Crist’s dilemma: Court Rich’s supporters or voters in general

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Charlie Crist may want to spend more time in the Panhandle. Then again, he may want to continue focusing on vote-rich south Florida. In Tuesday’s primary election Crist carried the 18 counties stretching from Alabama to the Big Bend by an average margin of 60 percent. But former state senator Nan Rich surprised pundits by winning one panhandle county, Holmes, with 52 percent of the vote and tied Crist in Calhoun.

The Panhandle is rolling farmlands, national forests and military bases. The population centers are located in three cities, Pensacola, Panama City and Tallahassee. Crist collected landslide victory margins in the counties where those cities are located, 72 percent in Leon, 55 percent in Bay and 66 percent in Escambia.

And in the rural bedroom counties to Tallahassee Crist posted a 72 percent margin in Jefferson, 80 percent in Gadsden and 62 percent in Wakulla.

But it was along the Redneck Riviera, a stretch of sugar-white beaches from Bay to Escambia and dotted with military installations and retirees that is a Tea Party hotbed, where the progressive Rich, with little money and name recognition scored 46 percent of the vote in Santa Rosa, 47 percent in Okaloosa and 42 percent in Walton.

Rich, who made Crist’s recent conversion to the Democratic Party a campaign issue picked up more than  40 percent of the vote in 22 counties across the state.

The results left Democratic political consultant Steve Vancore scratching his head as to what they may mean. He seemed more focused on the low voter turnout (17.1 percent) statewide the morning after the primary.

“Low turnout in south Florida points to a very clear and present need for the Charlie Crist team,” Vancore wrote in an email exchange.  “If, and this is a big if, low turnout in the primary is prologue, then that’s a bad sign for Crist. On the other hand, they know what they need to know and will respond accordingly.”

Democrats traditionally sit out mid-term election and with the Crist-Scott race virtually tied; losing 40 percent of the Democratic vote in the primary may indicate a lack of enthusiasm for Crist among Democratic voters which could hurt his chances in November, if a large number of Democrats sit out the election.

“It is critical for a Democratic candidate to win to get young people to turn out to a Presidential election level,” Susan McManus told the Dianne Rehm show Wednesday.

 Of The 22 counties where Rich posted more than 40 percent of the vote 13 are in the panhandle. County by county vote totals can be found here.

Here is the list of counties where Rich exceeded expectation include  Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Glades, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hardee, Homes, Jackson, Lafayette, Okaloosa, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Walton and Washington counties.