Monday, August 09, 2010

Florida Governor Race

Race of the Day

Florida Governor

August 9, 2010
85 Days Until Election Day

Status: Independent (elected as Republican) Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

Long considered a political "battleground state", the electoral landscape in Florida this year is as complex and interesting as that of any other state. The contests for Governor and U.S. Senate both feature party stalwarts facing surprise primary challenges from wealthy outsiders.There is also increasingly harsh intraparty rhetoric leading up to the September primaries, which may complicate relatively short general election campaigns, which will happen to be three way contests with Independent candidates with famous names threatening to either play spoiler or win the actual election.

The contest for Governor is the feature today and what once looked to be a solid situation for the GOP is now far more uncertain.

At the beginning of 2009, the reelection of Charlie Crist, the state's popular Governor, and a rising national GOP star was considered to be an almost safe bet. Democrats were not even likely to seriously challenge him. Crist shook up the state's politics though last spring when in somewhat of a surprising move, announced his intention to run for an open U.S. Senate seat, in lieu of seeking reelection. The once nearly unassailable Crist saw his Senate campaign suffer in the face of a strong primary challenge from the right, and earlier this year, the Republican Governor lost himself many friends in the GOP by declaring his run for the Senate would be as an Independent, in what was a move to help his flagging campaign.

In the wake of Crist's announcements, two candidates for Governor emerged and it appeared as if the general election would be set pretty early. Democrat Alex Sink is the elected Chief Financial Officer of the state, and was quick to jump into the race once Crist was out of it. She is all but assured of being the Democrat candidate this fall. She would not only be the state's first female Governor, but also the first of Asian decent (her great-grandfather was one of the original Siamese Twins.) Additonally, Sink is married to her party's 2002 nominee for Governor who lost by a wide margin that year to incumbent Jeb Bush, in a race Democrats had once felt they had a great chance of winning.

Also quick to enter the race to succeed Crist was another statewide elected official. Republican Bill McCollum was a longtime Congressman, who tasted defeat in two bids for the U.S. Senate during the last decade, before being elected Attorney General in 2006. While he was facing a primary challenge from a State Senator, the GOP establishment lined up behind McCollum and his nomination looked like a foregone conclusion, and he also enjoyed a polling lead over Sink in the general election.

This spring however though saw the unexpected joining of the Republican race by Rick Scott, a wealthy former hospital CEO making his first electoral bid. Scott has spent millions of dollars on the race thus far, driving the Republican State Senator from the primary (who is now considered a Scott ally and potential running mate) and hammering McCollum. Before enterting the race, Scott had made a name for himself leading a group opposition to Congressional Health Care bill. For his part, McCollum had been a leader of state Attorneys General in suing the government to prevent it's implementation.

The contest between Scott and McCollum has gotten quite nasty at times, with Scott capitalizing on his status as an outsider, but with the longtime politician McCollum questioning his business practices and saying that Scott may have even broken the law regarding Medicare reimbursements. McCollum has appeared to have weaknesses as a campaigner and Scott now seems to have a lead of about a few points in the primary contest. The situation is still fluid though.

Adding to the complexity, was the Gubernatorial announcement later on in the spring of Bud Chiles, a businessman who is the son of the late Lawton Chiles, a somewhat legendary political force in the state, and the last Democrat to have been elected Governor. The younger Chiles decided to run as an Indepedent, rather than face Sink in a primary, something that on the surface should be considered very troubling for her general election prospects, especially if Chiles is somehow able to incorporate his theme and campaign with the Indepedent candidacy of Crist for the U.S. Senate.

Recent general election polls show a very close contest between Sink and the Republicans, with Chiles, polling in the double digits, and being a major factor. Those polls show that Sink may be narrowly ahead of McCollum, but Scott is now narrowly ahead of Sink. Chiles appears to be drawing somewhat equally from both major party candidates at this time, but fares best when McCollum is tested as the GOP nominee, indicating that Scott's backers may be switching to Chiles; another non-elected businessman.

In my view, Republican chances of holding this office (or I suppose winning it back in a technical sense) would be somewhat better if McCollum survives the primary. Both he and Sink are not considered the most dynamic of campaigners, and this contest is probably going to play second fiddle to the Senate race anyway, but first time candidate Scott may have the most vulnerability, despite his massive checkbook. Democrats would run a campaign trying to accuse him of being too far to the right and too "risky."

There is still some time for McCollum to make his case to primary voters, and then whomever wins the September GOP primary, will have a somewhat short time to heal the wounds of that race and focus on the general election. The heated primary contest and it's current tossup nature have not at all been helpful to the overall Republican effort, but as long as Chiles remains in the race, Republicans certainly have a path to victory. Basically, either McCollum or Scott will need to make dissapointed Republican leaners like Chiles less and make him less of a viable option to them and more of a viable option to Democrats, who may have doubts about Sink.

The selection of running-mates, debates, and television ads will go a long way in determining who is elected Governor. The aforementioned U.S. Senate contest could also play a role though, especially if there is a dynamic of the state's Latinos being energized by the candidacy of the Republican candidate for that office, and African-American and other Democrats potentially being less than motivated by the party's potential nominee for that race, as well as the overall party division that currently exists there, and which will be talked about in more detail, when that contest is covered, most likely tomorrow.

In giving the GOP a slight edge in a tossup race here, I am taking into consideration the fact that the last two Gubernatorial elections in Florida saw momentum swing to Republicans in the final days of the campaign, as well as the general dynamic nationwide that should favor the party. A likely third place showing for the Democrats' Senate candidate will not help ticketmate Sink, but another Democrat, in Chiles, running as an Independent, could hurt her the most.

McCollum campaign link:

2010 Governor races predicted thus far: 3 D, 5 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 10 D, 11 R