TAMPA — Official summer has barely begun, but it has been hot and humid across the Sunshine State for weeks. In addition to the sticky heat and the threat of tropical storms, Floridians this summer will have to endure a governor’s race that will be costly, nasty, and, as Charlie Crist is one of the entries, almost certainly silly.
Crist, who was Florida’s Republican governor from 2006 to 2010, and who lost a race for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 as an independent, now wishes to be Florida’s governor again, this time as a Democrat. Yes, the self-described Reagan Republican caterpillar of the spring of 2010 turned into a beautiful Obama butterfly by the summer of 2012, whooping up our Community-Organizer-in-Chief at the Democratic National Convention.
The candidates and the parties are already running television ads in the governor’s race, all of them combative, suggesting the other guy is a crook, a waste of breath, or both. Scott and the Republicans have already spent more than $13 million on TV ads, most assaulting Crist for being a political shape-shifter and philosophical husk (waste of breath). Crist and the Democrats have spent considerably less, and their ads dwell on the legal troubles Columbia/HCA had when Scott was CEO there (crook). The company pled guilty to Medicare fraud and paid $1.7 billion in fines, still an NCAA record. Scott was not charged with anything, though for some reason the ads don’t mention this. Scott defenders say the fraud charges were bureaucratic trifles of no account.
The Scott ads seem to be having some effect. The same polls in which Crist held a double-digit lead over Scott in the fall are now showing the race to be a dead heat. Some even show Scott with a small lead. A recent poll by St. Leo University showed Scott with a lead of 43-41. The same poll in mid-March had Crist ahead 43-39.
Earlier in June Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, took Florida’s temperature on the race. It found that only 32 percent of survey respondents say they have a positive view of Crist, down from 43 in the fall, while 48 percent say they have a negative view of him, a six percent increase from September.
Scott doesn’t do a lot better with those who will hold still to be polled. Just shy of 39 percent of registered voters polled by PPP say Scott is doing a good job as governor, while 48 percent say they disapprove of him. This is still an improvement for Scott over September when only 33 percent liked the job he was doing.
Scott is running a traditional, incumbent we’re-doing-a-great-job-building-the-economy-and-ensuring-peace-and-prosperity campaign. He isn’t seen a lot. Which, considering how inept he is as a speaker, is probably a good thing for his prospects. Crist, on the other hand, is everywhere, and seems to be concentrating on exciting all the reliable elements of the Democratic base: blacks, gays, folks in the government school industry, single women, union workers.
To the surprise of no one, Crist recently picked up the endorsement of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the state’s largest police union. Though it doesn’t seem likely that too many street cops, whose work requires them to develop a BS immune system or leave the job, will actually vote for the champion of BS in November. I’m convinced that the cynical cop quote, “I don’t believe anything I hear and only half of what I see,” comes from a guy who had just worked security at a Charlie Crist speech and rally.
Crist has promised teachers’ unions that if he is given the keys to the governor’s mansion again he would spend more on the government school industry than Florida now spends, even though Florida already spends more on K-12 education than on any other item, with less than impressive results from its mega-investment. Of course, how much is spent on education is not the governor’s call. But Charlie is, after all, an Obama man, and so isn’t going to let a trifle like this stop him from pouring soul and hambone over a favorite Democratic constituency.
Crist spent this past weekend showing his flag at St. Petersburg’s gay pride parade and associated events. Crist, who as governor spoke in favor of a 2008 amendment to the Florida constitution that got thumbs up from 62 percent of Florida voters and defined marriage as between one man and one woman, now says gay marriage is just the thing.
Crist, who signed a petition in 2008 to get the one-man/one-woman amendment on the ballot that year, was still enthusiastic about the old way of doing things in early 2010 when he called marriage “a sacred institution” on CNN. “I believe that it is between a man and a woman,” he added.
Clear enough. But like on just about every other issue, Charlie being Charlie, evolved. He did a 180 on this one and apologized to every gay group in Florida for ever thinking that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. He expressed his new core principle du jour succinctly in this non sequitur, “We need to allow people to love who they love. Who are we to tell anyone who to love?” This is an obvious straw man as Floridians are free to love anyone they choose, and no one is checking up on what they get up to at night.
This fondle-the-base strategy might make sense if Crist were facing a formidable opponent in the August Democratic primary. He isn’t. Nan Rich, a former South Florida state senator and off-the-rack liberal is running against Crist. But she is barely known outside of her Florida Senate district, has had trouble raising money, and is not thought by anyone outside of her own household as a threat to Crist. She won the endorsement of the Mustache Petunias at Florida NOW, but hardly anyone else is on board with her.
So it’s a bit strange that Crist isn’t attempting to appeal to anyone outside of the Democratic base. Florida may be trending purple, but it’s far from blue yet. The Democratic base cannot deliver a state-wide general election victory. So why is Charlie, the champion of diversity, being so narrow-gauge in his campaign? It’s a puzzlement. But those who’ve known Charlie for a long time know he’s not a systematic thinker. Perhaps he simply hasn’t added this up. Also he’s a clinical narcissist. He just loves to be loved. So pouring kisses on sympathetic audiences may just be too much fun for him to resist.
While Crist is having fun giving and receiving LUV, sweet LUV, from all the Democratic subsidiaries, he faces a case of déjà vu all over again. He gave up a huge, double-digit lead over Marco Rubio in 2010’s Senate race, eventually losing by 20 points. This year he has seen another double-digit lead, this time over Rick Scott, evaporate. Crist has done reasonably well with the Big-Money-Men this year. He may not continue to do well with this bunch as he gains a reputation as a guy who can be counted on to come-from-ahead to lose.