Republican Governor Rick Scott will leave office after two terms, creating an opportunity for seven Democrats and 13 Republicans in the 2018 gubernatorial election. A large purple state with a broad demographic, Florida’s contest will help gauge the political winds ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Raising the stakes even further, the new governor will have veto power when the Sunshine State redistricts 27 congressional seats following the 2020 census.
In the Democratic primary, former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham has emerged as the frontrunner. According to a Mason-Dixon poll from February, Graham received a plurality with 20 percent support. Yet, nearly half of all Florida Democrats remain undecided. As the daughter of former Florida Governor Bob Graham, she represented Florida’s 2nd congressional district from 2015 to 2017. Her campaign message has focused on expanding health care, improving public schools and protecting the environment.
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philipe Levine followed Graham with 17 percent party support in the Mason-Dixon poll. With an entrepreneurial background, Levine served as Miami Beach mayor from 2013 to 2017 and calls himself a “radical centrist.” He’s pushing a “progressive economic vision” to make Florida one of the most sustainable economies. Better jobs, better education and higher investment are among his campaign messages.
Following Levine is Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, who captured 10 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. Gillum has been involved in Florida politics since 2004 when he was elected to Tallahassee city council. Gillum has emerged as the progressive candidate who wants to raise the corporate tax rate and use the revenue for vocational training, early-childhood education and increases to teacher salaries. Gillum also says he wants Medicare-for-all, as well as an increase to the state’s minimum wage. However, an ethics investigation over a relationship with a lobbyist could threaten his candidacy.
In the Republican primary, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, took the lead with 27 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. Similar to Florida Democrats, nearly half of all GOP voters remain undecided. Putnam has already spent $3.7 million on a gubernatorial bid that’s advocated for less government interference to protect constitutional liberties, like the second amendment. The former state legislator and U.S. representative helped expand Florida’s concealed carry program, making it the largest in the country. Putnam has emphasized a need to support veterans with various job training programs and mental health services. He’s also stressed a need for more vocational training and technical education in schools.
United States Rep. Ron DeSantis, a tea party conservative representing Florida’s 6th congressional district, took 23 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. The Jacksonville native attended Yale and Harvard law school before becoming a Naval officer who served in Iraq. As a member of the House Oversight Committee, DeSantis frequently appears on Fox News to criticize the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump. His loyalty to the administration has already earned an endorsement from Trump. DeSantis has made education a top priority with a pledge to expand charter schools and voucher programs. He also wants to improve the economy by recruiting a diverse group of industries to the Sunshine State.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has not officially announced his candidacy, although he nabbed 7 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll. Many expect Corcoran to announce on March 9 when the Florida legislature ends.
Nearly half of all registered Democrats and Republicans remain undecided, making it hard to give any candidate a clear edge in their respective primaries. Moreover, Inside Elections and the Cook Political Report have labeled the 2018 gubernatorial race as a toss-up.
Sebastian Naravez-Medina contributed to this report.
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