Charlie Crist this week launched the first negative ad of the Republican Senate primary, reminding us that, whether or not he wins the race, we are in the midst of one of the most stunning political stories Florida has ever seen.
Crist never in his wildest dreams expected he'd have to spend money on TV ads so early, and only a few months ago the plan was to wait until the crucial final weeks before the Aug. 24 primary. But the once invincible Crist has seen a 30-point lead over Marco Rubio turn into a deficit of between 11 and 30 points, according to recent polls, and it's not clear that even millions of dollars in TV ads ripping apart Rubio can save him.
Crist already is well defined among voters, so it may be easier to turn voters off to the much lesser known Rubio than to make them enthusiastic about the governor.
"Once you're in a desperate position, it's too late to put up attack ads because it only makes you look more desperate," MSNBC host and former Florida U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough told Buzz last week after taping Morning Joe in Tampa.
"If he's down by 20 to 30 points now, Charlie Crist cannot win the Republican primary," declared Scarborough, suggesting Crist's only viable options are either to drop out and run for re-election as governor (and face Bill McCollum in a primary) or to run for the Senate as an independent.
Crist, who has been underestimated most of his political career, has repeatedly dismissed those options. Under Florida law, it will be too late to switch course after the qualifying deadline on April 30.
Rubio and Crist hold their first debate at 9 a.m. today on Fox News Sunday.
Marco the Messiah
Richard Corcoran, Rubio's former state House chief of staff and top political adviser, can get pretty misty-eyed when talking about Rubio's speakership. Camelot, he called it, recounting how selflessness and big ideas — not special interests — ruled the day.
There were a couple of jarring moments in our interview, though. Like when Corcoran tried to explain why thousands of dollars for the Melhanna plantation, where Rubio had a family reunion, were on Corcoran's GOP credit card. Corcoran recounted that he and Rubio had planned a dinner for Rubio's top lieutenants at Melhanna, though it was canceled at the last minute. Excerpts:
Corcoran: On the last night (of the organizational session), we were going to take the 12 disciples out to a dinner, with their spouses …
Q: That's what you called them?
Corcoran: "Yeah. We did. We called them the 12 disciples."
Q: God almighty.
Corcoran: It wasn't because … that sounded bad.
Q: It does sound bad. These are the 12 disciples of Marco Rubio. So Marco Rubio then is Jesus?
Corcoran: Come on … (state Rep.) Ralph Arza came up with that. He's an old coach.
For the record, the Rubio campaign denied his lieutenants were called disciples, but Corcoran's comments got us thinking: Which one of Rubio's apostles would have been Judas? And if Jesus had a state GOP Amex card, would he have charged the Last Supper to GOP donors?
Check out Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman and Organizing for America Florida director Ashley Walker today on Political Connections on Bay News 9. The show airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Sen. Mickey Mouse
Chris Ingram, a Republican activist and consultant in Tampa who had been a vocal, early supporter of Rubio (and blistering critic of Crist), e-mailed Rubio last week to request a refund of his $600 in campaign donations:
"I can no longer in good conscience support your campaign. The things I have read about in the newspaper regarding your spending with RPOF issued Amex cards and the ensuing double-talk from you and your campaign spokesman lead me to believe you are no different than most politicians I have come across in my life," wrote Ingram, who said he may write in Mickey Mouse.
Adam Smith can be reached at email@example.com.