On Tuesday morning, news of Phil Levine retaining a veteran fundraiser for his political committee All About Florida was broke by Marc Caputo, the mile-a-minute POLITICO Florida reporter based in Miami.
The item was clearly a dish from Levine’s camp to Caputo, who led his must-read Florida Playbook with a blurb about Courtney Whitney‘s hiring.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about campaigns doling out scoops to morning newsletter writers. Heck, that’s what this “Sunburn” author lives for. But in the case of the Levine fundraiser scoop, it begs a larger question …
Is Levine winning the Caputo Primary?
The Miami Beach mayor, who made a fortune through a business that provided media content to the cruise industry, is expected to join the 2018 gubernatorial race at some point in the coming months. Already in the race are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, and Winter Park businessman Chris King.
The race between these three candidates has been in stasis the past few months for a variety of reasons: Graham can’t raise enough money to land a knockout blow to her opponents; Gillum knows no matter what the FBI does with its investigation into the City of Tallahassee, the overwhelming majority of black Democratic primary voters will stick by him, and King is still unknown to (at least) 95 percent of voters.
Also freezing the race was Hurricane Irma, which shut down campaigning for most of September and Hurricane Morgan, i.e., John Morgan, the wealthy Orlando trial lawyer who for so long as he says he is considering running in 2018 will soak up the media’s attention and voters’ imagination.
Enter Levine, who has raised $4.7 million for his committee since February, although $2.6 million of that came from his own checkbook.
Levine began to look the part of a candidate when toured the state as part of his “A Day in the Sun” bus tour. He paints himself a businessman focused “radical centrist” policies — something important he said for Democrats to capture votes outside South Florida. He also likes to remind reporters about door-knocking efforts from his mayoral contests as he said traveling and listening to Floridians helps to better understand the people and the state.
The last month has been an especially busy one for Levine, both politically and on the home front. He recently signed a long-term agreement with the internationally-recognized Art Basel show, which pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy. He led his city’s preparations for and recovery from Irma, then spearheaded relief missions to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Jose devastated that island. And last week, his fiancee gave birth to their son, Henry Joel.
Caputo accompanied Levine on one of the mayor’s trips to Puerto Rico, then framed the Democrat’s efforts as the ‘perfect fight’ for a Democrat. Caputo offered a balanced assessment of what Levine was doing, citing Republicans who accused Levine of using the tragedy for political gain.
Fast-forward to today’s story about Levine hiring a fundraiser and it’s no exaggeration to say that Caputo has spent as much, if not more, time recently writing about non-candidate Levine than he has any of the other announced candidates.
As difficult as this is for me to admit, there’s no more influential political reporter in Florida. There may not be a better one, either. With his morning email and his legion of Twitter followers, Caputo can be a one-man wrecking crew. Just look at what he did to Jeb Bush during the presidential primary.
Caputo can also be an effective house organ for a politician, as he is for Marco Rubio.
Because he’s an old-school journalist, Caputo will say he doesn’t take sides in political campaigns. But he does play favorites. And he famously will refuse to even write about a news item if a PR flak does not first dish it to him.
The 2018 gubernatorial race will be one of the most high-profile contests in the country. There’s simply no way Caputo will sit it out. But, among the current crop of candidates, it’s likely none of them strikes Caputo’s fancy.
Graham, despite her establishment ties, is the kind of centrist candidate Caputo tends to abhor. Gillum is a bad bet, although his campaign’s communications team will push news to POLITICO because it thinks the Tampa Bay Times and Florida Politics are lined up against the mayor. And King’s D.C. connected team would love to get Caputo’s attention, but it’s not at that level yet.
The frontrunner to win the Caputo Primary would be Morgan were he to enter the race. The two are simpatico in their politics and worldview. And many of those close to Morgan are reliable Caputo sources.
But if Morgan doesn’t run, Caputo’s thumb still has to go on the scale. And, right now, it looks like Levine is leading in this all-important race.
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.