Politico: “Levine dominates Democrats in independent poll of governor’s race”
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Fueled by a $10 million ad blitz and contributions to Democratic groups, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is starting to dominate the crowded primary for Florida governor, a new independent poll of the race shows.
Levine’s 32 percent support is exactly double that of the second-place candidate in the race, former Rep. Gwen Graham, who doesn’t seem to be gaining any noticeable benefit as the only woman in the Democratic primary, according to the poll of 600 likely primary voters conducted this week by SEA Polling and Strategic Design.
Graham is also not getting a big boost in name ID even though she’s the daughter of former governor and senator Bob Graham, said SEA’s Tom Eldon, a go-to pollster for Democrats who conducted the survey.
“There were a lot of assumptions in terms of how powerful Gwen Graham’s name ID was as a result of her father. It’s definitely there, and it elevates her above, say, Chris King and Andrew Gillum because she’s known around the state outside of her former congressional district,” Eldon said. “But it isn’t the same as having spent millions of dollars on TV over the past five months.”
Graham has only now started a $1.1 million ad campaign in the Orlando and Tampa markets. King recently embarked on a $2 million buy. The poorly financed Gillum isn’t launching a paid media effort yet on TV, but the Tallahassee mayor’s grass-roots campaign has helped him earn 11 percent of the likely Democratic vote in the race, compared to 16 percent for Graham, 6 percent for King and 4 percent for Jeff Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire who officially entered the race Friday but has refused media interviews or a spot on a debate stage Saturday.
Put another way: All the other major candidates combined have 37 percent support to Levine’s 32 percent.
Though outmatched financially, Graham scored two big endorsements Thursday. Former congressman and 2016 candidate Patrick Murphy decided to support her instead of running himself. And the influential Florida Education Association teachers union threw its support to Graham as well.
But in a state as big as Florida, with 10 media markets and two time zones, TV is king.
Not only has the independently wealthy Levine been on TV, unanswered, in every major media market for months, he’s also contributing to area Democratic parties and African-American groups across the state. For instance, his political committee, All About Florida, gave $1,000 to the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, $10,000 to the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators and $3,000 to the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida.
In the poll, Levine has 34 percent support among African-Americans (28 percent of the overall poll sample) compared to 14 percent support for Gillum, who is the only African-American in the race. Levine also has 32 percent support among women (who are 60 percent of the poll sample), compared to 16 percent for Graham.
Florida Democrats are close to united on one issue: dislike of President Donald Trump. Only 7 percent hold a favorable view of the president; 90 percent view him unfavorably.
Eldon said he conducted the poll for private clients who wanted to know more about the race but were not supporting any candidate at the moment. The poll’s error margin is 4 percent. The primary is Aug. 28. And with 31 percent undecided, Eldon said, the race is clearly not over. But Levine’s strength should not be underestimated. He’s the clear front-runner.
Eldon said Levine’s early ad-buying strategy, which some initially derided as too early and too feckless, has proven wise. He was able to define himself before his opponents could. And he bought the ad time for relatively less money because the campaign season wasn’t in full swing, other campaigns and political groups hadn’t started buying and driving up the price, and there was less political clutter on TV. At its height this year, a saturation TV ad buy across Florida’s 10 media markets could reach $3 million weekly.
Regionally, Levine’s strongholds are in his home area of South Florida (50 percent support) and Tampa Bay (40 percent). The only region he’s not dominating in: Orlando, where Gillum has 19 percent support to Levine’s 18 percent.
“The early money has taken a virtual unknown outside of Miami Beach and made him a contender for the state,” Eldon said. “The fact that he’s almost at 40 percent in Tampa is very interesting. And if he’s winning South Florida around 50 percent and Tampa around 40 percent, those are expensive markets to run against a guy with those resources. Financially, it’s going to be really difficult going into those places where he’s so strong because they’re two of the top 10 expensive media markets in the entire country.”
As part of his poll, Eldon also oversampled two counties, Broward and Palm Beach, to see if the billionaire Greene was a factor. Right now, he isn’t.
“Jeff Greene’s entry into the race does not appear to have a dramatic impact on the race apart from dropping Gwen Graham into 5th place in Greene’s home county,” Eldon said in a polling memo about the counties.
Greene, who spent $24 million of his own money on a failed 2010 bid for Senate, could change the dynamics of the race if he spends big. And without anyone matching Levine on TV, he’ll continue enjoying the dividends of using some of Gov. Rick Scott’s playbook when he ran as a political unknown in 2010 and started spending millions early.
“Levine had the time and ability to slow-burn himself statewide. It’s not critical mass,” Eldon said. “But it’s enough so that when people come after you, it’s harder. It’s like a door-to-door salesman. You have to get in and say hello first.”
And Levine is in the door.