The Internet has been abuzz with speculation that Charlie Crist might be
positioning himself for a run against Rick Scott in the 2014 Florida
gubernatorial race – as a Democrat! On the surface, this might sound
like typical horse-race specualtion, but there are signs that it might
be true – and that it might make good political sense.
I don't need to tell you that Crist's Senate run was disastrous. Seen
as a shoe in before the primary process began, the sitting governor was
the first and biggest candidate to get unexpectedly chest-punched by
the Tea Party and their dominance of the 2010 GOP primary process, both
in Florida and across the U.S. In almost no time at all, it was clear
that Marco Rubio would get the nomination and though an independent run
may have seemed like a good idea early, it quickly became apparent that
Crist was a dead-man walking.
It's possible that Crist and his
team regretted forgoing a second term in Tallahassee, as it seemed
unlikely that he would have faced a serious challenge. But once he left
the Republican Senate primary, that would have almost definitely changed. He would
have likely found blood-sniffing opposition crawling out of the woodwork
and perhaps even Scott or someone else mounting a Tea Party candidacy,
either in the GOP primary or as a third candidate in the general election.
being said, the governorship of Florida in 2011 was no enviable job.
Facing historic revenue shortfalls and the need for deep cuts, not to
mention the GOP machine's lock on the state legislature, Rick Scott has
what anyone moving into the role would have inherited –a very difficult
task. Much has been made of Scott's sinking popularity and it's easy to
argue that he's earned much of it, but let's not pretend that
anyone would have been likely to come out of that first session with
gleaming approval numbers.
Nonetheless, Rick Scott is
still likely to face a very difficult time winning a second term with a
polarized electorate that is pretty split (though not necessarily evenly) between
loving or hating the job he's done thus far. Few people are sitting on
the fence when it comes to Scott. He'll be vulnerable in 2014, but just who do the Democrats
have that might beat him?
Scott was already seen as very beatable in light of the Medicare fraud allegations that Solantic
settled on for infractions that occurred while he was CEO. The fact that
Alex Sink lost (albeit closely) to an outsider like him, in spite of
having a party registration advantage and the opportunity to become the
first female governor of the state makes it unlikely she'd get much
support for a rematch. Her loss under those circumstances prompted Chris
Mathews, host MSNBC's Hardball, to label her the “worst candidate
ever.” Her current position is akin to John Kerry as he sniffed around
the presidential field for 2008 and she's unlikely to find any more
encouragement than he did.
Beyond Sink, who nonetheless remains
far and away the most popular Democrat in the state, the bench is not
deep. 2006 candidate Jim Davis, who lost by seven points to Crist,
hung his political hat on the High Speed Rail movement and was unable to
even get a transit tax passed in Hillsborough County, for which he
passionately lobbied. There was talk that the former congressman was
even considering a Tampa mayoral run, but was left without a platform
when the momentum for the rail failed to mount. Another gubernatorial
run on his part isn't likely.
Rod Smith, the current Democratic
Party State Chair who ran as Sink's Lt. Governor, lost handily to Davis
in the 2006 primary and wouldn't be seen as having much of a chance to
dethrone Scott. Bud Chiles brings a big family name to any potential field, but
his 2010 effort sputtered when he first contemplated a Democratic run,
then decided to file to run as an independent, but bowed out shortly
after a meeting with Sink. Chiles brought a coherent, anti-machine
politics message, but failed to gain traction at any point, seeming to
prove how impossible it is to run outside the party system he was in
effect running against. I don't see him cozying up to the Democratic
machine anytime soon, which would seem to make another run unlikely or
|Will Crist run for governor as a Dem in 2014?
with Senator Bill Nelson unlikely to give up his seat in the Senate in
what has been a very pro-conservative environment, no credible opponent
seems to exist for Democrats to to go after a vulnerable sitting
governor. Enter Charlie Crist. Crist clearly has no future in the
Florida GOP, who he'd already begun to polarize before abandoning them
for an independent run that again seemed to prove the futility of trying
to win a statewide race outside of the two parties.
the most recognizable politician in the state, is staying on the grid
while starring in commercials for Morgan & Morgan, the deep pocketed
law firm he joined, headed by personal injury magnate and long-time
Democratic donor John Morgan. Of course he needed a job, but it seems
like his choice might have had at least a little to do with a chance to
run for office again, and I think Crist knows that he'd have to do so as
a Democrat to be competitive.
A moderate-centrist, who's still
probably right of center, Crist had come to be chastised as a RINO
(Republican in Name Only) by the party's right wing who grew
increasingly conservative during his reign. It's hard to imagine now,
but in 2008 Crist was being hailed as part of the new breed of
Republican centrists like Arnold Schwarzenegger and even Rudy Giuliani
who could pass a litmus test, but draw moderate independents and even
some Democrats with flexibility on social and environmental issues. He
was even on the short list for McCain’s running mate and there were
whispers at the time, asking whether he'd run for president himself in
A run against Scott might be an accidental boon, as it
would allow him to circumvent term limits and essentially be as though
he'd taken a break during what would have been a very difficult period
for him as governor had he won in 2010 and faced a veto proof majority
in his party -- one bent on overturning many of the ones he'd signed during
A lot of Democrats scoff at the idea of Crist
representing them, but I have to think they understand how shallow their
field is and see him as being preferable to Scott. If he succeeds, it
might also help them down ballot and while I think it'd be very unlikely
they'd secure a majority in either chamber (even if he won two terms),
it could at least help them get free of the veto-proof handcuffs that
have all but neutered them in the Capitol.
Crist is a politician
and he's far too young to hang 'em up. If he wants back in, he'll have
to reinvent himself in a major way and this is the only way he could do
that without going even further down the ballot. The only other
“best-case” scenario would be a well-funded congressional run in a
reliable district, but again he would likely have big trouble getting
out of any Republican primary. Alex Sink on the ticket as Lt. Governor
could appease the party faithful and give Dems their only viable chance
at reclaiming Tallahassee. If Crist managed to win eight more years,
he'd have a Lawton Chiles like legacy and is young enough that a White
House run could still be in the cards. Think its crazy? Remember, in politics anything
can and usually does happen.
Dennis Maley is a featured columnist and editor for The Bradenton Times. An archive of his columns is available here. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.