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For and Against Crist the NPA

Somewhere in a room, Crist and his advisors either have or still are talking about a possible run as an independent.  And while the road is rough, he is probably the only politico in Florida who would have a chance to pull it off.  He has the two things any 'maverick' candidate needs:  plenty of cash and 100% name ID. 

As I mentioned on my blog, I am convinced he is considering it, and may even really want to do it.  But I am not sure he will actually make the decision, since doing so will put him out on a very lonely limb. 

So Governor Crist, while you haven't asked me, this is my take on the subject.  Here are the pros and cons.

Why you should run as an independent:

  • It is your only path.  Governor, unfortunately, you picked the worst possible year to run as a pragmatic populist Republican, and not only will Rubio beat you, but he is on pace to outspend you in the process.  If you want to be a United States Senator in 2011, you won't get there as a Republican.
  • It is your chance to be yourself.  Despite your GOP bona fides, it is clear that you are not comfortable in the new GOP, and the new GOP isn't comfortable with you.  Running as an independent frees you up to choose your own path, siding with the popular and populist elements of both parties, which is where we all know you are most comfortable.
  • It is your chance to be a national figure.  While you were once the rising star of the GOP, now your road to national political relevance starts and ends with winning as an independent. Unlike Jesse Ventura, a third party win in a state like Florida could send shock waves around the political world and make you a major player in the Senate on day one.  

And why you shouldn't:

  • Lose and you are done.  Governor,  the voters might give you the benefit of the doubt once, but if you make this move and lose, you are done.  Plenty of politicians have lost an election and recovered, but if you run as an independent and lose, you can forget having political friends when you come home.
  • The electoral math is brutal.  Governor, if you read my blog yesterday, you would see how hard the math is to win.  As soon as you make the move, you will see a lot of your money dry up and will find yourself outspent by both Rubio and Meek, and to win, you not only have to win a majority of independents, but sizable margins of both D's and R's.  Even with your universal name ID, this will be hard to pull off.
  • Running as an independent reinforces what people believe about you, that you are about you.  Right or wrong, perception is reality and Sally Bradshaw is right, this is a move that many will read as proof that you are more about winning than you are about serving.  Granted, the same perception didn't kill Joe Lieberman, but then again, unlike Lieberman, you have really good candidates on both sides and Florida is a much different state than Connecticut.



Crist as NPA: Can he win?

Despite Governor Crist's continual denying of his interest in running for the United States Senate as an independent, this is the rumor that will not die. 

If you wanted to believe he was on the verge of making  history and running as an independent candidate, you could certainly find compelling evidence in his recent record. He vetoed a key priority of his own party, recommended that federal prosecutors look into the state GOP, and renewed his support for the President's economic stimulus.  He's also embraced some views of the populist right, most notably, suing the federal government over the President's health care plan, and in many ways, his approach against Marco Rubio has been to paint him as a typical insider politician, a strategy he'd certainly employ as a third party candidate. 

While you could argue he was setting up a run up the middle, embracing the 'popularist' tenets of both sides of the current ideological debate, I am not convinced he is leaving the GOP primary, but I am convinced he is at least considering it.

Take this to the next level.  Can he win?

The answer:  It's tough, and may end up being the real reason why he doesn't do it.

Let's look at one electoral scenario to help make this point. 

Assuming the electorate on Election Day is 42% Democratic, 40% Republican and 18% Independent (Dems currently have a 7% advantage, so a 2 point advantage on election day is a fairly conservative estimate), even if Crist got 25% of the Republican and Democratic vote, and a whopping 60% of Independents (with Meek/Rubio splitting the rest), he would only get to 31%, several points short of a win number.  

In the more plausible, though still difficult scenario that he gets 50% of independents, he would need 31% of both Rs and Ds (assuming Meek/Rubio split the rest of the NPA) to get to a plurality of voters.  It is hard for me to see that many voters from either party bucking their party nominee.   Below 50% of Independents, and he has no chance whatsoever. 

That being said, if any politician could pull it off, Crist is positioned to make a run.   He starts with universal name ID and a hefty bank account.  He's also the Governor, meaning he can still earn press simply by turning on the fan and walking up to the podium.  No other potential third party candidate has had or will have those kinds of advantages---and if it were ever going to happen, the unpredictable 2010 electorate would give him a better shot than most years.  

I have another post coming looking more specifically at the Crist pros and cons scoreboard, but as it stands, the biggest downside is the electoral math.  On the flip side, he may have no other choice.  Winning the GOP primary looks harder each and every day, and his attacks on Rubio don't seem to be having much impact.  Certainly, today's news that Rubio raised more than $3 million in the first quarter of 2010 will give him even more reason to consider making the move.

Nonetheless, until the deadline for him to make the switch, this debate will continue to make for some fun Tallahassee and Washington chatter. 





Yes, Florida Is a Swing State

Earlier this week, Nate Silver of wrote a piece asking the question, Is Florida Still a Swing State?  In his short piece, he offers a few thoughts suggesting that the state is slipping out of swing state status, concluding that he isn't so sure that Florida will retain its place as a (or the) central battleground in Presidential elections.

While I won't question Nate's credentials (if you aren't reading his stuff, you should be), on this one, I couldn't disagree more.
Whether or not Florida is a swing state seems to be central to any national political discussion since well, Florida became a swing state.  Sometimes, I find this conversation starting with my good friends whose most favored state has far fewer electoral votes, but sometimes it is based on the assumption that today's Florida is the same as your father's Florida.

At this point in 2008, most people believed Florida was solidly in the 'red' column, and not without some reason.  As late as April of 2008, polls showed McCain with a 15 point lead here.  I am pretty confident that I was one of the very few strategists who thought Obama would win Florida.   In fact, more than one close friend thought I was totally nuts when I signed up for the campaign. But I have tended to subscribe to the Bob Graham view of Florida: that the state's demographic changes would eventually catch up to and eventually change its politics. Not surprisingly, Graham was right.
The problem with most political assessments of Florida is most folks view it through one of two lenses: 2004 Kerry or recent Gubernatorials. Both are perfectly reasonable places to start, but neither tell the whole story. Now I will give you that there are two Floridas, a Presidential Florida and a non-Presidential Florida. But since Nate's piece is about Presidential elections, this piece will focus on that. Why Alex Sink can (and should) win is coming soon, don't worry!
So why is Florida still a swing state? First, look at its history. Since 1992, no Presidential election in Florida has had a margin of more than six points, and arguably, Democrats have won three of the last four ('96 Clinton, '00 Gore and '08 Obama). Take out '96 and '04, and over that same time, the largest margin was our 2.5% win in 2008 (Bush '92 was +2; Gore/Bush tied), despite Silver’s assertion that Florida was a “come along for the ride” state. 
But in many ways, that is just the beginning of the story. Since Florida's entry to swing state politics, the state has changed dramatically, and those shifts continue even in the face of a somewhat tough political environment. In 1992, the Democratic voter registration advantages were dependent on a large contingent of old-line "Dixiecrats," voters who haven't supported a Democrat at the Presidential level since Carter (the first time) or Johnson. Since that election, those voters have largely registered as GOP and settled in as the core of the Florida GOP electoral math.
However, if you look at the voter registration numbers now, the current Democratic advantage is roughly the same margin as 1992. How? The Dixiecrats have been gradually replaced by three populations: a growing (and diversifying) Hispanic population, a softening of GOP partisanship--most pronounced in the Tampa area, and an increased African American registration. Granted, the last is largely due to Obama, but the first two are demographic. These trends can be seen pretty much everywhere south of Jacksonville and the Panhandle. For example, of the 120 state house seats, some 80 of them have had a net registration gain toward the Democrats since the 2002 redistricting. These new Democrats are far more predictable than the Dixiecrats were for the Clinton campaign in 1992.
Moreover, some of the Democratic gains are taking place inside the most solid of all GOP bases: Cuban voters. Second and third generation Cuban Americans are much more independent, many are even proud Democrats; but more importantly, hard-line Cuban Republicans are being surpassed in terms of population by non-Cuban nationalizations and Puerto Rican (American citizen) migration. Non-Cuban Hispanics are growing much faster than Cubans, and with some naturalization ceremonies in Miami adding well over 10,000 new citizens at a time, the South Florida Hispanic population is only getting more diverse.  And as for Silver’s claim that Obama has an uphill climb among Jewish voters, let the history show that despite relentless and scurrilous rumor-mongering attacks against him, he carried the three South Florida counties home to the largest Jewish populations by margins higher than both Kerry and Gore.
In fact, by 2012, Hispanics could make up as much as 14-15% of the statewide electorate, and among the Hispanics fastest growing segments of the population.  In fact, the census projects that people of Hispanic origin have risen from roughly 17% of the total Florida population in 2000 to 21% in 2008.   Driven in part by this trend, the Democratic base is growing faster than the Republican one, hence the dramatic changes in registration over the last 10 years.
That being said, Silver argues that the President's struggles with health care and other issues are the primary driver as to why Florida could lose its swing state status, to which I would argue that Florida is in no different position than any other state. First, I believe that once the media does its job and starts reporting about what is in the health care reform package, instead of just the sport surrounding its passage, support will grow.  For example, an estimated 3.2 million Floridians will benefit by closing the “donut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug benefit, while another 2.5 million could receive tax credits to help pay for insurance. 

In fairness, come 2012 if the American people do not believe this President has taken steps to improve the economy and their personal futures, I will be the first to agree that this conversation is purely academic.   But I have a ton of confidence in this President and believe that the economy will be in a better place by the time that the next Presidential election rolls around. For those Republicans rolling your eyes, I would point you to President Reagan's standing at the same point in history, and if I am remembering it right, he did okay in 1984. But back to Florida '12, a healthier economy means the President will run well on the I-4 corridor, a place that has been particularly stung by the tough economy of the last three years.  When buoyed by the fact that the partisan numbers are, in fact, trending ever so slightly to the Democratic column, Obama will do just fine here in 2012.
At 28 or 29 electoral votes and a growing base, it is hard for me to believe that national Democrats won't seriously contest the state's electoral votes for many Presidential elections to come, as they should. That may not be welcome news for other states which may not carry the same sized Electoral Vote bat, but for the good people of Florida, it means the sun will shine bright on our place in the political world.


As if it was necessary, more evidence of Crist and his lack of base...

In a recent survey of Florida voters, Public Policy Polling asked Florida voters to name their most favorite and least favorite Governor. 

Not shockingly, Jeb Bush (42% chose favorite, 33% chose least favorite) led both categories.  In addition to being one of Florida's most polarizing politicians in generations, he is also the most recent and memorable.   There are twice as many voters in Florida today as when the fellow who came in second, Bob Graham (23% chose favorite, 15% least favorite), served as Governor.   

The man in fourth (Bob Martinez finished last, with 5%)?  Charlie Crist.

The fact that a mere 9% chose Crist isn't on its face all that newsworthy.  As I've mentioned before, he is not the kind of leader who creates a natural fan base, and thus, will never do well in these kinds of surveys.   However, this survey once again shows that the GOP base is done with him.

Not only do 3 times as many GOP voters (12% to 4%) chose Graham as their favorite Governor, as compared to Crist, but Crist finishes in a statistical tie with Lawton Chiles as Republican voters' choice for least Governor. 

Democrats don't love him either, where he finishes fourth in the "favorite" rankings, behind Graham, Chiles and distant third, Jeb Bush.  That's right, even Democrats like Jeb better than Crist, at least when it comes to their most favorite Governor.

In fact, survey wide, only Bob Martinez fares worse across the board than Crist.  This probably has more to do with the fact that Martinez's term was a mere blip in a twenty eight year period dominated by three heavyweight personalities: Graham, Chiles and Bush.

What does all this mean?  Not much, other than more evidence that Crist's climb is really uphill in his primary.

The ratings:

Bush:  42 (Fav):33 (Least Fav)

Graham:  23:15

Chiles:  21:16

Crist:  9:17

Martinez:  5:19



Crist gets back to his roots

For most of the last year, Crist has ineffectually tried to define himself as the real conservative in his primary against Rubio.  Clearly, it is a strategy that is going no where.  Seemingly, each new poll that comes out shows Rubio climbing and the only thing dropping like a rock in Cristworld are his own numbers.

But just in the last few weeks, he appears to be changing course, first deciding to appear with President Obama in Tampa, then staking out a more moderate terrain with his budget, then today, getting back to the tone that defined his first few years as Governor, with comments like this: 

While there is great virtue in being true to your principles, conviction must be tempered with practicality and pragmatism. Taken to an extreme, conviction becomes inflexible – even destructive. Extreme views rarely solve problems and frequently create them. Look around the globe. Can’t we agree our world would be better with less overheated rhetoric and more common sense?

The reality is Crist is never going to be able to change the hearts and minds of the most conservative elements of the GOP because his problems run far deeper than just one Presidential man-hug. 

From embracing the science of climate change to taking the principled stand in 2008 that long lines should never stand as a detriment to a citizen's right to vote, Crist has found himself at odds with his own party---hence my comments a few months back about him lacking a real base.  I might have a better chance of convincing some conservatives of my bona fides than Crist.

But in this political environment, Crist has one way to get his mojo back, and admittedly, its a hail mary:  stand up as a leader.  With people of all colors frustrated with Washington, Crist has a narrow 60 day window to wrestle some common sense into Tallahassee.  If he succeeds (and people give him credit for it), he's got a shot.  If not, he's done.  It is just that simple, which is why a few weeks back, I suggested that he simply suspend campaigning and focus on running the state, which is the only way he is going to change minds.

It may not carry him to victory, but clearly the road he was on was leading him into the desert.  So why not get back to what he knows best?

Clearly he is taking a step in a new (or really old) direction...or maybe he's two steps ahead of us and is just laying the road work to run as an independent....

(I doubt it)


Election Day is still eight months away.

Last week, a former co-worker and political commentator extraordinaire, Joy-Ann Reid penned an interesting opinion piece about the state of the top two Democratic campaigns, Alex Sink and Kendrick Meek.

In her op-ed, Reid addresses some of the frustration among Democrats about the pace of the campaigns. I hear it too, nearly everywhere I go, to which I have one basic response:  Relax.

The 2008 election, particularly for Democrats, was a non-stop event.  The sheer amount of advertising, as well as staff, created an all-consuming political environment.  But that isn't how campaigns actually work, especially in non-Presidential elections.

So to my Democratic friends, I would remind them of two things:

1.  Despite the attention paid to the Presidential campaigns, the operation in Florida didn't start until late June/early July.  Both McCain and Obama campaigns had tiny staffs in May, but neither campaign got going in earnest until well into the summer.   Heck, now President Obama didn't make his first real general election visit to Florida until July 31st.  It is only February.

2.  In the words of my friend Paul Tewes, "polls are shit."   Sure, Sink is trailing McCollum, but then again, a lot more folks know who he is.  But more importantly, the election isn't for eight months.  Both parties should remember that as late as May 1, 2008, McCain held an average lead of 12 points over Obama in Florida. 

For Democrats, Sink and Meek have plenty of time to define themselves to Floridians, assuming they have the money to do so.  This is why the uncontested party nominees (McCollum, Sink and Meek) are focusing on really the only thing they should be doing:  raising money, and all three are doing that well.  From an activist stand point, this might not be as exciting as the kind of hand to hand combat that defines the latter months of a campaign, but without the resources, they wouldn't have a shot in a state that is as big and expensive as Florida.



Want to run for Congress? Move to Central Florida.

With the census about to start in earnest, I wanted to take a look at the likely winners and losers from the next reapportionment and redistricting.  I am not even going to try to predict how that 2012 process will benefit the parties or individual members.  Certainly as anyone who has lived through one redistricting session (I did in 2002) can attest, there is very little you can predict once pen goes to paper.

However, I do believe that by tracking the 2000 census data through the most recent census population projections from last year, there are some interesting nuggets about how the map will evolve.

The number one takeaway, assuming that Florida gains only one new Congressional seat:  the new Congressional seat will likely fall somewhere between Orlando and the eastern part of the Tampa media market.  And in the unlikely scenario that Florida gets two, the Tampa and Orlando media markets will likely each be the beneficiaries of one.

But that's only the beginning.

Since 2000, Florida has experienced subtle demographic shifts.  For example, the 2000 census showed that just under 54% of all Floridians lived in one of the state's seven 'urban' counties, counties with a population of more than 750,000 (Broward, Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Orange).  Today, that number is 51.7%.  The shift, not surprisingly, is almost exclusively into the midsize (typically suburban/ ) counties. 

Except, unlike the rest of the country, it hasn't been due to urban flight.  For example, the three counties who have dropped the most in terms of their share of statewide population:  Dade, Broward and Pinellas all share in common one thing:  they are at or nearly at maximum density due to geographic constraints.

On the flip side, the counties that are the fastest gaining in terms of their share of statewide population:  Lee (though the failed housing market there is now leading to some retreat in numbers), Orange, Osceola, St. Lucie and Lake all share a similar trait---lots of room to grow.

So what does all this mean?

In general, shockingly little all in all.  Most parts of the state will see very little change in terms of their total representation, though that doesn't mean that everything will be the same.

First, the state house map will show the most obvious shifts.  If counties were apportioned seats strictly based on population (which we know they are not), Dade, Broward and Pinellas would likely each lose an entire seat in the house. 

On the flipside, Orlando/Osceola would gain another (and it would likely be majority Hispanic), and SW Florida would receive another, likely based in Lee County.   The lost Pinellas seat would be absorbed within the media market, but would end up far further north and east, potentially even benefiting the Villages.

In total, the Miami media market would be down two, and the Orlando media market would be up two.  Southwest Florida gains one, stealing some from the eastern side of the state.

In the State Senate, SE Florida will likely watch the power centers of a couple of their districts shift north and west, as Orlando and SW Florida grab bigger chunks of the map. 

That being said, within media markets and even counties, there are subtle shifts that will likely lead to some interesting cartography. But in the interest of space, I'll take those on at a later date.

Agree?  Disagree?  As always, let me know.


Five Takeaways from the Week

Poliitcs had a busy week in Florida and dominates this week's five takeaways.

5.   Baker out of the Agriculture Race-  State Senator Carey Baker,  universally considered one of the good guys in Tallahassee, dropped out of the race for Agriculture Commissioner.  Baker, who many considered to be an underdog in his GOP primary against Congressman Adam Putnam, was nonetheless waging a very credible campaign.  His departure essentially sets up a match between Putnam and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox, who this week got a fair amount of attention for aggressively taking on near beach oil drilling.

4.  More from the GOP Soap Opera- This week brought more coverage of the ongoing drama at the Republican Party of Florida, as new disclosures showed that the party continued to run up their American Express card bill, despite Jim Greer's very public decision to cut up his own card.  Next week, the GOP will select a new Chair, ending what Marco Rubio this week called the "dark period" at the state party.  While many of my Democratic friends are having a good time with the drip, drip coming from the GOP, I have no doubt the party will recover. 

3.  Subpeonas in the Sansom Case include Rubio.  This week, the House committee investigating Ray Sansom made the decision to issue subpeonas.  The biggest news:  Marco Rubio will be asked to testify.  Up to this point in his Senate race, Rubio has had a pretty free run, but issues like the Sansom case will certainly lead to more public scrutiny.  Surely, there is no one more than Rubio that hopes this thing gets settled---because even if he had nothing to do with the case, the last thing his 'outsider' campaign needs is media attention that shows him to be the quintessential insider. 

2.   Redistricting Showdown in the Legislature.  This week, Ellen Frieden, Chair of the Fair Districts came to Tallahassee to testify before a joint House/Senate redistricting Committee to discuss the constitutional initiative that she is taking to the ballot next fall.  Like the initiative or not, Frieden more than held her own under four hours of intense scrutiny.  Certainly if history predicts anything, expect legislative leaders to continue use this soapbox to try to turn public opinion against the initiatives.

1.   Lincoln Diaz Balart to retire from Congress.  Catching many political observers off guard, Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balartannounced his decision to not seek re-election, setting off the dominos in Dade County.  The first move, Lincoln's brother Mario, the Congressman from the 25th district in Florida, announced his decision to run for his brother's much 'safer' seat, creating a opening in his seat.    State Representative David Rivera is assumed to be getting in the open Congressional seat, and there is considerable buzz that both State Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Alex Villalobos are considering getting in.  On the Democratic side, many are encouraging US Department of Energy official Joe Garcia to get in the race. 


I haven't forgotten my blog! 

In the last few days, I have taken on some significant new work duties, taking over the 2010 political shop at the Florida Justice Association.   

It has taken me a few days to adjust to the organization (and probably will several more).   But more posts are coming soon, I promise. 

Topics to come include what regions will be the winners/losers in redistricting and more on the Mass Senate race, notably, why candidates matter.  I might even profile the changes in a certain Florida House seat that one GOP member kindly noted to me that I failed to mention in my recent post on state house change! 

Thanks for your patience.  As always, if you have thoughts, comments, and/or snarky comments about my blog, or you have suggestions for posts, please drop me a line at steven DOT schale AT gmail DOT com. 



Five Takeaways from the Week

5.  Gutierrez drops out of race against Grayson:  Congressman Alan Grayson had a good week when Armando Gutierrez dropped out of the race for the Congressional District 8 seat.  While Gutierrez wasn't the top tier recruit that the GOP had hoped to get in the district, I argue he was the Republican's best shot against Grayson, due to his fundraising base and his potential ability to draw a few votes out of Grayson's large and growing Hispanic base.  The next best challenger, State Rep Kurt Kelly from Ocala is not well positioned geographically.  

4. GOP wants to roll back class size amendment.    This week, GOP legislators announced plans to go back to the voters with a down sized class size amendment.  Given the make-up of the legislature, odds are pretty good it gets to the ballot.  My question: is that really what the GOP wants to do?  Getting to 60% is no easy challenge here, and all you do is give education-minded Democrats another reason to show up to vote. 

3. RPOFgate, part 32821:  the Delmar Johnson Chapter.    As the Jim Greer era comes crashing to an end, the latest revelation is that the party Exec Director earned more than $400,000 last year (for what it is worth, more than 4x what Obama State Directors earned in 2008), plus apparently was a fan of the party credit card.   In talking to my GOP friends (yes, I have GOP friends), the reaction has been visceral.  The bad news for Democrats, I have no doubt that either John Thrasher or Sharon Day will run a much tighter shop.  The good news for Democrats:  Scott Arceneaux is easily one of the best party ED's in my party's history, and who given his GOP counterpart's news, clearly deserves a raise. 

2. Obama reshapes NASA mission.   President Obama's budget proposal will significantly reshape the mission for NASA, by in the short term moving away from manned missions and using NASA resources in research.  The net result is scrapping the troubled Constellation program and a quick return to the moon in favor of spending the next decade building the technology for longer human space missions.  Given NASA's economic impact, many in Central Florida are concerned about what this means.  From my perspective, the change in course provides a real opportunity to build a high tech/space corridor in Central Florida.  For those who fear this is the end of the space industry, fear not, according to Buzz Aldrin.

1. Crist unveils his budget.    Governor Crist unveiled his 2010-2011 budget, which was greeted in the legislature with the same level of enthusiasm as if Sarah Palin showed up to address the Democratic National Committee.  That being said, it is the opening salvo in Crist's attempt to focus on governing and save his political career.  How he performs this session, and more importantly, how voters perceive his leadership, will likely seal his political fate one way or the other. 


Near misses:   Press starts to take on Rubio, House panel refuses to drop Sansom case, Sink vs. the Governator, and most importantly, NASCAR is back on track.