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Polling shows Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls have lots of ground to make up

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, gestures during a campaign rally as he announces his run for Florida governor Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week teased a June 1 announcement for entering the race for governor and former Republican governor turned Democratic congressman Charlie Crist has already announced his bid, but early polling shows Democrats have a lot of ground to make up.

Three recent polls all show Gov. Ron DeSantis holding a job approval rating over 50%.

The highest, commissioned by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, shows DeSantis’ approval at 60%.

“We see the support and the help that he has given us. I don’t see it changing in our industry at all,” said Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President Carol Dover.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s poll shows DeSantis with a 55% approval rating, but it also found he holds at least a 10-point lead over likely challengers Crist, Fried and Congresswoman Val Demings.

The Florida Chamber poll shows DeSantis with a 51-41 lead over Crist, a 51-39 lead over Fried and 53-38 lead over Demings.

“I think he’s got everything going for him right now,” said FSU Political Scientist Carol Weissert.

Weissert told DeSantis has plenty to brag about going into the race, compared to 2018 when he bested opponent Andrew Gillum by a razor-thin margin.

“What’s different? One of the reasons is Democratic support so far is just not behind anybody yet. I don’t see it at this point,” said Weissert.

We asked what it would take for Democrats to make up ground.

“They’ve gotta hope that DeSantis stumbles in some way at this point, I think,” said Weissert.

One area where the Democratic field is lacking currently is name recognition, Weissert said, with the exception of Crist.

“Everybody knows Charlie Crist. A lot of people like Charlie Crist, but he doesn’t inspire a lot of enthusiasm,” said Weissert.

While Fried isn’t expected to make her bid official until June, she’s already come out swinging.

In a video teasing her announcement date, she called DeSantis ‘an authoritarian dictator’.

Though the polls look bleak for Democrats early on, Weissert said to keep in mind: “In Florida, anything can happen.”