Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 6.11.23

Jennifer Canady will be Florida's first ever woman House Speaker — and a harbinger of what a post-DeSantis political landscape may look like.

It’s been more than three weeks since Gov. Ron DeSantis entered the presidential race while more than 30 points behind former President Donald Trump in the polls. And now, with voters having some time to get familiar with DeSantis … he is still more than 30 points behind Trump.

Candidates can often get polling bumps upon entering the race, thanks in part to excess media coverage. This especially happened with DeSantis, as he’s consistently polling second to Trump. That’s given members of the news media all the incentive they’ve needed to highlight DeSantis’ every move. Some drama is good for ratings after all, far better than Trump just steamrolling to the nomination.

Yet, there’s been barely a blip in DeSantis’ numbers.

FiveThirtyEight’s weighted polling average shows that on May 23, the day before DeSantis officially announced his long-rumored run, Trump sat at 53.5% nationally, while DeSantis averaged 20.8% support. As of this writing, Trump sits at 53.4%, while DeSantis inched up to 21% support.

That’s a change from a 32.7-points lead for Trump to a 32.4-points lead, a move of 0.3 percentage points in favor of DeSantis.

So he has that going for him!

This is where we repeat what we’ve been saying as DeSantis has stumbled for months: It’s still early. The first actual votes aren’t cast until early 2024. DeSantis has time to right this ship.

But every day, week and month DeSantis doesn’t make this ground up, Trump appears as a stronger and stronger favorite. So far, voters are not moving back to DeSantis after he polled competitively with Trump in late 2022. They may move back his way, but that process is going to need to start sooner or later.

And DeSantis has few guaranteed opportunities to do so that are as obvious as his campaign announcement. If that didn’t give him a boost, one can be forgiven for starting to wonder what will?

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.


Honorable mention: Erika Booth. Booth is the third Republican announcing her candidacy for an anticipated Special Election in House District 35. But after this week, it appears she has the inside track of getting the nomination.

Booth, former Navy Commander Demetries Grimes and former congressional candidate Scotty Moore are seeking to succeed Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, who is resigning his seat to take over as President of South Florida State College. But shortly after Booth announced her candidacy this week, future House Speaker Daniel Perez announced he and House Republicans were behind Booth’s bid.

“The Florida House Republican Campaign Committee is proud to endorse and fully support Erika Booth for the Special Election in HD 35,” Perez said. “Erika is a proven leader, a dedicated educator, committed to volunteering in her community and has deep roots in Central Florida. I am proud to endorse Erika and have the House Republican Caucus stand behind her.”

That’s obviously a giant get for Booth. It’s a good sign she’ll earn a steady stream of endorsements, and cash, to carry through to the as-yet-unscheduled Special Election.

Now, the seat is no Republican lock, despite the GOP holding it now. Hawkins won the 2022 contest by 10 points. But President Joe Biden won the region by 7 points in 2020. So there’s no telling exactly how it will break during a low-turnout Special Election.

Last fall’s Democratic nominee Rishi Bagga, is running again, as is Tom Keen, who lost to Bagga in last year’s Democratic Primary by just 57 votes. So Democrats will have a serious challenger ready to compete for the seat.

This race will be watched heavily after Democrat Donna Deegan won the Jacksonville mayoral race, giving Democrats a much-needed sign of hope after a drubbing in the Midterm Election. They’ll want a repeat here, while Republicans will pour in plenty of resources to keep hold of the seat and stop the minority party’s momentum.

It looks like Booth is the most likely candidate to lead the charge ahead.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Chris Spencer. The Governor’s budget guru guided the news spending plan in for a smooth landing this week.

Yes, the Governor still decided to chop $511 million from the budget in line-item vetoes. Yes, some constituencies are unhappy with the projects he decided to slash.

But that overall number — $511 million — was about one-sixth of what DeSantis vetoed last year. And it comes as this year’s budget was 6% larger than last year’s, sitting at $116.5 billion overall after the vetoes. The budget process this year was comparatively smooth sailing, and that’s thanks in large part to Spencer’s work.

The Governor got much of what he wanted in the budget. The same was true of this past Session overall, where the Governor’s Office and the Legislature worked hand-in-hand to deliver DeSantis wins ahead of his announcement that he’s running for President.

Spencer has been part of Team DeSantis since he took office, and he formally took over the Director of Policy and Budget title in early 2021, after previously wearing the “acting” hat.

Having someone on his side for that long is invaluable for the Governor, who has used his successes in Florida to build a national profile as he now seeks the White House. In terms of the Governor’s goals, Spencer knocked it out of the park yet again this Session.

The biggest winner: Jennifer Canady. Rep. Kevin Steele took public his support for Canady in the 2028 Speaker’s race, officially ending the contest that Florida Politics has reported was locked up since May.

“In my heart I have and will always be a Tampa guy. To that extent, I want to make sure everyone in my class knows, I’m standing with my region in support of Jennifer Canady for Speaker of our class,” Steele said in a statement released Wednesday.

“I want to end any doubt or confusion on the issue and add some finality to the rumors that have persisted since the end of Session. I know our class can work together for the better of the state now that the Speaker’s race is over.”

That’s it, that’s all, it’s over. Even the Jessica Baker camp finally admitted so this week.

Assuming Republicans maintain control of the House in 2028 (a good bet), Canady will become the state’s first ever woman Speaker. That historic note will certainly be revisited frequently around the discussion of Canady’s tenure.

But also noteworthy is the fact that the Governor’s camp is behind her bid to take the gavel. But by then DeSantis is guaranteed to have been away from office for at least one term (and maybe two, depending on how the 2024 presidential contest goes). That is, Canady’s ascension will be a sign of DeSantis’ lingering influence even after he leaves office.

The Governor has exercised unprecedented control of state government following his narrow win in 2018, with the Legislature showing a deference unseen in modern history, even though Republicans have controlled both branches for years.

The question still remaining, however, is what will state government look like after DeSantis is termed out as Governor (or ascends to the White House)? Will things revert to a pre-DeSantis era or will DeSantis maintain such an influence over voters and the Republican Party that his disciples will fill out the government for years after he’s gone?

With Canady securing the Speaker’s gavel, we have one big data point supporting the latter.


Dishonorable mention: Homeowners during hurricane season. Hurricane season started earlier this month. We’re only two weeks in, but two more property insurance companies appear on their way out.

Two major players — The Farmers Group and AIG — announced they would cut back on coverage in Florida.

“With catastrophe costs at historically high levels and reconstruction costs continuing to climb, we implemented a pause on writing new homeowners policies to more effectively manage our risk exposure,” read a statement issued by Farmers.

Lawmakers have given insurance companies most everything they’ve wanted in recent months, as the property insurance crisis has worsened in the state. One of the biggest pushes by Republicans has been to cut down on lawsuits, which they argue are spiraling costs upward for insurance companies, which in turn forces those companies to raise premiums.

Supporters of those changes have argued that relief would not come overnight, but would come eventually. The jury is still out on that, but combined with requests for sizable rate hikes insurers requested earlier this year, it sure appears there are plenty of weak spots in the state’s insurance market.

With two big companies in Farmers and AIG scaling back coverage, Floridians are losing more options for affordable support just as hurricane season is heating up. Let’s hope the state steers clear of any major impacts this year. Otherwise, those weak spots are going to be exposed and expanded.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Sarasota. The Governor’s veto pen hit Sarasota hard as he signed the budget last week. And it’s hard to read the move as anything other than retribution for Sarasota’s state Senator, Joe Gruters, endorsing Trump in the 2024 Primary.

“The Governor is clearly upset I endorsed Donald Trump for President, and so he took it out on the people of Sarasota County,” Gruters said. “Trump and I understand that people come first, and it’s our job to deliver clean water, jobs and a better America for the next generation. The Governor clearly sees politics differently.”

Remember when DeSantis rolled out nearly 100 endorsements from the state Legislature, then Trump — who has secured almost all issued endorsements from members of Congress — waved off that state-level support?

“There are some brave legislators who have stood up to DeSantis’ Swamp-like behavior and resisted his intimidation tactics in order to do what is right for Florida and the country,” a Trump spokesperson said, arguing DeSantis was threatening vetoes for projects supported by members who refuse to back him.

“Those who he can’t control — including almost the entirety of the Florida federal congressional delegation — have endorsed President Trump because he’s the only candidate who can beat Joe Biden and take back the White House.”

Of course, Team DeSantis shot down that assertion, but maybe there was something to it after all.

Whatever the reason, the region is losing out on tens of millions of dollars lawmakers put into the budget for education, road upgrades, environmental projects and more.

The biggest loser: Brendon Leslie. Whiff. Leslie’s Florida Voice outlet botched its attempt to prop up Baker in the Speaker’s race. And as Steele announced his support for Canady this week, Leslie laughably tweeted that the race had been “undecided for weeks” while announcing that Baker “informed members of her team this morning she will not have enough votes.”

That spin — implying there had still been drama in the contest — was yet another incorrect (dare we say “fake news”?) framing of the race, one of several from the outlet promising on its Twitter page to bring “honest political reporting to Florida, minus the mainstream talking points.”

If accuracy is one of those “talking points,” mission accomplished.

Look, we can use this entire space to dunk on Leslie, but let’s broaden this out a bit.

The media landscape is constantly shifting. And there are tons of cries about “fake news” and criticism of media outlets who don’t parrot the exact talking points one side or the other may want. But let’s be real: Florida’s Voice and other outlets of its ilk are not objective arbiters of the truth. They’re partisan outfits aiming to capitalize on Florida’s red shift and, perhaps, an emerging market for rightward farming of the news.

And that’s fine. It’s Fox News for Florida. Have at it. The Governor’s Office is clearly interested in pushing scoops to these outlets as an attempt to legitimize them. And they may try to sustain themselves off that so long as DeSantis is in office.

But if you’re clearly pushing an agenda and cutting off interest from anyone on the other side of the aisle, as well as those looking for just a clear, untainted recap of the day’s news, you really shouldn’t give the game away by spinning complete nonsense just to appeal to one camp or another.

Florida’s Voice played up this charade for weeks, living in some alternate reality that Team Baker had a shot. In the end, Florida Politics had it right from the get-go. And so as Leslie this week tried hyping up his shop by saying there is “no better news coverage of politics in Florida” than at his site, we’ll leave that to the reader to decide.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


  • S.P. Litmigut

    June 18, 2023 at 9:45 am

    “The media landscape is constantly shifting. And there are tons of cries about “fake news” and criticism of media outlets who don’t parrot the exact talking points one side or the other may want. But let’s be real: Florida’s Voice and other outlets of its ilk are not objective arbiters of the truth. They’re partisan outfits aiming to capitalize on Florida’s red shift and, perhaps, an emerging market for rightward farming of the news.”
    Somebody writing for FLAPOL could write something like this with a straight face? OMG!

    • Claire Proud

      June 18, 2023 at 11:30 am

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  • Pastor Pasta

    June 19, 2023 at 11:52 am

    The biggest loser this week and every week in recent memory has been most Floridians. Skyrocketing housing and insurance costs, environmental devastation, loss of women’s and minority rights and Florida becoming a laboratory for autocracy are the running theme. The winners continue to be those that can pay the most to our corrupt governor, legislature and supreme court in order to continue running roughshod over the state in the name of the almighty dollar.

Comments are closed.


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