Politics

Marc Caputo: Florida Democrats’ biggest problem is ... Florida Democrats

 

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Look in the mirror, Democrats.

You’re the reason Charlie Crist could easily lose against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

If that happens, don’t blame Crist. Don’t blame Scott and his millions. Don’t blame voter suppression.

In midterm after midterm after midterm after midterm, Democrats have done an extraordinary job of suppressing (more like repressing, in a psychoanalytic sense) their own vote. Florida Democrats excel at being mediocre stewards of democracy when there’s a governor’s race.

That’s doubly true if you’re a South Florida Democrat.

Look no further than the Tuesday primary.

Fewer than 840,000 of nearly 4.6 million registered Democrats cast their ballots in the primary — an 18.2 percent turnout — in which Crist beat longtime Democrat Nan Rich by a whopping 48.7 percentage points.

After the win, SurveyUSA’s tracking poll for WFLA-Tampa indicated Crist moved marginally ahead of Scott, 45-43 percent. That’s essentially a tie, with Libertarian Adrian Wyllie pulling 4 percent of the vote.

The numbers should give comfort to the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, though Rich was largely unknown to the broader electorate.

“We feel good about where we are,” said Crist adviser Dan Gelber, a former state senator and 2010 candidate for attorney general.

“We had about as many Democrats vote in the 2010 primary as voted Tuesday,” he said. “It’s not that far off.”

Yes. But in the 2010 general election, Democrat Alex Sink went on to lose to Scott. Had the Democrat-rich counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach just voted at the statewide average in that race, Sink probably would have won.

So what did Southeast Florida do on Tuesday? Stayed home, by and large. Overall turnout was abysmal in Miami-Dade (14 percent), Broward (11 percent) and Palm Beach (13 percent).

Yikes. No wonder former President Bill Clinton, the most popular living ex-president, is coming Friday to Miami for Crist. His wife, 2016 presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and President Barack Obama can’t be far behind.

Crist needs all the Democratic buzz he can muster.

The primary turnout numbers look even worse for Crist when compared to the turnout in the GOP gubernatorial primary. It was even less of an event than the Democratic race. About 950,000 ballots were cast of the 4.1 million registered Republicans, making GOP turnout 23 percent — 4.8 percentage points higher than the Democrats’.

“Republicans turned out organically to reelect Gov. Scott,” the Scott campaign’s deputy manager, Tim Saler, wrote in a memo released to the media, “while the Crist campaign spent precious dollars trying to coax Democrats to vote — and the Crist campaign still failed.”

Well, not quite.

While it’s true that Crist did some pre-primary stumping, Crist’s campaign has remained focused on the general election almost as much as Scott’s has. And the level of Republican enthusiasm for Scott is debatable.

Compared to Democrats, Republicans had 19 more races for state House, state Senate and Congress combined on Tuesday’s ballot. That drove turnout.

Not only did the total ballots cast for the Republican candidates in the state House, state Senate and congressional races exceed the total ballots cast by Democrats — the margin between Republican and Democratic ballots in each type of legislative race exceeded the Republican-over-Democratic margin in the governor’s race.

That indicates thousands of Republicans were more fired up for their local candidates than for Scott, who didn’t have a true primary challenger of note.

Scott’s reelection effort has been organizing for about a year, reaching out to Republican voters and spending as much as $24 million on TV since November — up to half of it trained on Crist.

Crist is firing back in his own spots, and is going negative as well.

But that’s a Catch-22 for Crist: Negative ads help depress turnout. Smaller turnout usually favors Republicans.

Crist’s campaign is stocked with campaign hands from Obama’s elections. They’re skilled at talking about data, metrics and organizing. Whether they can make it all work without Obama on the ticket is a big question mark.

The Democratic Party hasn’t won a governor’s race in Florida since 1994.

In the two most recent governor’s races, in 2010 and 2006, Republican turnout overall has exceeded Democratic turnout, even though there are more registered Democrats (the margin is about 455,000 right now, or about 3.8 percentage points).

That’s why the governor and Florida Cabinet are all Republicans. And it’s one reason why the Legislature is dominated by the GOP.

More voters mean more wins.

Scott’s narrow 2010 victory was evidence of that, and it had clear consequences for Democrats in 2012. Then, the governor refused to issue an executive order to keep early voting sites open for a longer period of time due to long lines at the polls. Democrats in Florida, especially African Americans, favor early voting.

It was a clear contrast with then-Gov. Crist, who in 2008 issued an executive order that kept early voting stations open longer due to the lines. Democrats were as grateful then with the Republican Crist as they were upset with voter suppression and Scott in 2012.

But in both cases, Florida Democrats allowed their elections’ machinery to be run by Republican administrations.

As Obama once said: “Elections have consequences.”

So do staying home and cooking up excuses instead of voting.

Read more Marc Caputo stories from the Miami Herald

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