Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: A debate with only one question worth asking

Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor of Florida, left, and Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, right, prepare to leave after a gubernatorial debate at the Spanish-language network Telemundo 51, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, in Miramar, Fla. This is the first of three debates before the November election.
Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor of Florida, left, and Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, right, prepare to leave after a gubernatorial debate at the Spanish-language network Telemundo 51, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, in Miramar, Fla. This is the first of three debates before the November election. AP

Here's a question for the derisive and quarrelsome little boys who would be governor (again): What the hell?

With a few follow-up queries. What about us? What about the beat-down, discouraged, ad-weary voters your fetid campaign tactics have reduced to post-apocalyptic zombies, more inclined to stay home and plunge sharpened pencils into our eyeballs on election day than slouch to the polls?

Someone will no doubt pose tepid questions about the “negative tone” of their respective campaigns when the gubernatorial candidates debate at Broward College Wednesday night. Which would not be unlike asking Boko Haram and ISIS about their public relations strategies. Negativity isn't just the tone in this election. It's all there is.

It hasn’t been a “vote for me” campaign. It's whatever you do, if you love your children, for the sake of the Florida economy, or maybe the human race, don't vote for that bigger-sleaze-than-me.

Both candidates will scrounge up empty justifications, though at last week's debate staged for Spanish-language viewers on Telemundo, Gov. Rick Scott had to be pressed into a response. “I think what happens is, you know, people talk about what the other person has done and there’s a contrast,” he finally answered. Of course, it's not “people” talking on these ads. It's his very own hired maestros of nastiness.

Scott then added, “My opponent is a mudslinger. That's what he does,” answering a question about mudslinging by slinging mud about his opponent's mudslinging ways. Which captured the essence of this nasty campaign.

My Herald colleague Marc Caputo reports that Scott and his surrogates have spent about $51 million on mostly denigrating TV ads, Charlie Crist's camp about $21 million. (Caputo reported that in a nine-week stretch, likely voters in Florida were slammed with 2.1 million ads vilifying Crist and 1.7 million ads maligning Scott.)

That adds up to $72 million worth of head-twirling Exorcist-style vomit spewing out of our televisions, meant to convince the world that one or the other of the two men who've occupied the governor's mansion over these last eight years is too corrupt, uncaring, immoral or inept to be trusted.

The cynicism seems to be working. Polling indicates that Scott, with his financial advantage, has managed to destroy the considerable advantage the once vaguely likable Crist held in the amorphous category of “favorability.” Scott never had far to fall. Republican pollster McLaughlin & Associates reports that both men’s unfavorable ratings are 5 to 6 percent higher than their favorable ratings.

In July, as this gutter trend was picking up momentum, the number-crunching sports-and-politics website FiveThirtyEight warned that Florida's mutually besmirching candidates were “teetering on becoming the least-liked pair of candidates for any governor’s race in the past 10 years.”

By now, they've teetered over.

They've spent $72 million turning citizens into cynics, with no reason to vote, no reason to believe in the democratic process, no reason to have faith in government.

Which leads to the only question worth asking about this inglorious election: Is winning more important than governing?

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