Charlie Crist had one of the best weeks of the gubernatorial race after picking a widely admired running mate, Annette Taddeo, Miami-Dade County’s Democratic leader.
And Gov. Rick Scott, called out by TV stations across Florida and the nation for serial non-answers and question-dodging, had one of the toughest stretches ever.
But don’t let the coverage fool you. Crist has serious trouble on his hands.
He knows it. Crist’s admittedly “unorthodox” early pick of Taddeo — 40 days before the primary against Democrat Nan Rich — shows it.
And beyond the horse-race headlines and the tragi-comic TV images of an odd-gazing Scott murmuring poll-tested platitudes (“I’m against discrimination”), Scott has numerous advantages.
“One number should worry you: $70 million. That’s how much Rick Scott spent in 2010,” Taddeo told Democrats in January, underestimating the Republican’s personal $75.1 million in spending when he was first elected in 2010.
Scott has a number of other numbers on his side:
Campaign cash: Personal wealth aside, Scott’s campaign and political committees have raised almost $24 million and spent $22 million since Crist entered the race in November. Crist’s committees have raised almost $14.4 million and spent about $3.6 million. Scott’s committees also have $7.9 million more in the bank than Crist because of the $17 million Scott had in the bank when Crist announced his candidacy. State and national parties are chipping in millions more, but the Republicans have the advantage there as well.
Government cash: Crist presided over a bust of an economy. Scott governed at the boom. Campaigning in 2010 as a spending-cutter, Scott made relatively small vetoes of $69 million to keep the $77.1 state budget historically fat. Scott partly campaigns on spending, and boasted last week, for instance, of approving $100 million to fix leaky Florida Keys sewers under a program that Crist didn’t fund.
Polls: Scott led by an inside-the-error-margin amount of 2 percentage points in the most recent poll, released July 3 by Tampa’s WFLA by SurveyUSA. Scott’s 45-43 percent lead is a net change in his favor of 7 points since April, when the same pollster showed Scott trailing Crist 41-46 percent. Other polls in late spring also showed Scott gaining.
Ads: Scott’s improved standing owes much to his TV ads. They basically buy votes in a state as big as Florida. About the time of SurveyUSA’s poll, Scott had run $14 million in ads and had paid for about $1 million more to run by month’s end. Compared to Scott’s $15 million, Crist had spent nothing until he announced his first ad after the July 4 holiday, buying $576,000 in time. By that point, the Florida Democratic Party was worried about the trend, and was about halfway through a nearly $2 million July ad-buy bashing Scott.
Meanwhile, a shadowy outside-Florida group called Progressive Choice spent $185,000 in media buys trashing Crist. And the Republican Party in early July had put in just more than $1 million — an amount that has likely grown by hundreds of thousands now.
Voters: Active registered Republican voters are closing the gap with Democrats, who outnumber the GOP by about 39-35 percent. The Democrats’ 3.9 percentage-point advantage is a net loss since 2010 and 2012, when they respectively outnumbered the GOP by 4.5 and 5.3 percentage points. It’s not as if the GOP is really gaining — the major voter-roll growth is among independent voters affiliated with no party or a third party. Independents are unreliable, consistently failing to vote in percentages relative to their size (about a quarter of the voter rolls).
By contrast, Republicans over-perform. They cast about 44 percent and 39 percent of the respective ballots in the 2010 and 2012 races — even though they accounted for just 36 percent of the voter rolls in each of those elections. So relative to registration, GOP voters over-performed by 8 and 3.3 percentage points. Democrats under-performed in 2010 by minus-2 percentage points, and barely over-performed by 0.3 percentage points two years later — a serious challenge to President Barack Obama’s vaunted ground-game, which Crist wants to replicate (Note: a since-reversed law Scott signed likely dampened turnout in 2012, especially in minority areas.).
Race: Non-Hispanic whites are the most-consistent voters. And they form the base of the Florida GOP. Republican rolls are 84 percent white in a state where they comprise 78 percent of the population.
Blacks account for less than 1 percent of the GOP rolls and 28 percent of the Democratic Party’s rolls. Crist needs strong black turnout. But, though he opened a well-attended Liberty City field office, there are questions about his level of African American support, especially after the shadowy Progressive Choice is reaching out to black voters to trash Crist.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic, but the least-reliable to vote. About 14 percent of Florida voters are Hispanic, and they’re 13 and 11 percent of the Democrats’ and Republicans’ voter rolls.
Scott’s decision to pick running mate Carlos-Lopez Cantera, a Cuban American former Miami-Dade property appraiser, factored into Crist’s pick of Taddeo, bilingual like the current lieutenant governor who has been trashing Crist with little pushback on Spanish media.
The economy: Friday brought news that the state added 37,400 private-sector jobs in a month. Under Scott, the state has added more than 620,000 private-sector jobs, compared to the nearly 820,000 private-sector jobs lost during Crist’s term, which ended 2010. The unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, compared to a peak of 11.4 percent under Crist in 2010.
The numbers reinforce Scott’s campaign promise that he would create 700,000 new private-sector jobs.
Yes, Scott has flip-flopped on the figuring of his figures. He’s now taking credit for every single private-sector job created (he originally said the 700,000 would be on top of forecast job growth). And yes, governors also have a limited impact on Florida’s economy, which is tethered in great part to the nation’s.
But details like that don’t matter in the message-marketing of major political campaigns. They’re all about digestible numbers. Bumper stickers.
In a hard-hitting video montage on Fox-13 in Tampa, political editor Craig Patrick documented last week how Scott pivots from nearly any question to talk about jobs. Scott won’t talk about the minimum wage. Nor about the Scott campaign’s alleged role in tricking Tampa Bay-area cops to recently and unlawfully attend a reelection rally for the governor.
The painful video footage of Scott slipping reporters’ questions about the cop controversy made it Tuesday to Anderson Cooper’s CNN show, which mocked Scott on its ‘Ridiculist’ segment. Cooper said the governor gave a “master-class” in avoidance, “saying a whole bunch of stuff without ever, ever answering the question — no matter how many times the question is asked.”
“What the hell were we talking about?" Cooper said in summation after playing Scott’s non-answers.
On Friday, WPLG-ABC 10’s Michael Putney tried (and failed like everyone else) to get a direct response out of Scott regarding a Keys judge’s ruling the day before to invalidate the 2008 voter-approved state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Scott bobbed and weaved like a boxer. Then he threw his right cross.
“Let’s talk about jobs – 37,000 jobs in a month! It’s the biggest jump! Michael! Michael! This is our biggest month since I got elected,” Scott said. “We’re over 620,000 jobs [created]. When I ran in 2010, I said seven steps to 700,000 jobs over seven years. And a lot of people questioned whether we could do that. . . . I just still think about my dad, watching his face when the only car we had got repossessed. That’s what I want to help with.”
In doing so, Scott is only helping his campaign, though there are limits. It’s unclear whether Scott is undermining his TV ad buys now that the TV news is exposing how Scott dodges.
If it continues, Crist doesn’t really need the buzz of Taddeo’s pick. He just needs Scott to self-inflict more wounds week after week.