Welcome to 2010, which stands to be the busiest and most unpredictable political year Florida has seen in decades. Every statewide office is wide open, amid a turbulent political and economic climate both nationally and in Florida.
But let's pause at the new year and consider 2009. We solicited dozens of nominations for winner and loser of the year in Florida politics, and found overwhelming consensus.
Winner of 2009: Marco Rubio
Eight months ago, even some of his biggest admirers were calling him crazy and shortsighted. Why in world would he launch a futile U.S. Senate campaign against an immensely popular sitting governor sure to raise vast amounts of money? Give it up, and the attorney general's nomination would be all his, and he'd be poised from there to run for Senate or governor.
Instead, Rubio stuck to it. He courted national conservative media attention and excited hard-core activists, while Tea Party protesters became a growing force and Crist steadily looked more and more vulnerable. Today, Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist is among the marquee races across the country.
Loser of 2009: Charlie Crist
The governor's uncanny political instincts used to be taken as an article of faith, but they seem to have disappeared in 2009. He's in real trouble at the opening of 2010, but nobody should count him out.
Check out Political Connections on Bay News 9 today. Former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and Democratic consultant Bob Buckhorn offer up a host of predictions for the upcoming year. Both think Crist will beat Rubio, but also agree he has a lot of work to do and should focus on offering voters specifics about his record and policy agenda.
"Most of his life he's been running for a vacancy, where the record wasn't necessarily having to be defended," said Martinez, noting that it's far different for the chief executive of the state.
Buckhorn acknowledged that for all the apparent advantages facing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink — strong fundraising and a state GOP in disarray because of infighting — the national political climate poses a major challenge.
"As a result of what's happening in Washington, the trickle-down is we (Democrats) are losing some of the people that we attracted in 2008, including independents, including blue dog Democrats, including centrist Democrats," Buckhorn said. "That doesn't bode well for Alex, but I think she's personally got the ability to attract them to the fold again."
Political Connections airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9.
Rep. Bill Young retirement watch
Retired University of South Florida St. Petersburg political science professor Darryl Paulson is convinced U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, will announce his retirement after 40 years in office, either at a Pinellas GOP meeting Jan. 11 or at a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon later this month.
Here's what Pat Shortridge, senior adviser to the Rubio campaign, predicts soon from Crist: "A lot of wild punches. And early negative advertising. And mudslinging mail. And anonymous Web sites. All repeated ad nauseam. So be forewarned. It's coming. Very, very soon," he wrote in an e-mail to supporters.
Indeed, Crist can't afford to keep watching Rubio's poll numbers climb, and he has the money to inflict real damage on the Miami Republican with an aggressive negative assault. At the same time, Crist's nice guy persona would take a serious hit, and he could provoke Jeb Bush to rise up to Rubio's defense.
Former Gov. Bush is officially neutral, but that may not last all that long. His sons, Jeb Jr. and George P., are planning to host a Rubio fundraiser in Miami this month.
One possible indication that Republican gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery may not be prepared to spend a lot of her family's considerable wealth on the campaign: Pollster and senior advisor David Hill, who goes back years with the Dockerys, confirmed that he's not working on the campaign and is focused on other races nationwide.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.