Note to Crist: Never underestimate the loyalty of Florida Democrats (or Republicans)

With so little attention on Marco Rubio these days, there seems to be an emerging conventional wisdom that Charlie Crist is well positioned to win Florida's Senate race. Time to throw some cold water on the perception that Crist is sitting pretty now that he's running as a nonpartisan candidate.

No, we're certainly not saying that Crist is sure to lose. We are suggesting that Florida's laws of political gravity mean Crist probably has about as good a chance of finishing in third place as he does first.

Two words: Hugh Rodham.

Hillary Clinton's brother was among the worst statewide Democratic candidates in modern Florida history, and Rodham still managed to win 30 percent of the vote trying to unseat then-Sen. Connie Mack in 1994.

The point is that partisan loyalty runs deep in Florida, and Crist will be hard pressed to keep earning the more than 40 percent support he's had in recent polls showing him narrowly ahead. The new St. Petersburg Times-Miami Herald-Bay News 9 poll shows neither Democrat Kendrick Meek nor Jeff Greene cracking 20 percent support, which is not likely to stand once one of them becomes the nominee.

Independent voters consistently turn out in low numbers, while the Democratic and Republican parties will be mounting significant get-out-the vote efforts that Crist simply can't match without party infrastructure. Both parties will aggressively attack Crist as an untrustworthy, unprincipled, say-anything-to-win politician.

A Mason-Dixon poll released Saturday night shows Rubio leading the field with 38 percent, compared to 33 percent for Crist and 17 percent for Meek and — unlike the Times/Herald poll — shows Meek crushing Greene by 14 points in the Democratic primary.

"A significant part of Crist's support among Democratic voters is African-Americans. Crist continues to draw 19 percent of the black vote," noted Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker. "Meek got 68 percent in May and 70 percent in August. Again, once Meek raises his profile by winning the Democratic primary, it is questionable if Crist can continue to draw almost 20 percent of the black vote."

If anyone can pull off a statewide win without party affiliation, it's Crist. Just don't for a moment think it will be remotely easy or even likely.

Trading barbs

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott last week called Bill McCollum the "Tonya Harding of Florida politics." Great line. But we should give props to former Jeb Bush aide Cory Tilley, who used it in reference to Jim Smith during Florida's 1994 Republican primary (when Harding's knee-capping escapades were a little fresher in the minds of people).

Here's an excerpt from a May 1994 Palm Beach Post account of a candidate forum when Smith complained about negative campaigning by the Bush campaign:

Smith said one of Bush's senior advisers, Mac Stipanovich, accused Smith of being a "boring, backbiting, mean little man." He also said that Bush's press secretary, Cory Tilley, called Smith the "Tonya Harding of Florida politics who will do anything, including lying and cheating" to get elected.

Bush pointed out that Stipanovich wrote Smith a letter of apology for his remarks. Then Bush told Smith to "lighten up."

''You call me a shrub and I don't get excited about it," Bush said. "Take a couple of deep breaths. We'll get through this without thermonuclear war."

Half a million pours in for McCollum

McCollum's affiliated political committee, Florida First Initiative, just received an infusion of laundered political cash totaling a half-million bucks. The money came Thursday from the League of American Voters, a nonprofit group that doesn't have to disclose its donors under IRS rules.

The group's money — and another healthy $90,000 check from Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos' committee — helped fuel a $720,000 advertising purchase Friday. Expect to see more Scott attack pieces on TV soon.

John Frank and Marc Caputo contributed to this week's Buzz. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

Winner

of the week

Loranne Ausley. Nobody's paying much attention to the underdog Democratic candidate for chief financial officer. But she found a good issue to seize on last week after the Times reported how Republican legislators slipped a $48 million bond issue into the final hours of the session to pay for a grand appeals court in Tallahassee. Ausley is promising to demand more sunshine in the legislative process, which could put her Republican rival, Senate President Jeff Atwater, on the defensive.

Losers

of the week

Paul Hawkes and Brad Thomas. They were frontline foot soldiers when the conservative Republican revolution took over Tallahassee, and their political skill and connections helped them get appointed as appeals court judges. Then they made sure their friends in the cash-strapped Legislature funded a lavish new courthouse in Tallahassee, complete with big flat-screen TVs and private bathrooms with granite counters. There's a word for that: hypocrisy.

Note to Crist: Never underestimate the loyalty of Florida Democrats (or Republicans) 08/14/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 14, 2010 9:56pm]

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