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:
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.
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.).
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 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.