TAMPA — Charlie Crist, Florida’s transparently ambitious populist governor, more or less attached himself to John McCain’s hip January 28 when he endorsed McCain for president at a Lincoln Day dinner in St. Petersburg two days before the Florida primary. Since then it’s been hard to find a picture of McCain without Crist in it. (So if you’re wondering why McCain was recently overheard humming the tune to, “Me and My Shadow…”)
Charlie wants to be on the ticket with McCain so badly everyone in the same area code with Charlie can taste it. But a Mason-Dixon poll done Feb. 21-24 for the Tampa Tribune suggests Floridians would prefer Crist stay in Tallahassee rather than go to Washington. (He was there last weekend — the Florida Legislature convenes for its regular session Tuesday.)
A plurality of 44 percent of poll respondents say Charlie has an obligation to finish his term as Florida governor, which runs through 2010. Another 36 percent say he should accept a spot on the ticket if it’s offered. Twenty percent say they aren’t sure.
Even more damaging to Charlie’s VP hopes is the poll’s finding that McCain was a more popular general election choice for Floridians than Obama by 10 points and Clinton by nine. One of the main arguments for Charlie on the ticket is that the popular governor (the same polls showed Crist with a 64 percent approval rating) could help McCain win Florida and its 27 electoral votes. Right now McCain doesn’t appear to need much help in Florida.
Of course things will doubtless change, and McCain may not have such a big lead in Florida down the road. So Charlie’s VP utility quotient could go up again. But there’s also the chance, a fairly good one, that Charlie’s popularity in Florida will erode and therefore his usefulness to the ticket.
Charlie is a populist, calling himself “the people’s governor,” and promising the moon on issues that voters are emotional about. The popularity of populists tends to follow a fairly predictable trajectory. They’re often very popular at the outset when they’ve convinced voters they just love them to death and are going to improve the voters’ lives in important ways. This popularity tends to erode when it becomes clear that Mr. Big Promises can’t deliver.
This has already begun to happen with Crist. His popularity ratings just a few months ago were in the 70s. He’s made some big promises and predictions on two very stubborn and emotional issues in Florida — high property taxes and high property insurance rates. The ratio of promising and popping off to actual improvement in these two areas has been pretty dismal. Floridians are starting to notice.
There are other reasons Crist is probably not a strong VP choice for McCain. He’s at least as moderate to liberal as McCain on enough issues that he’d be no help with the conservative Republican base that already finds McCain problematic. To these folks, Charlie is just another of the usual suspects.
Charlie is only 51 and energetic, but completely white-haired. So he probably wouldn’t help that much on the age issue. And he’s single. I’m not sure why this should matter, but it does. And it’s not an advantage.
Another rap on Charlie, appreciated mostly by those who’ve followed him for years, is that he always seems to be running for his next office. This should give McCain pause. (Scene — the Oval Office sometime in 2009 after McCain and Crist have been elected: “If that’s Charlie calling to enquire after my health again, tell the $%^&*@! that I feel fine, and find him a state funeral to go to — preferably a long ways away.”)
THE POLL ALSO ASKED Florida Democrats what should be done about the National Democratic Party’s decision to not seat Florida’s delegates to the national convention in Denver, thereby giving Florida Democrats no say about who the Democratic candidate will be. The results on this one are crystal clear. Floridians have no earthly idea what to do. (And why should they? No one else does either.)
Democratic poll respondents were given multiple options ranging from seating a delegation of an equal number of Clinton and Obama supporters, holding another primary or caucus, seating a delegation based on the January primary that no Democratic candidate campaigned for, to just accepting the penalty. All of the options got 20 percent and change except the equal delegation, favored by 13 percent.
Way to go, Dr. Dean. We know who to call on when we have a two-car funeral to plan.
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