Florida politics is setting a record for deep blue dog days.
TAMPA – The guy who wrote the song “In the Good Ole Summertime” wasn’t from around here. Florida summers aren’t for sissies. Nineties-everyday-except-when-it-rains-all-day begins in May and lasts into October. And it’s NOT a dry heat. Summer visitors here soon learn why Florida’s state bird is mildew.
Overnight lows in Tampa, not the “feels-like” but the actual temperatures, are mostly in the “low” eighties. Thanks to saturation humidity the feels-like rarely drops below 90, even at night. The early morning walk here-abouts has the feel of dog paddling through warm onion soup. Don’t even think about jogging unless you take lots of water and two EMTs with you. Whoever around here refers to August as “the dog days” has a mighty low opinion of dogs.
While coping with these high, soggy temps, Floridians this time of year are obliged to keep an eye on the tropics for storms and rumors of storms. Thanks to El Niños and dumb-luck, Florida has sustained little storm damage over the past four summers, though hurricanes busted up the place pretty badly in ‘04 and ‘05. Weather experts (recent events cast doubt on the whole concept of weather experts, but let it pass) say were in for an “active” storm season this year.
At least this time of year Floridians don’t usually have to put up with political campaigns, even in even-numbered years. But there are several intense races this year, and the state’s primary day has been pushed back to August 24. So in this normally politically peaceful period, Floridians dare not turn on their TVs for fear of lurid messages such as, “My opponent snatches food from the mouths of widows and orphans, pulls wings off of butterflies, and makes passes at winos at the bus station. I, on the other hand, am pure as the driven snow, have the wisdom of Solomon, and can provide the one true answer to a happy life.” Don’t even think of answering the phone at dinnertime. It’s bound to be a robo-political call.
The above quote is fairly close to actual transcripts of some of the toxic ads Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and nearly-unknown businessman Rick Scott have been throwing at each other in their all-below-the-belt-all-the-time scrabble for the Republican nomination for governor. Both agree that the main issues facing Florida are jobs and the economy. But they’ve spent most of their campaigns painting such vile portraits of each other that the upshot of the millions they’ve spent for TV adds is that Florida’s Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has trailed both McCollum and Scott for months, is now competitive.
Scott, one of the two incomprehensively rich outsiders seeking statewide office in Florida, has spent more than $23 million of his own money, mostly on TV adds in Florida’s 10 media markets. He held a six-point lead over McCollum in the most recent poll. Scott is using this year’s ambient anti-incumbent feeling against McCollum, who had a 20-year career in Congress from the Orlando area and was elected Florida’s attorney general in 2006. McCollum’s long record is that of a conservative and responsible politician, but this year “career politician” is the kiss-of-death designation.
Naples resident Scott was CEO of HCA/Columbia hospitals when that outfit was accused of Medicare fraud, for which the company eventually paid a record $1.7 billion in fines. Scott has said he had no idea gambling was going on at Rick’s, but the company cashiered him anyway. Scott avoids the media like Dracula avoided sunlight, and when asked about HCA he says he didn’t know what was going on – not a real recommendation for a guy who wants to run a state with 20 million residents and a $70 billion budget – and he was never indicted. Well, that’s something.
McCollum, and most of the Republican establishment which supports him, has tried to make an issue of the HCA mess, obviously not too successfully to this point. McCollum is almost out of time and money to make his case. McCollum is running the table on newspaper endorsements, and the still mega-popular former Florida governor Jeb Bush will campaign for him this week. So the race will likely go right to the wire.
The other rich guy pumping millions into Florida television stations is Jeff Greene, a recent entry in the race for the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. Greene wants to take the prize, if such it is this year, away from Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek, who’s been in the race since John Paul Jones was in ensign and is the party-backed candidate.
Greene is a Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor who made much of his improbable fortune through the use of credit default swaps, a pernicious investment instrument that amounts to a bet that homeowners can’t make their mortgage payments (for which activity Meek calls Greene the “meltdown mogul”). Meek holds a slight poll lead over Greene, who in addition to pulling in dodgy millions on the suffering of former home owners, keeps some pretty strange friends, including Mike Tyson, Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, and Lindsay Lohan. Happy days are here again, eh?
Both the gaudy Greene and the uninspiring Meek, off-the-rack liberals on issues, poll below 20 percent against the real candidates in the Senate race, conservative Republican Marco Rubio and former RINO and now partyless chameleon Florida governor Charlie Crist (I-Charlie).
It’s a clear enough choice. Rubio had a conservative record as Speaker of the Florida House and is running on conservative principles and a pledge to oppose the Obama agenda in Washington. He wants to cut federal spending and government power, adopt policies that grow the economy, pursue a vigorous foreign policy, protect Americans’ personal freedoms, and nurture rather than attack those things that have made America exceptional and could keep her so. Rubio has gained the endorsement of just about every conservative organization and the support of every conservative above the rank of lance corporal in the nation.
This is a race conservatives across the nation are keeping an eye on because they see an able conservative champion in the 39-year-old Rubio. They see something quite different in Crist, who in his 18-year political career has achieved little and has held just about every position on every issue at one time or another. Crist, who has to consult cue cards or political consultants to remind him what his positions are on any given day, is shifty and principle-less even by the standards of career politicians.
The remarkable thing is not that a fraud of a politician would change positions so rapidly and often as to make John Kerry a poster boy for consistency by comparison. No, the stunner is that Crist currently leads in most polls by margins of just a few points to the low double-digits. This is largely on the strength of support from Democrats who are unenthused by the two sad sacks in their race and see Crist as the de facto Democrat. Crist has declined to say which party he would caucus with if he won. “I’ll caucus with the people of Florida,” he says helpfully.
This one will probably be decided by how many Democrats decide to go home by Election Day, and how many of the twenty percent of so of Republicans who now say they’d vote for Crist do the same. Poll numbers will start to mean more in September and October when the defining media wars start in earnest. Both Crist’s and Rubio’s campaigns are well financed.
Temperatures will be mild again, industrial-strength humidity will have vanished, and it will be safe to watch TV or answer your phone again in Florida after November 2.