Kaplan Poll: Gaetz Leads Florida Republican Pack in 2026 Governor's Race to Succeed DeSantis


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The Republican congressman representing the Florida Panhandle leads the pack of potential GOP 2026 gubernatorial primary rivals, according to a newly released Kaplan Strategies poll of 1,151 likely Florida Republican voters.

“Matt Gaetz is in the early lead with the support of 16 percent of Republicans going into 2026,” said Doug Kaplan, the Florida-based pollster, who famously nailed the 2016 percentages between former first lady Hillary R. Clinton and New York City developer Donald J. Trump, when Kaplan was running polls for Gravis Marketing.

Following Gaetz in the top three were Rep. Byron Donalds at 13 percent, and state Attorney General Ashley Moody at 10 percent, Kaplan said. The poll, conducted Feb. 27 through Feb. 28, carries a 2.9 percentage point margin of error.

“Fifty-one percent of Republican voters are undecided, so the race is still wide open, he said.

“Gaetz enjoyed the highest percentage of support from male and female Republicans, and he was the top candidate with every age group, except Donalds, who was the top candidate with respondents 65 and older,” he said.

The other candidates in the poll were: Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, 3 percent; Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, 2 percent; Rep. Michael Waltz, 2 percent; former GOP presidential candidate and Miami Mayor Francisco Suarez, 2 percent, and Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, 1 percent.

Gaetz was first elected to Congress in 2016, but his impact on Florida and Capitol Hill since then has been staggering.

The son of former state Senate president Don Gaetz was pivotal in President Donald J. Trump’s decision to endorse his House colleague, then-Rep. Ron DeSantis in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary–and Trump’s decision to keep campaigning for him through the general election. Then, in 2023, no one did more to usher in former Speaker Kevin O. McCarthy (R.-Calif.)’s return to private life than Gaetz.

“It is always difficult to transition from campaigning in one congressional district to scaling up to a statewide organization,” Kaplan said. “Gaetz’s high profile and relationship with Trump put him in the lead, and could keep him there, but the election is more than two years down the road.”

Trump, who won his adopted home state in 2016 and 2020, after President Barack Obama won the Sunshine State in 2008 and 2012, remains very popular in Florida, the pollster said.

“Sixty-three percent of Florida Republicans have a very favorable view of Trump and 19 percent have a somewhat favorable view,” he said. “That combined 82 percent favorable is in the same state where the sitting governor ran to block Trump from returning to the White House.”

“Forty-seven percent of Republicans think Trump’s endorsement is the most important endorsement to them, and 63 percent told us they consider themselves MAGA Republicans,” he said. 

In the top three, 26 percent of Florida Republicans have a very favorable opinion and 14 percent have a somewhat favorable opinion of Donalds, followed by Gaetz, 25 percent and 23 percent, and Moody, 23 percent and 20 percent. 

Thirty-seven percent of Florida Republicans have a very favorable opinion and 39 percent, have a somewhat favorable opinion of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio; and Republican Sen. Rick Scott, 28 percent and 35 percent.

Kaplan said DeSantis will also be a factor in who succeeds him.

“Thirty-seven percent of Republicans told us DeSantis’ endorsement was their top endorsement to consider,” he said.

Kaplan added, “Especially when you consider that 63 percent of respondents told us they think Florida is going in the right direction.”

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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