According to most public polls, the Governor’s race is a dead heat but Governor Charlie Crist clearly has the momentum. The Republican Party of Florida’s negative campaign which attempted to slander Governor Crist by taking loose associations and smearing his character based on these relationships was initially successful but hit a point of diminishing returns weeks ago. This campaign strategy now appears to have begun to boomerang against Governor Rick Scott, or at the very least defined his candidacy as one of anger and bitterness. Given Scott’s poor record as the state’s Chief Executive and his inability to articulate the positive traits of his own record, one must expect the negativity to continue and perhaps even intensify now that absentee ballots have been mailed and early voting begins in just two weeks. Scott’s job creation record which on the surface appears impressive (but in reality is not as we have pointed out time and again on this site) seems to have done little to move the needle on the race. Thus, the Governor has returned to his default negative campaign tactics to keep himself within touching distance of reelection. Given Scott’s incumbency, his negative personal campaign against his opposition is unprecedented in modern Florida history.
In the past, when incumbents have faced tough reelection campaigns as Bob Martinez did in 1990 (he lost badly), Lawton Chiles did in 1994 (he won thanks to a turnout spike in Broward County) and Jeb Bush in 2002 (he ended winning in a landslide once the Democrat Bill McBride badly imploded) they have spent most of the time touting their own record and staying away from allowing the campaign to be dominated by negativity. In 1994, it will be noted that a strong negative undertone characterized Governor Chiles late ads, however those were largely based on substantive policy differences and withstood an onslaught of negative ads from the other side.
Florida’s electorate remains highly polarized and Crist’s negatives continue to be high. Yet it seems Scott has topped out, and as has been the case for four years his favorability rating and level of support never crosses the required threshold to be reelected. Thus Crist is now the clear favorite once again in the race. The polling also fails to consider Crist’s massive investment in ground game infrastructure particularly in the three metropolitan southeast Florida counties. The Crist campaign is built out on the ground in a fashion that no campaign non-Presidential campaign ever has. This is worth a one or two point bump beyond what the polling is currently indicating. Increased turnout in the vote-rich southeastern tier of the state will give Crist the boost he needs to buffer against the increased vote total Scott may take from areas in the Tampa and Orlando media markets where the RPOF’s negative ad campaign has lobbed points off of the margins it was assumed Crist would need to win.
Given the polarization of the electorate and the political climate which is largely hostile towards Democrats it is difficult to see Crist pulling away. But because of all of the factors discussed above, Scott’s campaign potential has stagnated. The race will remain this close until election day but the intangibles and logic all favor Crist. This clearly establishes him as the favorite, albeit simply a slight favorite in this race.
Governor Scott’s desire to make this race not about contrasting ideas or ideologies but about personalities and associations demonstrates how morally bankrupt many Republican leaders in this state have become. Drunk on power after 16 years of unchecked control, the RPOF and Governor Scott have chosen a path without precedent in this state’s history- and by doing so they might simply have handed the Governor’s mansion back over to the Democrats.