The venerable and incomparable Steve Bousquet asked the question in the St Pete Times the other day what would have happened in Florida had Crist run for reelection in 2010?
My view is that Crist may have as Bousquet stated stayed a moderate Republican, at least nominally. But it is also entirely possible with the Tea Party wave that was sweeping the state and nation at the time that Crist would have positioned himself further to the right on the political spectrum as he did in the middle of 2009 when he was running for the US Senate. Even if he did this, it would be a temporary shift based on poll numbers.
Crist undoubtedly gets reelected against a weak second or third-tier Democratic challenger in 2010. He then shifts from Tea Party Republican (if he has in fact gone down that road) to media savvy consensus builder after the 2012 Presidential Election and holds the current legislature’s feet to the fire over a few issues he can exploit in public while eyeing the White House. At the same time he stays strongly conservative on other issues simply rubber stamping what the legislature does. He picks and chooses his fights wisely based on polling and the political winds. The media falls in love with him all over again, and with the backing of the third largest state in the nation Crist launches a formidable Presidential bid months after he leaves office in early 2015.
Crist runs as an establishment Republican with extensive executive experience, which means he ends up taking a hybrid of positions some of which are mainstream and some which are extremely conservative. He is considered a front-runner for the nomination along with the nation’s leading budget hawk, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan who has wisely declined the opportunity to run with Mitt Romney in 2012. The Tea Party favorite Rand Paul is thought to be a fringe candidate.
Marco Rubio in the meantime runs for the US Senate and wins the election against the Democrat, be that Kendrick Meek or someone like Dan Gelber. But Rubio’s national profile which was elevated by the battle with Crist does not rise quickly enough to make him a national leader or potential 2016 candidate. Jeb Bush is drowned out by the Crist media juggernaut and the fatigue of his family name, leaving Crist as the only potential 2016 Presidential candidate from Florida on the GOP side. Bush continues to be a leader of the conservative education movement but is not considered a Presidential contender. Crist remains popular enough that Democrats have little chance of winning Florida if he is the nominee in 2016.
In contrast to what Bousquet thinks, I am fairly certain Alex Sink is defeated in her attempt to be reelected as CFO if Crist stays on as Governor in 2010. While she may not have attracted a top-tier challenger, 2010 was such a Republican year up and down the ballot in Florida. I think even a second-tier GOP challenger wins the office in the Republican tide we saw that year. Crist staying put also means the GOP is running stronger at the top of the ticket with Marco Rubio likely winning against a Democrat by 6-8 points and Crist winning by more than that.
In 2014, businessman Rick Scott, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam face off in an epic primary which Putnam likely wins. He rolls over what is probably a nominal Democrat in the General, someone who runs simply to be a sacrificial lamb and to increase personal name ID. If Scott is nominated, the Democrat suddenly has a chance and McCollum maybe just finds a way to lose to the Democrat if he is the nominee.
Sometimes it is fun to play what if…
Leave your what if scenarios or thoughts in the comments section below.