The Democratic Primary for Governor has been far from a ho-hum affair. Former Governor Charlie Crist’s decision to become a Democrat in December 2012 set the stage for a complicated race. At that point in time, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich had announced her candidacy. It was widely assumed even more Democrats would jump in at the chance to knock off Governor Scott, be it Alex Sink, Pam Iorio, Bob Buckhorn, or somebody else. Rumors of Bill Nelson circled for months as everyone waited for another option to emerge.
But one never did. Instead of attracting new candidates, Rich limped through most of 2013 as the only announced candidate, failing to raise much money and doing little to create a field network to take advantage of any grassroots energy she was generating. Crist then jumped into the race in November 2013 and quickly impressed with his populist message and commitment to the OFA organizing model. Running statewide for the sixth time, Crist began the race as a runaway favorite to unseat Governor Rick Scott whose poll numbers were badly underwater.
As 2014 began, Crist seemed the logical choice for any Democrat actually interested in winning this election. Rich’s campaign was lackluster and her supporters were at times growing more obstinate and delusional about the reality of the race. A common refrain from Rich’s supporters was that the Florida Democratic Party was somehow responsible for her difficulties. The reality is that the FDP was impaired from doing the type of aggressive campaigning the RPOF has done for Governor Rick Scott because Rich stayed in the race. What the FDP did not do was aggressively define Governor Scott following the sun-setting of the useful Florida Watch Action and its replacement by the far less effective Florida For All. This in fact hurt both Rich and Crist and helped facilitate the rise in Scott’s poll numbers.
A general sense began to prevail that Rich would not even qualify and that her campaign was over. But then Crist began to make mistakes. A campaigner, who for years as a Republican seemed confident and self-assured, was now suddenly flat-footed and making repeated odd statements in public. At times Crist looked plain silly and trivial such as when he confronted Lt. Gov Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Crist’s enormous baggage began to be aired publicly and while Rich’s campaign did not necessarily improve in its execution, she unquestionably got a bump as concerns about Crist began to grow among core Democrats. Rich got her second wind due to Crist’s mistakes and the flood of negative articles about the former Governor culminating with Adam Smith’s epic read this past weekend in the Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile Rick Scott’s campaign has been focused, well-funded, but most importantly well-executed to this point. Crist’s once seemingly invincible lead has evaporated and while Scott remains unpopular, it appears Floridians suddenly have as many if not more concerns about Crist than they do about the sitting Governor.
But Nan Rich has not run a strong, focused, or disciplined enough campaign. The decision to not hire campaign staff until the beginning of this year was an epic oversight that is hard to look past. While our hearts would like to back her, and it is entirely possible most members of our staff will actually vote for her in the primary, we cannot recommend her as a statewide nominee for the Democratic Party. Fundraising, campaign discipline and structure do matter, and Rich has shown she cannot deliver this in a critical election season. The struggles she has constantly battled during her campaign make us question her ability to effectively govern, as she does not have any state-wide experience to stand on. While everyone is focused on Crist’s unknowns, very few people are discussing there is a huge unknown in electing Nan Rich as well, as she is completely inexperienced in administration.
That leaves us with Governor Crist. Baring something completely unexpected, he will win the nomination with ease. This does not excuse the fact that his campaign has been a mess. He has all the experience needed to be a good Governor, but based on his decisions as a candidate we have to wonder if perhaps his administrative strength has been overstated. The former Governor’s unwillingness to debate his primary opponent may appear to make tactical sense, but showed an arrogance and entitlement that someone new to the party should not be allowed to get away with. That Crist was enabled in this by Democratic Party insiders is most unfortunate.
Many Progressives claim Rich is better on the issues, though a strong case can be made that in certain areas, most notably environmental and consumer protection, Crist may actually be the more aggressively progressive option. Many “pragmatists” claim Crist is a seasoned campaigner who knows how to win elections and gain middle-of-the-road voters, but thus far the former Governor’s campaign has resembled that of a man seeking statewide office for the first time, instead of someone who has run statewide in Florida more than any other living figure.
Progressives have to demand better, both in 2016 against Rubio and in 2018. The bottom line is that no matter how good Senator Rich claims she was on the issues (although quite frankly, she has more than a few questionable votes in her legislative career), she does not have any administration experience, which is a weakness going up against someone with Governor Crist’s extensive Executive experience, serving as Secretary of Education, Attorney General, and former Governor. Thus Rich’s poor campaign and her lack of executive experience are a detriment to her ability to be the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party.
But we cannot endorse Governor Crist. We thought long and hard about recommending Governor Crist to our readers but simply cannot do so. It is quite possible that Crist is one of the most qualified candidates to ever fun for Governor, no matter how you feel about him. However, we would be lying to our readers if we did not state openly that we bent over backwards looking for a reason to endorse Crist. After all it is almost assured that he will win the nomination and while we support good public policy above all, we are Democrats and realize defeating Rick Scott is more important than anything else this campaign season. But time and again, Crist has failed to deliver anything meaningful to progressives. He has failed to win the hearts and minds of those who care more about policy than partisanship.
TFS Recommends: VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE FOR GOVERNOR