At least this one won’t last for years, and so far no one has actually been killed. But as we note (celebrate would certainly be the wrong word) the centennial of the beginning of The Great War, the current race for the keys to Florida’s governor’s mansion mimics that horrible conflict in that it has settled into trench warfare. A war of attrition, all fought within the margin of error (or, in deference to the current sports season, between the 48 yard lines).
Instead of artillery shells and poison gas, both sides in the current political conflict lob attack ads at each other. Physically much safer. But still no fun for Floridians, most of whom pine for the end of hostilities on Nov. 5. After this date, either incumbent Republican Rick Scott or former Republican governor, now Democrat, Charlie Crist will be awarded another four years as Florida’s governor.
For those who pay attention to what politicians say and do, the continuing popularity of Crist is a great mystery. It isn’t just the party changes, though going from a self-described Reagan Republican in 2010 to a devout Obama Democrat by 2012 probably pulls more Gs than 99 percent of politicians could tolerate. At least a half-dozen politicians over the past century and across the fruited plain have switched parties and then won governorships. But it’s the radical changes in political positions and avowed “core beliefs” that clue alert voters that something other than growth in office is going on.
Crist has changed his position on all the central issues of the day, some of them multiple times. And he doesn’t just shave a bit off here, lift and tuck there, or evolve a bit elsewhere. No, he does 180s. Wholesale revisions of what he claims to believe. Ozzie Smith back-flips. He should come with a warning label: “Attempting to keep up with what Charlie Crist says he believes is dangerous to your health. It can lead to whiplash, mental confusion, and bouts of acute motion sickness.” Any politician who says he believes as many different and contradictory things as Crist has claimed to hold dear since 2010 obviously believes nothing, other than that he should be in public office.
Crist is a congenial fellow in person, a natural backslapper, smile plastered on for the marks in the room or along the rope line. His campaign personality has been described as sunny, or congenial, at least by those not familiar with the concept of smarmy. This goes a long way toward explaining why a politician with no fixed ideological address, and no record of accomplishment in a series of public offices held, can be competitive.
Polls a couple of months back showed Crist with a double-digit lead over Scott. Scott and groups supporting him have outspent Crist on TV ads and Scott has drawn even. But Scott’s improvement in the polls has come to a halt over the past couple of weeks. This being a closely watched election, a must-win for both parties, there have been many polls taken, some showing Scott with a small lead, others Crist. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Crist with a one-point lead, but mostly because an outlying Survey/USA Poll shows Crist with a six-point lead, a margin not even the folks in Crist’s campaign believe. This one is tight as a tick.
In addition to the wholesale TV campaign, candidates are also making retail stops, often with household name politicians of their respective parties in tow. Both Clintons, Billy-Bob and Mz. Hillary, have made stops in South Florida for Crist. (Though one suspects Mz. Hillary’s stop was more about selling her book and boosting her own campaign for president than for whooping up Crist. Charlie has been suspect within the Clinton mafia since he called on Billy Bob to resign in ’98 after the boy president’s assorted sordid goings on in the Oval Office.) To lighten things, Joe Biden will campaign for Crist in South Florida later this month. (Joe may not make it all 57 states this cycle, but Florida is too big and important to skip.)
Scott is retailing too. In this high-stakes poker game, he has seen Crist, Biden, and the Clintons, and raised him Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. It’s not clear how many voters pay attention to this kind of political friending (complain directly to Facebook for this awful verb). But every candidate does it.
The personality-free Scott has conducted a fairly competent center-right administration for four years, putting in long hours on the job. Crist, when governor, was rarely seen on the job, and put no stamp on his years in office. He has promised an Obamaesque administration if elected again, with a straight left agenda. Florida voters may not like the toxic campaign they must endure for the next month. But the choice is clear enough. It’s center-right vs. left-left. When we crawl out of the trenches on Nov. 5 (the evening of Nov. 4 if South Florida can figure out how to count votes), we’ll know which an increasingly purple Florida fancies.
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