Undeclared candidate Charlie Crist is riding a wave of daily media coverage, positively speculating on his eventual run as a freshly minted Democrat who is ready to claim victory over the unpopular, unlikeable and unfavorable incumbent, Rick Scott.
A recent Quinnipiac poll has Crist with a 10 point lead over Scott in the race for Governor. That’s impressive given he hasn’t raised or spent an official dime campaigning. It gets better for Crist when you factor in the financial backing and party influence of wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan, the political chits Crist has earned campaigning for President Obama, and running against an incumbent who is considered one of the most unpopular governors in the nation.
By all accounts, Charlie Crist is positioned to win the race, which is why I believe he is at risk of losing it 15 months from now. At this juncture of the election cycle, I see too many similarities with the fabled story known as The Tortoise and the Hare.
In the fable, the faster, overly confident hare has such a commanding lead over the slower, labored tortoise that the hare decides to nap halfway through the race. When the hare finally awakens, he is surprised to discover the tortoise has passed him to the point where the hare loses the race.
There are signs that Scott is gaining momentum and positioning his campaign to beat Crist to the finish line.
In March, Quinnipiac had Crist beating Scott by 16 points, but now it’s barely double digits. Coincidently, Governor Scott has recently seen his highest approval ratings since May of 2011, when it was at 29 percent. His political committee Let’s Get to Work has raised $14 million since he relaunched it two years ago.
True, there’s 15 months to go and Crist is one of the best politicians this state has ever seen, but so does Governor Scott and time appears to be on his side.
Recently, Governor Scott cited a Moody’s Investor’s Service report, indicating that Florida’s job growth is expected to exceed the national average through to 2017. In June, the unemployment rate remained at 7.1 percent.
That’s problematic for Crist given in December 2010, the month before he left the governor’s mansion, Florida’s unemployment rate was over 11 percent. He could take a page out of Obama’s playbook by blaming President Bush, but there’s plenty of video showing then Republican Governor Crist praising Bush. Moreover, Crist cannot blame President Obama for the high unemployment.
So every month leading up to Election Day, voters will see an improving economy and that Governor Scott kept his promise in creating more jobs in Florida. And voters are taking notice.
The same poll that showed Scott’s approval numbers climbing also showed a growing number of Florida voters saying the economy was getting better. Among those who were surveyed a seeing the economy improving, 82 percent gave Scott credit, while 65 percent gave some credit to President Obama.
Moreover, President Obama could weigh Crist down. The President’s approval ratings in Florida have dropped below 50 percent due to the scandals spanning the IRS, NSA, Benghazi and the wiretapping of news agencies. ObamaCare is also appearing to become a political liability.
How helpful will Obama be to Crist going into 2014 remains to be seen.
The political news of the year so far is Governor Scott’s move to the center supporting Medicaid Expansion, passing teacher’s raises, and increasing K-12 funding. This is a sign of political maturity and it’s beginning to pay off.
This past week, the Democratic Party of Florida was peeved at teachers who provided Governor Scott video testimonials publically praising Scott as “visionary”, “brilliant businessman” and “he listens to us.”
Scotts move to the center will help him attract independent voters, which Crist currently leads by 45 percent to 33 percent. However, Crist cannot be too overconfident with independents. When Crist left office, Public Policy Polling reported that Crist had the highest favorable rating among independents at 70 percent, so switching parties has hurt him.
Last month, The Tampa Bay Times did a Florida Insider’s Poll of political thought leaders from both parties. About 51 percent of insiders polled believe Rick Scott will win in a close race. Just two months earlier, the Times poll showed 60 percent of insiders thought Scott would lose.
These insiders know that Charlie Crist is facing two political campaigns, which will weigh him down. The first will be a surging Governor Scott who has one more year of campaigning as an incumbent.
Second, the new Charlie Crist will be running against the old Charlie Crist. He needs to overcome his past so he can discuss his vision for Florida’s future. How is he going to improve the economy for the “Middle Class” when Floridian’s are better off now than when they were when he was in office?
Crist is very vulnerable to attacks from opponents in both parties. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a political ad using the great English rock band, The Who and the song, Won’t Be Fooled Again, echoing the memorable line, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Right now, Crist is a media sensation filling the void of a slow, summer news cycle, but he can no longer afford to squander time, which is running out.
If he is going to make a serious run for governor, he needs to get on the campaign trail as an official candidate to establish his new narrative and identity.
Otherwise, he will find himself running for office from behind and losing by more than a hare.
Patrick Slevin is an accomplished communications strategist, media consultant and political analyst who lives in Tallahassee. Florida. He’s recognized as a political “Mover & Shaker” by Campaigns & Elections Magazine. In 1996, Patrick became the youngest Republican mayor in the nation when he was elected mayor of Safety Harbor, Florida at 27. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org