- By George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The event will feature Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who has surged in Republican primary polls in the wake of Trump’s endorsement last month. DeSantis’ gains suggest that while the overall Florida electorate seems mixed on Trump, the president is wildly popular with Republicans in the state.
A Mason-Dixon poll set for release today shows 43 percent of Florida voters approve of Trump’s job performance and 46 percent disapprove — a spread that falls within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error. The same poll shows Republican Gov. Rick Scott holding a within-the-margin-of-error lead over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, 47 percent to 44 percent.
“I don’t think he’s ever been quote-unquote above water,” said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker of the president’s approval numbers in Florida. “His numbers have never really changed a whole lot.”
When Mason-Dixon last polled the state in February, Trump’s approval was 44 percent and disapproval was 45 percent. Overall, Coker characterized Trump’s approval in the state as “roughly even.”
Tonight’s rally in the Tampa Bay area is officially a production of Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, but its most immediate impact is on Florida’s Aug. 28 Republican primary for governor. Since Trump bestowed his “full endorsement” in June on U.S. Rep. DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, DeSantis has taken a lead in several polls over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who began the race as a heavy establishment favorite.
DeSantis will be at tonight’s rally. Scott, who has remained neutral in the GOP governor’s primary, will not.
Scott does plan to appear with the president before the rally at an official event on career and technical training at Tampa Bay Technical High School.
“Adam Putnam is thrilled that President Trump will be highlighting the importance of vocational and technical training during his visit, one of his top priorities as Florida’s next governor,” said Putnam campaign spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice, who said DeSantis “has not shared any plan for Florida.”
Scott, after the event at the technical school with Trump, will skip the rally to attend a fundraiser in Clearwater for his Senate campaign.
Scott was an early booster of Trump and the president publicly urged Scott to challenge Nelson last year. Scott offered rare criticism of Trump two weeks ago after the president’s equivocating statements on Russian election interference while standing with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“I completely disagree with the president with regard to trusting Putin, trusting Russia,” Scott said during a visit to Boca Raton.
In the new Mason-Dixon poll, Scott and Nelson hold big leads among voters from their own party while Scott has a slight edge among independent voters, 47 percent to 43 percent.
The poll also shows a wide gender gap in the Senate race. Men favor Scott, 55 percent to 34 percent, while Nelson leads among women by a 54-to-39 percent margin.
“The overall trend line is running in Scott’s favor, as his support has slowly but steadily increased over the last 17 months, while Nelson’s has remained static,” said Mason-Dixon’s Coker. When Mason-Dixon polled the race in February 2017, Nelson had a 46-to-41 percent lead.
A Florida Atlantic University poll last week showed Scott with a 44-to-40 percent lead over Nelson. The FAU poll measured Trump’s approval in the state at 41 percent and disapproval at 47 percent. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval was 80 percent.
Trump carried Florida in the 2016 presidential race with 49 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent.
Trump nationally has an average approval rating of 43.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 53 percent, according to a Real Clear Politics compilation of national polls.