TAMPA -- Florida is like the entire nation, only further south (though it's no longer Southern, let's be clear). It's big. It's diverse and complex. It struggles with an unemployment rate above 11 percent. Agriculture is still important in Florida, but the biggest crop this year seems to be "for sale" signs in front of foreclosed homes. If this is the change Obama and his merry band want us to believe in, most Floridians are over it.
Obama's popularity here is under water, the memory of his two-point win here in 2008 receding faster than my hairline. It was a quirk, not a trend. It will soon be the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, not a political force. Hereabouts, "Yes, We can!" has morphed into, "What the hell happened!?" Political pundits like to refer to Florida as a "swing state." This year it swings right.
Barring a bizarre, last-minute change, Nov. 2 will be a big day for the Florida Republican Party, all of whose state-wide candidates are running on conservative themes. Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, seeking an open U.S. Senate seat in a three-way race against a liberal and an ideological non-working number, has run a campaign based on opposition to Obama and his leftward lurch. Rubio's will probably be the most smashing win three weeks from today. He's opened a lead over his two opponents as big as the Gulf of Mexico.
A Rasmussen poll of likely voters (+/- 4 percent) taken after last week's televised three-way debate shows Rubio with the support of 50 percent of respondents, current Florida Governor and party-of-one Charlie Crist (I-Charlie) at 25 percent, and Obama Democrat and Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek at 19 percent. This follows a Mason-Dixon poll taken just before the debate showing Rubio with a mere 15-point lead.
Meek, who has yet to see an Obama initiative he didn't love and wouldn't vote for, has done so poorly in recent polls he's had to spend campaign time trying to convince his few supporters and the media that he doesn't plan to drop out of the race. If Rasmussen's most recent numbers reflect the electorate, it probably wouldn't matter if he did.
A Mason-Dixon poll taken last week shows Republicans leading in the three Florida cabinet races -- attorney general, chief financial officer, and agriculture commissioner -- by from five to nine points. The governor makes up the fourth member of the cabinet, which functions as the state's board of directors.
Longtime Tampa prosecutor Pam Bondi, the Republican AG candidate, promises to keep Florida in the lawsuit current AG Bill McCollum filed against ObamaCare. The Democrat, State Senator Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, says he would withdraw the state from the suit. Bondi says the ObamaCare mandate that all and sundry buy health insurance or else is unconstitutional and amounts to "a tax on being alive." Mason-Dixon has Bondi ahead 42 to 37 percent with 18 percent undecided.
Current State Senator Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach is running for CFO on being tighter with state funds than his Democratic opponent and reducing state regulation. He enjoys a five-point lead over former State Representative Lorraine Ausley of Tallahassee. Congressman Adam Putnam (R-Bartow), with a very conservative voting record in his 10-year congressional career, holds a nine-point lead over liberal former Tallahassee mayor Scott Maddox.
The only state-wide contest where the left is competitive with the right is the governor's race, where polls show Republican businessman Rick Scott and current Florida CFO and former banker Alex Sink within the margin of error. The latest Rasmussen has it Scott 50, Sink 47.
Scott has some issues from his former leadership of hospital company Columbia HCA. For activity that took place while he was CEO, the company incurred record fines for Medicare fraud. Scott was not charged with anything, and he says he didn't know about the monkey business when it was going on. But Sink is making an issue of it.
Scott, when not campaigning as a tight fiscal fist, counters that some of the things Sink did in the private sector and as Florida's CFO were themselves pretty dodgy, and besides she's an Obama Democrat. Both candidates are running negative adds containing arcane charges that are hard for voters to evaluate, making it hard to say which way this race will go. Or, if the ads get any nastier, whether anyone will bother to vote in it at all.
Negative campaign ads, where candidates paint their opponents as all-purpose knaves and scoundrels in the most lurid terms, are all over the airwaves. Floridians weary of them. All they seem to accomplish is to stimulate overuse of television mute buttons and aggravate the condition of viewers with reflux disease. But even the mute button offers no defense against the dreaded robo-call, that invariably comes at dinner time, where the ambushed diner hurries to his phone only to hear a candidate for this or that croon, "My opponent is an all-purpose knave and scoundrel, and furthermore……"
Negative ads haven't helped Crist, whose 30-second groin shots over the past few weeks have misrepresented Rubio's position on Social Security and have attempted to rev up some months-old charges having to do with Rubio's use of a Republican Party of Florida credit card. An audit has cleared Rubio of any credit card wrong-doing, an issue that only Democrats, the liberal media, and the odd political consultant have ever shown any interest in.
While Crist has been running these negative ads, Crist's standing in the polls has been steadily sinking. Florida Senator George LeMieux, Crist's former campaign manager and chief of staff who Crist appointed to the Senate as a seat-holder after Mel Martinez resigned in August of 2009, is now his own man and campaigning for Rubio. Crist's mentor, Former Florida U.S. Senator Connie Mack, who Crist claims as his political guiding light, has been publicly critical of Crist's ads misrepresenting Rubio on Social Security.
Best estimates are that Crist has about $6 million left in his campaign war chest, much of this collected from Republicans before Crist abandoned the party in April to run as an independent (some of these Republicans are suing to get their money back). Many are wondering what Crist will do with that six million bucks. If his ads stay all below the belt all the time, Crist could easily drive his support down below statistical error.
Anticipating this, a conservative friend of mine has started a $10 per ticket pool, the winner of which being the person who picks the day that Charlie's bride, Carole Crist, announces that she will be voting for Rubio. I told my friend this was an amusing but very silly thing to do.
I have October 22.