Sept. 17, 2015 — Tuesday, before last night’s Republican debate, Public Policy Polling released their new Florida survey (Sept. 11-14; 814 registered Florida voters; 377 likely Republican Florida primary voters; 368 likely Democratic Florida primary voters) and delivered what could be haunting news to both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio. The new ballot test result finds Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson leading the pair of home state politicians.
According to the PPP numbers, Trump takes 28 percent of the Florida Republican vote, followed by Dr. Carson who secures 17 percent. Trailing in third place with only 13 percent support from his home state GOP electorate is Bush, while Sen. Rubio drops to 10 percent. Though the percentages are not as dramatic as polls witnessed in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier in the week, Trump and Carson total 45 percent of the Sunshine State GOP vote. The third outsider candidate who is part of the trio never holding an elective office, Carly Fiorina, garners seven percent from this sampling universe, which again gives the never-electeds a majority (52 percent).
Looking at the delegate count, the Florida winner takes the primary season’s biggest prize because the state’s 99 Winner-Take-All delegates would be assigned to the person finishing first, regardless of the percentage attained.
Unlike what is being reported in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Florida Democratic poll brings good news for ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. PPP projects her leading the Democratic field with a majority 55 percent preference. Sen. Bernie Sanders is a distant second with 18 percent closely followed by Vice President Joe Biden who posts 17 percent. Since the Democrats no longer have a Winner-Take-All option the Florida vote, like all the others, is proportional.
Northern Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) rather surprisingly announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election to a fourth congressional term next year. Benishek invoked his self-term limiting pledge, made during his initial 2010 campaign, as one of his main reasons for deciding to end his congressional career. This is a reversal of course because every previous indication, including an announcement, suggested he was going to run at least once more.
Dr. Benishek came to the House in the 2010 Republican sweep, succeeding retiring Rep. Bart Stupak (D) and winning a 52-41 percent victory over then-state Rep. Gary McDowell (D), after claiming his primary nomination by just 15 votes. He won a tight re-election in 2012 (48.1-47.6 percent), again over McDowell, even though President Obama was winning handily in Michigan, though Mitt Romney did carry the 1st District by more than eight points. Rep. Benishek rebounded to score a 52-45 percent victory last year, defeating retired Army major general and former county sheriff, Jerry Cannon (D), a candidate who looked good to the Democratic leadership on paper but proved a disappointing campaigner.
The seat, which contains the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula, is politically marginal and only slightly leans toward the GOP. Though Benishek’s win percentages have been low, it is unlikely any Republican would finish better than the mid to high 50s. In his nine terms representing the district, Democrat Stupak broke 60 percent four times and 70 percent once, proving that his party can perform quite well here.
We can expect a competitive 2016 open seat race, with spirited primaries on both sides. Gen. Cannon had already announced his intention to run again in 2016, but he was drawing Democratic primary opposition from former Michigan Democratic Party chairman Lon Johnson even before the congressman decided to drop out.
The battle will now intensify and it is likely that more individuals will come forward to enter the primary campaign. Republican state Sen. Tom Casperson and former state Sen. Jason Allen, the man on the short end of Benishek’s 15-vote primary win five years ago, are potential candidates. So is state Rep. Peter Pettalia, who at one time was considering launching a primary challenge to the three-term incumbent.
This race begins as a Lean Republican contest, but Democrats will certainly add the MI-1 contest to their target list. We can expect a highly competitive campaign here next year. Dr. Benishek’s retirement decision means that 21 seats will be open for the 2016 election, 11 of which are currently Republican-held.