday afternoon and asked him to amplify his reasons for sending that letter. He was happy to do so.

“We have gotten so many calls, emails and text messages to our office from voters who are upset with the negative campaigning,” he said. “They want something done about it.”

It has been a feisty time for Republican candidates in the county.

In the HD 57 race, Michael Beltran filed a lawsuit against rival Sean McCoy over a negative mailer that said he helped an illegal alien guilty of murder “get out of jail and back on our streets.”

HD 59 between Joe Wicker and Ronda Storms has turned muddy as well. Storms blasted recent mailers from Wicker’s camp as inaccurate, including one that was Photoshopped to show her in a lounge chair with a bag of potato chips at her side.

But no, Waurishuk said the letter wasn’t about any particular campaign. It was about trying to set a tone of civility.

“As chairman and board members, we have to stay out of the primary races,” he said. “We can’t show favoritism.”

Any political consultant will tell you, though, that going negative works — even if violates Ronald Reagan’s sacred so-called 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.

It also should be noted that attack ads aren’t the sole property of either major political party. Democrats have proved over the years that they, too, can fling mud with the best of them.

Voters say they hate it, but they respond to it, which is why negative ads will always be with us. Depicting your opponent as a spawn of Satan will win out every time over a lengthy position paper and sober discussion of the issues.

And with targeted direct mailing, sending a dagger through an opponent with a slimy ad is easier and more effective than ever.

Good luck trying to stop it.

“That’s true,” Waurishuk said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do. There’s no legislation for this, and then there are the PACs and special interests. If you tried to get a law through about it, you get into First Amendment issues, and lawyers would fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.”

A good ol’ tongue-lashing isn’t against the law, though.

Will it work?

Well, we can dream.

Ronda Storms out to set the record straight

Ronda Storms said she can take the mudslinging that is a part of running for public office. It’s just the way the game is played.

But the Valrico Republican, who is running to succeed Ross Spano in HD 59, will not, not, not stand for the charge in a recent mailer that she voted for President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package while she served in the state Senate.

No way, no how.

That’s exactly what a mailer from her opponent, Brandon businessman and U.S. Army veteran Joe Wicker, charges though. And that’s why Storms went on her campaign Facebook page to, as she put it, “set the record straight.”

In a video that was straight talk and defiant as ever, she called the allegation “patently false” and, for emphasis, added, “I never — no, never — voted for President Obama’s stimulus package.”

She said she had the documents to prove it.

Her opponents, after this column was first posted earlier Wednesday, produced a record from her vote on the time in question, showing she voted “Y” for yes on the budget. That vote, by the way, was 39-0 with one abstention.

I reached out to her by phone and she had more to say.

I caught her at Wednesday night church services.

“That was not a vote for the budget,” she said. “It was a vote to begin the negotiation process (with the House). The state had not even applied for the Obama stimulus yet. They’re trying to say I was John Kerry — I voted for it so I could vote against it. In that instance, you’re not voting for it, you’re voting to start the negotiating process.”

The stimulus eventually was woven into the state budget. It seems like a leap of Olympian proportions to say a procedural vote was an endorsement of the stimulus package.

But that’s politics today. Maybe that’s what is wrong with politics today.

“These (attacks) have been going on since Aug. 1,” she said. “They must have polled and must have found I’m in the lead. Otherwise, they’d leave me alone. When they attack you personally, it just means they don’t have a political argument.”

One mailer is Photoshopped to show her lounging on an easy chair beside a back of potato chips, implying that she is, in her words, “sitting around on my duff.”

Actually, what she is doing is going door-to-door, shaking lots of hands, and reveling again in her image as a political outsider — which, well, she is.

Storms is attempting a political comeback after being out of office since 2012 when she left the Senate to run for Hillsborough Property Appraiser unsuccessfully. But she probably is best known locally for her tumultuous eight years on the Hillsborough County Commission.

She was outspoken against gay rights, pushed successfully for the county to stop funding Planned Parenthood, and generally was a quote machine before, during and after meetings.

Her decision to run for Spano’s seat caught many by surprise as she had stayed relatively low-key since losing the property appraiser’s race.

She acknowledges that her opponent is favored by the local Republican Party — although, it should be noted, Spano withdrew his endorsement of Wicker after Storms got into the race.

Can she win?

It won’t be easy.

Wicker is a fresh face with a compelling story, a small-business owner endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He recently took some time off the campaign trail to tend to his family after his wife delivered the couple’s second child.

Ronda Storms, after all the political wars she has been through, is not a fresh face.

But the people who like Storms in eastern Hillsborough County really, really like her. She listens to their concerns and cares about neighborhood issues. As a senator, she pushed for intelligent design to be taught in public schools, and she didn’t care if a lot of people thought that was nuts.

Let’s also just say that flamboyant politicians seem to be in vogue these days.

But can she win?

The odds say no.

But she does have a point. Why would her opponent be attacking like this if there wasn’t at least a bit concern?

We’ll find out how much of that concern was merited next Tuesday when the vote totals come in.

Ross Spano says Hillsborough transit tax plan should be no go

Ross Spano left no doubt how he feels about the Hillsborough transportation tax referendum that will be on the ballot in November.

In a commentary on his website, he urged voters to defeat the one-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase advanced by the group All For Transportation.

Spano, a Republican, is running for the CD-15 seat being vacated by Dennis Ross, who is retiring. The district covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties and is considered a likely Republican win in November.

Spano has served in the Florida House since 2012 and is endorsed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

After leading in early polls, he is running second to Neil Combee in the CD 15 race by 6 points, according to the latest St. Pete Polls projection.

The declined roughly coincided with what Spano’s camp called “a mild cardiac event” about a month ago that took him off the campaign trail for a time.

Hillsborough traffic congestion has become a major campaign issue on both sides of the debate. Recent attempts to address the problem with tax increases have either failed at the ballot box or didn’t even get that far. In 2016, the county commission refused to allow a proposed referendum called Go Hillsborough on the ballot.

Spano, who grew up in Brandon, said in his commentary that he is aware of the challenges in dealing with the impact of this explosive growth, particularly on our roadways. But a new tax won’t solve that problem.”

Spano maintains the tax can’t be used to build roads in the eastern and southern parts of the county, and adds, “What the referendum will do is take billions of dollars out of your wallet, to fund transit projects that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Meanwhile, transit ridership is declining nationwide, and disruptive new private sector technology is making traditional transit obsolete.”

What Spano’s commentary does not do is offer alternative solutions to the transportation quagmire being created by the county’s unrelenting growth. And since much of this district now is in Hillsborough County, that might be interesting for voters to know.

I mention all this because Spano’s position on this referendum likely will become a major issue in November if — big if — he survives Tuesday’s primary. That would be especially true if Democrat Andrew Learned wins his primary race against Kristin Carlson.

Learned has been outspoken during the primary campaign about the need for significant transportation upgrades.

Keeping taxes low is always a key GOP talking point, but as the county grows and the roadways can’t keep up with the number of cars, something has to give.

It would have been interesting to see how Spano would propose to solve this issue, beyond the vague “disruptive new private sector technology” reference.

Otherwise, it just sounded like more of the “keep your hands out of my pocket” mantra GOP lawmakers have pushed for years in Florida.

Hillsborough school board to discuss sales tax referendum

An item on the agenda for Friday’s Hillsborough County School Board meeting could lead people to believe it is seeking a referendum for a sales-tax hike in November to pay for major capital needs.

Not so fast.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins told Florida Politics late Monday that while the district is not ruling it out, the agenda item is more of a move “to see how this is going to play out, possibly. It’s just to give us options going forward.”

The district has an estimated $1 billion backlog in capital improvement needs, along with required new construction to keep up with a growing student population in the nation’s eighth-largest school system. Board members have discussed asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax hike in November to help offset cuts in state funding, but that idea already has stiff competition.

Voters will be asked to approve a one-cent-per-dollar sales tax hike in November to fund transit needs, after a petition drive from the group All For Transportation was successful in getting a referendum on the ballot.

Given that, plus the tight time frame, it remains highly unlikely that even if the school district decides to proceed with the referendum initiative that it could be on the ballot by November.

That’s why Friday’s meeting may be more of an information exercise than actual policy.

“The best thing to do is analyze where we are at as far as the ballot goes,” Eakins said. “We are very intentional about meeting the needs of our kids.”

Joe Henderson: Susan Valdes forced to play defense again

Since Susan Valdes entered the race for the HD 62 seat being vacated by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, well, let’s just say the campaign hasn’t exactly been a well-oiled machine.

The decision Monday by Cruz, a longtime friend, to rescind her endorsement of Valdes over the issue of charter school money might raise a few more eyebrows in a race where she was the instant front-runner the moment she decided to run.

Cruz, who is challenging Republican Dana Young for SD 18, shored up a potential vulnerability to her campaign by distancing herself from any association with charter schools.

“At a time when we’re learning Hillsborough schools have broken ACs, leaky roofs and lead in their pipes, I must put the needs of our students, parents and teachers first. I stand with candidates who, like me, put our public schools first over for-profit private education corps,” she tweeted.

It’s bare-knuckles politics for Cruz and a potential problem for Valdes.

Valdes is popular in that district, though, well-known as a member of the Hillsborough County School Board since 2004. It was Valdes, in her role as chairwoman of the Board, who offered the motion that led to the firing of controversial Superintendent MaryEllen Elia in 2015.

Elia’s supporters vowed revenge at the ballot box, but Valdes was re-elected in 2016 and had two years to go on her term when she surprised many by declaring her candidacy for Cruz’s seat.

There were problems right off the bat.

Valdes had to submit an irrevocable letter of resignation from the School Board before she could campaign for the State House. Opponent Mike Alvarez complained Valdes missed the filing deadline because the notice wasn’t submitted to the Supervisor of Elections until 2 ½ hours after the close of business on June 15.

It was ruled that Valdes had complied because she had sent the letter before midnight.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa sent out a sharply worded rebuke about Valdes, complaining a campaign mailer implied she was endorsing Valdes.

She is not.

She is solidly in Alvarez’s corner.

“I am disappointed that the latest communication from Susan Valdes is inconsistent with Florida law and implies my endorsement of her campaign,” Castor said. “It is imperative that candidates follow the law to ensure fairness and transparency. Florida law leaves no room for doubt or confusion — it is unlawful to represent that you have a person’s support unless you have their permission in writing.

“Let me be clear, the candidate in this race who has my endorsement and support is Mike Alvarez. If you support public schools, if you share our Democratic values, and if you want honesty from your elected officials, vote for Mike Alvarez,”

Valdes also was caught on video dodging a question about whether she would accept money from charter schools — a major issue for Democrats, who have fought Republican efforts to funnel more public money to the for-profit schools.

She later put out a news release saying she wouldn’t accept charter money, except Cruz is saying that’s exactly what she did. A recent mailer supporting her was paid for by the Florida Federation for Children, which is affiliated with the charter industry.

With the primary just a week away, will any of this matter?

Valdes has high name recognition in her district and still has the backing of the well-read La Gaceta newspaper, which said, “Valdes also has heart. She loves the district and its people. She will be a strong and vocal advocate for the poor and the powerless.”

The Tampa Bay Times also endorsed Valdes. Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez was an early supporter.

He told me he is sticking with Valdes.

“My loyalty is for Susan and not against Mike Alvarez,” he said. “But Susan is a friend, it’s my district, it’s where I love, and my word is my bond. I’m not going to change.”

She has been working hard, meeting with local groups and trying to shore up support from the school district she helped lead.

But the rift with Cruz is a huge X-factor when Susan Valdes should be projecting what she plans to do if elected. This is not a time any candidate wants to be playing defense.

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham focused on policies, not breaking ceilings

There was an interesting moment last Thursday when Gwen Graham, the presumed leader at this point for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, stopped by the historic Columbia restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City to accept the endorsement of Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

During his introduction of Graham, Buckhorn noted that Graham would be the first female Governor in Florida’s history, “And as the father of two little girls, I’m about breaking that ceiling.”

Graham wouldn’t go there.

She kept her remarks focused on policy and what she has to offer the state on issues like schools and the environment. She wouldn’t take the bait, either, when asked how she felt about Buckhorn as a potential running mate.

“There is plenty of time to talk about that after we win the nomination,” she said.

The message from the candidate is clear. Don’t talk about breaking ceilings and certainly don’t get ahead of things. Staying focused on explaining your policies will make more of an impression on voters than anything else.

Democrats seemed to believe in 2016 that voters would go obediently along with the idea that it was Hillary Clinton‘s time to win because she would shatter a ceiling by becoming the first female president. Voters were expected to obediently confirm that.

They did not.

That’s particularly important because even though Gwen Graham has been ahead in the polls for several weeks, there are indications that plenty of voters haven’t decided who to support — even though there is barely a week before the Aug. 28 primary. And while Graham had a good visit to Tampa, so did rival Andrew Gillum.

It was there that he snagged the full-throated endorsement of Bernie Sanders, and that got a lot of headlines. And that’s not all.

He also has received high-profile celebrity endorsements from Jane Fonda, Alec Baldwin, and several others, although it’s questionable how much that would matter at this late date.

While it does show that Gillum has strong support from progressives, in the end, who endorsed you matters far less to voters than whether they agree with your vision for the state.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but in 2016, while Clinton was projecting an air that no one would be dumb enough to vote for him, he pounded the points over and over about border security, tax cuts, shredding regulations, and so on.

That message flipped enough key states, including Florida, to put him in the White House.

So, when I asked Graham about the $1 billion backlog in facilities maintenance at Hillsborough County public schools, she had a ready answer.

“This is another example of the starvation at our schools after 20 years of Republican rule. They have not received the resources they need for the maintenance and upkeep of the schools, and as a result, we have seen lead in the water of other school districts as well,” she said.

“When I am Governor, I’m committed to restoring the promise to public education across the state of Florida from one end to the other and give the resources back to our public schools that are desperately needed for capital improvements as well as teacher pay.”

I followed up with a question about the growth of charter schools in the state. That has been a key push for Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“My concern about charter schools is that they have morphed into something they weren’t intended to be. Charter schools initially were meant to be community-based that were supported by the families and were part of the of the school district,” she said.

“They have become for-profit behemoths that are taking money away from our public schools. In many cases, we’re finding that the education they were providing is not of a quality we should expect at any school.”

Yep, it’s a campaign that’s all about the policy and not so much about the personality.

It’s an old-school notion from the daughter of an old-school politician, former Governor Bob Graham. Someone, it seems, has learned a lesson.

Bob Buckhorn goes all-in for Gwen Graham

Speculation has been out there for months that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn would make an interesting candidate for Florida’s Lieutenant Governor. That’s not likely to subside when he formally endorses Democrat Gwen Graham at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Tampa.

But do endorsements matter in statewide races?

I mean, OK — this is a political site, so this ought to be a layup. But honestly, name the state’s second-in-command without resorting to Google.

Pssst …. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

So, does Buckhorn’s thumbs-up to Graham really help her campaign, regardless of what is or isn’t in it for him?

Maybe it helps a little bit, but Graham has to stand on her own and the polls show an increasing number of people believe she is doing that. She is widening her lead, she is bringing in money, and at this point ,her candidacy for the Democratic nomination seems to be taking on an air of inevitability.

Obligatory disclaimer: Since the 2016 election, I will not only wait until the final votes are cast, it might be a good idea to wait until the election is certified before declaring a winner.

But if Graham is the nominee, does Buckhorn help her?

Well, he has been a popular Mayor during his two terms in Tampa. He got a lot of good things done in his city.

He is a gifted public speaker, capable of soaring oratory. However, his endorsement would be tantamount to speaking to the choir in Tampa, which is reliably Democratic. It also wouldn’t matter two hoots out in suburban eastern Hillsborough County, where the political sentiment is reliably red.

Buckhorn was a solid foot soldier for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but he could be a bit of a maverick when he believed it suited the city’s purpose. He drew some criticism from Democrats for his willingness to work with Gov. Rick Scott on issues that he believed benefitted Tampa.

That led to this statement from Scott’s office to the Tampa Bay Times on their relationship: “I have appreciated working with Mayor Bob Buckhorn and all of Tampa’s elected leadership to take the bay area’s economy to the next level. By focusing on transportation, public safety and education, we’ve been able to find real solutions for families and deliver results.”

That didn’t stop Buckhorn from direct criticism of President Donald Trump’s recent appearance in Tampa though, referring to it as the “venom and vitriol tour.”

Although Buckhorn likes the limelight and rarely shies away from a microphone, he has a lot of experience working behind the scenes as a member of Tampa’s city government.

He can break legs if needed, cajole when it’s called for, and he has a gift for making the person he is speaking with feel like they are the most important person in the room.

Graham might find that quality appealing in a running mate.

His endorsement probably isn’t a difference-maker at this point, but it does telegraph his readiness to suit up and put on his game face.

And if Graham is looking for a strong running mate with an eye toward making things happen in the Legislature down the road, Buckhorn checks a lot of boxes.

He had been mentioned as a likely candidate for Governor before announcing he wouldn’t run. That was a good decision because the groundswell he needed to have wasn’t happening.

But as his endorsement confirms, Bob Buckhorn still has the itch to play politics at the state’s highest level. I’ve known the guy for a long time and I’ll just say this — he’s got game.

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