Providing the clearest indication yet that Rep. Allen Boyd (D) is poised to enter the 2004 Florida Senate race in the near future, his associates are circulating a poll that shows him well-positioned in next year’s primary and general election.
The survey, the first to be publicly released in the race, found that none of the potential Democratic candidates is well-known statewide. However, the polling memo prepared by Alexandria, Va.-based Democratic pollster Alan Secrest of Cooper & Secrest Associates, notes that Boyd’s ability to appeal to a broad swath of the Democratic electorate as well as the strength of his base in North Florida will serve him well should he decide to enter the race.
“Allen Boyd preserves a moderate-to-conservative base, but is still very competitive among liberal voters; he does not need to run as ‘THE conservative’ to win,” the polling memo states. “Allen Boyd wins solid majorities of rural AND urban voters, white AND black voters, and a majority of Catholic voters AND a plurality of Jewish voters.”
The poll was conducted in early April and sampled 1,004 likely Democratic primary voters. It had a 3.2 percent margin of error.
Boyd on Wednesday declined to provide a timetable for when he might make a final decision about entering the race. However, Bob Doyle, a top consultant to the four-term lawmaker, said that the Florida Jefferson-Jackson dinner scheduled to take place at the end of the month would play a role in Boyd’s decision making process. He also said Boyd would likely make clear “any additional steps we might be taking” after July 1.
Meanwhile, Doyle cited the poll as evidence of the growing support Boyd has gotten while traveling the state and reaching out to key supporters in Florida and Washington, D.C.
“It’s a very loud indication of the level of interest that he has in the race,” Doyle said, adding that the poll reinforces “the kind of aid and comfort we’ve received as we’ve been exploring the notion.”
Doyle, who ran Boyd’s first race for Congress in 1996 and is now president of a Washington-based consulting firm, indicated that the Congressman has already started expanding his political operation. He said that other announcements would come later, but that those “are Allen’s to make.”
If he runs, Boyd would become the fourth Democrat to enter the race for Sen. Bob Graham’s (D-Fla.) seat. Graham, who is running for president, has still not said definitively that he won’t seek re-election if his White House bid is unsuccessful. If Graham decided to seek a fourth term, all of the interested Democrats have said they will not run.
Boyd endorsed Graham’s presidential bid on Wednesday [see related story, p. 1].
Also seeking the Democratic Senate nomination are Rep. Peter Deutsch, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and former state Commissioner of Education Betty Castor, who officially launched her campaign this week.
Castor, who has a central Florida base in Tampa, was not tested in the head-to-head matchups in the Cooper & Secrest poll. However, in a three-way race with Boyd, Deutsch and Penelas, the candidates garnered 15 percent, 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
In an interview Wednesday, Deutsch dismissed the early head-to-head poll numbers and insisted that he has the best profile to win the Democratic nomination.
“My profile is really a New Democrat,” Deutsch said. “That’s what fits the state. I am Florida.”
The polling memo from Secrest hints that Deutsch may have difficulty shedding his South Florida liberal image, and Deutsch agreed that his opponents will seek to paint him as a “liberal New York Jew running for Senate in Florida.”
“That’s the spin,” he said.
The polling memo also indicates Penelas is hindered by the perception of corruption in Miami government.
Deutsch, who showed $2.7 million in the bank at the end of March, said that Boyd would be a viable candidate if he decides to run.
“Allen is a serious guy and a serious Member of Congress,” he said, noting that a Florida Senate seat has opened up only twice in the past 30 years. “He would be fool not to be thinking about the United States Senate. Alan should be thinking about it, and if he runs he would be a viable candidate.”
But Deutsch said he sees few scenarios in which he doesn’t come out on top in the winner-take-all primary.
The Florida Legislature recently agreed to a plan that would do away with runoff elections in 2004, and therefore whoever wins the primary will go on to the general election even without a majority of the vote.
“I’m working under the premise there’s an 80 percent chance that I win the primary,” Deutsch said. “That is my working principle. … The dynamics of the primary work so much in my favor it’s dramatic.”
Secrest argued that primary voters in the state, the majority of whom, he said, describe themselves as moderate or conservative, would be extremely receptive to a candidate with Boyd’s profile. He added that voters are “looking for the gravitas they have traditionally expected in a United States Senator” and are looking for someone who can win.
“Democratic primary voters are extremely hungry for a win,” Secrest said, adding that Boyd’s background and life experiences would be unmatched if he enters the primary. “You can’t appropriate life experiences like you can issues.”
Boyd, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, showed $573,000 in cash on hand as of March 31. His district voted 51 percent for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, while re-electing Boyd that year with 72 percent of the vote.
It was the only district in the state to vote for Bush and a Democratic House Member.
The importance of geography to the race is continually highlighted throughout the polling memo which notes that Boyd is better positioned to consolidate support in his Panhandle base than Deutsch and Penelas are in South Florida.
Secrest argued that it would be much easier for Boyd to win votes in South Florida than it would be for a downstate candidate to win votes in North Florida, the area that boasts the largest percentage of Democratic primary voters, his research shows.
While some other Democrats see Boyd as a top candidate, and perhaps the person best positioned to win the general election, they are, however, quick to caution that it is much too early in the race to anoint a frontrunner.
“There’s no doubt that somebody with his stature, his profile and his geography would make a strong general election candidate,” noted one Democratic strategist. Still, the strategist said that “it’s too early to say that he’s head and shoulders above others that are looking at the race on the Democratic side. But he would be formidable.”
Chris Cillizza contributed to this story.