Return of the King: Charlie Crist and ex-governor comebacks

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Former Governor Charlie Crist seems to be fighting a battle on two fronts as he campaigns for his old job, this time as a Democrat.

Not only is Crist facing incumbent Governor Rick Scott, but he also has to contend with the on-again-off-again rumors that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will join the gubernatorial race if the candidate “gets into any trouble.”

However, if Crist can keep Nelson at bay, the former governor has a slightly less-than-even chance of returning to Tallahassee, according to Dr. Eric J. Ostermeier and the number crunchers at the University of Minnesota Smart Politics blog.

Smart Politics reviewed every post-World War II gubernatorial election and found that ex-governors won 46 of 81 contests during that 68-year period, a 57 percent success rate since 1946. Thirty-five had lost.

It is when these former governors faced an incumbent — like the Crist/Scott match-up — did the numbers drop to 12 wins over 29 contests, a 41 percent success rate.

When the seat was open, ex-governors won 65 percent of the time, succeeding in 34 of 52 contests.

In the 2010 election cycle, three ex-governors — Democrat Jerry Brown in California, Republican Terry Branstad in Iowa, and Democrat John Kitzhaber in Oregon — all won back the governorships of their states. Two lost — Democrat Roy Barnes of Georgia and Republican Bob Ehrlich of Maryland. Only two other election cycles since 1946 had a higher number of successful ex-governors: 1948, with five former governors winning, and 1982, when four Democratic former governors returning to their capitols.  

  • In 1948, there were Democrats Henry Schricker of Indiana, Frank Lausche of Ohio, Earl Long of Louisiana and Gordon Browning of Tennessee, and Washington Republican Arthur Langlie
  • In 1982, it was Democrats George Wallace of Alabama, Rudy Perpich of Minnesota, Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts

A Crist primary victory would be the only time an ex-governor made it to the state’s general election ballot since World War II. In 1956, Fuller Warren attempted a comeback after winning eight years before, but lost the Democratic primary to eventual winner LeRoy Collins.

Only once in 168 years of statehood did a Florida ex-governor win his old job back. That was Democrat William Bloxham in 1896.

Charlie Crist is not the only ex-governor trying another run for their old seat. Smart Politics also mentions two former governors who may compete in 2014: Iowa Democrat Chet Culver of and Massachusetts Republican Bill Weld.

Before that can happen, they will need to get the nomination of their party, which more than three-dozen have failed to do in 68 years. 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.