Political pundits have spent the week talking about the numbers Tuesday’s primary election produced. With Gov. Rick Scott leading former Gov. Charlie Crist by 1 percentage point, based on the average of recent Florida polls, the campaigns have little room for error and dissension among Democrats can’t be lightly dismissed by the Crist campaign.
Crist was a popular governor but no one has ever won a governor’s mansion twice as the nominee of different parties. And mid-term election dynamics play against Democrats. Marc Caputo explains why 114,000 more Republicans voted Tuesday than Democrats.
But the trend is for a noticeable drop off in mid-term elections and in recent years Republicans tend to turnout in greater numbers; in 2010 the GOP had a 7-percent edge in turnout and captured supe rmajorities in the Legislature and the governor’s office.
Add to this in 22 counties a little known former state senator scored 40 percent of the vote against an opponent backed by the Democratic establishment and in his sixth statewide race.
It would seem to be significant that a self-abashed liberal former state senator from south Florida with no money to advertise and whose campaign north of I-4 was nonexistent could receive 40 percent of a the Democratic primary vote in 11 panhandle counties when her opponent was a popular governor in his sixth state-wide race.
Nan Rich lost Calhoun by 0.8 percent of the vote and won two counties, north Florida’s Holmes and central Florida’s Putnam. Scott won the 2010 election with a margin of 61,500 votes and Tuesday’s results raise the question of whether Crist has a panhandle problem.
“Certainly some of these should be considered anti-Crist votes,” said Brecht Heuchan, a Tallahassee consultant.
The observation does come with a caveat.
“Top of the ticket Democrats don’t traditionally count on north Florida Democrats except in a couple of counties around Tallahassee and Pensacola,” said Heuchan, who described many panhandle voters as registered Democrats who support Republicans but haven’t change party registration.
That’s one way of understanding Calhoun’s results. Although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 – 1, Congressman Steve Southerland, R-Panama City carried the county with 68 percent of the vote in 2010 and Mitt Romney received 71 percent.
Heuchan sees a greater threat to Crist’s chances in voter turnout. Turnout for the primary was 17 percent. But University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett said there are different dynamics at play in a primary and general election.
“The Democratic gubernatorial primary was not expected to be too competitive and thus did not drive turnout,” said Jewett. “Conversely the general election for governor is expected to be quite close which may increase turnout.”
Crist is tapping into the state’s public campaign financing program which requires him to cap spending at $25 million. Scott’s campaign has already spent that much in attack ads on Crist and could raise as much as $100 million by November.
Polls indicate the race is a dead heat.
“It’s going to be a $100 million battle for the 8 percent who is undecided,” said Jon Ausman, a Democratic operative who has managed campaigns throughout the state.