TALLAHASSEE President Barack Obama’s narrow victory over Mitt Romney in Florida this week has Democrats eager to seize the momentum to focus on the next hurdle: defeating Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Party leaders are thumping their chest that the triumph was a repudiation of the tea party, a signal that the state party is out-of-touch and a blueprint for unseating Scott, the most unpopular governor in Florida in two decades. But Democrats have one big problem: no standout candidate to challenge him.
“Working on that one,’’ joked Scott Arceneaux, director of the Florida Democratic Party.
Their bench includes former legislators, failed former candidates, and a long list of mayors. Only state Sen. Nan Rich, of Weston, who is little known outside Tallahassee, has announced she is in the race.
Then, there is Charlie Crist.
The populist former governor is undergoing a metamorphosis that is substantial even by political standards. He left his party in 2010 as a candidate for U.S. Senate, ran without party affiliation and lost to Republican Marco Rubio.
As an independent, he has since spent this election cycle campaigning aggressively for Obama, chastising his former party for an “extremist” agenda, and, in the last week, he has been accelerating criticism against Rick Scott.
When Scott refused to extend early voting hours as Crist had done in 2008, Crist tweeted “indefensible.” When Scott defiantly defended his decision, Crist sent out a link to his statement and added: “I don’t think the people would agree, Governor.”
He told the Herald/Times that he believes Scott and the GOP were engaged in voter suppression that “created a backlash” and he spent election night making the cable television rounds with a similar message.
“Rick Scott has been a bad governor who is out of touch with Floridians — as his handling of the early vote shows,’’ Arceneaux said. “The governors race will start next week — if it hasn’t already started — and we’re going to push to use the momentum now into 2014.”
With the exception of Rich, every contender for the Democratic nomination has been noncommittal. The list includes Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, both of whom have said they are considering it.
It also includes former state Sen. Dan Gelber, of Miami Beach, former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Alex Sink, the former chief financial officer who lost by a narrow 62,000 votes to Scott in 2010, and has spent the last two years developing a think tank that grooms young leaders in business and government.
But only Crist has been attacked already by Republicans.
During the Democratic National Convention, where Crist gave a speech endorsing Obama, the Florida Republican Party ran an ad aimed at undercutting his credibility by showing him calling himself a “Jeb Bush Republican” and “as conservative as you can get.”
Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry posts regular missives on the party’s blog and Twitter feed, and uses every move by Crist as a new opportunity to swipe at him.
When Crist endorsed Democrat Keith Fitzgerald for Congress against Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, Curry wrote: "Another day, another friend betrayed by Charlie Crist and his blind ambition."