Miami Herald: In Florida governor's race, all signs point to rough ride ahead

November 12, 2013 

Governor's Race Crist

Former Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist gestures during a campaign rally Nov. 4 in St. Petersburg. ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHRIS O'MEARA — AP

Almost as soon as former Gov. Charlie Crist made his expected announcement last week that he intends to run for his old seat in 2014, negative ads against him started popping up on television.

Welcome to Election Year 2014. It's going to be a rough and mud-spattered ride.

By now, most voters are resigned to the sad reality that negative campaigns are a driving force in most races.

This time around it's starting far earlier than usual, with the promise of lots more to come.

Gov. Rick Scott plans to spend upward of $100 million through his political campaign committee to retain his seat.

Considering that Scott won his own primary in 2010 by using his personal fortune to finance attack ads portraying conservative former Attorney Gen. Bill McCollum as a liberal, negative campaigning is likely to overshadow the real issues.

No doubt, Crist's changing political affiliations and policy positions are an irresistible target. Compared to Florida's ex-governor, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney seems like a pillar of consistency.

Crist will have to work hard to persuade skeptics that his convictions are something other than a matter of political convenience.

But Crist's jump to the Democratic Party is no sudden conversion. As governor he often took populist positions that Democrats and independents favored.

He expanded early voting in 2008 when lines in urban areas grew too long, for example, and lifted the voting ban on nonviolent ex-felons -- in both cases, a marked contrast with Scott's own record.

Crist's agenda as governor also steered clear of conservative social issues such as abortion. He vetoed a bill requiring ultrasounds for women seeking abortion, angering Republican lawmakers.

For Democrats, the question is not whether Crist is an opportunist -- of course he is -- but why a former Republican is considered the leading figure in the party primary.

Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Broward County, a lifelong Democrat, is also in the race, but she has had trouble gaining traction. Crist seized the opportunity because it was so obviously there.

The last time Crist's name appeared on the ballot, in 2010, the Democratic candidate (for the U.S. Senate) gained only 20 percent of the votes, coming in third behind the winner, now-Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Crist, running as an independent. And this in a state in which Democrats lead both Republicans and independents in terms of registration.

The party clearly needs a new generation of leaders with wider electoral appeal.

Still, politics matters less than the issues. Gov. Scott and the eventual winner of the Democratic primary will likely have diametrically opposed positions on the major issues facing the state, such as:

• What to do about the 1 million people left without health insurance because the state would not accept expanded Medicaid funding from the federal government.

• Scott's purge of voter rolls, a gimmick designed to discourage turnout among minorities.

• The Scott-supported decision by the Legislature in 2011 to dismantle the Department of Community Affairs and repeal other environmental protection laws that negatively affect Florida.

These and other major issues -- like the crucial need for better protection for children under state supervision -- will determine the future of Florida and the well-being of its 19 million residents.

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