Harry Enten, an analyst with FiveThirtyEight, a political website owned by ESPN, claims he can prove with charts and graphs that Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist are the most unpopular pair to face each other in a governor’s race for at least the last decade. Without even consulting the charts and graphs, few Floridians outside of Scott’s or Crist’s camp would argue with Enten.
Both candidates’ favorable/unfavorable ratings are below water. Scott’s ratings have been in the unfavorable range for almost the entire three-years-plus he has been governor. He has mostly done what he ran on in 2010, and has governed from the center-right, the political residence of most Florida Republicans, independents, and not a few Democrats. But he has an awkward and stiff personality. He’s inarticulate before TV cameras and reporters’ notebooks. He projects a level of personal warmth, next to which the late Richard Nixon would have looked like Miss Congeniality by comparison.
Crist, on the other hand, is Miss Congeniality. But that’s all he is. He is the back-slapper nonpareil, but otherwise 1/32 of an inch deep. He can work a room or a rope-line, leaving everyone he touches believing he/she is Charlie’s new best friend. Crist’s Mr. Sunshine act has made him popular over the years. But his approval ratings have been sinking as Scott has hammered him with negative TV ads, most having to do with Crist being a political opportunist who changes not only his positions on issues but his party when it is convenient. You can’t name a single position on a single political issue that Charlie hasn’t held at least once, and may hold again as political conditions change. For example, he has been for and against drilling for oil off of Florida’s coast multiple times.
In the latest Quinnipiac poll, Scott loses the favorable/unfavorable sweepstakes 43-48. Crist comes in minus two on the same dimension. Enten could only locate two governor’s races over the past decade — the 2006 Illinois race between Rod Blagojevich and Judy Baar Topinka, and the 2009 New Jersey race between Chris Christie and Jon Corzine — where both candidates finished the race with negative favorability ratings. The bipartisan disdain for the candidates of the two major parties in Florida this year could actually drive the Libertarian candidate into double digits, unfamiliar and rarefied air for that party. In the latest Quinnipiac, nine percent of voters say they plan to vote for Libertarian Adrian Wylie, a man unknown even in his own precinct.
Best estimates are that well north of $100 million will be spent on the governor’s race this year, the largest part on TV ads. Most of the ads are negative, many of them misleading. The ads can only serve to drive the popularity of these two down even further.
Some of Scott’s ads blame Crist for the Florida economic crash, which took place during Crist’s (Republican) governorship. Of course this took place simultaneously with the national economic infarct, and the loss of jobs and the collapse of the housing bubble can hardly be blamed on Charlie. On the other side, Crist ads ballyhoo the case where the health care giant where Scott was CEO was charged with Medicare fraud and paid the largest fraud fines in history — $1.7 billion. Scott was not charged with anything, but the ads don’t mention this.
Crist takes credit for and exaggerates the benefits of money spent in Florida from the so-called economic stimulus bill of 2009, which he had no vote on. He claims to have “saved the jobs of 20,000 teachers.” If any teaching jobs were saved by the stimulus money, and it’s not clear any were, their saving had nothing to do with anything Crist did. And surely the 20,000 figure was plucked out of the air, probably by a political consultant, or a Crist campaign aide after his third Sam Adams. (“Ten thousand, Charlie? Hell, why not say twenty!”)
Crist’s ads gig Scott for state university tuition increases and cuts in state education spending, which also took place while Crist was governor. The stock market may go up and down, but college tuition only goes up.
And so it goes, salvo and counter-salvo, and it will likely continue in this wise until November, by which time many Floridians will have concluded that both candidates are correct when they say the other guy is a rounder and a low-life. If young Wylie has any personality at all on the stump, it may be that either Scott or Crist will come in third. Stranger things have happened.
The injury to insult for stressed-out Florida TV viewers this summer and fall is that they will be helping to pay for some of Crist’s TV whoppers. Florida’s campaign public financing law provides subsidies to campaigns that agree to spend no more than $25 million of their own money. Crist’s campaign is obliged to do this. The money is doled out on a fund-matching formula. The Crist campaign is expected to receive its first public infusion of $1 million August 1. Florida tax dollars at work. Hand me the remote, please.