Joe Henderson: Philip Levine leads Dems but it’s too soon to say it matters
A closer look at Philip Levine reveals much more about the candidate than he wants to portray.

Philip Levine

A new Public Policy Polling survey mirrors the result of a recent Gravis poll that showed former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has pulled ahead in the Democrats race for the gubernatorial nomination.

Crickets everywhere took notice.

First, Levine has filled the air waves lately with TV ads, spending an estimated $5 million from his considerable personal fortune on messages that have pumped up his name recognition.

It seems to have worked. Gravis had him leading a four-person Democratic field with 13 percent. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum had 11 percent, Gwen Graham had 9 percent, and Orlando businessman Chris King was thrashing about with 2 percent.

The numbers are different in the Public Policy poll – Gillum and Graham have swapped places – but the essence remains.

Levine has taken the lead.

What does all this mean though?

Probably nothing definitive.

No disrespect intended, but leading a poll by a few points before Easter for a primary in August isn’t going to chase any opponent out of the race.

His challengers haven’t been on TV or free media much lately, although Gillum did pick up an endorsement from Our Revolution, a group that backs Bernie Sanders.

Graham nabbed an endorsement from former state Attorney General Bob Butterworth for her position on dealing with Florida’s opioid problem.

“Gwen Graham is the only candidate for governor who has put forward an actionable plan to hold drug companies accountable and to end the opioid epidemic,” Butterworth’s endorsement read. “Gwen understands Florida can’t arrest our way out of this crisis. The state must stop it at its source.”

King was endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees, which was a nice get for a traditional Democrat.

The truth is though, it has been basically impossible in recent weeks for these Democrats to get much attention unless, like Levine, they were willing to pay a lot of money for it.

The focus has been on the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the world-wide movement they helped spark to curb gun violence.

The Republican-led Legislature – particularly Gov. Rick Scott and outgoing House Speaker Richard Corcoran – took turns in the spotlight for helping shepherd a bill into law that imposed modest gun restrictions.

And, of course, President Trump makes news every hour, although that’s not always welcomed by Republican candidates in Florida or anywhere else.

His national approval rating is around 40 percent, although a recent poll showed 46 percent of Floridians give him a thumbs-up.

That’s still under water though, so GOP candidates may be wary of getting too close to the president.

Democrats will do their best to keep them as close as possible.

The campaign will get real soon enough, but for now it’s like a pack of marathon runners setting their own pace and preparing for the big push ahead.

The public won’t get focused on the race until the August primaries get closer, so this is the time to raise money and make sure to show up everywhere they are invited.

That means civic groups, weekend barbecues, holiday parades, and basically anywhere they can shake hands, make their pitch, raise a few bucks, and maybe get some local news coverage.

They’ll keep an eye on polls because that’s what campaigns do. It’s too soon for anyone to get too juiced about them though.

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.


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