When a candidate loses an election, there’s a tendency to ask what could have been done differently. Coulda, woulda, shoulda is a natural part of the post-election period.
But when a candidate loses by a margin as tight as Charlie Crist fell short against Rick Scott — 48.2 to 47.1 percent — there’s an obligation to go beyond Monday morning quarterbacking.
Certainly, Crist’s loss can be boiled down to a flawed candidate, with much less money than his opponent, who failed to motivate enough of his base to turn out. But that overgeneralization does not tell the entire story of what went wrong for Crist.
Gov. Rick Scott was a flawed opponent, too. Crist raised a boatload of money for a Democrat and was actually out-raising Scott toward the end of the campaign. And in certain counties, Democratic voter turnout surpassed expectations.
In other words, this race could have easily gone the other way. Here are 16 factors that contributed to Crist’s loss — factors that could have been controlled for and have little to do with the 2014 election cycle being a part of a Republican wave.
1. Crist’s “lost November” — The decision by Crist to announce his campaign on November 4, 2013 (a personal one made by Crist who liked the idea of launching one year before the election) set him up for a lackluster start. Coming a few weeks before Thanksgiving and the rest of the holidays — when people are more likely to talk about hanging Christmas lights than donate to a political campaign — led to Crist posting an underwhelming first fundraising report. Besides fundraising, Crist’s campaign appeared as if he had just decided that week to run for governor. Key staff was not in place. His website was just a page or two. Had Crist really been thinking about running since losing in 2010 or was he flying by the seat of his pants?
2. No follow-up to his launch — While Crist’s announcement event was a success and made for some excellent B-roll, it was not followed up with a rollout of endorsements or statewide tour or much of anything. One Crist insider tells me former President Bill Clinton was slated to endorse Crist at a rally in Miami, but that never materialized. Even if Clinton wasn’t coming, Crist should have launched his campaign by barnstorming the state.
3. Freakin’ Bill Hyres — It’s still not clear why the New York political wunderkind, fresh off his win for Bill de Blasio, never made his way to Florida to manage Crist’s campaign. (Speculation is that Hyres’ hire was undone by Carole Crist.) But the entire affair damaged Crist just as he was trying to get out of the gate. From start to finish, Crist’s staffing decisions were odd. Yes, Omar Khan turned out to be a workhorse for Crist, but did he really have enough experience and stature to go up against the sluggers’ row at the Florida GOP? I almost laughed when a spokesperson said Crist had brought together a “dream team of talent.” P.S. Why didn’t Cristworld put top Florida Democrats Ashley Walker, Steve Vancore, or Screven Watson to work?
4. What exactly did Jim Messina do for Crist for that $25,000 a month check, other than give Crist the imprimatur of being close to Barack Obama? — Supposedly that was the worst thing a candidate could do this election cycle.
5. The gay community sat on its hands — Want to know why there was less enthusiasm for Crist with the traditional Democratic base? You have to remember that Crist supported the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. To the LGBT community, this is akin to supporting Jim Crow laws. Yes, Crist evolved on this issue and he did receive some support from the gay community, but he never became a cause du jour for national gay rights organizations.
6. Where was the policy beef? Believe it or not, Crist’s most policy-oriented speech was his announcement speech. What does that say? Crist’s entire campaign was predicated on the fact that he wasn’t Rick Scott. That just isn’t enough. In fact, it was as if Crist had learned nothing from his 2010 drubbing by Marco Rubio. Crist 2.0 was really no different than the original version.
6a. Cuba — Crist’s idea to visit Castroworld after he ad libbed a call to end the embargo against Cuba during an appearance on Bill Mahr’s show turned out to be an epic unforced error. Crist ended up banging the beehive of Cuban Republicans who had yet to fully embrace Scott, while getting nothing in return (except a few pissed off donors like David Straz). No wonder Crist underperformed in Miami-Dade.
7. Crist’s Democratic staff hated Republicans and pretty much anyone not from Obamaworld — One of the untold stories of the Crist campaign was the disconnect between many of Crist’s Obamaworld staffers and his decades-long band of followers, many of whom were Independents and Republicans. For example, for whatever reason, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano was not deployed until late in the campaign. In fact, he had to reach out to the campaign to get plugged in. And Fasano was not the only longtime Crist supporter left shaking his head and wondering, “Who are these kids? And do they know there is life beyond the spreadsheets?”
8. Bill Nelson — The U.S. senator’s playing coy with the press corps about whether he would have to jump into the gubernatorial race if Crist for some reason faltered gave several big-money Democratic activists and donors an excuse to stay on the sidelines. It wasn’t until June, when candidate qualifying officially closed, that the door was closed on a “Nelson for Guv” campaign. For Crist to have beaten Scott, he needed Nelson to have draped his arm around him in January/February and said, “This is our guy!”
9. The non-nationalization of this race — Crist vs. Scott was the most expensive race of the midterm elections, but U.S. Senate races in Iowa, North Carolina, and Arkansas seemed to get more attention from the national media, which still has not figured out the Chinatown of Florida politics. It was a race rarely mentioned in the morning tout sheets, like POLITICO Playbook. It wasn’t argued about on cable news. It wasn’t mentioned on the Sunday political shows. Sure, a few big-name national Dems came to the state, but Florida’s governor’s race never became the proxy fight it needed to be for Crist.
10. Annette Taddeo — Crist’s choice for lieutenant governor, coming out of left field, did nothing for his campaign, except show again that the campaign had issues with a major rollout. Obviously, Dan Gelber would have been a better, more serious choice. I guess Taddeo did no harm (the first rule of running-mate picks) but she failed to excite non-Cuban Hispanics either, as was argued her selection would. At the end of the day, Taddeo was an uninspiring, pandering choice. (And don’t get started about Taddeo’s camp complaining, Sarah Palin style, that her name was not featured enough in campaign materials.)
11. Nan Rich — Few factors contributed to Crist losing as much as Rich’s Quixotic campaign. With the former state senator in the race, liberal activists — those so key to a strong November turnout of the base — either sat on their hands or backed Rich out of principle, even if she had no conceivable chance of beating Crist. The constant drumbeat of calls for Crist to debate Rich was a gnawing distraction that undercut Crist’s credibility.
12. South Florida Democrats — They’re as unreliable as a broken watch.
13. Big city mayors — Bob Buckhorn, Alvin Brown, and Buddy Dyer did not lift a finger for their fellow Democrat. Instead, they couldn’t try harder to get photographed at yet another Rick Scott ribbon-cutting. Buckhorn waited about 14 hours before putting himself up as a contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination.
14. That logo! What was wrong with sans-serif italics of campaigns past? That logo can still be seen on faded bumper stickers throughout the state. I know, I know, I’m grasping at straws, but I didn’t like the logo when I first saw and said so. It’s cathartic to finally be able to bitch about that cookie-cutter design that looked very similar to so many other looks for other Democratic campaigns.
15. Rick Scott’s checkbook — With 10 days to go, Crist was up three points. Scott reached into his pocket and dropped eight figures of hurt on Scott’s head. Crist nosedived in the final round of polls after clawing his way through the early and absentee voting period.
16. The decision to not let Barack Obama campaign for Crist — At the end, Crist’s unfavorable ratings were already sky high, so what damage could have been done to invite President Obama to campaign with him in black communities, like those in Duval County.