Romano: Florida Democrats' gubernatorial hopefuls old and obvious

Published May 11, 2013

Start with the statistics.

Democrats in Florida have an undeniable advantage. They currently outnumber registered Republicans by more than a half-million voters.

Then consider the trends.

Democrats in Florida are showing signs of life. They just closed the gap on Republicans in the state Legislature, and in recent years have handed critical electoral votes to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

And now look at gubernatorial candidates.

Democrats in Florida are staring at an empty waiting room. No one young, no one fresh, no one who seems like an obvious fit.

How does that happen?

How do you have a strong voter base with almost all of the polls on your side and have your cast of candidates look like the pledges from Animal House?

If that sounds harsh, then so be it.

It's true there are some big names with accomplished resumes floating around out there. Charlie Crist is one. Bill Nelson is another. But the fact that those two are the most talked-about candidates kind of validates the point, don't you think?

Crist has been a Democrat for about 15 minutes. And Nelson is a 70-year-old U.S. senator who just turned out the lights on his last re-election campaign and hasn't even acknowledged an interest in the governor's mansion.

Now it's entirely possible — and a devotee of polls might say it's probable — that Crist, Nelson or even Alex Sink will be the new Florida governor in 18 months.

But that should be beside the point for Democrats.

The bigger issue is a lack of candidate depth, fundraising, name recognition, leadership and an identifiable platform. Other than that, Democrats are humming right along.

Look at it this way:

Rick Scott barely defeated Sink in the last governor's race, and his poll numbers have been a few fathoms below sea level ever since. A victory in 2014 should be a forgone conclusion for Democrats, but they may have already bungled it.

It is as if they spent the past 30 months pointing fingers at Scott instead of concentrating on growing their own brand. And for a short time that strategy might have made sense.

But as wildly unpopular as his poll numbers have been, Scott has also been quite shrewd about plotting his re-election. He has toned down the tea party shtick and worked hard to appease moderates around the state.

Now you could certainly debate whether Scott's policies have been a major factor in an improving economy or whether he has simply been the beneficiary of a national trend. But the bottom line is that business has been on the upswing since he arrived in Tallahassee, and he will gleefully run hard on that issue.

Will Democrats be swayed? Probably not. But do not forget that nearly 25 percent of registered voters in Florida are neither Democrats nor Republicans.

As for the Democratic candidate, it may turn out that Crist or Nelson was the most logical choice all along. And either one could conceivably thump Scott.

But persuading Nelson to potentially leave Washington is not much of a strategy. Neither is using Crist as a fallback position.

Florida hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1994. If it fails to this time, do not blame the voters. The fault will lie with party leaders who allowed it to happen.