Five things to watch in the primary

08/25/2014 5:28 PM

08/25/2014 5:51 PM

Tuesday’s statewide primary election may feel like a warm-up act for the main event: a November showdown between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his leading Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist. But even if turnout is as low as expected, important trends will hint at where things are heading for the general election. Here is a guide to five things that will be of primary importance on Tuesday.

SCOTT’S VICTORY MARGIN

Unlike his bruising 2010 primary battle with Bill McCollum that produced a narrow victory, Scott’s path to the Republican nomination is a breeze this time. He faces two opponents, Yinka Abosede Adeshina and Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, who are so obscure that any votes they get could only be interpreted as shunning Scott. It likely will not amount to much, but it will be interesting to see if Scott’s percentage is lower in counties where some of his policies are less popular with the party base, such as in the Panhandle, where opposition is stronger to Scott’s support for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

CRIST CAN’T CRUISE

Charlie Crist’s debut on a Democratic Party ballot should deliver a decisive victory over former state Sen. Nan Rich, thanks to his enormous advantages in name recognition and money. But expectations for Rich are so low that if she gets, say, 30 percent of the Democratic vote, it will be viewed by Republicans and the media as evidence of a lack of enthusiasm for Crist. Even if Crist wins in a blowout, he’ll discover Wednesday, after ignoring Rich for 10 months, that he will suddenly need her endorsement and wholehearted support. One reason Democrats have a dismal record in statewide elections: They remain splintered. When they’re not united, they have almost no hope of victory.

WILL DEMOCRATS VOTE?

One-third of all Florida Democrats live in South Florida, and in the last midterm primary in 2010, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties lagged far behind the rest of the state in turnout. Broward is the worst of the bunch and is home to the second-highest number of registered Democrats. Four years ago, 15 percent of Broward voters showed up for the primary, the second-worst showing of any county (the statewide turnout was 22 percent). This time, Crist has made Broward the epicenter of his ground game and his opponent, Rich, is from Broward, which should boost turnout. If it’s no better than four years ago, it will signal a lack of enthusiasm — an ominous sign heading into November.

CHOOSING BONDI’S CHALLENGER

The only statewide race with any suspense is the Democratic primary for attorney general, with the winner to face Republican Pam Bondi in November. George Sheldon, a Plant City native who served in the Legislature decades ago and most recently was deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, faces state Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, the outgoing House minority leader. Both Democrats have struggled to attract voters’ attention and either faces a difficult fight against Bondi, a well-financed incumbent. As an African American, Thurston could help energize black voters, a group critical to the party’s hopes of regaining the Governor’s Mansion.

MORE BALLOTS SHOULD COUNT

After years of being accused by Democrats of trying to suppress turnout, Republican legislators have taken recent steps to make voting easier. Counties can offer up to 14 days of early voting, including on the Sunday before the election. The expanded use of electronic poll books to verify IDs should reduce the number of provisional ballots because the devices allow instant updating of voters’ address changes. For the first time in a statewide election, voters who forgot to sign absentee ballot envelopes could cure the problem if they filled out an affidavit and provided proof of ID by 5 p.m. Monday. In past elections, unsigned absentee ballot envelopes were not counted.

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