Amid all the exhortations to help elect Hillary Clinton in November, Florida delegates at the Democratic National Convention also got plenty of reminders that there’s a race for governor in 2018.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces term limits in two years. Three Democrats mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — kept a high profile among Florida convention delegates all week.
At the Republican convention in Cleveland the week before, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hosted a breakfast for delegates and reinforced the widespread assumption he’ll run for governor in 2018.
Putnam’s Florida Grown political committee has about $3.7 million in the bank for a potential gubernatorial bid, and his breakfast for Republican delegates featured Ben Carson, Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and former U.S. Rep. Allen West.
“When you decide to run for governor, I’ll be right there with you,” West told Putnam.
But Putnam insisted he’s not thinking about that race yet.
“We’re having a wonderful time as commissioner of agriculture and focused on one election at a time. So we’ll be evaluating everything after the November election,” Putnam told reporters.
With Florida assuming its familiar role as a close and crucial battleground for the presidency, it would be spectacularly bad form to look beyond November and openly campaign for 2018.
“I’m not going to interject a 2018 race into the 2016 cycle,” Buckhorn said when asked about his gubernatorial ambitions. “I’m focused on getting Hillary elected and getting (U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate) Patrick Murphy elected. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Clearly Tampa’s got a heck of a story to tell and I think it’s a story that will resonate around the state, but that’s months away before I have to make that decision.”
When Buckhorn spoke at a delegation breakfast on Wednesday, he gave an impassioned case for Clinton and denunciation of Republican nominee Donald Trump. He called Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major party, a barrier-breaking role model for his daughters.
“We’re going to win in 2016. We’re going to break that barrier,” Buckhorn said. “And then we’re coming back in 2018 and we are taking this state back. Let’s go get it done!”
Graham, the daughter of former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, has been more open about her interest in a 2018 run for governor. She’s not seeking re-election to Congress this year after a court-ordered redistricting plan made her seat overwhelmingly Republican.
“I look forward to finishing out my term strong and looking for the next way that I can serve the people of Florida,” she said in an interview. When her House term ends Jan. 3, Graham said, “it will not be a long time” before she reaches a decision.
Bob Graham, a living legend among Florida Democrats, accompanied his daughter for much of the week.
Addressing Florida delegates on Thursday, Gwen Graham praised Clinton, slammed Trump and spoke of the importance of the November election before working in a mention of 2018.
“And in two years we will have the opportunity to take back the governor’s mansion. We’re going to have to fight to do it,” Graham added.
“Let’s fight together, all of us as Democrats, to elect (Clinton) this fall. And then, let’s keep fighting, y’all, let’s keep fighting, to take back our state and rebuild the Florida we all want for our future in 2018.”
Levine didn’t mention the 2018 race when he spoke to delegates Wednesday, but he made sure the Democratic activists from around the state got to know his credentials.
“We’ve gone ahead and raised roads, put in pumps, and taken action,” Levine said of his city’s efforts to combat sea-level rise. “I think today across the country, people are looking for leaders that have a background of action, getting things done.”
Levine said people ask him “all the time” about 2018. “It’s something next year I’d look at but at this point right now I love what I’m doing and I’ll just continue to do what I’m doing.”
Levine is an entrepreneur who has started businesses in the cruise and media industries. He first ran for office in 2013 and still brands himself a non-politician.
“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of great people running and I think it’s incredibly premature,” he said of the 2018 governor’s race. “One of the things that always bothers me about politicians is that as opposed to doing the job they got elected to do, they only fantasize and focus on the job they want in the future.”
Post politics reporter George Bennett reported from the Republican and Democratic national conventions for the past two weeks. Continue to follow his coverage of Florida politics at PostonPolitics.com and on Twitter @gbennettpost.
AUG. 30 ELECTIONS COVERAGE