Every weekend, we take a look at the news stories shaping the conversations in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds. Here’s this weekend’s Capitolist wrap-up, which we’re calling “The Wrap.”
Nikki Fried is winning early news cycles in the Democratic primary for Governor…
This week, Florida Politics‘ Peter Schorsch touted a new St. Pete Poll pitting Governor Ron DeSantis against Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in a head-to-head contest for Florida governor. Schorsch couldn’t help but brag that FiveThirtyEight.com graded St. Pete Polls a “B+” during the 2020 election cycle. That’s not too shabby considering the national competition, but that was then, and this is now, and more than a few Republicans were ready to stock up on copies of the poll just in case there is another shortage of toilet paper.
But before anyone thinks they can stop buying Charmin thanks to Schorsch, think again. His poll isn’t wrong, it’s just…irrelevant. That is, it’s irrelevant to everyone except Nikki Fried and her potential Democratic Party rivals for the nomination.
Every long-time Florida pollster we talked this week said the same thing about the poll: “It’s Florida. The general election contest is going to be tight, no matter who the Democrats nominate.” They also acknowledged that the poll methodology looked fine, given the limitations of interactive voice response (IVR) polls, which can only contact a limited fraction of land-line-owning voters by law, rather than measuring a broader and more accurate cross-section of the electorate. Those pollsters all said the weighting of the poll, based on those limitations, appeared to be similar to how they would have weighted the poll as well.
So what do we make of it? For starters, Schorsch essentially admitted the poll was little more than clickbait during what eventually became a heated exchange with Politico reporter Matt Dixon this week. Here’s Schorsch’s acknowledgement (edited for profanity – see the full tweet here):
“The stories about polls lead to traffic and interest which generate revenue to pay for the dozen full time reporters and twice that many freelancers and contributors…”
Fair point. But it’s also much more than just clickbait to Nikki Fried and her rivals. Fried wasted no time fundraising off the poll, and Schorsch, ever the wise digital media maven, immediately had his team crank out a related story about that, too. And that, folks, is how the political media cycle feeds off itself to generate a narrative where nothing existed previously. Every other Democrat with gubernatorial aspirations is probably kicking themselves for not begging Schorsch to insert their own name into that poll instead of Nikki Fried’s.
Polls, shmolls. DeSantis remains in the driver’s seat, but the road will be bumpy
Regardless of what the polls say, one of the things Ron DeSantis wants to avoid heading into the 2022 cycle: Texas-sized screwups. Over the last month, the Lone Star State not only experienced a near-total failure of the state’s deregulated power grid, but they also botched the rollout of a massive emergency rental assistance program.
With Florida often compared to Texas, the DeSantis Administration will undoubtedly take pains to avoid any comparison to the Texas fiasco that unfolded this week. Texas reporters thrashed Lone Star elected officials when it was learned that a troubled vendor named Horne, LLP had been hired to process and disburse $1.3 billion in rent assistance checks from the federal government, yet after more than a month and a half of work, had only managed to pay 134 Texas applicants out of more than 170,000 families who have applied for the much-needed relief.
Now Horne is trying to muscle in on the same action here in Florida, as first reported by The Capitolist. Given the already intense media scrutiny on every move DeSantis makes, this particular choice of vendors, set for this Wednesday, could have far-reaching implications. For DeSantis, the scrutiny is growing even more intense as the stakes get higher on the national stage. He remains the current (non-Trump) favorite for 2024.
One billion dollar online sales tax hike has Republicans scrambling for cover
While DeSantis may not have to worry about a GOP primary challenge for governor, many of his allies in the Florida legislature are hearing warnings from their political consultants and advisors that no matter how they try to dress up a proposed $1 billion online sales tax hike, GOP primary voters aren’t likely to forget the betrayal. And that goes double for Ron DeSantis in 2024. I’m calling it now: if he ultimately signs SB50 into law, the opposition researchers working for other presidential contenders will cut and paste the text from this very page into every Ron DeSantis opposition research book they draft.
“Ron DeSantis hiked taxes on Florida families by $1 billion” has a nice ring to it if you’re someone like U.S. Senator Rick Scott. Those in the DeSantis camp may shrug off Scott as a potential challenger, but they surely shouldn’t shrug off the damage he can do when DeSantis loads the gun himself and hands it to Scott.
The Florida Chamber and other pro-business groups make a fair point that many GOP elected officials subscribe to: that the online sales tax hike will amount to a “win-win” for Florida to help offset a billion dollar pandemic-related increase in unemployment insurance taxes on Florida business owners. And, they also like to point out, it’s a win-win because local Florida businesses will be more competitive with out-of-state retailers on price, since it levels the playing field and every online retailer will pay the same tax rate.
Those are both valid points. But somebody’s got to foot the bill, both in the real world and in the political arena. In the real world, raising the online sales tax will spread the unemployment tax misery to every consumer in the state, so long as they buy goods and services online from out-of-state vendors, such as Amazon (and who doesn’t?). And Republican consultants, including some close to DeSantis, know the political bill will also eventually come due. Those “valid points” in the preceding paragraph are going to be tough to squeeze into a TV ad or campaign mailer, and they won’t be an easy sell to the average voter paying six percent more every time they order another Amazon Fire Stick.
Said one GOP political consultant: “This crap-cake is already baked, I’m just putting frosting on it.”
And…that’s a wrap for this week.