Charlie Crist’s difficult June was capped off by a highly critical column from Tim Nickens, the editor of the Tampa Bay Times editorial page.
“As we head into July, the race appears essentially tied and Charlie Crist is not maximizing his greatest assets as the likeable guy who understands Floridians and their priorities,” writes Nickens. “Instead, the Republican-turned-Democrat is uncharacteristically committing too many unforced errors.”
Oftentimes, this blog has been the most pointed critic of Crist’s unforced errors, despite this author’s belief that Crist is the best candidate for governor and our family’s relationship with Charlie and Carole Crist.
It’s been extraordinarily frustrating to watch Crist’s double-digit lead evaporate — and not just because Rick Scott and the Republicans have hammered him with several million dollars worth of negative TV ads. If that were the sole reason for the tightening of the race — and it’s not — that still would not matter.
Don’t like that your opponent is spending so much money on attack ads? Then raise more money. Spend your money earlier. Do whatever you have to do.
But complaining about the other side having more money is like listening to a losing football player complain that the other team has Tom Brady at quarterback.
As Adam Smith likes to say, “Welcome to the NFL.”
Crist should still be up about five or six points on Scott. And he would be if he had not made so many of the unforced errors Nickens begins to describe.
The problem in Cristworld, however, begins with Crist’s staffing decisions. Crist is like a middle-age woman who resists updating her hair and wardrobe because of a nostalgic attachment to a period in her life when she looked good, damnit! Like the woman you see with the Kim Cattrall haircut and the shoulder pads from the 80s, Crist is still hanging on to 2006 when he was at the apex of his power.
Crist is still running as if social media has yet to be invented and a barrage of television ads can save any candidate. He’s still cheap. He’s still unwilling to trust staff. He’s still his own press shop.
In any other campaign where the candidate goes from leading by 12 to trailing by two, heads would roll. Someone would be fired. Or at least someone with enough self-respect would quietly resign during a holiday weekend (like, say, the upcoming Fourth of July weekend).
The problem for the Crist campaign is that Charlie can’t fire anyone.
Crist can’t fire his two main advisers because he’s married to one of them and son to the other.
He can’t fire Jim Messina or any of the Obama acolytes because they’re Crist’s way of ingratiating himself with President Obama.
He can’t fire Steve Schale because Schale doesn’t deserve to be fired. Schale’s job has been to navigate Crist through a Democratic primary and, despite Crist trailing Scott, he’s defeated Florida Democrats. Bill Nelson didn’t run. Nan Rich will be easily dispatched.
Crist can’t fire his campaign manager, Omar Khan, because, my Lord, would that pour blood into the water after the Bill Hyers debacle.
Crist can’t fire Jessica Clark or the fundraising team because they’re raising money hand over fist by traditional Democratic Party standards. It’s not their fault that Florida Republicans have more money than Croesus.
Crist can’t fire Kevin Cate because the press shop is small enough already. Cate and Co. are outnumbered seven-to-one by their counterparts in Scottworld.
All Crist really can do is bolster his staff, but since when has Crist a) listened to paid consultants or b) agreed to pay money for mid-level staff?
If Crist wins back the Governor’s Mansion, he will look back to the dog days of summer as the toughest moment in his campaign — that awkward point where the other side was spending money, but he was not.
This past month has been about flip-flopping on Cuba and the Jim Greer book and the calls for Carole Crist to release her taxes.
There’s still Nan Rich biting at his ankles. There are too many Democrats still on the sidelines.
This is the moment when Crist stares into the abyss and wonders, as Tampa Tribune columnist Tom Jackson tweetedSunday, if he has just been fortunate all this time to draw inferior opponents (George Sheldon, Buddy Dyer, Jim Davis).
No one knows what’s going through Crist’s head right now. It would be cathartic to fire someone — anyone. But sometimes you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.
Crist must win this race with the campaign he has, not the one others, including critics such as myself, want for him.