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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Best governor's race since Sidney Catts?




Gov. Sidney Catts gives his inaugural address. | Florida State Archives

With polls showing Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink trading leads and both struggling to break 50 percent, here’s a name to keep in mind this Election Day: Sidney Johnson Catts.

Catts was the only governor in Florida history elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, according to the Florida Handbook. (The last statewide race decided by a plurality -- 49.4 percent received by the man who set the historic 2010 election cycle in motion: Mel Martinez in the 2004 U.S. Senate race.)

In 1916, Catts was the outsider who infuriated leaders in the state's dominant political party when he challenged their choice in the primary. Remind you of anyone else? 

Catts didn’t have an anti-immigration platform, but he did capitalize on anti-black and anti-Catholic sentiments (check out this campaign poster) among the state’s Protestant fundamentalists, according to Michael Gannon’s book, The New History of Florida.

Dubbed the "Cracker Messiah" in a 1977 biography, Catts actually lost the Democratic primary. But the Baptist preacher and part-time insurance salesman rode the Prohibition Party’s endorsement to a general election victory in what Gannon calls "perhaps the wildest campaign in Florida’s history."

We'll reserve judgment about whether Sink-Scott has been any wilder than the Catts-Knott showdown 94 years ago, but we can tell tell you later tonight if it was any closer. (Catts won his race by 11.1 points with 39,546 votes.)

In the meantime, here are the closest governor’s races in state history:

*0.4 points, 1876: George Drew (D) over Marcellus Stearns (R)
*1.6 points, 1994: Lawton Chiles (D) over Jeb Bush (R)
*2.6 points, 1856: Madison Perry (D) over David Walker (American)
*3.2 points, 1852: James Broome (D) over George Ward (Whig)
*4.8 points, 1872: Ossian B. Hart (R) over William Bloxham (D)



[Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 11:43am]


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