Jeff Greene, seen here speaking to the Palm Beach Civic Association at the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa in December of 2017, says if he entered the governor’s race, he’d spend whatever was needed. (Bruce R. Bennett / Palm Beach Daily News)
Two Palm Beach County Democrats – former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy and billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene – are not ruling out making late entrances into a Florida governor’s race that so far hasn’t produced a clear favorite for either party’s nomination.
Murphy, a two-term House member from Jupiter who lost a 2016 challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, gave his OK to a poll of Democratic voters testing his name as a gubernatorial candidate. The poll also floats the names of some potential candidates for lieutenant governor – including former Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Jolly, a prominent critic of President Donald Trump who tours college campuses with Murphy to decry partisan gridlock and governmental dysfunction.
“Some supporters wanted to do a poll and I didn’t say no,” Murphy told The Palm Beach Post in a text message Tuesday. “I certainly didn’t say yes to actually running!”
Results from the poll probably won’t be available until next week, a person familiar with the survey said.
Greene, a Palm Beach resident who lost a 2010 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, told The Palm Beach Post he has concerns about whether the four Democrats in the race — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — will have the money and message to win in November.
“I have definitely not ruled out getting into the race … I’m still looking at it. The filing date is not till June,” Greene said.
The qualifying period for gubernatorial candidates ends at noon on June 22. The Republican and Democratic primaries are Aug. 28.
“None of these four (Democratic) candidates has anything approaching statewide recognition, which means it’s going to cost somebody an awful lot of money to introduce themselves via 30-second spots,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Peter Brown.
“The upside for those who are thinking about getting into the race at this late date is that clearly none of the existing candidates has lit many fires among Democratic activists and voters,” Brown said.
If Murphy gets in the race, Brown said he doubts that pledging to name Republican Jolly as his running mate would excite Democratic primary voters.
Democrats have not won a Florida governor’s race since the late Lawton Chiles squeaked to re-election over Republican Jeb Bush in 1994. Four years later, Bush won the governorship and began a five-election GOP victory streak.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott, elected in 2010 and 2014, faces term limits this year and cannot seek re-election; he recently launched a campaign for Senate against three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, have opened GOP campaigns for governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is expected to join them.
Veteran pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research said the governor’s race has not yet generated much enthusiasm from Republican or Democratic voters.
“Voters are probably, if they’re focusing on anything right now, it’s the Rick Scott-Bill Nelson Senate race,” Coker said. In the governor’s race, Coker said, “They’re just not household names and people are not really connected to them.”
Levine, the only Democrat who has bought statewide TV advertising so far, released an internal poll this month that showed him leading the Democratic field with 29 percent to 23 percent for Graham. The survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed 36 percent of Democrats undecided.
Coker speculated that Murphy or Greene entering the race could help Graham, the only female candidate. Graham has already begun framing the Democratic race as a choice between “Gwen and the men.”
Graham, the daughter of former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, began April with the most cash on hand of any Democratic candidate — about $4 million.
Levine, who has poured more than $5.5 million of his own money in the race, had spent $8.6 million as of March 31 and has purchased more TV ads since then. He began April with $2.9 million in cash on hand.
Gillum, the only black candidate in a primary where African-Americans likely will be more than one-quarter of the electorate, has tried to appeal to the party’s liberal base as the most progressive candidate. More candidates jumping in and splintering the Democratic vote doesn’t seem to bother the Gillum camp.
“If they want to get in, it’s certainly a free race and a free country to do so. We think the contrast between them and Andrew will also be clear,” said Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan.
Greene’s net worth was estimated at $3.8 billion — about $700 million higher than Trump, his nearby Palm Beach neighbor — on the latest Forbes 400 list. He spent more than $24 million of his own money in 2010, when he lost a Democratic Senate primary to former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
Greene noted that Scott’s personal wealth helped him win close races in 2010 and 2014.
“If I did get involved,” Greene said, “I’d be able to get my message out and spend whatever it would take to get me over the top.”