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Florida Voters Split On Impeachment Inquiry; DeSantis Approval Rate High, New Poll Reveals

A voter casts her ballot at the Miami-Dade County Palm Springs North Fire Station, during the Florida primary election, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Miami.
Brynn Anderson
A voter casts her ballot at the Miami-Dade County Palm Springs North Fire Station, during the Florida primary election, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Miami.

A recent poll shows Florida will likely be a 2020 battleground state as voters here are evenly split when it comes to the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.  The University of North Florida poll shows 49 percent of registered voters in the state approve of the House of Representatives formally beginning an impeachment inquiry, while 47 percent disapprove.

This, as questions continue to swirl around Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relationship with two Soviet-born associates of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The governor's approval numbers are high, but could slip as more information comes to light, according to Mike Binder, director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of Florida.

Binder and Tampa Bay Times political editor Steve Contorno weighed in on The Florida Roundup.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity:

The Florida Roundup: Help us connect the dots here on this fast-moving scandal. This week, we saw [U.S. Rep.] Matt Gaetz lead the Republicans into the SCIF. [U.S. Rep.] Val Demings, a Democrat from Florida, got into a shouting match with them. All of this tied into the probe into whether the president withheld aid to Ukraine unless they agreed to publicly investigate Joe Biden and his son. Now, at the same time, you're getting some new information on two Florida men who donated money to Gov. DeSantis: Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas. They are the two Rudy Giuliani associates indicted in the midst of all this last week. What is your reporting uncovering here?

Steve Contorno: When they first were indicted, there was a mad rush to see who else they had given money to other than those listed in the indictment. There were contributions made in Nevada and Texas. And it turns out that Gov. Ron DeSantis received $50,000 from the two men through a limited liability corporation. And DeSantis sort of immediately returned the money, and his spokesperson said he has no relationship with these people. 

They may have attended some large Republican Party events together, but that was about it. Time passes and, lo and behold, not only did they hold fundraisers for Ron DeSantis, but they were at his inauguration. They were actually hugging with him after he announced his victory. And just more and more has come out since. Politico had a story last week that showed Lev Parnas was traveling across the state of Florida with the governor as he hit his home stretch of the campaign.  

Right. It raised some questions about whether Parnas and his associate were actually flying with the governor in his plane. Could he have been flying with Rudy Giuliani, though, or do we know?

Contorno: We don't know the travel arrangements. It sounds like there was, maybe, a caravan of planes crisscrossing the state during that sort-of-like mad rush toward the end. And certainly there's a photo of Les Parnas on a flight with Rudy Giuliani and then appearing at two DeSantis events right before the before the election. 

So it seems that they were traveling together, whether they were on the same plane or whether they were just, you know, heading in the same direction. It isn't clear, although his office adamantly said that they were not on a plane together.

 Mike Bender, who heads up UF Public Opinion Research Lab in Jacksonville, let's turn to you now. You've got new polling on both impeaching the president, how Floridians feel about that, and also the governor's approval ratings. Let's start with the impeachment numbers. No surprise the state is split. What does the data show?

Mike Bender: The state is very divided. We asked two questions about impeachment. One was about formally starting the impeachment process. In our case, it's 49 to 47 supporting starting the inquiry. Then, we asked a follow up about being impeached and then removed from office. Kind of that second, third step of the process, and that is 46 approve, 48 oppose, both within the margin of error. And that really just highlights Florida as this battleground state where folks are in their camps — much like we've seen with a lot of these elections in the past.

 It's right down the middle, just like we've come to expect here in Florida. Now, you also polled the state's voters and found most approve of Gov. DeSantis. He's enjoying bipartisan support right now as we continue to track this Ukrainian matter. Is there any chance that could change? Did you poll on that?

Bender: We didn't poll on that, mostly because we were in the field [Oct.] 14-20, while things were starting to come up about this. The pictures hadn't come out yet. And really, we didn't know a lot. We still don't know a lot necessarily.

But his approval rating in our survey was 72 percent, which is enormously high for a governor in this state that is often so politically divided. Even Democrats, 56 percent approve of the job that he's doing. Independents are at 77 and Republicans obviously are very high at 91. But if this continues — and if we learn more and if there is a closer connection — I certainly would envision that to chip away at some of his job approval numbers.

Steve Contorno, you reported back in September that the governor's political committee had developed a sort of shopping list for paid meeting opportunities with the governor and his wife. This ties back to campaign money going to the governor. Tell us about that.

Contorno: It's all sort of coming a little bit full circle here because $50,000 is from these two Soviet-born men. It’s interesting, given the context what we reported then — which was essentially within days of Gov. DeSantis taking office, his political team was putting together a plan for how to keep him in front of the most powerful and influential donors in Florida and across the country, and how to sort of build a moneymaking machine that would fuel his future political ambitions, which some have speculated go beyond Florida to the White House.

So what we found was that they actually put together sort of a menu of opportunities to spend time with the governor that included $25,000 to golf with him; $100,000 if you want to play with him, one on one; $125,000 for a 15-minute meeting with him; and $250,000 for a dinner event. And, you know, he said that he never saw these memos that we obtained and that they don't affect how he does his day-to-day job. But one of the memos explicitly says that he and his wife, First Lady Casey DeSantis, approved the fundraising plan that was laid out as they were trying to figure out how to implement it.

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Denise Royal