Republican poll shows 67% of voters are undecided in Primary race for Miami-Dade Sheriff

Joe Sanchez Joe Martinez Rosie Cordero-Stutz Mario Knapp Ernie Rodriguez
Despite roughly $900,000 in combined spending by 11 active Republican candidates, the highest any among them is polling is 10%.

New polling shows that two-thirds of likely Republican Primary voters in Miami-Dade County have yet to decide which of the 11 GOP candidates for Sheriff they’ll support.

While some candidates stand out more than others in voters’ minds, none has enough locked-in support to win outright in August.

Miami-based consulting firm Dark Horse Strategies, working for the campaign of retired Republican Miami-Dade Police Lt. Ernie Rodriguez, surveyed 342 Republican county voters by phone June 5-6. The firm said its poll had a 95% confidence factor and a 5-percentage-point margin of error.

Its finding: 67% of Republican voters remain undecided on the race. And despite roughly $900,000 in combined spending by June among active Republican candidates, the highest any of them is polling is 10%.

That distinction belongs to Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Sanchez, a former Miami City Commissioner, who alone has spent more than $300,000 on his campaign since New Year’s Day.

Dark Horse Strategies principal Emiliano Antunez said Sanchez’s inability so far to leverage his spending and political connections more effectively and capitalize on his comparative advantage over other candidates in name recognition could make him vulnerable to falling behind as the Aug. 20 Primary Election approaches.

Antunez said Sanchez’s opponents could also gain inroads by attacking his support of the 2009 bond plan to build the Miami Marlins ballpark, which is estimated to cost county taxpayers more than $2.6 billion to repay.

“We did not test his support for public financing for the Marlins Stadium, which could be problematic for him,” Antunez said.

The poll found that a vocal critic who called the project “the worst deal that the county has ever entered” is now Sanchez’s closest Primary competitor: former Miami-Dade Commissioner and Miami-Dade Police Department Lt. Joe Martinez.

Six percent of those polled said they’d vote for Martinez, who boasts strong name recognition but faces an uphill battle regarding public perception. Notably, while Martinez had long been expected to run for Sheriff and many media outlets had reported in the preceding days that it was imminent, he did not file to run until June 6 and had done no campaign advertising to date.

Martinez is the subject of ongoing criminal prosecution over felony charges of unlawful compensation and conspiracy to commit the crime. Prosecutors say Martinez, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis removed from office in September 2022, broke the law by sponsoring county legislation that would have benefited a strip mall owner and tenant in exchange for $15,000 the former paid him. Martinez has denied all wrongdoing and called the case “politically motivated.”

He said the payments were for prior consulting work and withdrew the measure before the County Commission voted on it.

Dark Horse found that just 1.5% of likely GOP voters are behind Assistant Miami-Dade Police Director Rosie Cordero-Stutz. In late April, she nabbed an endorsement from Donald Trump and led all her Primary opponents in fundraising last period.

Like Sanchez, Cordero-Stutz has weaknesses her opponents could pounce on, including that she lives in Broward County, not Miami-Dade. She has also expressed support for Democratic Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, and her lone state-level political contribution was a $50 donation to Charlie Crist in 2014 after he’d switched from Republican to Democrat.

Miami-Dade Police Maj. Mario Knapp and Rodriguez, a lieutenant on the force, each polled at 3%.

Miami-Dade Police Maj. Jose Aragu and retired Maj. Iggy Alvarez have 1.7% and 1.2% voter support, respectively, but are “not showing any significant traction or reason to move up significantly from their current polling numbers,” Antunez said.

Image via Dark Horse Strategies.

Dark Horse posed four other questions to respondents about their priorities and preferences for Sheriff:

— Asked which quality they believe is most important in a Sheriff candidate, 19% said an extensive, decorated career. Nearly the same share said political experience, while 17% said leadership experience within a unit or police agency, 16% said Miami-Dade residency and 15% said prior or ongoing service in the Miami-Dade Police Department.

— Asked which issue they think will pose the biggest challenge for the new Sheriff, 31% said crime, 22% said political corruption, 12% said illegal drugs, 11% said traffic enforcement and 8% said petty crimes. Six percent offered a different concern.

— Asked how likely they are to vote for a candidate who has supported Levine Cava, 72% said very or somewhat unlikely, 12% said very or somewhat likely, and 12% said it would not affect their decision.

— Asked how likely they are to vote for someone who contributed to a Democratic candidate, 74.5% said very or somewhat unlikely, 10.5% said very or somewhat likely, and 15% said it would not affect their choice.

Miami-Dade hasn’t had an elected Sheriff since 1966, when county voters eliminated the position after a grand jury report revealed rampant corruption within the department. Instead, the county Mayor serves as the de facto Sheriff and has since had an appointed Police Director or Chief of Public Safety who reports to them.

The current Chief of Public Safety, James Reyes, is competing against three others—Miami-Dade Police Maj. John Barrow, former federal agent Susan Khoury, and former Miami-Dade Police Lt. Rickey Mitchell—for the Democratic nomination for Sheriff.

Like Cordero-Stutz, Barrow and Reyes live in Broward. All three have said they would relocate to Miami-Dade if elected Sheriff.

Other Republican candidates include Miami City Police officer Ruamen DelaRua, retired Miami-Dade Police reserve officer Alex Fornet, former Miami City Police hostage negotiator Jeffrey Giordano and retired Miami-Dade Police Sgt. John Rivera, a former police union President.

In 2018, 58% of Miami-Dade voters joined a statewide supermajority in approving a constitutional amendment requiring all 67 counties in Florida to have an elected Sheriff, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of Courts by early 2025.

The Primary Election is on Aug. 20, followed by the General Election on Nov. 5.


Editor’s note: This report has been updated to include when Martinez filed to run.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Uhh, don’t vote for a sheriff endorsed by a convict

    June 16, 2024 at 1:51 pm

    The very last thing the people of Miami-Dade County need is a Trump-endorsed sheriff!

Comments are closed.


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