A recent poll of likely voters just arrived from Florida’s heavily Republican Panhandle region showing that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is in real danger of losing his seat in Congress to a famous whistleblower who exposed a major public health scandal. The third-term Congressman is a target in the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation of his inner circle’s sex trafficking and public corruption crimes.
Former Florida Department of Health geographer Rebekah Jones is considered the clear front-runner in the Democratic primary to challenge Gaetz. Her campaign’s latest polling contains more than one surprise. Still, the essential point is that she is leading the incumbent by two measures.
First, Trump’s ultimate defender is trailing in head-to-head polling by a number greater than the margin of error for the sample.
Secondly, Jones’ congressional campaign exclusively provided the poll’s crosstabs to Occupy Democrats. Inside it shows that the first-time political candidate is leading the Congressman in two major party voting blocks: Democrats and in a 4-way race she’s even leading amongst Republican voters. More Republicans chose Gaetz than Jones in a head-to-head race, but it was close.
Overall, the results plainly show that Gaetz’s popularity in his home district is at a nadir, while Jones’ profile is ascendant.
In an anticipated 4-way race with two independents, the poll of 432 likely voters says Jones leads Gaetz by a 53.5%-45.6% margin. In a two-way race, the surveyed likely voters favor the challenger over the incumbent by a measure of 52.8%-47.2% for a margin of 5.6%.
The poll sampled twice as many Republicans as Democrats. Its margin of error is 4.25%. All public opinion polling is a snapshot of the present and recent past, so it doesn’t have any predictive power for a race in November.
“The poll may put us ahead by six points, but we’re doing to keep working like we’re down by 10,” Jones told Occupy Democrats. “Our district needs representation, and we haven’t had that in six years. We know the stakes, so we’re not getting complacent.”
However, conventional wisdom says that incumbents are in trouble when their polling figures fall below 50%. While that’s not always an ironclad indication of a lost race, it’s a troubling sign for the Congressman living under a cloud of a long-running sex-trafficking investigation that convicted his wingman, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg.
Most Floridians learned about Rebekah Jones when she won national acclaim for designing a fantastic Covid-19 dashboard before the White House decided that it preferred to downplay the number of cases rather than inform the public. Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis went along in lockstep. Then, the Florida Department of Health asked her to alter the data to present an inaccurate picture. She refused and was forced out of her job. For blowing the whistle, Florida’s GOP Governor allegedly retaliated by sending the state’s top police force to raid her home, with guns drawn around her children on a trumped-up charge of computer tampering. Last June, the Health department’s watchdog granted Jones official whistleblower status, a difficult achievement.
As a candidate, Jones has worked hard to take the temperature of her district, and anticipating a typically hot Florida summer; she has seized on a pocketbook issue that is likely to dominate headlines from July through November: the sharply increased cost of home energy bills.
She has personally paid over $14,000 bills from FPL customers facing disconnection and provided the receipts (her blog post about it here). A great many of them are inside her North Florida congressional district, and 432 are among those polled who are upset their elected officials aren’t doing enough. But that is by design.
All politics being local, the poll begins with a survey of Florida Congressional District 1 likely voters’ opinions of their new public utility, Florida Power & Light (FPL). Overwhelmingly, voters said 4:1 that elected officials weren’t doing enough about sharply rising bills from the newly installed utility company. That’s not surprising since the Florida Republican Party tightly coordinates its electoral activities with the power company. In turn, the GOP Governor appoints members of the state’s Public Service Commissioner, and its Republican-controlled State Senate confirms them.
What was a surprise is that one of FPL’s dark money political operatives decided to expose just how reliant the GOP’s grip on power depends quite literally on the power company when someone sent everything to the Orlando Sentinel who reported about a fake candidates scandal that has already led to its first criminal conviction in Miami:
Top executives at utility giant Florida Power & Light worked closely with the political consultants who orchestrated a scheme to promote spoiler candidates in three key state Senate elections last year…
Not coincidentally, sources say Matt Gaetz discussed one of the fake candidates or “plantidates” in public, and it’s one of the threads of the sprawling criminal investigation into his conduct.
Unluckily for his voters, Matt Gaetz’s home district just transitioned to FPL on January 1st, 2022.
Coincidentally, a Republican-approved electricity rate hike also landed that day, devastating the wallets of the third-largest state’s ratepayers and landing disproportionately on the shoulders of the middle class, the working poor, and the indigent. And it’s not just a small hike. It’s a whopper that has even led to a lawsuit in front of the Florida Supreme Court by irate citizens because power bills are rising nearly 20% higher, of which only 6% is a fuel charge, reports the Palm Beach Post:
Florida Power & Light customers who paid $101.70 last year for a typical monthly bill of 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity will now be charged $120.67.
This change not only accounts for a five-year base rate increase approved by the Florida Public Service Commission in October, but a $6.82 per month adjustment for rising natural gas prices.
It’s clear that voter discontent over rising prices is palpable today, and this is an issue that Florida’s Republicans own lock, stock, and barrel thanks to their dominant triple majority in the political branches of the state’s government. Only California is comparably in lockstep for Democrats.
If Florida’s Democrats manage to turn FPL’s monopoly control over the majority of 20 million people’s household budgets and the Republican Party into a major campaign issue, then it could become a potent motivator for voters in a state that only selected GOP Governor DeSantis by a narrow margin of 33,000 votes out of 9 million ballots cast.
“Matt Gaetz knows he’s in trouble,” says Rebekah Jones. “He’s opening a local campaign office for the first time, agreeing to debates for the first time, agreeing with AOC on policy. He’s desperate because he’s losing.”
is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.