The Florida governor’s race was supposed to be about turnout. It was. And Republicans turned out just enough to give incumbent Rick Scott another four years in the governor’s mansion by 1.2 percent. Scott beat Democrat Charlie Crist by 67,000 out of 5.9 million votes cast. A marginal improvement over his 61,000 vote victory in 2010.
Floridians who’ve been out of the state for more than a couple of years might be surprised to learn Crist is now a Democrat. When they left, Crist was passing himself off as a Reagan Republican. And now, after a short spell as an independent, Crist describes himself as an Obama Democrat. Tuesday completed the political trifecta for him. Crist has now lost statewide elections as a Republican (U.S. Senate,1998), as an independent (U.S. Senate, 2010), and as a Democrat (governor, 2014). My sources tell me the Greens aren’t interested in him, and the Libertarians won’t return his phone calls.
Florida’s turnout Tuesday was 50 percent. Not bad for an off-year. But it just wasn’t high enough in big Democrat counties for Crist to best Scott, who for a good chunk of his four years in office has been described by pollsters as the least popular governor in the nation. The large and Democrat-rich South Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach turned out at 40, 49, and 43.5 percent respectively. Miami-Dade’s 40 percent was the lowest turnout in the state. Crist won these counties, but not by enough. There were more than enough voter AWOLs in these counties to reverse Scott’s 67,000 margin of victory a couple of times over.
Scott rolled Crist in most of the rest of the state. Scott won 54 counties by an average of 26 percent. Crist won 13 by an average of 16.9 percent. Crist won the state’s large cities; Scott took the suburbs and Florida flyover. The urban exception was Duval County, which contains Jacksonville, the most culturally Southern and conservative big city in the state. Scott took 56.7 percent of the vote there. For those who study Florida electoral results by party, this is a pretty familiar map.
Florida Republicans can enjoy the win, and can take some comfort in knowing that the governor’s mansion will not be occupied for four years by a slick politician who is essentially a flake. But their high-fiving should be constrained. This is Rick Scott’s second consecutive one percent win, and this time in a Republican wave election. And both of these wins came over weak opponents. Most importantly, Tuesday’s win tells us nothing about Republican presidential prospects in 2016. Democrats turn out in larger numbers in presidential than in off years. The nation’s largest swing-state, with its 29 electoral votes, is still, well, swinging. Once red Florida is still purple.
Scott’s campaign was not the best in Florida memory, and Scott is certainly the great un-communicator (though I must say that for his acceptance speech, the subtitles on TV were helpful). But Crist’s campaign was even lamer and mistake-ridden.
Crist is often described as a great retail politician. His problem is he has nothing to sell beyond a low-grade charm. Scott could have been forgiven had he resurrected a question from a long-ago campaign: “Where’s the beef?”
Crist outlined some policy objectives; raising the minimum wage, dealing with alleged discrimination in Florida against women, giving unions and the homosexual political movement whatever they want. But he rarely talked about these things, most of which are not what Florida is looking for anyway. His campaign was mostly hugging and kissing voters and telling them, how much he loved them and looked forward to improving their lives as governor. Enough voters remembered he didn’t do anything to improve their lives while he was governor between 2007 and 2011 to inconvenience his Tuesday vote totals. The refrain below is about as analytical as Charlie got on the stump:
“For me it’s never really been about right versus left. It’s about right vs. wrong. And I hope as we go forward we can focus on that and work together to do what’s right to improve our schools and protect our environment.”
Oh, I see.
Clinton surrogates, most notably the Clintons, probably advanced their own causes more than Charlie’s in their many visits. Bill Clinton came to Florida so many times to boost Charlie and to feel our pain, he was officially notified that on his next visit he would have to qualify for a Florida driver’s license and buy a case of sun screen.
Crist erred early on when he said he wanted to visit Cuba during the campaign. This drew the predictable outrage from Florida’s Cuban Americans. Crist quickly ditched the idea after the blowback. But he did poorly among Cuban-Americans Tuesday, while doing better with other Hispanics.
Crist probably lost a bit of African-American support when he supported the lawsuit Florida teachers’ unions, major Crist campaign contributors, filed against the Florida school voucher program, which helps minority students. Various black ministers criticized him for this one.
While the principals of the firm Clinton & Clinton were happy to strut their stuff in Florida ahead of 2016’s presidential race, Crist was never able to get other prominent and well-respected Democrat officials to help him out. Senior Florida Senator Bill Nelson not only didn’t whoop Crist up, but let it been know through June that he might jump into the nomination race himself. Two important Democrat mayors, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer, and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn (a capable and moderate Democrat who will likely be in the governor’s race in 2018) were not heard from.
Teachers’ unions and trial lawyers spent extravagantly on Crist’s campaign. The extreme enviro Tom Steyer, who anguished about global warming, dropped $12 million in Crist’s campaign through his group NextGen Climate. To no avail.
With three losses to his credit now, does this mean Florida voters will not have to trip over Charlie Crist again in a future November? Many thought we were shed of him in 2010 after Marco Rubio beat him by 20 points in that year’s U.S. Senate race. But Crist adopted a new party and an entire new set of policies and beliefs to suit the 2014 race. Does he remain part of the political undead? Will he lower his sights and run against David Jolly for St. Petersburg’s congressional seat? St. Pete is Charlie’s hometown, and he carried that county on Tuesday. (Jolly won re-election with 75.3 percent of the vote.)
I wouldn’t write Charlie out of Florida’s political scene. Charlie is just 58, and a career politician with only the most trivial brushes with the private sector. He has been paid handsomely since losing his second senatorial race by the large PI law firm of Morgan and Morgan. But now that it’s unlikely Crist will be a high public official again, and is of questionable use to the firm. (Though Crist passed the bar exam on his third try, the only time he’s been in a court room is when he was called for jury duty.)
Asked about Charlie’s future about the firm at a press conference after the election, John Morgan crooned, “Charlie Crist always has a home here.” I’m sure Charlie took comfort in this. Just as Rick Renteria took comfort in knowing he would manage the Chicago Cubs this year.
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