The folks who count these sorts of things, and what a dreary way to spend the day this must be, say that Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, and his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, have already spent more than $70 million for the privilege of serving four more years in Tallahassee. Scott has spent a little more than Crist. But they’ve both spent a packet. The expensive result is a race that remains stubbornly within the margin of error.
Most of these millions have gone for attack TV ads, which surely most Florida voters are now, three weeks from Election Day, treating as a particularly repellent form of white sound. Background noise that is always there — “My opponent is a low-down, thieving, no good…” — but that there is no longer any reason to attend to.
It’s hard to imagine that a couple of million more, or a hundred million more, spent on these kinds of ads would change any voter’s mind. But these ads will bracket and punctuate our favorite TV programs right down to the finish. The main effect of the ads, if voters believe any of the hyperbolic charges they make, is to suppress voter turnout. The conventional wisdom (always conventional but not always wise) is that lower turnout, especially in off-year elections, benefits Republicans. We’ll see.
Those still interested, perhaps a fairly small universe after the negative TV barrages, can take advantage of another venue in which to evaluate the candidates. Scott and Crist square off in two televised debates over the next week, one Wednesday evening, another the following Tuesday. The candidates have already debated once, Friday on Telemundo, a South Florida, Spanish language station. The debate was broadcast in Spanish Friday morning and later in English on various stations at 7 p.m., a time when interest in high school football and TGIF happy hours exceeds that of state politics.
The week-night debates may well get larger audiences. But neither of these guys is a good debater. Crist is long on smarmy platitudes and short on knowledge and specifics. Scott is more substantive, but has poor diction, is almost painfully uneasy trying to make his case, and has about the strangest affect of any politician in living memory. So it’s impossible to predict if either candidate will be able to debate his way into the hearts of any of the five to nine percent of likely voters who say they are still undecided.
In their retail campaigns, the candidates have found ways to distinguish themselves. Crist has taken a left populist tone, attempting to paint himself as a regular Joe and friend of the middle class. But a distinctly left-wing middle class. He promises to support more spending on the government education industry, to increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.10, and to whoop up whatever the gay, lesbian, transgender movement wants. He wishes to oblige that state’s utilities to generate power with renewable fuels in order to fight global warming, which he has said is the most serious threat facing the state. He’s for whatever unions want and has said Florida’s right-to-work status should be looked at. He says Scott is just a rich guy who doesn’t care about Floridians but just wants to make other rich guys richer. He wants the embargo on Cuba to be lifted because, he says, it hasn’t worked.
Scott is more center-right. He talks about jobs and what he has done to create them in Florida. He touts the connection between a successful business climate and jobs and prosperity. He is skeptical about global warming and is not inclined to damage the state’s economy by making energy more expensive as the warmists wish. He opposes raising the minimum wage. Scott says the courts will sort the matter, but he supports traditional marriage. He wants to see the Cuban embargo stay in place.
National political household names have been visiting the state in support of the two candidates, both of whose favorable/unfavorable poll results are under water. Chris Christie was in state last week for Scott. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are promised for later. Bill and Hillary Clinton have already appeared for Crist. The Bidens, Joe and Jill, whooped up Crist in Florida Monday (no injuries reported). Michelle Obama will share celery sticks and carrot juice with Crist on Friday. The First Lady is the less toxic of the Obamas. The only cohort she is extremely weak with is school children who, thanks largely to Michelle’s meddling, are obliged to endure school “lunches” of tofu and yard clippings. But they can’t vote.