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Michael's Effects On Florida Could Include The State's Elections


Michael hit the panhandle just as the voter registration deadline for next month's election closed in Florida. We know Florida as a big presidential prize. It's also host to a bunch of closely watched political races this midterm season. Marc Caputo covers Florida politics for Politico. And he joins us now on the line. Thanks for being with us.

MARC CAPUTO: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So first off, you grew up in Key West. And Key West endured Irma just over a year ago. You've seen a lot of storms come through. What are you thinking about Michael and the level of destruction it's caused?

CAPUTO: I think Michael reminds me most of Hurricane Katrina when I was in New Orleans and then the Gulf Coast. I remember the city of Waveland in Mississippi looked a lot like Mexico Beach looks now. There were just homes wiped clean from their slabs. And then all of the associated destructiveness that kind of turns a once kind of lush area into a desert, just stripped clean, wiped clean of any sign of - or many signs of human habitation and construction. No trees. Just a really powerful storm surge that was kind of an unstoppable force.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk about the political fallout. Florida has a two-term governor, Republican Rick Scott, running for the U.S. Senate. He's up against Bill Nelson. And a charismatic mayor of the state capital, Tallahassee, Democrat Andrew Gillum, is running for governor against Ron DeSantis, a former congressman, who also has a lot of support in pockets of Florida. You know, what has Hurricane Michael meant for these political campaigns?

CAPUTO: Well, we can't really say with certainty what it has meant. But what it could mean and what is the likelier scenario is that this is probably a benefit to Governor Scott. Hurricane Irma, which struck in 2017 here - after Scott led the state, he saw his net favorability rating rise about 8 percentage points. And it put him pretty much on good footing to run for Senate this year. In fact, just before the hurricane hit, coincidentally, Rick Scott was running ads touting his leadership during hurricanes. So he has been kind of all over, both physically in these different pockets of the state, in different media markets. And he's been in Tallahassee, broadcast from The Weather Channel and the like - scene-leading. And we've seen in the past not just with Rick Scott but with Governor Jeb Bush and Jeb Bush's brother President Bush in 2004, there is a benefit to the executive if you handle these storms right. And in this case, it appears so far that Governor Scott has. To a lesser degree, Andrew Gillum has kind of done the same thing. He, too, is an executive, albeit of the city of Tallahassee as the mayor.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it was hit...

CAPUTO: And...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Pretty hard.

CAPUTO: It was hit. Yeah. Tallahassee wasn't hit as hard, say, as Mexico Beach.


CAPUTO: In the county of Leon County, which is where Tallahassee is based, had about 98 percent of its power lost. And coincidentally, just before the hurricane hit, he was being attacked, Andrew Gillum, by his opponent, Ron DeSantis, for his leadership during a storm, Hurricane Hermine. This time, Gillum has made sure that he's been out. He's been seen visibly - in one case, actually chainsawing trees away and moving debris.


CAPUTO: So he's...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chainsawing trees.

CAPUTO: ...Yeah he's - well, he's making sure - Gillum is - that he is not perceived as someone who's just kind of doing nothing.


CAPUTO: And so probably...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Everyone's trying to capitalize on the media moment and trying to be seen doing the best for Floridians. And I guess it remains to be seen what the effect will be. I mean, we have about 10 seconds left. I mean, are there going to be polls that are going to be looking at this?

CAPUTO: Oh, sure. We just have to wait until they go back in the field again. Understand that, like, the entire panhandle is going to be an almost impossible poll right now because you can't get a hold of a half, you know...


CAPUTO: Eighty percent of the people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Politico's Marc Caputo joining us from Florida this morning. Thanks so much.

CAPUTO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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