Campaign Crawlers

Florida Campaign Update

A tip to presidential candidates targeting the Sunshine State: start attacking vulnerable local leaders -- like Florida senator Bill Nelson.

By 7.7.11

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TAMPA -- The Florida 2012 election cycle is at an awkward stage -- 13 months out from the primaries, 16 from the general -- when the usual who’s-on-first polls are, if not meaningless, then at least nearly so. Name recognition distorts, and few other than political junkies are focused on the races. "Undecided" "Don’t know," and, "Who else have you got?" reactions are pretty abundant just now.

But this is insufficient caution for local media types, bound to the merciless 24-hour news cycle, not to try to make sense of races that haven’t taken shape yet. A newsreader can’t talk all day about the Anthony trial, though, Lord knows, some try.

Even Republican political junkies in Florida haven’t forged a consensus on who should carry their presidential banner in 2012 in pursuit of Florida’s make-or-break 29 electoral votes. Mitt Romney leads in the few polls that have been taken, but this mostly reflects the fact that Romney has been on the scene since 2007 and folks know his name (and that presidential hair).

While Romney leads, there’s much suspicion among Republican activists that he is insufficiently conservative, and insufficiently energetic and committed to engaging our financial crisis and our various foreign challenges. They especially aren’t keen on RomneyCare. Our Mitt faces a real challenge finessing this one before Florida Republican groups.

Outside of Florida newsrooms and TV studios there is NO John Huntsman wing to the Florida Republican Party (though the newsies here and elsewhere do adore him -- so much so that I’d be surprised if Obama didn’t get a little jealous). Florida is not a primary cross-dressing state, so there will be no Democrats to vote for Huntsman in the primary. The rest of the Republican candidates have yet to state their cases in Florida.

The U.S. Senate race has drawn even less attention. The Republican candidates in the race, all running as red-meat conservatives, are doing what they should be doing at this point: appearing before party groups to define themselves, raising money, and collecting endorsements. Much of this is out of radar range; the public push comes later.

Two-term Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, an aged-in-the-barrel liberal, leads all potential Republican challengers. But alert poll readers can tease some positive news out of the numbers for conservatives. Though Nelson leads his three most likely Republican hopefuls by double digits, the margin is less against all of them now than it was in a March poll.

A poll of Florida voters done in late June by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows Nelson approved by only 38 percent of those surveyed, while 31 percent disapprove, and an astounding 31 percent say they just aren’t sure about Nelson.

That almost a third of Floridians have no opinion of Nelson is a measure of how charisma-challenged Florida’s senior senator is and how achievement-free his long political career has been. Before Nelson won a senate seat by defeating a similarly charisma-challenged Republican, former congressman Bill McCollum, in 2000, Nelson had served in the U.S. House and had been Florida’s insurance commissioner. He’s been in public life in Florida since John Paul Jones was a lieutenant commander. And still a third of Floridians have no opinion of him. This is one vulnerable office holder.

Nelson is referred to as a "moderate" by Florida’s left-stream media, as is anyone even microscopically to the right of Karl Marx. But Nelson has voted for ObamaCare, cap and trade, and just about every left phantasm devised by the febrile minds of Obama and his merry crew. He was a huge booster of Obama’s almost trillion-dollar "stimulus" slush fund. He’s given A grades by liberal rating groups.

Even moderately competent conservative candidates should be able to make political hay out of this. A majority of Florida votes have consistently told pollsters they don’t fancy any of these things. For decades now Nelson has used his easy-going manner, good-old-boy drawl, and media complicity to get away with being a stealth liberal. It will be instructive to see if this cycle’s batch of conservative Florida candidates can pin the tail on another leftist donkey. 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.