After Underwhelming Economic Plan, Charlie Needs Something to Wow Independents With
Around the State
Charlie Crist tried to play political jujitsu this week, using Rick Scott’s strength on the economy and turning it against him, but the gamble didn’t pay off for the former governor.
The economy is in Scott’s wheelhouse. Back in 2010, Scott beat Bill McCollum and Alex Sink by stressing job creation and his plan to help revive Florida’s economy. Probably the best weapon Scott has in his arsenal involves the unemployment rate. It went up noticeably under Crist; it went back down under Scott.
Crist’s economic plan focuses more on attacking Scott than serious proposals to advance the economy. Using the occasion to reassure wary Democrats that he is one of them, in spite of his many years carrying the flag for the Republicans, Crist heralded his support for Barack Obama’s proposed minimum wage and called for even more education spending.
But that’s not enough to steal ownership of the economy away from Scott or to help chip away at the Republican’s advantage in that area. Republicans jumped at the chance to smack Crist’s pretty dismal record on the economy.
There seems to be a sense that the Crist campaign is adrift and some of his critics will say his economic agenda is just the latest problem. But it’s way too early for Republicans to feel confident about Scott’s chances in November and Crist still has a lot of things going for him. Even though he has taken both sides of most major issues and changed political affiliations twice in recent memory, Crist is much better on television and has more charisma than Scott, who retains an awkward public persona. Scott has outspent and out-advertised Crist so far and that trend should continue.
But Crist is underperforming with key voters. To be sure, even as he ignores Nan Rich, Crist has done a fine job in nailing down the Democratic base. Most Democrats are on board with Crist even though he’s barely been a member of the party for a year and a half. Not winning a gubernatorial election in 20 years can do that to the party base.
Where Crist stumbles is with Republicans and independents. Crist’s team hoped at least a third or a quarter of Republicans would stick with their former standard-bearer despite his new party label. That’s simply not happening and most polls show Crist taking less than 20 percent of Republicans.
Even more concerning for Crist world, Scott is beating Crist in most polls of independents. That simply wasn’t supposed to be the case. Crist celebrated his independence when he ran for the Senate with no party affiliation back in 2010 and should be doing better with voters outside the two parties against Scott. Crist’s economic record and his string of flip-flops on the issues have come back to haunt him with these voters.
Crist has plenty of time to turn things around and he’ll have a few tools at his disposal in the fall: a contrasting public persona to Scott, more ads, popular Democrats like the Clintons taking to the trail for him. But Scott will still have more campaign cash and a team of Republicans behind him that have been winning elections for years. Crist needs to turn things around with independents and the usual liberal mantra of more spending for schools and repeating Obama’s promise to raise the minimum wage isn’t the way to do it.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.