Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

GOP's obsession with Crist could make his light shine brighter

Here's the scene:

Charlie Crist is announcing his candidacy for governor on an outdoor stage in front of a couple hundred followers. A plane presumably hired by the opposition is flying above and pulling a banner advertising an anti-Crist website.

And I'm standing nearby thinking about … John Tortorella.

You see, the hockey coach who won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning had this quirk when it came to talking about opponents. He didn't want to do it. Usually, he would flat-out refuse to answer questions about another team.

He wanted to get across the idea that if his guys were doing their job, it didn't matter who was on the other side of the ice.

Which brings me to the Republican Party of Florida.

Turns out, these guys are obsessed with their opponent. They started tweeting about Crist months before he acknowledged he was running as a Democrat. They launched a website to attack him, and couldn't wait to draw attention to it with Monday morning's flyover. And by day's end, there was a line of GOP honchos waiting to trash Crist as a political opportunist.

All of which makes me think they are profoundly worried.

Worried about the popularity of the opponent, and worried about the unpopularity of the incumbent.

Now you might say attack politics are fairly routine in a major election. And you might point out Crist threw plenty of insults of his own in Gov. Rick Scott's direction during his 25-minute speech on Monday.

The difference is the guy already residing in the governor's mansion shouldn't have to engage in a full-out assault. If you do your job well, as Tortorella used to suggest, why even acknowledge there is someone else in the race?

In this case, Scott has the economy on his side. He has home sales on his side. He has unemployment numbers and a budget surplus on his side.

The problem is he doesn't have residents on his side.

Month after month, year after year, polls have shown Scott is not well-liked by voters. And that is a weakness Crist was born to exploit.

Crist loves voters. He bonds with voters. He collects voters wherever he goes, as if he might need them for a rainy day.

And if you didn't know that already, you could see it during his campaign kickoff on Monday. He talked about some policy specifics (mass transit, renewable energy, affordable universities, space coast jobs) and some previous accomplishments.

Mostly, he tried to get the point across that he was devoted to people and Scott was devoted to politics.

It's almost comical when you consider Crist is the consummate politician and Scott spent most of his life as a businessman, but the narrative just might work.

Crist is already pre-empting flip-flop attacks by touting his willingness to adapt, evolve and compromise for the greater good. And compared to Scott's rigid tea party ideology, that strategy might appeal to independents who could decide the election.

Still, there's a long way to go. And at some point, Scott will start hammering Crist about the number of jobs and houses lost during his time in Tallahassee. And Scott will keep taking credit for what has been an economic recovery throughout the nation.

In the end, Scott's politics just might win.

But only if they beat Crist's charisma.

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