Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Victory is no sure thing for Gov. Scott or Charlie Crist

A Quinnipiac poll released last week showing Gov. Rick Scott trailing Charlie Crist by 10 points, 48 to 38, offers fresh evidence that Florida’s voters are far from happy with the state’s chief executive and may be ready to make a change.

If Mr. Scott wants to turn those numbers around, he must at a minimum be aware of how he got into this fix. Part of it involves early blunders that plunged his approval rating to 29 percent at one point.

A political novice when he entered the race, his learning curve was long and steep, failing to reach out to Floridians beyond his own partisan, tea-party base and sometimes even disregarding the concerns of his party’s own leaders.

Thus, he unveiled his first budget in early 2011 before a highly partisan tea-party crowd in the small town of Eustis instead of Tallahassee, a harbinger of things to come. He even failed to consult his own party’s legislative leaders, who questioned the wisdom of cutting state revenue at a time when the state was facing a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion.

Many other decisions — including opposition to federal funds for a super-fast train and an unwillingness to set up a state health-insurance exchange — can only be explained by ideological preferences and a failure to seek consensus.

Lately, Mr. Scott has done better. The candidate who won the GOP primary in 2010 with a strong anti-immigrant stance has now recognized the value of reaching out to Hispanics and taking a softer position. Good for him. But the question is whether he has had a genuine change of heart or is simply seeking safe ground for the sake of political expediency. He agreed to allow Florida to take part in the Medicaid expansion portion of Obamacare — an unthinkable position for the Rick Scott who ran in 2010 — but he failed to lift a finger to get the Legislature to go along. It’s classic Gov. Scott.

Convincing voters that he can do better in serving all the voters of the state is Mr. Scott’s principal challenge, but this race is no sure thing for anyone.

And why is Charlie Crist in the race if he was so eager to trade Tallahassee for Washington, D.C., in 2010, when he ran for the U.S. Senate instead of seeking reelection? Then he switched from Republican to Independent — and now he’s a Democrat! Is he interested more in governing or in getting even with old foes in the Republican Party?

Mr. Crist is closer to Florida’s political center than Mr. Scott, but he’s nowhere near closing the sale. He demands to debate Gov. Scott, but won’t offer the same courtesy to state Sen. Nan Rich, the other Democrat in the race, whose underfinanced campaign is a long shot. At last report, Mr. Crist had raised $7.7 million, compared to her relatively paltry $540,000.

That says a lot about the viability of her candidacy, or lack of it. Where Sen. Rich is dead right, though, is in attacking Mr. Crist’s unwillingness to debate her. Mr. Crist should quit dodging. What’s he afraid of?

Gov. Scott lost ground in the first part of this year despite spending about $7 million in campaign ads in the past two months. Clearly, he has a lot of work to do if he expects to regain the trust of Floridians by Election Day in November.

It’s far too early to place bets. Election Day is exactly half a year away, giving Mr. Scott time to get out of trouble. He is going to have the biggest campaign chest, and the race will almost surely tighten, but both he and his challengers have to show Florida’s voters that they won’t disappoint once in office. And it’s time for Floridians to start paying attention to the race.

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