Rick Scott's Game Plan is Simple: Attack Charlie Crist
Around the State
Charlie Crist might be up 12 percent over Rick Scott in a new poll but there are serious warning signs that could hurt his efforts to return to the governor’s mansion.
Liberal leaning Public Policy Polling released a poll on Tuesday showing Crist at 50 percent and Scott at 38 percent. But the poll shows Crist is moving backward in some areas.
At first glance, Crist should be happy with his numbers with Democrats in the new poll: 58 percent favorable, 24 percent unfavorable. Not bad for a politician who has campaigned numerous times for state office as a conservative Republican. But even there, Crist’s numbers have gone down from the start of the year. In the January poll, Crist did much better with Democrats: 73 percent favorable and 13 percent unfavorable. Back in March, Crist was at 60 percent favorable and 28 percent unfavorable with Democrats.
Where Crist has made up ground is with independents. In January, Crist was headed in the wrong direction: 38 percent favorable and 44 percent unfavorable. Crist has turned that around in the new poll: 47 percent favorable and 38 percent unfavorable. Back in March, Crist was in similar shape with independents: 49 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable.
Scott’s stalled, to be sure, in the PPP poll but he is at least getting Republicans back in line behind him. His numbers with Republicans in January’s PPP poll were nothing to write home about: 49 percent approval and 38 percent disapproval. They got even worse in the PPP poll from March: 46 percent approval and 42 percent disapproval. The new poll shows Scott is making clear progress in securing the Republican base: 57 percent approval and 29 percent disapproval.
Republican strategists and the Scott campaign can look at these numbers and craft a few plans. Look for Republicans to continue bashing Crist for being inconsistent and all over the place on the issues as they look to push his numbers with Democrats even lower. The GOPs don’t think Nan Rich (whose numbers in the new poll continue to underwhelm) can beat Crist, but they can hope to make the primary closer. That means more attacks to remind Democratic primary voters that Crist portrayed himself as a conservative only a few years ago.
Scott’s team will also look to turn around Crist’s progress with independent voters and there’s one way to do it: attack, attack, attack. There have been previews of it as Scott compares his record on jobs to Crist’s and the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) has hit the former governor for his past positions.
But these attacks have been waged for a small audience and things will soon be taken to the next level. Scott has made no secret that he intends to open up his wallet to run ads at the start of 2014 to define Crist. With Crist’s numbers dropping with Democrats and his numbers with independents holding soft, Scott’s camp hopes to push those trends along with a series of attack ads.
Scott can be pardoned for glancing back at what happened in 2010. Crist showed in the Republican Senate primary against Marco Rubio and in the general election with Rubio and Kendrick Meek that his support can easily melt down. Scott defeated both Bill McCollum and Alex Sink with barrages of attack ads.
After almost three years in office, Scott’s numbers probably won’t rise to where Crist’s currently are. But attack ads can drag Crist down to where Scott currently is. In the next 13 months, Florida can expect an intense series of negative attacks on all sides. Based on 2010 and the new poll, Scott can make this a closer race by going on the offensive to dampen Crist's support or keep it at home. The moment Crist enters the race he will have a target on his forehead and the attacks on him will only escalate.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.