If there’s anything sweeter than having the spare scratch to buy yourself an election, it’s having somebody else buy it for you. No upper echelon American politician alive today knows that better than Florida’s personality-challenged governor, Rick Scott – the cat that back in 2010 plunked down $73 million of his own cheddar to eke out a win against not one, but two opponents: Democrat Alex Sink, and Scott himself.
Charlie Crist, the silver-maned political journeyman — now a Democrat after serving a term as governor as a Republican and running for the Senate in 2010 as an independent — is aiming to unseat Scott come November, is a far more formidable and recognizable candidate. Crist has outperformed the incumbent in nearly every polling cycle since declaring for the job last November.
But onlookers such as Florida Democratic stalwart Dan Gelber predict that as with the 2010 race, most of the damage inflicted on Scott will once again be done at his own hand.
In a Huffington Post interview given just prior to Crist’s announcement, Gelber suggested no matter his party’s candidate, Scott has but one ace up sleeve if he is to overcome a near-constant 55% negative rating and the dismal image behind: “Gov. Scott’s going to need a lot of money to convince people that he’s not the guy they think he is and already don’t like.”
Unfortunately Gov. Scott does not want for a lot of money now the campaign has ratcheted up. With a war chest of $100 million and counting – the latest $2.5 million courtesy of the Republican Governors’ Association largely wary of his electability for 2010 – Scott’s organizational infrastructure dwarfs Crist’s.
The sure-to-be record flood of Republican funding to a single state is no surprise given Florida’s current and future status as the largest swing in the nation. What Scott lacks in vision and appeal is more than balanced by the fickle hand of fate that finds him behind the governor’s desk at so portentous a moment.
But not so long ago, GOP kingmakers were said to be between a political rock and hard place when considering Scott’s viability for 2014. Just two years into his first term, rumors were heard listing alternative candidates being vetted in the event Scott continued to tank in the polls.
Further troubling the national and state Republican elites midway through Scott’s first term (and underscoring his ongoing image as a shallow candidate with deep pockets) was their party’s 30-seat advantage in the House and wide 26-14 margin in the Senate – robust legislative majorities that almost always provide political cover for halting executives of the same party.
But replacing even a grossly underperforming incumbent is fraught with problems of its own, sending a message to aspiring candidates that their political futures may also be cut short by party overseers. In the end, the play was to ply Scott with mountains of money, surround him with former Romney strategists and hope for the best.
It’s a strategy that may or may be enough to fend off the unorthodox but media-savvy Crist. But either way, Scott can take comfort knowing somebody else is picking up the check this time around.
Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2014
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