To the surprise of no one not on controlled substances, Rick Scott and Charlie Crist overcame weak primary opponents in a low turn-out election Tuesday to become the Republican and Democratic nominees for Florida governor. So it’s officially Mr. Sunshine against Mr. Clean (anyone who has seen Crist campaign and seen a picture of Scott will not question these sobriquets).
Incumbent Scott was the choice of 88 percent of Republicans over two unknown vanity candidates. Florida Democrats demonstrated that they want the Florida governorship so badly — an office their party hasn’t held since 1994 — that they’re willing to run just anyone with name recognition to achieve it. And badly is how they will get it if Crist wins in November, an outcome that seems increasingly unlikely.
The former Republican governor of Florida won the Democratic nomination with 74 percent of the vote against former Broward County state legislator Nan Rich. Rich served in the Florida Senate from 2004 to 2012. She was Senate Minority Leader in her last two years. Misfortunately for her, she is little known outside of her Broward County district, has a vanilla personality that doesn’t make for exciting campaigning, and was not able to raise much in the way of campaign cash.
Democrats and Crist, known for their exquisite dedication to fair play for women, ignored Rich throughout the primary. Crist wouldn’t debate her. The party left her out of most of its campaign functions. Democrat honchos had their man, and they weren’t going to allow a loyal “real Democrat” to complicate matters, even though at two and a half years on primary day, Rich had been running for governor of Florida as a Democrat longer than Crist has been a Democrat.
So today it’s back to a really expensive, really negative campaign, which is drawing a lot of outside money and national attention. The money is going to some of the worst, most misleading, and most consistently below-the-belt attack ads to pollute the airwaves anywhere. Those looking in from outside will see the nation’s largest swing state putting up two unattractive candidates for its first office.
Scott has run a fairly competent center-right administration for four years, though political consultants have of late convinced him to try to appear more cuddly by promising to shower even more tax money on an over-indulged education industry and spend lots more money on questionable environmental programs. Crist is a charming political chameleon who changes his positions on issues to suit the political moment and who, when he was governor from 2006 to 2010, spent significantly less time at his job than Obama spends at his now. He managed this even though, as far as I know, Crist doesn’t play golf. Those who have followed or examined Crist’s long political career (and he’s had no career other than politics) know he is glib, saccharine, lazy, and has never met a position he wouldn’t flip or a principle he wouldn’t jettison for votes.
In contrast to Scott, who has governed center-right though he doesn’t have much of “the vision thing,” Crist has, when he bothers to talk about issues at all, set out a consistently left platform: a minimum wage north of $10; drastic state policies to control global warming; everything on the lesbian, gay, and transgender agenda; whatever unions want; gobs more money for Big Education; and such other things as would make Valerie Jarrett feel warm all over. Whether he means any of this is impossible to say, as he has been 180 degrees out from everything he is saying today, and could easily re-position again.
So it’s back to the mud today. Scott and Crist have been focusing on each other rather than on their primary opponents, so there is no reason to expect the toxic tone of the race to change, though if either candidate shifted to positive ads about what they would like to accomplish for Florida, he would probably pick up some support.
There are 70 days left before the general. Right now polls show Scott with a small lead. Just a couple of months ago Crist enjoyed double-digit leads in most polls. Crist is a charmed politician, winning local and statewide races in the absence of any record of achievement. But he has also lost three races — a state senate race in the eighties, a U.S. Senate race to Bob Graham in 1998 and a U.S. Senate race to Marco Rubio in 2010. Charm will out. But not always.