Florida voters continue to support GOP Gov. Richard L. “Rick” Scott barely leads his predecessor challenger and ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, but not by enough to make pot legal there, according to a June 24 Human Events/Gravis poll of 1,232 registered voters.
Scott leads former governor Charles J. Crist Jr., 41 percent to 39 percent in this poll, but with the polls 3 percent margin of error, the race is really a dead-heat, said Doug Kaplan, the president of Gravis Marketing, the Florida-based pollster that conducted the poll.
“In our April poll, Scott led Crist 44 to 43 percent, so while that is kind of stable, it reflects gains by the Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, who was polling at 9 percent in April and now sits at 15 percent,” Kaplan said.
“Florida is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but it is not because the Democrats are regaining support,” he said. “Rather, there is a strong Libertarian movement that is pulling disaffected Republicans—the question is whether those Libertarian-leaning Republicans come home or congeal into a sustainable third party.”
Jason Cabel Roe, a partner at Revolvis and a Washington-based political consultant with extensive experience with Florida campaigns and candidates, said the governor’s race has not broken one way or the other yet.
“I think it continues to demonstrate that the governor’s race is very competitive, but Governor Scott seems to be defying conventional wisdom with his strength in these polls,” he said.
“I am a native Floridian,” she said. “I have taught elsewhere, Texas and Ohio, but I have been back home in the Tampa-area for the last 20 years.”
The biggest change in Florida politics in the last two decades has been how the state went from being a solid Democratic state, to the most evenly divided in the country, she said.
Another change has been the increased diversity of the population, she said. “People have come here from the Caribbean, Latin America, Central America—and so forth, as well as other states.”
Two-thirds of the people living in Florida were not born here, she said.
The key to Scott’s election in 2010 was the frustration of older Floridians, who were distressed by the damage the financial downturn wrought on their adult children, she said.
“I interviewed a lot of Tea Party people for an academic paper I wrote, and the commonality was economic concern for their kids and grandkids,” she said.
Whether or not Scott delivered on his promise to turn Florida around is a matter of one’s political allegiance, she said. “It absolutely depends on whether they consider themselves Democrats or Republicans—that is how polarized the electorate has become.”
Scott’s victory was the closest in Florida history and he barely beat his Democratic challenger Alex Sink, she said.
Crist is considered more moderate that Scott or him own predecessor John E. “Jeb” Bush, the professor said. But Republicans were willing to tolerate a more liberal Republican at the time because they saw so many other GOP governors losing that they were happy to win with Crist.
MacManus said Crist will not be able to pull Republican voters to his campaign, but he will do well with new voters, specifically college students, who also support the legalizing medical marijuana.
Kaplan said the support for medical marijuana stands at 50 percent versus 37 percent opposed with 13 percent undecided.
In the April poll support stood at 46 percent with 45 percent opposed, he said. The undecided only moved from 9 percent in April to 13 in June, so the movement has been to the pro-medical marijuana side. “But, to become law it needs to reach 60 percent of voters.”
The professor said her own formal interviews with USF students revealed wide support for legalizing medical marijuana, and her research showed that young Floridians are motivated to come to the polls—and while they are there vote for Crist.
The group leading the movement to legalize medical marijuana is United for Care, which emphasizes the benefits of marijuana for those suffering from debilitating illnesses, as if medical pot were not a ruse, as seen in California.
United for Care is financed by wealthy Democrats, such as, Barbara Steifel, who gave millions to President Barack Obama and Democrats in the 2012 election cycle and John Morgan, the founding partner of the Morgan and Morgan law firm.
Not one to leave things to chance, Morgan hired Crist and then put his name and face on billboards all over the state. The billboards were nominally to promote the law firm, but with Crist’s face next to the firm’s slogan: “It’s about the people!” the point was made. His website’s front page has a photo of Crist with the words: “Join the people’s team.” #justsaying
Roe said he is not convinced Morgan’s pot plot can carry Crist over the finish line.
“I don’t anticipate a ton of spending against the marijuana initiative and it is mostly a cynical attempt by Johnny Morgan to drive up Democrat turnout to help Crist,” he said. “But that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
The success medical pot depends on how the debate is framed, he said.
“Given the older electorate in Florida, if this debate becomes about marijuana rather than medicinal marijuana, it will hurt the pro-marijuana position,” he said.