Campaign Crawlers

The Case of the Excited Republicans

Even a personality-challenged GOP candidate should win this year.

By 8.29.14

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By now word has reached even the remotest Florida precincts that incumbent Republican governor Rick Scott has won the right to run for a second term by trouncing two primary challengers who were unknown and weaker than Obama’s foreign policy.

On the Democratic side, the ever-fluid Charlie Crist beat former South Florida state legislator Nan Rich for the nomination. (Please, indulge me. The rest of you wait here for just a minute while I address Floridians who have been away from the Sunshine State for a couple of years and have just returned. Yes, yes, Charlie Crist is now a Democrat, a True Believer in all things Obama, and all Democrat talking points, the lefter the better. I know, I know, barely four years ago Crist was a self-styled Reagan Republican trying, unsuccessfully, to out-conservative Marco Rubio for a U.S. Senate seat. But with Crist, all of his political policies, philosophies, concerns, pronouncements, promises, and announced beliefs are subject to cancellation or reversal without notice. For the time being he’s a carin’ n’ compassionate Democrat. What he’ll be, or proclaim himself to be, a year from now if he loses this election is anyone’s guess. He’s tried right and left. Perhaps next time he’ll run as a member of the radical middle. New party to be named later. But back to this year…)

Scott’s margin of victory Tuesday over two candidates largely unknown outside of their own households was a decisive 88 percent. Crist beat Rich by 74 to 26 percent. Also impressive. Now for the “yes, buts.”

One of Scott’s unknown opponents, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder of Sarasota County, received 10 percent of the vote. This is largely seen as a protest vote against Scott, who is not an attractive candidate. His approve/disapprove numbers have been under-water for most of his term, even though many who disapprove of him would be hard pressed to say what it is they disapprove of. Florida Democrats and the main-steam media have painted Scott as a right-wing meanie. He isn’t. He’s conducted a fairly competent and vaguely conservative administration as governor after a successful career in the private sector.

Scott’s tragedy, though, is that he was born without a personality, and has not been able, even with a reinforced platoon of political consultants helping him, to form one. He continues to have difficulty with his first language, which, contrary to the available evidence, is English. Most Florida Republicans know refrigerators that are more cuddly than Scott, and more articulate. In private, or in one-on-one conversation, Scott has been known to get out consecutive coherent sentences. But when the television lights come on, he gets vapor-lock. The results are not good, sometimes appalling.

Crist’s 48-point victory over Nan Rich would seem to bode well for him. But those who analyze things like this point out that a badly under-financed candidate who, despite campaigning for more than two years, remained almost unknown outside of South Florida, and who has the charisma of eggplant, received more than one of four Democratic votes. This could signal that a significant fraction of Democratic voters are skeptical that the political chameleon Crist’s conversation is genuine. “Is he really one of us?” they have every right to ask.

Two of the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies, single women and blacks, may have reason to constrain their enthusiasm for Crist. Crist and Florida Democrats treated Rich shabbily during the primary campaign. Crist refused to debate her. And even though Rich, a lifetime Democrat, served eight years in the Florida Senate, the last two as minority leader, Democrats didn’t include her in on campaign functions, plighting their troth early on to Windsock Charlie.

The current political love affair of both political parties is with Hispanics. Scott’s lieutenant governor is Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami. Crist’s running mate is Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, also of Miami, who is chairwomanperson of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party. So what this leaves Florida’s black Democrats to be excited about this cycle is a question Florida’s black Democrats will have to answer. And many of these voters will remember the fall of 2010 when Crist , then an independent, got Billy-Bob Clinton to pressure black Democrat Kendrick Meek to drop out of the race so that Crist would have a better chance of defeating Rubio.

Democrats fairly radiate and levitate when they croon about how dedicated they are to the interests of blacks and women. But they sure don’t mind shafting  black and women candidates when it appears to be politically convenient. (They couldn’t even count right in the Meek business. In November of 2010 Rubio beat Crist by a margin larger than Meek’s vote total.)

Let’s move on to the issue, excuse the expression, of excitement. Polls in Florida and across the nation continually show Republicans more enthusiastic about voting, and more likely to vote this year, than Democrats. Tuesday’s results in Florida tend to confirm this. Of Florida’s 4.1 million registered Republicans, more than 925,000 voted Tuesday, for a 22.5 percent turnout. Low, but not as low as the Democrats. Of 4.6 million Florida Democrats, just 838,000 voted, an 18.2 percent turnout. If this spread maintains in November, Democrats will have a bad Election Day.

One voter divide not much remarked on in election post-mortems is the rural/urban one. Crist exceeded his margin of victory over Rich is urban counties such as Sarasota, Miami-Dade, Broward, St. Lucie. He did less well in rural counties where there still remains a measurable number of “Dixiecrats,” the survival of whom makes it puzzling to many why Democrats do so poorly in a state that has a half million more registered Democrats than Republicans. Dixiecrats, still registered Democrat though most would gag on any plank of the Democratic Party platform, survive from a time when Florida was Southern, Southern Democrats were conservative, and Floridians were Democrats. These “Democrats” haven’t voted for a Democrat in anything but local elections since Jimmy Carter, and they came to regret that.

The nasty and expensive campaign for Florida governor resumes after a primary that held few surprises. The bad news for all Floridians who have not sworn off television is that this may turn out to be the most expensive governor’s race in the history of the republic. Those who estimate these things predict that before November 4 puts an end to the carnage, Scott and groups that support him will likely spend about $100 million on his campaign. Crist is expected to spend about half that amount. Most of the money will go to toxic TV ads, most of which appear to be written by a Rottweiler with a toothache.

Who knows what two months and change of an attack campaign will bring. Right now most polls show Scott with a small lead. But Scott remains perhaps the only candidate in Florida who could lose to Charlie Crist. And Crist the only candidate who could lose to Scott. Leaving Floridians to grouse about the evil of two lessers until November 5.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.