The news comes at a bad time for Crist. The new Democrat had a double-digit lead over Rick Scott last year and most recent polls have shown a dead heat or Scott ahead by a whisker. Liberals are still unhappy that Crist wont debate primary opponent Nan Rich. After a series of high-profile defections, Crists campaign team seems to have settled into place, but there remain rumors that family members are actually calling the shots. The usually affable and charming Crist has been flatfooted as he reaches to Democratic primary voters, not exactly his natural constituency after all of his time positioning himself as a conservative Republican with national aspirations.
The most recent news hurts Crist even more. The Scott team aggressively called out Crist for not releasing his wifes tax returns and now it appears they have drawn blood. With Crist leaving this transaction out of returns, natural follow-ups turn to what else could he have left out and why is he refusing to release his wifes returns.
Crist and his team will counter that Scott is not exactly a paragon of transparency -- but thats not the point. From early on, Scotts gameplan was clear. He was never going to vault ahead of Crist so his task was to bring the Democrat back to where he was. Based on the polls, this seems to have worked since Scott has already been hitting the airwaves attacking Crist.
The middle of July isnt exactly close to November, but Florida voters are starting to pay more attention to the elections, especially as candidates start bombarding their houses with mailings and running TV ads before the August primary. Crist and his team seem to get that and are trying to distract their supporters and the media with various distractions to draw attention away from how the campaign isnt exactly living up to expectations. The latest on Tuesday was the Crist team bemoaning how Rick Scotts chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, was connected to All Aboard Florida -- which explains why the governor rejected federal funds for high-speed rail. But Hollingsworths ties to All Aboard Florida was in the news back in February and Scott, like many conservatives, frowns on using federal monies for some projects.
Crist needs to go on the attack against Scott, of course, but he cant afford to let the contest come down to just mudslinging between the two candidates. Those contests are usually won by the candidate with the most cash. If thats the case, advantage Scott.
The bigger problem for Crist remains trying to let voters know who he is and what he stands for. Since he has never bothered to run for another term for any of the three statewide offices hes held, and since he has switched parties twice in the last four years, thats easier said than done for Crist. Democrats might have been warm to Crist at the start, as they hoped to win their first gubernatorial election in 20 years, but he no longer appears to be a sure bet like he did a year ago. Polls also show that, after Crist left the GOP, Republicans have given up on him in return. Any chance that Crist could grab a third or even a quarter of Republican voters has long since vanished.
As the election starts to gear up even more, Crist needs to figure out who he is, and the more time his campaign stalls and he is forced to play defense -- like he is over the home sale and his wifes taxes -- hurts him in the long run. Crist needs more than Im not Rick Scott if he wants to turn this around. After all his changes in parties and positions, Crist is going to have a hard time trying to explain to independents who he is and what he stands for.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.