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  1. Florida Politics

Steve Bousquet: Rick Scott, Charlie Crist typify strangeness of Florida politics

Published Feb. 25, 2014

V.O. Key, a political scientist at Harvard, wrote a book in 1949 called Southern Politics in State and Nation. The Florida he found was a place where it was "almost literally every candidate for himself."

"Loyalties have not been built up, traditional habits of action with respect to social personages, leaders and parties have not been acquired," Key wrote. "Flux, fluidity and uncertainty in human relations are the rule."

Imagine what the late Professor Key would think of today's Florida, where the leading Democratic candidate for governor, Charlie Crist, was a Republican before he became an independent and tried to become a U.S. senator, and now wants his former job back — all in the space of a few years.

Or where the Republican governor, Rick Scott, barely qualified to run for governor in 2010 because he had been in the state only a brief time longer than the seven years required by the Florida Constitution.

Then "Rick who?" spent more than $70 million of his own money to get elected, almost daily having to dodge questions about the record fine paid by his former hospital company for Medicare fraud.

Now, more than three years later, he's prepared to spend up to $100 million for re-election as polls show a majority of voters don't want to give him a second term.

When Scott, the stranger, used his checkbook in 2010 to bludgeon GOP rival Bill McCollum and the entire party establishment, it was evident that loyalties had not been built up, as Dr. Key might say.

And for fresh evidence of flux, fluidity and uncertainty, look no further than Florida Democrats as they now embrace as their savior a politician who used to be a "Ronald Reagan Republican" and then a "Jeb Bush Republican" before changing parties and claiming he no longer wants any part of its extremism.

Across Florida, voters can already be heard grumbling that they don't like either of these likely choices for governor in 2014.

To some voters, both are fundamentally flawed men.

But what Key couldn't anticipate was a state with nearly 20 million people and 10 distinct TV markets, a place where running for statewide office is a Herculean effort, which is why so few people even seriously attempt it.

The incessant need for money only makes it more difficult.

Crist ran statewide in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006 and 2010.

This is his sixth statewide campaign; he's the first serious Florida candidate to run under three party labels.

Scott remains an enigma.

A highly disciplined politician who travels in a private jet, he's the quintessential CEO, awkwardly dealing with legislators, the media and public, a political oddity still.

But the political sage who decades ago observed Florida without "traditional habits of action" would have recognized him immediately.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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