A new Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released this week gives Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam a significant early lead in the 2018 race for governor.
This comes as little surprise, especially since some view the Chamber as one of Putnam’s biggest cheerleaders.
However, the survey does have one shocking element. Richard Corcoran scored dead last in the Chamber-backed poll.
This poor showing begs a slightly closer look at polling and why the Land O’Lakes Republican might just be poised to be the biggest threat to Putnam.
In the GOP primary, Putnam gets 26 percent, with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis at 9 points and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater with 2 percent. Corcoran manages only a single point.
As Speaker of the Florida House and a prominent figure in state politics, that Corcoran would receive such sparse polling numbers raises more than a few questions.
First, some background. According to state financial reports, political committees tied to the Chamber gave $785,000 to Putnam’s campaign in 2017 alone, with nearly half of that coming after he officially declared his candidacy.
In contrast, Watchdog PAC, the committee led by Corcoran, has received no Chamber money.
Why is that? One possible explanation is, during Session, Corcoran publicly struck out strongly against a Chamber priority – the state funding for VISIT FLORIDA. That certainly did not inspire the Chamber to open its checkbook.
What also makes this lack of financial support intriguing is that only last year, the Chamber scored Corcoran as an A-rated, pro-business legislator at 97 percent.
So the Chamber loves how Corcoran votes, just not enough to give him any money.
Now, compare this week’s Chamber survey to a similar poll taken three weeks earlier by Florida Atlantic University — a neutral third-party.
Both polls include the same four major Republican Party candidates (as well prospective candidates) for governor: Putnam, Corcoran, DeSantis and Latvala.
Both polls offer similarities: Putnam’s share is 1 point apart in the polls (26 versus 27 percent). DeSantis’ is same in both polls (9 percent). Latvala is also the same at 2 percent.
Also, notable in the Chamber polling is the margin of error, which typically changes with the number of respondents for primaries (only 256 Republicans surveyed) versus the number of respondents for general elections (615 surveyed). For the general, both surveys offer a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points, although the FAU margin of error — when broken down to Democratic or Republican primary only — increases to +/- 6.5 points. (The FAU poll does point out those changes as the sample size decreases.)
Nevertheless, the one key difference between the two polls is Corcoran.
Corcoran drops from 10 percent (solidly in second place) in the FAU survey to a single point (last) in the Chamber poll.
But why all the skepticism, you may ask. The Speaker is emerging as everyone’s favorite target in the governor’s race. And he’s not even running.
While on the stump, in media and digitally, Democrats have attacked Corcoran with alarming regularity – Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and even Philip Levine (who has been flirting with, but not committed to, a run for governor). Putnam and Latvala have also been consistent in their attacks.
Could it be that Corcoran is the most dangerous candidate to all of the above?
This summer, the Speaker had been quickly raising money ($4 million in 100 days) as well as assembling a top-notch political team (including admen and the winning pollster for President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott). The Speaker also has a strong conservative record to lean on, which would make a compelling case in a Republican primary.
In addition, all polls show the race as wide-open – with some giving Corcoran double digits (despite not yet being an official candidate). That this is happening so early in the race is noteworthy.
Compare that to DeSantis, whose entire potential campaign now rests on a series of appearances on FOX News.
What’s more, other than two significant donors, DeSantis’ aligned committee raised little money (only $1M after the transfer from his federal PC) in nearly six months of its existence. That suggests a lack of infrastructure.
And with waning approval ratings for both Congress and Trump, a sitting congressman in the gubernatorial race is not necessarily setting the world on fire, at least among those in the state Republican Party.
All things considered, as Corcoran builds momentum and is positioned to become Putnam’s most practical challenger, why would the Chamber bother putting a thumb on the scales?
Perhaps not, but the Chamber would have 785,000 reasons to do so if they did.