Nasty and expensive

Welcome to the fight. With primary opponents disposed of, the stage is now set for what some are anticipating will be Florida’s most expensive — and nastiest — gubernatorial race ever.

The race is so close, only one or two percentage points separated the candidates as of last week.

One Miami-Dade pollster, not involved in the race, told the Editorial Board: “It will be close and nasty. And a virtual race … to the bottom. Each candidate will be trying to prove to voters that he’s not as bad as the other guy,” said Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Amandi International. The gloves will come off, but Floridians will be the innocent bystanders who get pummeled, unfortunately.

In the primary, Mr. Crist, a former Republican — and former governor, state attorney general, education commissioner and state senator from St. Petersburg — easily defeated Nan Rich by a margin of 74 to 26 percentage points. But can Mr. Crist excite the Democratic Party? Although Democrats edge Republicans by 486,000 in the state, their apathy would prove fatal in November.

True, the state’s Republican base is shrinking and growing whiter. There’s one advantage, though, to that lack of diversity during a mid-term election: They vote far more often and in bigger proportions than minorities. Mr. Scott won the primary easily with 87 percent of the vote over two unknown opponents.

Both Mr. Crist and Mr. Scott have Hispanic running mates, positioned to help them with that demographic, especially in South Florida. Scott has Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Mr. Crist has Annette Taddeo. Both are expected to hit the campaign trail.

Mr. Crist focuses on a populist message aimed at the hard-hit middle class, while Mr. Scott repeats his accusation that Mr. Crist was responsible for economic losses in Florida during the 2008 downturn, saying 800,000 jobs were lost under his watch.

Mr. Crist entered the race last fall with a double-digit lead in the polls, but it’s disappeared, buried under an avalanche of Mr. Scott’s attack ads and eroded by his own missteps.

About $30 million has already been spent on attack ads, with millions more to go. Negative ads are likely to quadruple. Within hours of the primary’s end Tuesday, Mr. Scott’s TV ads lasered in on Mr. Crist’s connections to convicted Broward Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, who swindled investors out of millions. Through the haze of negativity, though, it’s imperative that the candidates focus on the challenges facing Florida. They owe the voters that much. Here are three key issues:

• The economy: Mr. Scott has definitely helped Florida’s economy rebound from the dark days of 2008. He has created jobs, though maybe not as many as he claims. Mr. Crist will have to show that he’s big on business, understands its needs and can keep business in growth mode.

• Education: Gov. Scott initially slashed public school funding, but in recent years has restored some of the cuts. And he hit a sour note with Common Core. Mr. Crist is seen as a softer touch on public education — a point in his favor — but needs to remember that advances in teacher accountability should remain in place.

• Taxes: Mr. Scott’s most ambitious proposal is a constitutional amendment to prevent property-tax increases on homesteaded property if a home’s value stays level or goes down. Mr. Crist will have a hard time matching such a campaign promise.

Brace yourselves, Floridians. How nasty will it get? Very.