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How to read the Sink/Scott Rasmussen poll.

Today, Rasmussen released a poll which showed RickScott and Alex Sink in a statistical dead heat.  As usual, the punditocracy overreacted.   Here's why.

First, Rick Scott has been on statewide TV and radio for a month, to the tune of $4-6 million.  At this level, voters in every market in the state--including the very expensive Miami market, have seen his ads 7-10 times a week.  

On the flip side, Alex Sink has not been on TV, which for this time of year, is very normal for gubernatorial voters.  Alex Sink will undoubtedly run a robust and easily largest paid media program of any Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate in history. So he will not communicate in a vacuum forever.  And almost no voter has learned that as a hospital CEO, his company got slapped with a $1.7 billion fine for committing the largest Medicare fraud in American history.

But back to the poll:  Scott's one point lead is fueled by an important stat:  he is getting 76% of Republicans, compared to Sink getting 68% of Democrats.  In the latter camp, they just don't know her yet.  But considering Jim Davis got 85% of Democrats, one can fairly assume that Sink will do at least as well.

Sink, despite her relative lack of name ID, is still beating Scott among NPA (voters not registered with one of the two major political parties) voters by 3 points.  Again, noting that Davis beat Crist, according to the exit polls, by a point, it is a reasonable notion that Alex Sink will do at least as well.

So, if you fast forward and based on this poll, make the following assumptions:

1.  Alex Sink gets not a single vote out of the remaining 13% of GOP undecideds.  In other words, on election day, she gets 11% of GOP voters, which is one less than Obama in 2008.

2. She gets 86% of Democrats to vote for her. One point more than Davis earned, and one less than Obama

3.  She only gets 1 in 5 of the remaining undecided NPA voters in the Rasmussen survey.

If you do this, Sink beats Scott by 2 points on election day, 51-49, a virtual landslide in Florida. And that is before a single point of television communication by Sink. 

Quite frankly, that is a pretty strong place to start. 


The most important number of the week:  38

Most of the reporting about the recent Mason-Dixon poll that showed Rick Scott within 14 points of Bill McCollum focused on exactly that, the 14 point gap.  But from where I sit, it isn't the 14 point cap that should scare the daylights out of Camp McCollum, it is the other number:  38.

Here's why.

McCollum has run for statewide office now four times.  He has very high name ID and and even higher  name ID among core Republicans. 

On the other hand, less than a month ago, probably not more than four people could pick Rick Scott out of a line-up. 

Even today, according to the same poll, McCollum holds a substantive name ID advantage among Republicans of 57-29 and a favorable advantage of 46-28.  Take these factors into play and he should be above or at least close to 50 in a head to head with Scott.

Yet he is at 38.

And 40 percent aren't sure how they will vote.

Even in the early days, when Rubio had low name ID, Crist was frequently above 50 percent.  It took nearly a year for him to catch up and tie Crist.  Scott's on pace to do it in 6-8 weeks.  In other words, it almost seems like Republicans have been wanting an alternative to the Attorney General and as soon as it popped up, they jumped to it.

Further, he has an even bigger problem.  Rick Scott has already spent more than McCollum has raised and is on place to outspend him 4, maybe even 5 to one. 

Now, Scott isn't without his own problems, namely that he once ran a company that got whacked by the federal government for a $1.7 Billion (yes that is Billion with a B) fine for defrauding the government.   And his decision to stand up and defend the oil industry with the gusher in the gulf may be courageous, but hardly smart politics. 

But the problem for McCollum is it appears his voters are ready and willing to look for an alternative and in the end they may not care, just as they brushed aside Rubio's credit card and other woes.  And if McCollum doesn't start taking this guy seriously and at least try to get some negative earned press, a few more weeks and a few more 4-5 million on TV and he could find himself in a dead heat, or even behind the man from Naples, at which point, it will be Katy Bar the Door time for the presumptive nominee.

Which is why this week's most important number is in fact not 14, but 38.


Thanks Mom!

I have been blessed to live a pretty interesting life so far, and I much of it to my mom.  None of us would be anything without our mothers and my Mom is a special one.  So I am going to take a moment and share a little about her.

My mom was raised a little differently than most in her era, as she was the product of a real two-income family.  My grandmother (who just turned 90) was a real Renaissance woman for her time, raising two kids while continuing to work as a nurse at a manufacturing plant in Illinois while my grandfather worked as an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad (he snuck me on the train when I was four or five, something I remember as clear as yesterday).    Her parents had nothing but the highest of expectations for her and that translated down to her kids.

At 26, my mom married into a ready-made family and ended up raising and putting a total of five kids through college, while for most of that time, teaching kindergarten in St. Augustine's public schools.   Like most families, we had our good years and bad years, but I can't remember her ever making her kids go without---even if it meant driving a ten year old, nearly 200K mile family trucksteresque blue mini-van complete with wood paneling and a somewhat broken speedometer, so we could attend the best schools, chase our dreams and have had every opportunity to succeed as adults.  

And like all good moms, my mother continues to be all in for her kids.  Whether it is chasing my Broadway sister Lisa around the country, or helping Liz raise her "grand-chickens," or in my case, becoming a full time Obama volunteer in 2008 (my mother meeting Michelle Obama will always be one of my favorite memories), she continues to be 100% supportive of whatever we get ourselves into.   Though at least now, she doesn't have to drive a mini-van anymore!

So mom, Happy Mothers Day and much love to you.  Any success I've had is due in large part to the start you gave me and the rest of the crew.  


Cristpalooza, Off and Running

Charlie Crist made it official today, he is running as an independent.  And I picked this day to be in Washington DC, not Florida.  Nice timing, Steve.

If the Governor's goal was to get people talking to him, he succeeded.  I took 10 calls this morning before 9:30 AM, and 9 of them were from reporters talking about this race.  It just carried on from there, in the line at airport security in Tallahassee, on the television in the lobby of my hotel when I checked in, and even the topic of conversation in the lobby of a restaurant.  Heck, even my blog had its best day ever.  It is all Charlie, all the time, just the way he likes it.

Tomorrow it will get even more interesting, when California billionaire Jeff Greene, gets in the race as well, as a Democrat. Only in Florida.

But the real game is between Meek, Crist and Rubio.  As I wrote last night in Cristpalooza Begins, it is a wide open race.  Personally, I think the biggest beneficiary of the Crist move is Meek, but all three have a shot.

Clearly, on the surface, Crist's math is the hardest, 50% of independents and 1 out of 3 GOP and Democratic voters.  If you want to find out how Crist is doing, just ask three of your Republican AND three of your Democratic friends where they stand on the race.  If two of those 6 are with Crist, he has a great shot.  If not, he's probably done.

But as some Crist fans have reminded me today, on the flip side, in order to win, he just needs to convince about 60% of the Floridians who today approve of him to vote for him.  Moreover, Crist is already a likeable guy, and people like to vote for candidates whom they like. Seems, reasonable enough, right?  We'll find out in November.

Regardless of where you come from on this race, or on politics in general, pull up a seat and soak this one in.  It is going to be a great race---and hopefully, create a few jobs in the Florida economy from all the political pundits who will be invading the state to watch.

Please keep reading my blog.  There will be plenty more on this race in the days, weeks and months to come.


Cristpalooza Begins

Ladies and Gentlemen, you only thought Florida politics was crazy.  Well today it just got even more interesting.

So, can he do it? 

Only a fool would say for sure.  I have made pretty compelling cases all week for all three of them, because all three have strong arguments why they will win.  It is jump ball Florida.

But back to Crist.  On the numbers alone, he has a hard row to hoe.  Assuming a win number of 35-36% (I doubt we will see a 34-33-33 race), he needs to get roughly 50% of the independents and 30-35% of the vote in both parties, a very difficult challenge.

The challenge, as Rubio's people pointed out today, the independent vote in Florida isn't as big as some people think. Even on its best day in November, NPA and minor party voters will probably only make up 18% of the electorate, so even if Crist gets 50% of the vote, he only nets 9 points of total statewide vote.    Here is why his challenge is so daunting:

Independents (18% of vote):  50%  = 9 statewide points

Republicans (40% of vote):   35% =  14 statewide points

Democrats (42% of vote):   30% =   12.6 statewide points

Total= 35.6 %

Is that doable math?  Sure.  Is it a long shot?  Absolutely.  Here's why:

Look at the Meek math.  Right now, Rubio is clearly going to try to tie Meek and Crist to Obama, but with the President hovering around 50% approval in Florida, that could be a risky strategy.  If Meek can solidify Democrats to rally around the President for him, he will likely win this thing, even with just a tiny portion of Republicans and Independents.  Here's how:

Independents (18%):   20% for Meek = 3.6 statewide points

Republicans (40%):    3% for Meek=  1.2 statewide points

Democrats (42%):   80% for Meek= 33.6 statewide points

Meek total statewide vote:  38.4%

Play with the math, and you can all of the sudden make the same case for Rubio.  And of course, there is easily a scenario where both Meek and Rubio both get near 40, and Crist barely emerges into the 20's, though my hunch is this could be razor tight with all three above 30.

All three candidates are incredibly talented, and all three have tremendous challenges.  For Meek and Rubio, it is introducing themselves to the state.  Meek has low statewide name ID, and Rubio is only slightly higher.  Buyiing name ID is expensive, which is why first time candidates for Governor and Senator tend to struggle.

For Crist, he has to make the case to 1/3rd of all partisans that vote in an off-year election that they are better off with an independent than one of their own.  Plus he has to figure out how to raise the cash without a party apparatus, and put together a team talented enough to win statewide in a place like Florida.  Neither are easy tasks

But at the same time, all three have really interesting paths and in the case of both Meek and Rubio, some interesting choices to make.  Do you solidify the family or do you try to take away the middle?  Either way is a potential path.   This is political chess at its finest, and any of them can win it. 

For me, this race is going to boil down to Charlie Crist.  He has virtual universal name ID and generally high approvals.  At the top of his game, Crist is as good as anyone who plays it.  Will his new found freedom set him on a new course, or will he get drawn into the weeds, as Rubio did to him in the primary?  If Charlie is Charlie, he can win.  No one likes the lights more than Crist, and for the next six months the lights will shine brightly on him as both candidates take shots at him as they work to secure their own base.   Lose and its take your fan and go home.  Win and you transform Florida politics.  

This is unchartered territory.  This race has no peer group.   There are more questions than answers (I have a whole blog on that subject coming soon).  So sit back, and relax and look keep an eye out on the street for Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd and John King because one thing is for certain, we are all going to have a front row seat to political history, right here in Florida. 

Cristpalooza begins today. 



The road to independence starts in his own back yard

Today, the pride of Kenyon College* (also known as the Sewanee of the north), Adam Smith published an article where it was suggested that the race for the United States Senate may come down to the "I-10" corridor, where Crist might be able to break through with his independent message.

I disagree.

I assume, the underlying argument s voters will vote for Crist over the African American candidate and the Hispanic candidate.  First, to the basic premise there, Barack Obama did about four points better across North Florida than did John Kerry (not to mention that the only state elected African American Republican represents one of the state's most conservative North Florida districts). 

Secondly, the GOP base voter up here is more solid than arguably anywhere in the state, and lastly, Crist's current approval in North Florida, according to the recent Q poll, even with the region's strong GOP base, is lower than any other region in the state.  

North Florida today is home to two party bases, and outside of Duval County and a few others, there is not a lot of persuasion going on.  For example, it is hard for me to imagine a Tea Party center loike Walton County turning out big for Charlie Crist, simply because they don't want to vote for a Cuban Republican.  The North Florida of 2010 is conservative, but that doesnt mean it is the North Florida of 1968.

No, in my opinion, Tampa will decide Crist's fate for the same reason that Tampa decides everything else, it is where the swing voters live, and if you have a message that plays well there, you will play well among swing voters everywhere.

Sure, other factors will play into the final equation.  Crist maintains high favorables in some Democratic circles in southeast Florida, and certainly that will translate into votes.  But in order to win, he needs to carry the bulk of Florida's swing vote, and he will have the benefit of being the home town kid.  The region's large, and much more moderate Republican base, has supported Crist since his days in the State Senate, and are much more likely to peel off in large numbers than voters along I-10, and further down the road, in Sarasota, Lee County and Naples, where the electorate is largely made up of retired Midwestern Rockefeller-type Republican, he again can find pockets of voters who are more likely to be turned off by the extremism of the Tea Party movement than he will find in North Florida.

The numbers bear some of this out.  If you look at the swing vote between Crist and Sink in 2006 (admittedly, not the best comparison, but it is something), the biggest vote swings were in Tampa market, followed closely by Orlando, then the SW Florida counties.  

But more than anything, the best predictor in politics is past performance, and in Florida, there are counties (32 to be exact) that are always Republican and certain counties (7 to be exact) that are overwhelmingly Democratic, plus another 14 or so that are pretty solidly predictable (might go once out of five elections the other way)---and to make things fun, the vote margins for each party out of their base tend to be pretty similar.  History says Meek and Rubio will do pretty well among their voters within their base counties.

This means there are only 11 or 12 that flip frequently from election to election, and out of those 11 or 12, only four would be considered to have large population bases:  Hillsborough, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas.

And three of those are in the Tampa media market.

If Crist wins, it will be close.

And on the off chance that he pulls it out, you will only need to look to history to see how he did it:  the same way everyone else has done it, by winning in Tampa.



*Thanks to politifact for catching my error.  :-)


The last Hail Mary for Crist?

Tonight, the feds announced a formal investigation into the Republican Party of Florida's credit card issues, an investigation that reportedly will include Marco Rubio's extensive spending on the party's credit card.  Press reports have suggested that a number of items on Rubio's card may could be considered personal expenses, and certainly Crist has been making this case for some time now.

Some supporters of Crist are probably hoping the news of this investigation might be his version of Doug Flutie's heroic last minute throw against Miami, but for him, his game was decided long before tonight.

Why?  The grassroots GOP decided long ago that he wasn't going to be their standard bearer.

This goes back to the first post I ever wrote on this blog (and to this date, still the most read one) about Crist's historical lack of a base.   As that post showed, even in Crist's most popular days, he was never embraced in the Jeb Bush way by the GOP grassroots.  In fact, around the Capitol, there was never a shortage of grumbling not only about his leadership style (considered weak), but also what many on the GOP side saw as appeasement tendencies. 

And Crist did little to change that opinion.  He supported changing the state's policy to allow felons who had paid their debt to society to have their right to vote restored, he stood up and said he believed in the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting climate change, and when the lines were long at early voting sites in October of 2008, he signed an order extending early voting.  To make matters worse, on that last one, he only talked to one legislator first, Dan Gelber.   So when he hugged the President, it wasn't the first mistake, it was the last straw.

In retrospect, Marco Rubio could have been Dean Cannon, Jeff Atwater, Adam Hasner or Mike Harridopolis and the result would have been the same.  Someone other than Crist was going to win the nomination.  Don't get me wrong, Marco Rubio is a highly talented guy and he's run a very good campaign.  However, the movement was there, looking for a leader, and Marco stepped up, but if not Marco, there would have been someone else.  My mistake early on was thinking there was a chance that Crist could rally, but clearly that was never going to be allowed to happen.

Now that doesn't mean the attacks on Rubio or the GOP credit card investigation won't have an impact, but it won't help Crist in the GOP primary, and considering that former GOP head, Jim Greer, the center of the controversy, was also put there by Charlie Crist, it likely won't help him anywhere.

I don't think there is any doubt he moves forward and runs as an NPA.  The only question is timing.  Does he pull the trigger tomorrow or wait another week.  At this point, that is the only suspense. 

I still believe his path is uphill and he is very likely to lose, even as an independent.  But then again, there is nothing in modern American history to compare this to, so we will all find out together.




The six questions Crist must ask himself right now about the NPA bid.

By calling reporters tonight, Crist finally admitted that he is opening the door to running for something other than as a Republican for United States Senate.  His admission was hardly a shock to anyone, given the last 3-4 months of chatter.

But needless to say, Crist has some hard questions to answer in the next week as he ponders his political future.  None of his options are good. If he were to call me tonight, here are the six most pressing I think he needs to answer.  I'd also tell him to go ahead and run as an independent for U.S Senate (before anyone gets any ideas, I support Kendrick Meek), because in the scheme of things, he has nothing to lose at this point, and a whole lot of upside if he pulls it off. 

1.   Who am I?   Seems like a trite question in the scheme of political punditry, but this is a very personal moment for Crist.  The decision to run as anything other than a Republican is at some level a repudiation of his long standing political positioning, and isn't a decision to be made lightly.  Does he consider himself a Republican, Democrat or Independent?  People change and have the right to change their affiliations, but should never do so simply for political gain (either way).  For Crist, this is the most basic question he must answer before he takes one more step.

2.  If I run as an independent for U.S Senate, operationally, how would I run a campaign?  The vast majority of political operatives worth a salt pick sides.  It is how the game is run.  If I run, who will still be there to answer the phones, raise the money, make the television ads, manage the campaign, etc., and can I win with that team?  Along the same lines, how will I raise the money?  Will my finance people stay by my side, or bolt to Marco?  Can I win with the money I currently have in the bank?  Chances are, most of his team will bolt and he will be a man on an island for the first time in his career.  Can he live with that?

3. Where are my votes coming from?  In the process-driven news coverage of politics, one process story tends to get forgotten about:  where does candidate X get the votes to beat candidate Y (or in this case, Y and Z). As I've written about recently, I believe that he needs 50% of NPA, and between 28-30% of both GOP/Dem.  Some folks have written me and suggested the 30% number is more like 33-35%, given that the win number isn't 33.4%, but really is more like 36-37%, which is a very compelling argument.

Right now, the Q poll has Cristgetting 35% of Southwest Fl voters, a number given the moderate nature of GOP voters there, seems plausible.  On the flip side, I have a hard time seeing him holding the 32% of North Florida voters, unless the bottom falls out of Meek, which I don't see happening.  While some will say that Perot did well there, I think we can all agree that Crist does not really appeal to the same kind of voter as Perot.  So what does the vote model look like?  Can he sustain any bounce he gets from his initial announcement?  And can he convince Republicans, who are traditionally much harder to break away from their party, to bolt in big enough numbers to get him to a win number?

4. What does running as an NPA and winning mean?    The upside:  there are days when you will be one the most important person in American politics, especially in a close Senate; you will be highly sought out for political endorsements from moderates, and your win in a state like Florida could (note italics) be transformational.  The downside:  You will likely be a man without a family in the Senate and with the attention comes the weight of intense pressure and scrutiny.  Can you handle that?  Do you want to handle that?

5. If I step aside gracefully, what next?  Today, the Tallahassee chatterbox was centered on the rumor that Crist might just step aside completely.  From where I sit, that means he serves out his term and has no short term plans to get back into politics.  If he wanted to sit on his cash and run against Nelson, he'd probably still face a tough challenge from the right.  That means his earliest next shot would be in 2014 (if Sink wins), 2016 (if Meek wins) or 2018, should Nelson win or there be an open seat at either Gov or Senate.  Crist has lived virtually his entire life in the public eye and stepping away from the cameras is never easy for any politician.  Can Crist do it? 

6. Should I run for re-election?  There are wild unconfirmed Tallahassee rumors that the Governor is polling whether he could run for re-election, and while who knows if they are true, he should ponder the question.  With the entrance of Rick Scott into the GOP primary, all of the sudden, Crist could end up looking like the adult in the room.  30-35% could win that four way primary, and Crist, even in his worst poll numbers, seems to maintain that among the GOP.    That being said, winning the primary still means a very tough race against Alex Sink. 


Crist's NPA Challenge  

With the Governor's vetoing of SB 6, it seems Crist's fortunes in the GOP primary are set.  Now the big question, what's next.

NBC's First readsuggested his advisors were weighing two choices:  a run as an NPA and a run against Nelson in 2012.  Let's take a quick look.

Running against Nelson in 2012:  

This seems like the least likely.  He'd have to sit out for two years and run against his closest advisor and one of his best friends.  Moreover, from where I sit, it isn't a matchup that does much for Crist.  Nelson is a moderate, who has always done well with independents, and given the long-term trajectory of the economy, 2012 is probably a better year for Democrats than 2010. 

Taking the express train to NPAville

The challenging math notwithstanding, this seems to be the most likely scenario.  While I think it is uphill, Republican smart guy Mac Stipanovich rightly points out that "The political graveyard of Florida is littered with the bodies of people who underestimated Charlie Crist."

That being said, in making this decision, Crist has a daunting challenge.  Right now, it is a little like a climber trying to decide which path to climb K2:  regardless of the road taken, political death is a very real outcome.  

Can he win the GOP primary?  With Jeb now freely open to endorse Marco Rubio, the answer is no.  Sure, strange things always happen in politics, but Marco seems to be free in the wind right now.

Can he win as an NPA?  It is tough.  In recent political history, independent candidate wins have only happened when then one of the major political parties nominated either an extremely weak candidate, or didn't nominate one at all.   The only exception, arguably, would be Minnesota in 1998, when Jesse Ventura won, but this isn't exactly Minnesota. 

But more than the vote goal challenge of reaching a plurality, there is another really significant challenge to Crist winning in November: Money. 

As my good friend Jim Davis (who by the way, is one of the finest people I've ever known in public service) knows all too well, money has never been a challenge in Crist's at least recent political career.  Even in the depths of his GOP primary challenge, he continues to raise money at a remarkable clip, and has banked 10 million dollars.  But the day he makes the switch, it will get tough.  Sure, some loyal Crist donors will remain with him, but most will defect to Rubio. 

Crist will start with 100 percent name identification, but that doesn't mean he can be out-communicated by his opponent and get to the finish line in first.  He will need to spend $20-30 million to pull this off and right now, he starts at $10million.

Further,  most of the DC institutional cash will go to either Meek or Rubio, and online 'movement' giving tends to not flow to pragmatic moderates.  But then again, Crist has one option he didn't have in 2006, the possibility of dipping into personal resources.   



In Defense of Midnight Sessions

Last week, count me as one of those strange people rivited by the late night debate over Senate Bill 6, the controversial teacher pay bill.

As the Palm Beach Post's Mike Bender chronicled, the late night session ran until 2:45 AM, surpassing the most recent late nighter, when then House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber kept the place open until 2:00 AM, forcing the GOP to read every bill on the agenda after they refused to consider a few Democratic alternatives. 

Much is always written about these late night sessions, how bad things always happen in the dark of night.  Not all of this is without merit.  One of the last sessions I worked, I clearly remember finding deep in a 275 page strike-all amendment to education bill a 2 year delay of the implementation of the class size amendment and managed to get a member to call attention to it.   Former Representative Joe Pickens of Palatka, a Republican member whom I had a ton of respect for, had simply missed it when they had re-written the bill in negotiations with Democrats and the Senate.   They corrected it and the process moved on.  Then of course, there are more famous examples, such as when Rep. Tom Feeney slipped in an amendment to sell the state's drivers license photos, not one of the House's finer moments.

But in spite of these events, many late night sessions are real moments of political theatre.    During typical day time sessions, so many things are essentially scripted, with the minority picking members to offer amendments, ask questions or debate, while the majority tries to speed up the process by limiting their floor debate.  You can look at a typical 10:00 AM House calendar and predict the outcome with the same certainty that Tom Watson would beat me in golf.

Though when the sun goes down and members get tired, the stress levels go up and so does the theater.   Majority members are more likely to go rogue and step out of line, and minority members tend to get more emotional.  In general, the debate is more colorful and memorable.  Such was the debate on Senate Bill 6, which was a real argument on the merits of a bill that brought out strong views on both sides.  Yes it took forever, and yes, it was worth every second.

I was blessed to spend nine years working in the Florida House, the last five sessions I spent inside the House Democratic Caucus office, three of which I was largely staffing the floor debate.    I remember the great debate the night that Tom Feeney passed out Senate President McKay's tax reform package in exchange for a seat in Congress.  That night, former Representative and all around great guy Matt Meadows returned to the floor from his hotel room with a 102 plus fever to give the Democrats enough votes to nearly kill the deal.  Or the night the House nearly killed the 1800 page school code re-write after hours of debate, at nearly 3:00 AM---or the aforementioned night, when Dan and his caucus kept the legislature in session, with the majority threatening to cut off access to the restroom in order to break the caucus (actually, I think then Speaker Marco Rubio was enjoying that nearly as much as Dan).  These were moments of real political drama and more importantly real debate.   And quite frankly, Florida would be better off with more of that.

So bring on a few more late night debates.  This political observer would welcome the must see late night TV.