Friday, August 08, 2014

Race of the Day- Florida Governor

88 Days Until Election Day (on 8/8)

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

As one of the marquis races of the cycle, folks from all over the nation will have their eyes on the Sunshine State this year and it certainly has the potential to be fascinating until the end. Right now, the race looks like a tossup. Both of the presumptive nominees have significant political strengths and flaws. This is sort of an odd race though where the incumbent may be less known than the challenger, and that while it may be extremely tight at the moment, that challenger probably has nowhere else to go but down.

Charlie Crist was an ambitious young lawyer, and former college football quarterback, who got involved in Republican Party politics in the state where his parents moved during his childhood. As a State Senator, he took on the task of running for the U.S. Senate in 1998 as the GOP nominee against an entrenched Democrat incumbent. He lost big, but used that name recognition to win a couple statewide executive positions, and eventually the Governorship in 2006. One of the rising stars in the Republican Party, Crist was heavily courted by Presidential candidates leading up to 2008 and his overly political style in ultimately issuing an endorsement left some hard feelings. While some on the right were a bit leery of Crist, he certainly was unafraid to use conservative rhetoric when it suited his needs as Governor. Left-wing bloggers attacked him as an unprincipled shyster who was secretly gay and Democrat Party operatives nationally and in his state took issue with much of what he did as Governor as well as alleged unethical practices in the state party he controlled.

Considered a heavy favorite to win a second term as Governor, Crist shocked many by deciding he would instead in 2010 for an open U.S. Senate seat. While still fairly popular, the state economy had started to take a downturn under Crist and he might have felt that the national spotlight of Washington D.C. would help further his national ambitions. When he entered that race, it was fairly taken for granted that Crist would be going to the Senate. Eventually though, anger against Crist for such things as agreeing with Barack Obama's federal stimulus program, caused a vigorous primary challenge tp develop against Crist and he would find himself trailing the more conservative Marco Rubio in the polls. After that happened, Crist dropped out of the Republican primary, and the still sitting Governor decided to run as an Independent for the Senate seat he had been seeking. He began to move to the left in an attempt to win Democrat votes. The African-American nominee of the Democrats refused to step aside for Crist though, and the now formally politically unaligned Governor finished a distant second to Rubio.

Meanwhile in Florida that year, businessman Rick Scott defeated established political figures to become both the GOP nominee and eventually Governor of his adoptive state. Spending vast amounts of his personal fortune, and capitalizing on his outsider status and opposition to Obamacare, Scott narrowly pulled off victories in both contests. He was a far from perfect candidate in the general election though and had it not been such a strong Republican year, and had Scott not spent so much money, it is fair to say he likely would have been defeated in his first bid for office. His victory represented the fourth in a row for Republican Gubernatorial candidates in Florida, and while the party is bitterly contested for President every four years, the GOP had begun to dominate Florida politics at the statewide level.

So, Scott succeeded Crist as Governor and continued to be a lightning rod, angering liberals at nearly every turn and even upsetting many in his own party at times. For months, there was speculation that a Republican could challenge Scott for re-nomination, but his checkbook likely frightened them off and the Governor is not facing any serious competition in this month's primary.

There is at least the appearance of a competitive primary on the Democrat side. Nan Rich, the liberal former State Senate Minority Leader had been running for Governor for some time, but all the while, talk persisted about the inevitability of a Crist comeback, this time as a Democrat. In 2012, Crist formally joined that party and was a visible surrogate for the incumbent President he had attacked pretty intently four years earlier. Democrats were looking for a winner and many were willing to overlook everything that they had once said about Crist and he had said about them. That is not to say that all Florida Democrats have embraced Crist bringing his serial office-seeking to their party. Some just cannot get past the way he for years claimed to be solidly Pro-Life on the issue of abortion and staunchly vouched for the qualifications of Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. The ex-Governor and defeated Senate candidate wrote a book about leaving the Republican Party, in which he either renounced many of his former stances on major issues, or denied that he really ever held them at all. The book was almost universally panned, and Crist's national media tour promoting it led to much eye-rolling. Nonetheless, Crist is said to be a personal favorite of Obama and while Rich has been trying to stay in the game, everything is in line for a fairly easily victory for Crist late this month in his first ever Democrat primary.

Candidates in Florida select their own running-mates and Crist has already chosen Dade County Democrat Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, who for some reason campaigns solely as Annette Taddeo. Perhaps she feels it is more important to emphasis her South-American roots than her Jewish married name.  She has lost a couple of previous bids for office. If Crist wins the primary as expected, her counterpart will be another Hispanic politician from the Miami area. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Cuban-American, who is also of Jewish descent, became the first Hispanic Lt. Governor of Florida when Scott appointed him earlier this year. The Governor's 2010 running-mate, a Caribbean-American woman once considered one of the future stars of the GOP, resigned as Lt. Governor under an ethical cloud. Upon leaving office, she was quite harsh in attacking Scott, the man who to whom she had owed her job.

A contest between Scott and Crist, the last two Governors of a heavily populated and diverse state has been in progress long before the business of Crist formally receiving the Democrat nomination occurs. Republicans have been preparing to go after the candidate they once backed and Democrats have been planning to paint him as a post-partisan figure, after attacking him for years for being a Republican partisan. Certainly, the record of both men for the comparable amount of time they served as Governor will be discussed ad nauseam on the trail, over the airwaves, and in debates. Both men will point to a plethora of statistics and claims as to why they were the better Governor.

As the campaign began, Crist held a lead over his polarizing incumbent opponent, backed by many moderate Republicans who still held him in high regard. Scott has certainly succeeded in making a political comeback over the the past several months to the point where the polls now show a dead heat,and some even show the Republican narrowly ahead. This occurs after Crist received a political boost after selecting his running-mate. There has been grumbling about how Crist may be having some difficulty finding his political voice in his first race as a Democrat and that he was not panning out as expected. Many had hoped that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson would have run for Governor and that could have spelled the end of Crist's ambitions, but Nelson decided to stay put. Crist has certainly moved a great deal to the left now that he is a Democrat, even taking the politically risky stance in his state of now opposing the U.S. embargo on Cuba. He does not resemble the politician he was in 2006 in many ways.

I certainly am not suggesting that it is beyond the realm of possibility that Crist, a seasoned politician, could win this race against a less than politically stellar opponent in a state that Democrats have won in the last two Presidential elections. However, I just do not see it happening. I think all the activity surrounding Crist's doomed bid for the Senate in 2010 hurt his political aura and that his unabashed shape-shifting ways are just too much to swallow. Certainly, most of Crist's former Republican backers have soured on him and while Democrats will support him, there just may not be that much enthusiasm for him. Politicians get a bad rap for being inauthentic and overly slick, and the perpetually tan and well-coiffed Crist may take that stereotype to another level.

 There may continue to be voter discontent with how Scott has governed, but he has a lot of money to spend and he will use it to attack Crist ruthlessly. With the race basically being tied today, I find it hard to envision how Crist, who has been around the state's political scene for many years, is going to win over people he does not already have. The ads that will run against him, attacking him for shifting with the political winds, solely in the name of personal ambition are going to take even more of a toll, with the Republicans who might still mildly support him and the Democrats who may have to privately admit that supporting him is distasteful. Florida likes to send Republicans to Tallahassee and I think they will return the Republican who wants to keep his job over the former Republican who once walked away from that job in pursuit of something else.

Scott campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 3 D (1 Safe, 1 Leans, 1 Tossup) , 5 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 10 D, 12 R (net Republican gain of 1)


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