The Herald recommends, for Governor, Democratic primary

OUR OPINION: For Governor, Democratic primary

08/16/2014 4:00 PM

09/17/2014 3:26 PM

Democrats torn over whom to vote for in the primary race for governor have to ask themselves one question: Who would make the most effective candidate against incumbent Gov. Rick Scott?

Broward County’s Nan Rich can claim to be the better Democrat in the race. She served in the Legislature for 12 years, the last two as Senate minority leader from 2010 to 2012 at a time when Democrats were fighting to stay relevant in GOP-dominated Tallahassee. Mr. Crist was the sitting Republican governor during part of that period, before he made the mistake of jumping into the race for an open U.S. Senate seat that he failed to win after getting clobbered by the right.

The test, however, should not be who boasts the finest party pedigree, but who has the name recognition, the campaign chest and the right résumé to wage the strongest campaign against the well-heeled Scott organization. The former governor outpaces his primary opponent in all those categories.

Mr. Crist leads in fund-raising, by a margin of roughly 20 to 1. And while he is running neck and neck with Gov. Scott in the polls, Ms. Rich trails the incumbent by a significant margin.

As leader of a badly outnumbered Democratic minority (28 to 12), Sen. Rich managed to win some surprising victories in the Capitol, like defeating a Scott-backed prison privatization bill. Credit her legislative skill and ability to reach across the aisle. But Mr. Crist has the edge when it comes to overall experience in government. He has served not only in the Legislature, but also as education commissioner, attorney general, and governor.

To a degree, Mr. Crist’s decision to switch parties reflects pure political calculation. But Florida’s Republican Party has swung so far to the right it can’t even accept billions in badly needed Medicaid funding because the money comes from Washington. Mr. Crist has rightly determined that the party is no longer the natural home for anyone with his moderate outlook.

On many issues, his position aligns with traditional Democratic policies. Early in his gubernatorial tenure he made it easier for former felons to regain their voting rights. He ordered polling places to remain open beyond closing time in 2008 because of long lines, and capped soaring insurance rates for homeowners. He has a strong pro-environmental record, and never hesitated to invest in education. The amount of money spent per public school pupil during his tenure reached a high point that has yet to be equaled. Many of these policies were reversed under Gov. Scott.

Mr. Crist has switched positions on a variety of topics, many of them social issues like gay marriage. He now opposes the state’s ban. But he was never among the most strident voices in the party. “I am personally pro-life,” he told the Editorial Board, “but I have never interfered with a woman’s right to choose.”

If elected, Mr. Crist told the Board, he would ask the Obama administration to re-offer the funding for high-speed rail that Mr. Scott and the Republicans turned down. He would also wage a fight to obtain the Medicaid funds the state’s Republican leadership has rejected, even without approval of the Legislature. “It’s worth a try,” he told the Editorial Board.

For Democrats eager to see one of their own become the first Democrat since 1994 to win a governor’s race in Florida, Mr. Crist is the best choice. He can restore a sense of balance in Tallahassee and champion traditional Democratic values. For the position of governor in the Democratic primary, the Miami Herald recommends CHARLIE CRIST.

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