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If it's Rubio vs. Obama, it's Crist vs. the Legislature

Where to start?

With our newly wide-open, wild-west race for U.S. Senate?

Or with a wacky state Legislature that fell off a cliff into insanity in its final days?

Actually, they are related.

We are headed for a great showdown in this state, and it is high time, too.

In its closing days last week, the Legislature threw off all pretense of representing the people of Florida and declared open war on them, when not bossing them around.

Exhibit A: To wipe out citizen petitions seeking "fair districts" for politicians, the Legislature passed its own "poison pill" amendment. It declares, arrogantly, that the citizen proposals will not count even if the voters approve them.

Exhibit B: The Legislature, bloated with campaign money from the electric industry, boldly removed two appointees of Gov. Charlie Crist who had blocked $1.8 billion in electric rate increases. They will be replaced by more utility-friendly regulators.

Exhibit C: At the last minute, the Legislature voted to force almost every woman in Florida who wants an abortion either to view her ultrasound, or listen to her doctor describe it to her. So much for the Party of Less Government.

Well!

There was more, of course. There were bills to strip Florida teachers of tenure, to restore "leadership funds" (that is, legalized bribery) in the Legislature, and to deregulate homeowner insurance rates. The governor vetoed the first two and stopped the third by his veto threat.

Holy moly! After three years of governing by slogans and meekly trying to please everybody, Charlie Crist showed up. What a far cry from 2009, when the then-puny governor rolled over for the repeal of Florida's growth management law.

They hated him in the Legislature for his new contrariness, too.

Crist was already getting hammered in his race for U.S. Senate by his Republican rival, Marco Rubio, a former speaker of the House.

Didn't Crist appear on stage with President Barack Obama? Didn't he hug him? Didn't he take Obama's stimulus money? Liberal traitor! Of course, the Republican Legislature was taking Obama's money too. But that doesn't count.

Which came first, then? Did Crist start standing up to the Legislature because he was already being driven out of the party? Or did the blowback he got from the Legislature help him make the decision to leave?

No matter. Now we have a three-way Senate race, Rubio the Republican, Kendrick Meek the probable Democrat, and Crist the no-party candidate.

Pick your scenario.

Rubio has to win, right? The common-sense voters will reject Obamaism. They will reject the faithless and feckless Crist, and the liberal Meek.

No, wait! Meek will win. I saw the mathematical "proof" issued by his campaign last week. If X percent of Democrats turn out, see, and Crist and Rubio split the Republican vote …

Or Crist will win.

It is a long shot for Crist. Everybody likes to talk ideology, but what usually decides an election are mechanics, strategy and money. Cut off from the big institutional money within a party, how does Crist fuel his campaign through November?

But his greatest asset now is that he is free. He can do whatever he wants, no longer held hostage by a Republican right wing that isn't going to vote for him anyway.

He could veto the abortion bill. He could call the Legislature back into special session and demand that it pass the ethical reforms that it ducked.

Suddenly Rubio has an independent archrival, not a patsy he can beat up for not being conservative enough. The ground has shifted; Rubio will tack toward the middle.

Was it coincidence last week that Rubio turned his back on the tea party types and decried Arizona's anti-immigrant law? That was not the only backtracking: The "drill, baby, drill" types in the Legislature, who would have thrown open Florida's waters last year without the slightest study or deliberation, were suddenly hem-hawing as oily disaster advanced toward the Gulf Coast.

In sum: While Rubio runs against Obama, Crist can run against the Florida Legislature. Which will be more unpopular in November?

If it's Rubio vs. Obama, it's Crist vs. the Legislature 05/01/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 2, 2010 1:30pm]

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