Holding our noses in race for governor

Remember the python in the Everglades that tried to swallow a gator? They wound up killing each other. Which brings us to the race for governor of the great state of Florida.

Unlike the match-up in the Everglades, however, there will be a winner in November’s election: Either Gov. Rick Scott will emerge victorious or former Gov. Charlie Crist will defeat him. It won’t be as deadly as the battle in the swamp, but it will be just as ugly.

Already, the people of this state are shaping up to be the ultimate losers.

A Quinnipiac poll of 991 likely voters released this week shows the incumbent, Mr. Scott, with 44 percent support; his Democratic challenger, Mr. Crist, with 42 percent; and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie at 8 percent. Factor in the 6 percent who were undecided, the 17 percent who said they still might change their minds and the margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, and the two main combatants are in a dead heat.

Unfortunately, the one thing that unites the Ds, the Rs and the undecideds is their distrust of both Mr. Scott and Mr. Crist. What a dismal way to enter office.

The contest, as seen in TV ads repeated ad nauseam, has all the intellectual appeal of a swamp fight between beasts of the lower orders. And Florida’s voters are disgusted. At the same time, and it’s baffling, they are falling prey to the very ads — spiteful, hostile — that so many of them decry.

And into this yawning gap step the candidates, time and again. Why do they rely on negative advertising? Because it works.

It’s pointless to yearn for the days when such ads didn’t dominate political campaigns. That ship sailed decades ago. But surely candidates can do better than the “Did so! Did not!” tone of the current race for governor. Friend of swindler Scott Rothstein! screams one of Mr. Scott’s broadsides against Mr. Crist. Liar, liar, can’t even vouch for your own signature on a piece of paper! replies Mr. Crist in his attack ad on Gov. Scott.

But it’s a winning strategy, unfortunately. Why bother to address the issues that matter most to the people Mr. Scott and Mr. Crist want to lead? There is no dearth of them, almost all having a direct impact on the quality life in this state: Are public schools doing better by our children? What’s the best way to insure those without health insurance? Are residents paying too much/not enough for windstorm insurance? What about combating climate change? Florida is poised to be swamped.

A Census Bureau report released last week found that the poverty level in Florida is 17 percent, and the median income is 40th in the nation, worse than when Mr. Scott took over. The Tampa/St Petersburg and Miami/Fort Lauderdale regions were among the worst metro areas in the country in terms of income.

Also, the report says that 20 percent of Floridians don’t have health insurance, the third worst rate in the nation after Nevada and Texas.

Have a defense, Mr. Scott? What’s your solution, Mr. Crist?

And how do they plan to rebuild the trust voters have lost? It’s not a state problem, it’s a nationwide pity. In Florida, Mr. Scott’s Office of Transparency has existed in name only, given his secret hunting trips and hiding the public’s business using personal e-mail accounts. For Mr. Crist’s part, his shift from Republican to independent to true-blue Democrat still looks to many like the politics of expedience rather than a deep and abiding evolution.

These are the real issues that the candidates aren’t addressing. Slinging mud is far easier — and so is, to their shame, splattering the voters while they wrestle in the swamp.