In Florida Governor’s Race, Attacks Overtake Issues

The race between Gov. Rick Scott and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has been one of the year's most negative, dominated by personal attacks and enormous advertising budgets.
by | October 28, 2014

Florida's campaign for governor between incumbent Republican Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist has been one of the most relentlessly negative of the year. Their attacks on each other have been fueled by enormous advertising budgets.
 
"Charlie Crist will set a record for raising money in the state of Florida," said Democratic consultant Steve Vancore, "and he’s going to be outspent, 2 to 1."
 
Aside from their own fundraising, Crist and Scott are getting heavy help from outside groups -- notably Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire who is supporting candidates concerned with climate change nationwide. He's put $10 million into Florida, much of it devoted to get out the vote efforts in support of Crist.
 
Crist will have to rely heavily on turnout from Democratic strongholds in South Florida, notably Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Getting voters excited enough to show up is a challenge for both men, given the negativity of the race and their low approval ratings. Both candidates have approval ratings below 50 percent.
 
"Charlie Crist has done a good job of turning Rick Scott into a criminal," Vancore said, referring to advertisements highlighting how many times Scott took the Fifth Amendment during a civil case involving the hospital company he used to run, which was found guilty of fraud.
 
Scott, in turn, has hit Crist with a barrage of ads characterizing him as a greedy lackey of President Barack Obama and a flip-flopper. Crist was elected governor as a Republican in 2006, ran for the Senate as an independent in 2010 (after getting clobbered during the GOP primary season by Marco Rubio) and eventually became a Democrat.
 
There are certainly big differences between Scott and Crist on the issues, from education and immigration to the environment, but the campaign has been dominated by personal attacks.
 
"They've thrown so much nasty stuff at each other," said Curt Kiser, a former Republican state senator. "Neither of them is going to come out with a mandate to do anything."
 
Kiser predicts that if Republicans turn out at their usual midterm rate, Scott will prevail. Republican voters tend to turn out for midterms at a proportionately higher rate than Democrats. But Democrats believe the dynamics will be different than they were in 2010, which could tip the race in their favor.
 
Scott won in 2010 by 61,550 votes, out of more than 5 million cast. He was aided by running in a strongly Republican year, with the popular Rubio on the ticket, and having a weak opponent. "Rick Scott got elected governor without a majority of the vote and has never has strong public support," said Scott Paine, a political scientist at the University of Tampa.
 
Democrats believe conditions are more favorable now. Crist is certainly not a figure beloved among Democrats, but the state's changing demographics might help him.
 
Since 2010, the number of registered voters has grown by approximately 590,000 -- with 71 percent of that growth coming from Hispanics, African Americans or Caribbean-American voters, along with another 10 percent "other" ethnic groups, according to Democratic consultant Steve Schale, an adviser to Crist. Only 19 percent have been white.
 
"Every time you change the electorate to become less white, there's a marginal uplift for us," he said. "If you took that 2010 election and applied it today -- just making it more diverse, but the same turnout rates -- Scott's 61,000-vote victory becomes 10,000 votes."
 
Schale notes that about 25 to 30 percent of the people who have voted through absentee and early voting so far hadn't voted in 2010. Republicans retain their traditional edge among such voters, in terms of party registrants who have requested or cast ballots already, but their edge over Democrats is not as high as was four years ago.
The question now is who will turn out in the coming week and on Election Day itself. Neither candidate is inspiring great waves of enthusiasm.
 

"Many voters are voting against the worst evil," said Charles Zelden, a professor of history, law and politics at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. "There are plenty of people so disgusted with both of them, they don't want to bother voting."