Democrats have become quite good at turning out their voters on Election Day in presidential years. But not so good in off years. Which may help explain the peculiar approach to the governor’s race taken by rookie Democrat Charlie Crist.
You may well ask, what’s a Charlie Crist race without a peculiar approach? Point well taken. But with President Obama’s popularity in Florida tanking, and Obamacare never having been popular in the Sunshine State, you might wonder why Crist—who was Florida’s Republican governor from 2007 to 2011 and wishes now to be governor again, this time as a Democrat—has been taking every opportunity to praise Obamacare and its namesake. He has chided real Democrats for trying to put some distance between themselves and Obama. Unlike other Democrats running in tight races where Obama is unpopular, Crist says nothing would tickle him pinker than to have Obama come to Florida and campaign for him. (This may well happen. There are places in Florida where you can walk from the west coast of the peninsula to the east without ever stepping off of a golf course.)
In addition to draping himself around Obama, Crist has fashioned an all-left, all the time platform, to distinguish himself from incumbent Republican governor Rick Scott, whom Crist portrays as a racist, sexist, homophobic, right-wing extremist, dedicated to stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Crist says that should he be elected — which seems much less likely than it did two months ago — on his first day in office he would kick the minimum wages for state contractors to $10.10 per hour; enact whatever elements of the gay, lesbian, transgender agenda as he can by executive order, and put an end to grievous pay discrimination against women state employees (discrimination that has to be believed to be seen).
Crist says the state’s gun control laws need to be “looked at,” including the popular (except with lefties) stand-your-ground element of Florida’s self-defense law. As Crist proclaims himself to be a True Believer in global warming — one of the few positions he has stuck with since 2007 — he wants stringent laws and regulations to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from Florida. Crist even says he might wish to change Florida’s right to work laws, under which Floridians cannot be obliged to join a union in order to work.
Crist is also calling on Scott not to appeal a Florida Circuit Court judge’s recent ruling overturning Florida’s 2008 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. This one was approved for 62 percent of Florida voters. Crist, who liked being refereed to a “the people’s governor,” and who now says his return to office would ensure that all Floridians are represented by the governor’s office, apparently doesn’t fancy Floridians whose views on social matters are insufficiently progressive, almost two-third of voters in 2008.
This hope-and-change approach might make sense in a hot primary in the bluest of blue states. But this isn’t the People’s Republic of Florida. Florida has lots of Democrat voters who are not actually crazy. And Charlie’s only primary opponent was a weak former state senator barely known outside of her home district (perhaps barely known within it—she lost her home county of Broward to Crist).
So, what gives? Why is Crist running a bright blue campaign in a purple state? Why is he trying to excite the left of the left to the exclusion of moderate Democrats and independents, who make up nearly a quarter of the Florida electorate and who, as a group, don’t fancy Obama and Obamacare much more than Republicans do?
A couple of answers recommend themselves. Perhaps Crist wanted to encourage as much of a Democratic turnout and as much of a Crist vote in the primary in order to show that he’s the people’s choice. If this was the strategy, then we can expect to see Crist tack to the center for the two months of the general campaign. Also, if this was the strategy, it didn’t work. On primary day, as the conventional wisdom predicted, far more Republicans turned out to vote than Democrats. Scott received 834,394 votes last Tuesday to Crist’s 622,986. This, even though there are a half million more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida.
To make matters worse for Crist, the big, Democrat-rich counties of South Florida all had small turnouts: Broward, 10.77 percent; Palm Beach, 12 percent; and Miami-Dade, 14.4 percent. Election? What election? These are the counties Crist will have to depend on in November if he is to have a chance of defeating Scott. Smaller and rural counties, where voters are more conservative and where Charlie is roughly as popular as the swine flu, had much higher turnouts. Liberty County, the smallest of Florida’s 67 counties with an estimated 2010 population of 8,365, had a turnout of 50 percent.
The second possible answer to Crist’s curious campaign, is that in his heart (assuming he has one) he knows he’s not going to defeat Scott. He’s seen his lead evaporate. While Scott’s current lead in most polls is within the margin of error, the trend is not going Charlie’s way. In his 2010 Senate race against Rubio. Crist started out with a big lead, which evaporated. And once his numbers started to decline in that one, they just accelerated on their way down.
So perhaps Crist is whooping up Obamacare and our Golfer-in-Chief in the hope that Obama will appoint him to some meaningless Washington job after Crist loses in November. Something with a title, but no responsibilities. (Judging from his stump speeches, I would recommend Secretary of Platitudes.) Judging from Crist’s absenteeism and total lack of engagement with the job when he was last governor, this is the kind of job he really wants.
We’ll have to wait to see if Obama, the hustler from Chicago, comes to Florida to campaign for Charlie. In the meantime, Billy-Bob Clinton, the hustler from Hope, Arkansas, will be in Miami Friday to feel our pain and whoop up Crist, the hustler from St. Petersburg. Professional courtesy.