TAMPA -- With hope and change along with our rookie president's popularity tanking hereabouts, with Floridians self-identifying conservative over liberal by two to one, and with political enthusiasm much higher among Florida Republicans than Democrats, it would be very difficult for Florida Democrats to beat conservative Republican Marco Rubio Nov. 2 for an open U.S. Senate seat if they had one good candidate. What they have is two bad candidates.
To have a chance of stopping Rubio, who has run on the pledge of vigorously opposing Obama's and the Democrats' left lurch across the board, the Democrats need a game changer. Will they get one in the form of lawsuit the Republican Party of Florida is considering filing?
Back to the candidates for the moment: Bad candidate number one is Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek. He's been down-the-line for the Obama agenda and every leftist cause and enjoys little support outside of South Florida. He has chronically polled in the low twenties in Florida's three-way Senate race, even with campaign help from President Obama and former President Billy Bob Clinton. Meek is a large, pleasant fellow, a former state trooper who would doubtless make a fine neighbor or a good guy to watch a ball game with. But he's just politically wrong in center-right Florida where ObamaCare, which he voted for and defends, is about as popular as the swine flu.
The other bad Democrat -- a Democrat in all but registration -- is Florida Governor Charlie Crist (I-Charlie), a former RINO now running as an independent. In April Crist parachuted out of the political party that he had been either running for or holding office in since 1992. He left because Florida Republicans showed a distinct preference (so distinct as to be about two to one in most polls) for the conservative Rubio over the moderate to liberal Crist in the Republican primary campaign for the Senate seat.
Before Crist left the Republican Party he made a multi-month effort to portray himself as a conservative, clearly the approach Florida Republican voters prefer in 2010. With a straight face Crist compared himself to Ronald Reagan. This didn't wash as what Crist was saying on the campaign trail was so wildly at variance with what he had previously said and done as governor. It's really hard for a guy who championed Obama's nearly trillion-dollar "stimulus" slush fund before it was adopted and had actually issued an executive order to put Florida under a state carbon cap and trade policy (the legislature with help from Rubio put a stop to this) to claim the mantle of conservatism.
Since going party-less, Crist has moved his positions on issues starkly to the left across the board. He's appealing to Democratic constituencies -- union members, gays, environmentalists, teachers, et al. -- and is being supported by Democratic interest groups like the Teamster's Union and trial lawyers. Crist is crooning that he will take the best ideas of both parties. But the evidence so far is that he will talk up whatever ideas are polling well at the moment.
It's tricky business being part of the radical middle, finding things to support that won't offend members of either party. And Crist needs the votes of a fair fraction of both Republicans and Democrats to have a chance of winning Nov. 2. Only about one in five Florida voters is an independent, and polls show Rubio doing well among independents, a group whose sentiments are well to the right of where they were in 2008.
To this point the "I-feel-very-strongly-both-ways" approach has not worked. Polls of likely voters (as opposed to the merely registered kind) show Rubio between 10 and 16 points ahead of Crist with Meek in third, though not so firmly in third as he was before the August 24 primary. As voters tend to desert third and no-party candidates on Election Day, if the campaign stays on its current trajectory Crist's chances of finishing third are better than his chances of winning. But will it?
THE LAST NAME FLORIDA Republicans need in the news-cycle right now is Jim Greer, the former Republican Party of Florida chairman who was charged in March with six felony counts of grand theft and money laundering from a consulting company he allegedly set up to siphon off money from the RPOF. But they may get him back in all his un-glory.
At a closed-door meeting last weekend the RPOF executive board considered filling suit against Greer and other players who benefited from the spending, including Crist. The suit would be to vindicate the party and recover money misspent by Greer et al. Executive committee members will decide over the next week or so whether or not to file the suit.
The party will likely soon release a forensic audit that (1) lays the blame for misspending on Greer and associates, (2) shows the party has cleaned up its house and has set up policies to prevent future desperados from using it as an ATM, and (3) that Rubio didn't have anything to do with the waste and criminality.
There's no way of knowing how the state's media will deal with the audit, or the suit if it's filed. But it's no secret that much of Florida's larger media are liberal and have no affection for Republicans, conservatives, or Marco Rubio. There's always the chance that the conversation, at least in the media, will be changed from the issues that have put Rubio well ahead to "Republican incompetence and corruption," subjects the media love, regardless of whether there is any merit to them or not. Democrats will be all over it, spinning their little hearts out. At a minimum the suit would open the RPOF to a charge of just wanting to torpedo the apostate Crist's campaign.
Will all of this be a game changer? It's too soon to tell. But probably not. One thing we can know now is that regardless of how this story plays out in the media, Florida Democrats still have two bad Senate candidates.
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