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Only uncertainty is certain in Florida this election cycle

Thanks to Charlie Crist's jump into the U.S. Senate race, we're about to see the busiest election cycle in decades. The conventional wisdom is already setting in:

Charlie Crist is unbeatable. No way can stodgy Bill McCollum beat folksy Alex Sink for governor. Dan Gelber's U.S. Senate Democratic primary campaign is toast against Kendrick Meek's. The Florida GOP, with so many once-safe seats now wide open, is poised to take its biggest drubbing in a generation.

Don't assume anything in this volatile political and economic climate. Especially not when we're about to mark the anniversary of Barack Obama's first extended campaign swing through Florida.

Back then, all the talk was about how the Illinois senator was weak with seniors, Hispanics and Jews. He couldn't possibly win Florida's 27 electoral votes. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

So let's review the 2010 landscape and assumptions.

Alex Sink will be the next governor? Not so fast.

Yes, she's the biggest star in the state party, while McCollum looks like yesterday's Republican, not tomorrow's. But McCollum is also a smart, disciplined campaigner. Some of the best Republican strategists in Florida, including Crist adviser Rich Heffley and Jeb Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw, are lining up behind the attorney general, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy next week.

Sink, likely to announce any day now, is still largely unknown to most Floridians and will face far more scrutiny in a governor's race than she did running for chief financial officer. Then there's the matter of her old career, leading Florida operations for Bank of America.

"Some of the things that were her assets in 2006, won't necessarily be assets this time,'' said Republican consultant David Johnson.

Crist is unbeatable for Senate? Nobody is unbeatable.

Republican Marco Rubio, former state House speaker, certainly has a huge hill to climb to take the nomination from Florida's most popular Republican. The national GOP, seeing Crist as a lock to hold Mel Martinez's seat, already is trying to push Rubio out of the primary, with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman John Cornyn immediately endorsing Crist.

But Rubio has a chance to turn the primary into a national referendum on conservatism. He's already drawing some glowing reviews from conservative writers and teeing up online ads featuring Crist cozying up to Obama.

If the likes of Rush Limbaugh start taking aim at Crist's centrism, Rubio may be able to raise enough money to stay visible and win over many Republicans disgusted with RINOs (Republicans in Name Only.)

Once Crist starts taking fire from Democrats and conservative Republicans for bailing on Florida in the midst of an economic crisis and failing to fulfill old campaign promises, his sky-high poll numbers could tumble. After all, how can he say with a straight face that a junior senator in the minority party can do more for Floridians in the Senate than a governor?

Kendrick Meek is a lock for the Democratic Senate nomination? The Miami Democrat is off to a strong start in endorsements and money raised, but there's a long way to go. Wait until Meek has to start answering questions about the millions of dollars he tried to steer to a controversial developer who was also paying Meek's mother.

A lot of Democrats are expecting Meek's sharp primary rival, state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami — a former prosecutor and aide to former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn —to jump into the attorney general's race. That would be a smart move for both him and his party. But even if he stays in the Senate race, Gelber could make a compelling case that his profile is stronger for the general election.

Republicans stand to lose a bunch of statewide races? Maybe, but it's hardly likely when the Democrats don't even have a candidate for chief financial officer to take on Senate President Jeff Atwater, the likely Republican nominee; when Adam Putnam looks like the heavy favorite for agriculture commissioner; and nobody anyone has heard of is running so far for attorney general.

In this election cycle, anything is possible.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Only uncertainty is certain in Florida this election cycle 05/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 8:33am]
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