Charlie Crist Comes Crashing Back Down to Earth
Around the State
Charlie Crist starts off the second half of 2014 in a far weaker position than he did the start of the year.
Crist’s double-digit lead in the polls has long since vanished. Some polls even show Rick Scott ahead of his rival. Crist backers often shrug the polls off, saying their candidate simply hasn’t started running ads yet. But even the most die-hard Crist supporters concede that Scott and the Republicans have more cash than the Democrats and will be able to blanket the state with ads whenever they want.
As July begins, Crist is starting to hear more voices from his side bemoaning his efforts so far. Crist’s cheerleaders in the media are recognizing that their candidate isn’t catching fire, complaining that his flips on Cuba and not releasing his wife’s tax returns are hurting him.
But solutions aren’t exactly forthcoming. As Saint PetersBlog rightfully pointed out, with all of his previous campaign team shakeups, bringing in yet another new team won’t help out and Crist often ignores his staff anyway. Blithely ignoring his constant refusal to even consider it, Steve Bousquet suggests Crist should debate Democrat primary rival Nan Rich. But yet another flip won’t help Crist much either even if he does throw a bone to liberals and Rich supporters with the debate.
The problem goes even deeper. Coming up the political ladder, Crist benefited from the GOP machinery. Love them or hate them, Florida Republicans have generally been able to win most gubernatorial, Cabinet, congressional and legislative races over the last 20 years. When he went his own way to run for the Senate with no party affiliation back in 2010, Crist looked lost and his campaign sunk. The Florida Democrats, based on their own various stumbles, aren’t going to be of much help on that front.
Crist certainly seems to be taking Democrat support for granted. Besides not debating Rich, Crist blew off meeting with Democrats this past weekend at the Leadership Blue event. Allison Tant tried to defend Crist by saying that people knew who he was from all his past campaigns, a strange statement to make considering he’s only been a Democrat for a year and a half now.
Tant inadvertently pointed out the problem Crist’s having. Floridians know quite a bit about Charlie Crist from his various campaigns. In the last four years, he has run for office as a Republican, then with no party affiliation and now as a Democrat. Crist has fundamentally shifted his stances on almost every single major issue during his political career.
Floridians also know that Crist might have won three state offices but he never left much of a legacy once in power. Crist only bothered to run for re-election for a state Senate seat. He never sought second terms for any of the state offices he won.
Now, four years after deciding to forgo a second term as governor to run for the Senate, Crist is trying to reclaim his old turf. But having changed offices and positions so many times before, Crist starts off with a disadvantage as he tries to reassure voters he can be trusted on various issues. Crist’s simple theme -- I’m not Rick Scott -- isn’t enough to beat a governor with strong fundraising and a winning organization behind him.
As July begins, Crist needs to find other weapons in his arsenal if he wants to turn things around. The problem with the Crist campaign can’t be solved with a few new faces or a debate with Nan Rich. The problem with the Crist campaign is the candidate himself.
Crist has been here before. After leaving the GOP, Crist was in the pole position in the Senate race but he quickly got lapped by Marco Rubio after failing to define himself. His lead over Scott a distant memory, Crist needs to find something to recharge his campaign, which he didn’t do in 2010.
Democrats have also been here before. Their last three gubernatorial candidates -- Bill McBride, Jim Davis and Alex Sink -- were all from Tampa Bay and thought not being Republicans would be enough for them to break the GOP hold on the governor’s mansion. As Democrats look ahead to the rest of summer and fall, they have to be increasingly worried that Crist, yet another candidate from Tampa Bay who is making “I’m not Rick Scott” the theme of his campaign, could follow the same path.
Tallahassee based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.