This was supposed to be a cakewalk for a hitherto popular governor. Spend a year or so hanging around Tallahassee, wait for Mel Martinez to start wanting to spend — everybody now: "More time with the family!" — and then waltz into the United States Senate, otherwise known as "American Idols."
For Gov. Charlie Crist, political life has always been sort of a Willy Loman-meets-George Hamilton existence. The man is a walking hand-shaking, spit-polished, tanning bed machine.
It was a simple enough game plan. Just keep talking about how every waking moment of your life is dedicated to "the people," extol your love of "the people," pledge your undying commitment to "the people," which is after all what a self-described "people's governor'' does. Message: The people are a pip.
But "the people" can be such pains in the keister. There you are one moment gripping and grinning your way to be the people's next senator and before you know it, the people are looking over your shoulder as if it's closing time at the saloon and noticing another younger, prettier face has just walked in the door.
A recent St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/BayNews 9 poll suggests the people have gotten antsy about the people's governor and have begun to play footsie-wootsie with former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who aspires to be the right wing/tea party/neoconservative people's senator.
The latest polling revealed a slippage in Crist's support among likely voters, with only 42 percent agreeing the people's governor is doing a good or excellent job. Some 39 percent felt Crist was doing a fair job and 16 percent said He Who Must Be Dismayed was doing a stinky job. Ooooops.
Now it is certainly arguable there are probably other governors around the country — California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York's David Paterson, South Carolina's Mark Sanford, and certainly New Jersey's booted out Jon Corzine (who was less popular than Kanye West showing up at a Taylor Swift concert) — who would envy having a mere 42 percent think they were competent.
But Crist — until now — has enjoyed the last 34 months in office with consistently 50 percent-plus support among his beloved people, even if the mandarins within his own Republican Party regarded the Homecoming King-In-Chief with all the enthusiasm of confronting a plate of cold haggis.
The rap on Crist by the coterie of spats running the GOP these days is that not only is the governor an empty suit, wrapped in a nonentity, enshrouded by shallowness — but he is a RINO (Republican In Name Only) moderate empty suit.
The bill of particulars lodged against Crist as a Republican apostate was that a sitting governor of the state had the audacity of cluelessness to appear in the same area code with the president of the United States, that would be that Marxist/socialist/Trotskyite Barack Obama, who wanted to give Florida billions of dollars in stimulus money.
Oh the Bolshevik radicalism of it all!
Crist has attempted to pay a penance for his transgression of thinking bringing stimulus money into the state to build stuff, plug huge holes in the education budget and put people back to work was a good idea by opposing gay marriage and executing the odd miscreant — all to no avail in the eyes of the ascots running the party.
And thus we have seen the rise of Rubio, who compiled a book of 100 ideas and probably has another 100 or so he would like to take to Washington.
This has to be a maddening turn of events for the governor. After years of fending off the perception he was a man of less intellectual substance than a Brazil nut, a gaggle of right-wing harrumphs within his party throw their allegiance to a guy who makes the governor look like William F. Buckley — and it's Charlie Crist who finds himself in political exile?
After all, Marco Rubio is hardly a pol with a sterling record of legislative accomplishment, having risen to the House speakership largely on the strength of being the swizzle stick for former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and former Gov. Jeb Bush. They shared joint custody.
However, Rubio has cultivated the much-needed conservative bona fides of being able to say no with greater regularity than Hillary Clinton spending weekends with Bill when it comes to paying for stuff, gay marriage and giving so much as an aspirin to an illegal immigrant.
Are the results from Tuesday's elections particularly informative or revealing with respect to the battle for the Florida Republican U.S. Senate primary? Well, Republicans managed to lose an upstate New York congressional seat long held by the GOP after the monocles of the right attempted to impose their own candidate to nudge aside the formal party nominee, Dierdre Scozzafava, who was regarded as too moderate.
Who knows what earned her a hustings "A"? Perhaps she once nodded in Barack Obama's general direction.