It doesn't matter if Chris King has lived in the polling basement throughout his campaign for Florida governor, or that his bid hasn't gained much traction with either elites or Democratic Party activists. Nor does it matter that all the savvy politicos think the logical move would be for him to bow out of the primary.
That's not going to happen, King says.
After all, these are more radical than logical times we've living in. Besides, King, a Winter Park real estate entrepreneur who's never held elected office, has produced an ambitious agenda that has the potential to distinguish him from the Democratic pack – if it hasn't already. He just needs more voters to notice.
"If I was going to get out [of the race], we had qualifying last week," King told Orlando Weekly in late June. "That would've been a great time to do it, because now we're on the ballot. But I've got to hustle. We've got about 10 weeks and I've roughly got to travel about 10 points."
He's referring to an internal poll that shows his support rising ahead of the Aug. 28 primary. In the survey, he's just 10 and 9 points behind the frontrunners. According to public polling, however, he's much farther back. Two recent independent polls have put King at 3 percent and 6 percent support, respectively – between 16 and 26 points off the leaders, albeit with plenty of undecided voters.
So how realistic are King's chances?
"He doesn't have great name recognition and he doesn't have a lot of money, and in order to run competitively and win in Florida, a statewide race, typically you have to have a lot of money or a lot of name recognition – or both," says Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida. "He's just not well-known; he hasn't been running television ads over and over again."
Less a firebrand than a soccer-dad type, King has been on the campaign trail for more than a year now. In that time, he's called for free community college and trade school, major criminal justice and gun reform, the legalization of recreational marijuana and a crackdown on Florida's sugar industry for the environment's sake, as well as a surplus of other progressive talking points.
It's a platform custom-built to make liberals swoon.
But even with miles of marches worn into the soles of his shoes and thousands of hands shaken, no one's swooning. Or at least, not enough people are swooning to make King a top-tier contender. That's especially evident when you notice that the small donor contributions to King's campaign aren't rolling in like they need to – that is, not in the manner they did for other dark-horse candidates, such as Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.
On some level, this makes sense. Why would Democrats invest in an inexperienced candidate at a time when they have former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, establishment favorite and former congresswoman Gwen Graham, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to choose from? And that's not even counting the other wild-card candidate – Palm Beach real estate tycoon and billionaire Jeff Greene, who entered the race in early June.
According to a recent poll from NBC News and Marist, Levine is out front with 19 percent, Graham is close behind at 17 percent, Gillum is further back at 8 percent, Greene at 4 percent, and then there's King, bringing up the rear with 3 percent. Another poll from early June offered similar results: Levine leading with 32 percent, King fourth out of five with 6 percent.
The poll numbers are reflective of how much money each campaign is working with, too. Levine's campaign, some of which the wealthy former businessman has self-funded, has about $15 million to play around with. Graham's has just less than $10 million, and has her family (former Florida governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, as well as the Graham family of the Washington Post publishing fame) to thank for a heavy chunk of it. Greene's campaign, which is totally self-funded, has more than $7 million. King has about $6 million, a big chunk of which comes from his own pocket. And Gillum – who prides himself on being the only non-millionaire candidate, and who's received about 18 percent of his funding from billionaire George Soros and an affiliated organization – is working with a little more than $4 million.
The mountain he has to climb is very steep indeed. But that doesn't mean King's campaign has been quixotic. Because of his forward-thinking platform, he's already made his mark on this race, whether or not his fellow candidates are willing to admit it. In his own words, he's the one reporters call the "substance candidate, the big-idea candidate, the candidate swinging for the fences."
"So I think that's been the irony for most folks following our race closely," King says. "The guy who's been the entrepreneur and the community activist and philanthropist is leading the Democratic debate as relates to the issues we're talking about."
The first such issue was King's position on Florida's sugar industry.
King argues that Big Sugar's deep pockets and vise-grip on elected officials has prevented the state from addressing pressing environmental issues.
"I came out in speech one and said I'm not going to take [the sugar industry's] money," King says. "I'm not going to be beholden when it comes to Florida's environment."
He was the first to do so when he kicked off his campaign in April 2017. Though it took months for them to do so, his fellow candidates eventually followed suit.
While Gillum remained mostly mum on the industry, with his spokesman saying he didn't want to "demonize" sugar workers, Levine tacked the pledge onto his set of environment-friendly proposals in April, which means something coming from the guy who has leveraged his campaign on Miami Beach's attempts to combat sea-level rise. The night before the first Democratic debate in early June, Graham gave away $17,400 donated to her by a political committee associated with the sugar industry during her time in Congress.
Then there was gun reform – a major talking point of King's campaign.
In early June, King came out with a proposal called Every Kid Fund for Gun Violence Prevention. It's what most folks refer to as a bullet tax. While his fellow candidates have called for all-out bans on assault rifles – Graham has said she'd do it through executive order, Gillum has said he'd close any loopholes and Levine has simply called for a ban – King's idea goes further, and has substance.
"What I could not understand is why after [the Pulse nightclub shooting], nothing happened in Tallahassee. Nothing changed, no laws were passed, nothing happened. Of course, after Parkland we had a different response. I would argue that it still didn't go all the way," King says.
His idea is to implement a tax on weapons and bullets to pay for gun violence intervention and prevention programs, school safety measures, and new studies of gun violence. King also intends to use the tax to pay for the medical costs of victims of mass shootings. He also wants to use revenue from legalizing and taxing pot and money saved from lowering incarceration rates toward this cause.
Though Gillum was the first to come out in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, King tied it to a broader agenda. Together, their calls for legalization began to push their fellow candidates. With Levine signaling his support of legal weed in early June, that leaves only two Democrats – Graham and Greene – opposed. Graham has previously told the Weekly that she would rather initiate Florida's medical marijuana program first. Greene has said he'd like to see more studies.
King says he has also helped spark a conversation among candidates about ending the "school-to-prison pipeline" and the death penalty. To tout his agenda, King set out on what his campaign called the "Turning the Tide" tour in May: One goal he pitched to those in attendance is to reduce the prison inmate population by 25 percent over the next five years and 50 percent over the next decade.
To this day, King remains the sole candidate in favor of nixing the death penalty.
"I think he's certainly been part of the reason why the Democratic candidates are espousing more progressive policies," Jewett says. "He's not the only reason, but he's certainly one of the reasons. He's out there on the left, and he's pushing hard. I think a lot of progressive Democrats would like what he's proposing in terms of policy – if they knew about him."
As a candidate, King says he's tried to build a tent big enough to fit all Democratic voters inside, and not just for, say, the rival gangs – in other words, the Hillary and Bernie clans. He also says that he's not interested in joining someone else's ticket as a lieutenant governor candidate if he's not able to pull out a win. For King, it's the governor's mansion or bust.
"I recognize that based on my value system I've got some tough forces ahead of me," King says. "But this is me, and it's what I'm selling to Democrats – that I'm not just trying to win an election, I'm trying to be transformative. Even if they beat me, ultimately, I've done what I was supposed to do."