Steve Vancore learned the political operative game at the knee of legendary practitioner Marian Johnson some 30 years ago, at Florida Lawyers Action Group.
Today, he’s one of Florida’s leading political consultants and pollsters, operating as a partner in VancoreJones Communications, and teaches media application at Florida State University.
He even made the Influence 100 list of Florida’s biggest political heavyweights. We chatted with Vancore Monday by telephone. He was in Broward County, where he was tending to clients, and talked about what he’ll look for on Tuesday. These remarks have been edited for length and clarity.
FP: What are you looking for in the primaries?
SV: I’m trying to see whether there’s any early evidence of a blue wave. We see it nationally. We’ve seen specks of it in Florida, for example with the election of Margaret Good (in HD 72).
We’re looking to see, are Democrats especially motivated? Thus far, there’s no evidence either way — for it or against it.
FP: You’re looking at early voting?
SV: What I’m looking at is a combination of early and absentee voting (now called vote-by-mail). What evidence is there that Democrats are more enthusiastic? People are pushing out data to suit their ends. But right now, there are no data to suggest one way or the other.
Let me give you an example. Somebody put out this weekend that 250,000 more Democrats have voted in this year’s primaries thus far than voted in 2014, the last midterm primaries. That’s very misleading, because of three factors.
One factor is that that there are so many more Democrats as the state continues to grow by 1,000 people a day. There are more Democrats and there are more Republicans and more independents. Comparing raw numbers to four years ago is misleading.
I can tell you that, since book closing in 2016, there have been more than 200,000 more registered Democrats. There have been more than 260,000 more registered Republicans. But the point is, it’s not evidence of a blue wave.
Two, more money has been spent in the Democratic primaries than has ever been spent in Florida history. When you have these gubernatorial races spending well over $100 million, of course there’s going to be a larger turnout. But it really isn’t that much larger.
Item three is that more people are voting with the convenience of early and absentee voting. In 2016, in the presidential general election, you saw 70 percent of people vote before Election Day. I think the number was 50 percent in 2014.
You take those three variables, I think, overall, you’re looking at 1 or 2 percent more in turnout. That’s not a blue wave.
FP: Are there any particular races you’re looking at? Let’s start with the governor’s race.
SV: I’m a pollster, so you always worry that you’re missing a major variable — something big that would cause your polling to be wrong. I’ll be looking at the margin of victory for Ron DeSantis, quite frankly.
There’s some evidence that, with the conviction and guilty plea (of, respectively, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and attorney Michael Cohen), that Trump’s numbers are eroding. But if DeSantis comes screaming out with above 60 percent of the vote, that shows serious, serious momentum.
I’m looking at the Gary Farmer race, a client of mine, (against Jim Waldman) because there’s been a lot of dark money mail coming out, tons of it, and it’s had no impact at all in the race.
FP: What are you looking for in the Democratic gubernatorial race?
SV: If Gwen Graham wins big, that would be some evidence of a number of things.
One, that she’s a tougher, better candidate than some people are giving her credit for. You have to keep in mind that about as much money has been spent negative-attacking her than she has spent on television.
Remember, a dark money PAC has been attacking her and helping Andrew Gillum. Jeff Greene has spent $6 million, $7 million, $8 million attacking her. If she comes out strong, that will show a very resilient candidate.
FP: What do you make of the dichotomy within the Democratic Party between the progressive wing — that would be Gillum — and the centrists — which is Graham? What are you looking for there?
SV: What you see a lot in Democratic primaries is two things. One, demographic alignment. That’s why Jeff Greene hurts Philip Levine. Levine was comfortably in the lead until Greene entered the race — and you have two demographically similar guys.
They’re about the same age, they’re both wealthy, they’re both Jewish, they’re both white — above-middle-age Jewish white guys from South Florida. So they divided that same swimming lane.
Gillum has done a very good job of occupying the Bernie lane — the progressive lane, we’ll call it; the younger lane. And then, he’s the black candidate. If you combine those, Andrew has a pretty good shot.
Can a centrist candidate win? Gwen did vote against Nancy Pelosi. She did vote for the Keystone XL pipeline. She occupies a little bit more toward the center — which positions her better for the general, one would think.
Here’s the dilemma for her. Let’s say she wins. Does she pick a centrist candidate — a mayor of a big city, a congressman, or something like that? Or does she pick somebody who looks like the base?
Look what happened to Hillary Clinton. Hillary picked Tim Kaine — an old white dude. Had she picked a progressive, then maybe the base would have turned out, but middle-class America would have said, “Oh, that’s not like us.” The Democratic winner, other than Andrew, would have that problem.
FP: And that’s the Democrats’ big problem — persuading people sympathetic to them to actually go vote.
SV: That’s a deep problem. Do you try to win over the middle, or do you try to win over the Bernie supporters?
FP: In the governor’s race, who has the best social media operation?
SV: Andrew Gillum, by a country mile.
The problem with social media, it’s far more limited than people want to believe. It gets negative really fast, and the next thing you know, everybody’s attacking. I looked at one poll that said Andrew Gillum was under water among millennials. Which speaks to the point that if you own social media, it may not necessarily a good thing.
It’s a great medium to reinforce voters; it’s a great medium to get your name ID out there. It’s not a very good persuasion medium. Especially when all the lunatics get on there and start screaming and yelling about you, and the next thing you know you’re in trouble.