Charlie Crist Must Work Rural and Smaller Counties to Win

As the dust from Tuesday settles and the victory rallies slow down, the November election starts to come into clear focus.  What happens now?  There are a few facts from Tuesday that the Crist campaign and the Florida Democratic party needs to grapple with.

First, all voters need to understand that this race is going to be one of the ugliest races in Florida history.  It will be unbearably close and every single vote is going to matter.  It is easy with all the mudslinging to overlook just how important this race is.  Florida hasn’t elected a Democratic Governor since 1994.  Alex Sink has been the only Democratic cabinet member this century. Democrats have lost 13 of the last 14 races for Governor and Cabinet this century, meaning the party has a 7% success rate in the biggest state races between 2000 and 2010.  This election has the chance to at least give Democrats a seat at the table in a way that has not happened in a very long time.  Even though Crist will still have a Republican Senate and House, he will at least be able to wield the veto pen.  While he will not be able to set policy, he will have the power to negotiate, which has not happened while I have been able to vote in the state of Florida.  Neither candidate is going to walk away with this and victory will depend heavily on the campaign strategies chosen by their respective teams.  The magnitude of this race should not be forgotten or overlooked at any point.

This race also has broad implications for the future of Democrats well beyond just the next four years.  Looking ahead, this seems like a make-it-or-break it moment for Florida Democrats.  With few prospects to go against Marco Rubio in 2016 and even fewer lined up to battle for the Governor’s mansion in 2018, this is a pivotal juncture.  While we have been debating for the last few months over who is the ‘best’ democrat, it is time to realize that the future of the party in Florida is in serious peril.   If Democrats miss this window, there are simple logistical problems getting into this position again in the next decade.  If Crist does not win, the path forward is very unclear.

Ahead of November, the voter turnout problem must be addressed. The disastrous 2010 election happened because Democratic voters did not bother to show up and while there are many different factors in this election, the numbers from this primary do not give confidence that things are going to radically change.  Despite the record number of early voters that gave hope, the turn-out was lackluster for Democrats all over, with most counties performing in the mid-to-low teens. The big story of the night was the South Florida low turn-out.  While Crist is clearly counting on the support of the large South Florida counties, if they are unable to turn-out the vote Crist will have to over perform in other areas. South Florida clearly cannot be counted on in any way for the Democrats based on Tuesday’s vote.

The fact that there were more Republican voters in the governor’s primary than there were for the Democratic governor’s race is particularly troubling. This is partially explained (as Marc Caputo does in the Miami Herald here) that there were many more important Republican state legislative primaries in play, especially the ones surrounding the battle for 2020 leadership, which helped drive Republican turn-out. However, considering that the Republican Governor’s race had no press coverage and no visible campaigning from either of Scott or his opponents for the primary, the fact they had more voters does not bode well for the general election. This is an excellent example of the need for more democratic primaries for down-ballot races; they keep voters motivated, engaged, and tuned-in to the fall election.

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Flashback Friday: When Crist and Sheldon faced off in 2000

Disclaimer: Kartik Krishnaiyer is currently serving as the Deputy Campaign Manager for George Sheldon’s Attorney General Campaign and will not be discussing this campaign on TFS. This is a historical piece looking at Mr. Sheldon’s previous statewide campaign. 

Yesterday, as I attended the well executed “unity rallies” the Florida Democratic Party put together I could not help but talk about the memories of George Sheldon’s previous statewide General Election run. What I have tried to forget often is that the campaign for Sheldon that year was against Charlie Crist, for a post that was being abolished in two years.

Commissioner of Education was an elected office in Florida until 2002. A Constitutional Amendment passed by voters in 1998 which consolidated the cabinet to the Governor and just three elected cabinet positions.

In the 2000 election, I was busy working for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party (which famously found me in the middle of the recount for a month) among other entities, but I was also volunteering on George Sheldon’s campaign.

The Republicans had  just pushed the “A+” plan through the legislature which featured school vouchers, the FCAT and school grading. Florida was becoming a laboratory for the right-wing education agenda and when the office became open thanks to Tom Gallagher’s flirtation with running for US Senate, Crist and Sheldon both jumped in. State Rep. James Bush (D-Miami) who was term-limited also ran. Sheldon crushed Bush in the primary by a margin similar to Crist’s victory over Nan Rich  on Tuesday. Crist was unopposed in the GOP Primary and the General Election campaign began.

Down ballot races for cabinet do not get a whole lot of attention in normal circumstances, but running in a Presidential year in a 50-50 state meant Education Commissioner got less attention than ever. But it was an interesting campaign, as Sheldon put out several well-thought out white papers about educational issues while Crist echoed much of the GOP’s established talking points on education but did it in a more reasoned way then Governor Jeb Bush did.

Crist ended up winning by a comfortable margin by running far ahead of George W. Bush in the I-4 corridor carrying Pinellas, Osceola, Volusia and Orange Counties by comfortable margins though Bush lost all four on the same day. By contrast, Al Gore lost every rural North Florida county except Jefferson and Gadsden, while Sheldon carried every single county in the 2nd Congressional District. Sheldon carried 22 counties statewide, while Gore carried only 14. Yet Gore ran five points ahead Sheldon statewide because he ran so much stronger in the I-4 corridor and racked up much larger margins in Palm and Broward Counties.

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Okay Charlie, Sell Us On Your Veto Power, Get The Base On Board and Don’t Screw This Up

Alright, the primary is finally over. Whether you like it or not, Governor Charlie Crist is now our nominee for the 2014 campaign. The time for infighting, bickering, and complaining is over and we must refocus all of our energy on denying Rick Scott a second term as Governor. Today’s “Unity Rallies” were a good start, however more work must be done obivously. There is one key number from election night that should motivate us to do better in November: over 100,000 more Republicans voted in the primary than Democrats which did not garner nearly as much coverage as ours. Thats a scary number and surely, should to push Democrats to rethink their electoral strategy going forward.

Charlie must focus all of his eneregy in our strongest of counties- Miami Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward if we are going to retake the Governor’s mansion from Rick Scott and the Republicans. The abysmal turnout in these three counties is a serious red flag going forward and must be addressed by the Crist campaign the rest of the way. Statewide the turnout figures were just about 17% however in our three strongest counties, turnout was far lower. Browards turnout was 10.76 percent, Palm Beach County recorded 12 percent turn out while Miami-Dade turnout was around 14.4 percent.  Whats worse is turnout was signifcantly higher in the smaller and medium sized counties which routinely are Republican strong holds. Bay, Citrus, Lee, Okaloosa and Brevard all registered turnout figures between 22 and 30 percent. Our previous campaigns for governor have taken our base for granted and its time we break the trend and actually start winning some of these races and we can’t do that without galvanizing our base.

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St. Pete Polls getting things right

We’ve previously been critical of aspects of the polling business on this site, including the work of St. Pete Polls. However, in the most recent high-profile Florida elections, the March Special Election in Congressional District 13 and the Democratic Primaries for Governor and Attorney General, St Pete Polls were almost spot on. Polling is a fluid business and methodologies and styles of pollsters often change through time.

In the David Jolly-Alex Sink Special Election St Pete polls nailed the turnout model and the result. Being a local Pinellas firm, perhaps that was an easy one for them, but two statewide Democratic Primary races would be difficult for even the most seasoned polling firms typically.

Last Friday, St. Pete Polls released a survey commissioned by Saint Petersblog looking at the two statewide Democratic Primaries. The results were for some unbelievable to comprehend – Charlie Crist with a 50 point lead for Governor and George Sheldon with a 20 point lead for Attorney General. The margin of error on the poll was 2.3%. The reaction among some political insiders was to discount the poll’s results. Others figured it might be fairly accurate but still several points off as historically we have seen in pre-primary polls.

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Primary Night Quick Takeaways

 

  • Nan Rich performed about as poorly as a competitive candidate with longstanding experience could have in the largest urban counties. Rich performed as poorly as primary fringe candidates did against Lawton Chiles in 1994 and Alex Sink in 2010. Explaining how this could happen to such a seasoned officeholder will take more space than we have here.
  • The Attorney General primary was a runaway. Due to our Editor-In-Chief Kartik Krishnaiyer accepting the job as Deputy Campaign Manager last month with George Sheldon’s Campaign we opted to not discuss the race on this site. Tonight Pam Bondi already called for a debate with Sheldon. With the primary over, we have opted to allow our other writers to cover the race, but Krishnaiyer will still be prohibited from discussing it here.
  • Geraldine Thompson’s crushing victory over Gary Siplin should finally end the fears of progressives that Siplin will return to the Senate.
  • We are very happy that Earned Sick Time passed overwhelmingly in Orange County. This initiative proved how well progressives if organized can do on the ground if they run an organized campaign over two years which involves a coalition of different groups.  Congratulations to our friend Stephanie Porta, all of her coalition partners and the progressive leadership in Orange County for making this happen.
  • Rep. Ricardo Rangel’s defeat in the HD-43 Democratic Primary to John Cortes owed itself largely to local factors. But sometimes Tallahassee pols forget local issues matter especially in districts like HD-43 where turnout is typically so low in primary elections.
  • Sean Shaw’s defeat in the HD-61 Democratic Primary to Ed Narain is a victory for business groups, Disney and Insurance Companies. It is a defeat for the Trial Lawyers. We have already seen some spin about how this hurts Charlie Crist who stumped for Shaw, the more progressive of the two major candidates. Quite honestly, that is a stretch.
  • Steve Sarnoff’s win in the HD-67 Democratic Primary means that Chris Latvala while still favored will not simply walk into the House. HD-67 was a 52% Obama district in 2012 and should perform equally well if not better for Crist since it is in his home county of Pinellas.
  • The growing influence of Senator Jeff Clemens in Palm Beach County politics is unmistakable if you look at recent local election results and tonight’s School Board and County Commission races. Senator Clemens has created an independent power base in a county that has long been characterized by clear factions and party infighting.
  • The performance of the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office must once again be scrutinized. Again tonight, Broward had computer glitches and reported results late. Today in a low turnout primary it was especially noticeable.

We will have much more analysis on  the Primary from our writers in the next few several days.

Election Night Live – Updates, Results and Commentary

Welcome to The Florida Squeeze’s Election Night Live Blog. We will be posting updates and commentary during the evening here.

Pinellas County tends to tabulate votes quickly. Orange also does a good job.  Broward and Palm Beach Counties tend to be as slow as molasses and often Broward is especially inefficient in tabulation. So expect results sooner from the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida then from two of the three Southeast Florida counties.

Projections in bold

 

Updates below:

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Historic High Numbers for Early Voting All Over the State

REMINDER: VISIT TFS TONIGHT FOR LIVE ELECTION DAY COVERAGE BEGINNING AT 6:30 EST.

 

One of the big differences between 2010 and 2014 is already emerging: record high turnouts for absentee and early voting are reported all over the state, especially in Democratic hot spots.   While there are a few exceptions, in general numbers are much improved over where we were at in 2010.  The trend fades slightly in South Florida, where Broward and Miami-Dade were more modest, though tens of thousands of absentee ballots remain un-returned in both counties.  The Tampa and Orlando areas have seen high turnout, as is central and north Florida.

A round-up of the media coverage:

Hillsborough County via TBO:

“Counted were nearly 80,000 ballots, including 2,439 votes cast Sunday at early voting locations, said Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office. That represents just over 10 percent of total registered voters in the county.  “That is the highest before-election turnout we’ve had for a primary,” she said.”

Alachua County via Gainesville Sun:

“During the eight-day early voting period that ended Saturday, 5,690 ballots were cast — more than ever before for a local primary election, Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter said Monday.”

In Sarasota via the Herald-Tribute:

“In Sarasota County, just 2,800 voters have cast ballots during early voting, which started last Saturday. That’s more than 9,000 votes behind the number of early votes cast in 2010, the last comparable primary election season with a governor’s race. But more than 18,000 have sent in absentee ballots as of Tuesday in this year’s August election. That is more than 4,000 more ballots cast via mail compared with four years ago. And there’s more than 20,000 other absentee ballots out still that could yet be mailed in and added to the vote totals.”

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Women’s Equality Day and Election Day roll nicely into one

Today is Women’s Equality Day number 94. As I am sure all our readers are aware it was this day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was officially certified. Since 1971 when the iconic New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug first introduced legislation, this date has been proclaimed Women’s Equality Day.

By coincidence today is also Election Day in the State of Florida. On the ballot today throughout the state countless races will be decided by the electoral participation of females, and once again many women will be elected to office. However, while the majority of citizens and voters in this state are women, most elected officials continue to be males, some of which have an outlook legislatively that could be construed as either sexist or chauvinistic.

In some parts of the state the stakes could not be higher for women. Last we endorsed the Earned Sick Time initiative in Orange County and ran this guest editorial by Stephanie Porta regarding the issue.  As Stephanie wrote on the issue, it specifically relates to women in the following way:

The lack of Earned Sick Time hits working women especially hard – because it is most often women who have the responsibility for caring for a sick child or other family member. Last year, a PPP Poll found that 80% of likely Florida voters support Earned Sick Time. Of women who were surveyed, 86% support Earned Sick Time.

The battle for women’s equality is fought on a daily basis. Today, as you cast a ballot for the candidates of your choice, or work the polls for a campaign remember the sacrifices that have been made for equality but keep in mind that we are nowhere near where we need to be as a state and a society on these issues.

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Races to Watch – Primary Election 2014

Congress

FL 18 – Five way GOP Primary will probably be won by former State Rep. Carl Domino. Domino, a perennial candidate  who had a penchant for under-performing time and again in his six House races (and lost a primary to Mary Lynn Magar in 2012) would be a weak nominee to face Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy in this GOP-leaning district.

Legislative Races:

State Senate 12 – Democratic primary –  Senator Thompson should prevail here over Former Senator Siplin, but we’ll be watching closely.

House

District 6 – Republican Primary – in this heavy R seat in a 6 way race, there is a lot of room for surprises.   Whoever wins will go against Jamie Shepard, but will probably come away with the win in November in this 70% plus Romney district.

District 8 – Democratic Primary. Rep. Alan Williams has a challenge and while he is expected to get through, panhandle races typically have lower turnout and there could be room for an upset.

District 9 – Democratic Primary OPEN to all voters.  Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda has more of a fight than it looks considering that all voters are eligible to cast their ballots. While she should pull out ahead and the district leans safely Democratic, but we’ll be watching this race closely.   MRV has been an important voice for the environment in the house.

District 15 – Republican Primary.  This is a bitter, bitter battle between two Republican candidates.   It is a battle over a Tea Party veteran Renner versus a business-minded banker Fant.

District 30 – Republican Primary – whoever wins will face Karen Castor-Dentel and a large margin in the primary could signal a hard race.

District 31 – Republican Primary OPEN to all voters. We featured B Grassell in a Ten Dollar Tuesday and talked about this odd race with 5 contestants. With all polling pointing to different outcomes,  this race will be on the most interesting in the house races this evening.

District 35 – Republican Primary.  Whoever wins goes up against Rep. Amanda Murphy, although after a hard-fought win earlier this year Murphy knows the ropes and has proven herself to be a tough fighter in this Democratic-leaning district.

District 40 – Republican primary. Colleen Burton and lawyer John Shannon are seeking the Republican nomination for the seat and the fight has been long and hard.  Burton has been backed by Senator Stargel, but Shannon has raised more money.

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Monday Musings, Special Primary Edition: Republican House Primaries, David Foster Wallace, HD-67, Nan Rich Support, Democratic House Primaries

Expensive and intense Republican Primaries are helping incumbent Democratic House members, Carl Zimmerman, Karen Castor Dentel and Linda Stewart. While Republicans retain a shot at taking all three seats, the incumbent Democrats have benefited from the GOP Primaries and the Republicans that are nominated including rising star Chris Sprowles will have to quickly replenish their coffers if they are to make a real go at these seat. Each of the Republican Primary campaigns has involved some negativity so it is also possible whomever is nominated in each of the three seats will come into the general wounded. – KK @kkfla737

While there are many interesting primary races tomorrow, the main phrase to look our for will be “by how much.” While Crist is going to overcome Nan Rich, the big question will be the margin of victory. There are many incumbent Democratic legislators that we have mentioned in the last couple months –Zimmerman, Castor Dentel and Stewart – who have difficult races in the fall and their opponents will be determined tomorrow. It will be important to see how how well they do as a measure to see how well their campaigns are shaping up – big spreads will mean an organized well-run campaign, which could be a problem for some of the incumbent Ds. While many winners are pretty easy to pick, the big deal will be the margins.   –   KB@BurnettKaty 

One of my favorite American writers, is the late David Foster Wallace. Every election, whether primary or general, I usually write some sort of piece surrounding one of his most memorable quotes: “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.” I dont care whom you support in these primaries, just make sure you get out there a cast a ballot otherwise, you are entrenching us in the status quo with no hope of progress.  – JS @JustinSnyderFL

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