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Friday, April 30, 2010

Jeff Greene is silly, but helpful.

Not that I'll vote for him. Actually, I seriously doubt anyone will. But his entry into the race is very good for the Democrats.

So who is this dude? Don't feel bad you haven't heard of him. He is an opportunist billionaire whose last run for public office was as a Republican in California. And he's running as an outsider. A filthy rich, corporate tycoon outsider. I love Florida.

So why am I glad he is here? Because until about a day ago, almost nobody ever heard of Kendrick Meek, the actual Democratic frontrunner in this Senate race. Meek has never run statewide. He hasn't even seriously run district-wide. He holds a seat once held by his mother, and has run unopposed term after term after term. And it looked like he was going to get through this primary untested. That spelled out certain doom for the Democrats, and the events of the last few days demonstrated why. The Rubio-Crist fight on the Republican side was sucking up all media attention, and Meek was invisible. That meant he didn't have to spend money, sure, but he also wasn't raising much, as most national donors thought his candidacy was a lost cause, and were probably right.

Now the Senate race is likely going to a victor who pulls in 30-something percent of the vote, and national Dems see Meek has got a chance. But the news cycle in the last day has still been about Crist and Rubio. Meek is a footnote, but that is better than he was before.

Now Jeff Greene has put up this almost comical announcement video, and shown a dedication to self-funding. The RedState guys are talking about how Meek will spend all his money in the primary now, but I think that is money well spent. Finally, Meek will develop some name recognition, and if he comes out of the August primary smelling like a winner, all the better in November.

But didn't you just say the other day that Crist was gonna win this? Indeed, and I still think the governor has the edge. But a lot can change between now and November. And Greene's entry into the race gives Meek a chance to change things in his favor.

Facebook says Crist is still a Republican

Update: The Facebook page has been updated. It now lists no party and says Crist's political views as "Moderate." How interesting. Also of note, many of the quotes from people who have rescinded their endorsements have not been removed.

I've tried to stress this point in recent weeks, but I think Charlie Crist's Facebook page really drives the point home. The governor is still a Republican. See? It says so right there.

Many of us were rather shocked Crist made no mention yesterday of where he would caucus in the Senate. That won't stay a secret for long. I promise it is the first question any reporter will ask. But the answer, I think, is already there. How did I find this Facebook page with the dirty secret? It is linked to Charlie Crist's campaign homepage. It is there to tell voters more about Charlie the candidate. Political views are listed as 'Conservative.' The quote section still has tough-on-crime statements from John Walsh and lower-taxes rhetoric from Don Shula.

There certainly need to be some updates here. Many of the endorsements, including those of Reps. Connie Mack and Vern Buchanan and of former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas have been yanked. Quotes from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are still there as well. I suppose these statements are still valid quotes, but I am guessing most on the list want their names scrubbed fast.

But there was obviously a build-up to the announcement yesterday, and the campaign could have changed anything on this page that they liked. The supporter quotes on official campaign site, as noted by the Washington Post yesterday, were changed in advance of the announcement to note Crist's independent values.

So why does the Facebook page still list right-wing creds?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

And now it starts...

Floridians just watched history as Gov. Charlie Crist became the first marquis candidate to run for Senate without party affiliation. We all expected it. This blog predicted it weeks ago. But what I found especially interesting in Crist's announcement today was the positions he decided to trumpet.

Stop Oil Drilling. Protect Teachers. Give Everyone the Right to Vote.

That was it. All of those positions are ones held in higher esteem on the left than the right. To me, that signals that Crist, starting today, will rally as many left-leaning independents into his fold as possible. In his speech, he did not say, as I expected, that he would go caucus with the Republicans. Instead, he focused on the ability to support ideas more popular with Democrats.

I am, frankly, stunned. I expected a smattering of 'I cut property taxes' and 'I'm still Chaingang Charlie' to get tossed in there. What does this mean? I'd say Kendrick Meek has a very short time frame to establish these issues as his issues before Charlie makes them part of his independent, free-thinking platform and leaves Kendrick looking like a man with no plan of his own.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Charlie Can Win...

It appears that sometime Thursday, Charlie Crist is going to do as many, including me, predicted a few weeks ago and announce he will run for the Senate without party affiliation. I suspect the national media will go nuts about this, and largely miss some nuance in Florida law, and I expect pundits on the left or right will prognosticate on how this boosts Kenrick Meek and Marco Rubio respectively. I offer here a dissenting view, and will formally predict Charlie Crist will win, and that Republicans will ultimately celebrate.

First off, this is genuinely awful news for Rubio. The ex-House speaker was set to cream Crist in the August primary, then ride the blitz of media attention all the way to the general election. Just a few weeks back, this race appeared a lock for him.

For Meek, the news is a mixed bag. His biggest problem all year is that he hasn't gotten a piece of the action. Crist jumped in the race as the frontrunner, then the tea parties started boosting Rubio, and suddenly the insurgent candidacy bumped Crist from the top of the polls. Meek has been barely a side note in this race. Today he becomes a player. Expect him to appear on every cable network Thursday and start getting equal play in the mainstream media.

But Crist knows what he is doing here. He is now free to trumpet the most politically popular position on every issue. You can see it in the past few weeks. Offshore drilling? He is now against it. Teachers? He is on their side. These are two positions that the Republican Party detests, but which will gain him traction with independents. Meanwhile, he still can bottle the anti-tax fervor which plays so well in this state. He still got Amendment 1 passed, substantially reducing property taxes for most in the state despite heavy opposition to the proposal from the left.

He loses Jeb Bush, and probably Bill McCollum and other GOP leaders, but he probably keeps quite a few as well. George LeMieux will probably stick with Crist, though, which means that the incumbent senator will be behind Charlie at every high-profile campaign stop.

And of course, all of those GOP leaders who stand by Crist will educate voters on some facts that won't be widely discussed right away. Crist doesn't need to change his party registration to run as an independent in Florida. If elected, he will be as much a Republican as Rubio, and he will caucus with Mitch McConnell and crew. Unlike Joe Lieberman, he won't have to reject his affiliation with this. Some donors will be pissed right now about Crist running without a party, but if their interest is boosting the Republican whip count in the Senate, he will still make good on that deal.

But he won't be beholden to the party. He will be an indy superstar, capable of taking any stance he likes. Arlen Specter was driven from his party by tea-baggers. Crist might just prove he can survive without them, without going full-on Democrat.

Could I be wrong? Perhaps, but such concessions make for lousy commentary. So I'm sticking with my prediction that Indy Crist wins.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So drilling is perfectly safe...

Some barely-covered news in the Gulf of Mexico this week has reignited my personal sense of betrayal regarding Barack Obama and his amazing lapse of judgment when it comes to drilling. For those who didn't know, we had a rig explosion this week in which 11 people are most likely dead. We also had a very near-miss on an ecological disaster of Exxon Valdez proportions, with engineers initially suspecting the well opening on the ocean floor would leak everywhere. Still, we there is a growing oil spill off the coast of Louisiana.

But nothing to see here folks. The White House says there is nothing to worry about. Drilling hardware is safe. There isn't the same threat as there ever was, and besides, gas is expensive! Not that drilling offshore will change the price of gas in the next decade, when any number of external factors will have a much bigger effect, but hey, destroying the Gulf is bipartisan.

I still cannot fathom why Obama wants to open up parts of this water body surrounded by beaches so private companies can explore for a dirty fuel source. Last time he took an interest in Florida energy was when he came to Arcadia to celebrate the opening of America's largest solar farm. But the possible good produced by that clean energy source cannot begin to counter the potential damage from an oil spill off the coast. Imagine the white sands at Siesta Key or the shells on Sanibel being covered with a black residue, or if dying wildlife was running ashore along the entire West Coast of the state.

But that is all just common sense. Let's not forget that this was a politically disastrous move on Obama's part too. Let me remind you, the reaction of most Republicans when Obama just gave away an enormous and unprompted concession on an environmental issue was to say it wasn't enough. Mitch McConnell offered faint praise but said this step was "a small one that leaves enormous amounts of American Energy off limits." John Boehner said Obama was continuing to "defy the will of the American people," a reaction that was both staggering and completely expected.

Obviously, Boehner was especially wrong. I can admit the Obama on the campaign trail wasn't trumpeting notions like a stimulus package, and spoke directly against issues like mandated health insurance. So while it is still silly for Boehner to act like the voters are secretly pro-Republican and just punched the wrong part of a butterfly ballot, a clear mandate wasn't issued on many parts of Obama's agenda.

But drilling was a campaign issue. Remember "Drill, Baby, Drill!" This was a centerpiece of the McCain energy plan. This was Sarah Palin's rallying call. They wanted Florida to bask in the glory of the Texas tea, to smear it on our skins like German tourists using amplifier to get an especially leathery tan. But we said 'No!' Florida voted for a non-incumbant Democrat as President for the first time since 1976. And I assure you this issue was talked about in this state.

Then when it comes time for Obama to make good on a promise, to keep rigs away, to instead promote solar, natural gas, biomass, hydrogren or even nuclear power ahead of searching for hazardous materials off our coast, he fails us and gets nothing politically for it. He betrays us without even a cause.

It is a tragedy when Americans die during the hunt for a consumer product. It truly sickens me that human life is considered by some the cost of business in certain industries. But just as recent mining deaths have led to new scrutiny about underground safety, I hope these lost lives make people reconsider how we safe it is to drill for oil under our waters.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Veto Heard Around The State

So almost immediately after posting my first entry about Charlie Crist likely running for Senate without party affiliation, the governor came out and said he was sticking with the Republican Party. I really wondered if my credibility as someone aware of Florida politics was shot.

But then came the SB6 veto. I feel better now.

For those who like to discuss issues by name instead of number, you probably know SB6 as the teacher pay bill. Full disclosure, both my parents are public school teachers in Florida, so I'm biased when it comes to debates on how much educators get paid. But this isn't a blog about education policy. This is about politics. And I think when Charlie Crist vetoed this bill, it sent a strong political signal about his own plans.

Education has long been the one issue in Florida where Republicans care about accountability. So this proposal to tie teacher pay to student performance was a right-winger's dream. It easily passed the state House and Senate, and had the strong backing of uber-Republican Jeb Bush. And of course, it was supported by Senate hopeful Marco Rubio. So when Crist nixed the legislation, it sent a strong signal he was willing to break with the entire Republican Party.

What has almost been humorous, though, is the reaction of Democrats. Kendrick Meek, the Dems' best shot at taking this Senate seat, floundered in a statement praising the teachers' unions for forcing a veto, but trying unsuccessfully to criticize Crist. "The Republican leadership in Tallahassee," he said, "is waging a sustained, mean-spirited attack against our teachers." True, but then Meek isn't looking for a job in Tallahassee. And if Crist is his opponent, well, Crist stopped the bill from going into effect, something no Democrat was able to do.

So why does this signal Crist's bolt to no-party status? That pits him against Meek right now. And frankly, Crist destroys Meek. At this moment, Crist is more effective in pushing the Democrats' agenda than the Democrat in the race. For the same reason, he would really do well to get out of a Republican primary.

This veto means Crist doesn't care about pissing off 70 percent of Republicans. That either means he has given up on winning the primary, or he doesn't plan to stay in it. We'll know by April 30, but my bet is the latter.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Crist as an Indy? Hard to believe, but...

Speculation going wild today about whether Charlie Crist will go independent in the U.S. Senate race. For almost a year, a lot of people have asked me if Charlie would ever switch parties. I have always said 'No way!,' but a couple moves recently make me wonder if he could successfully go Indy.

First let me do a short primer on how Florida law works here. By April 30, Crist has to nail down what letter appears by his name on the ballot. He can't do a Lieberman and run in the Republican primary, then run as an independent when he is denied the nomination. But what a lot of people don't realize is that he doesn't have to change his own party affiliation to run with "no party affiliation." In Florida, what people commonly refer to as running as an independent is actually running without affiliation. It only indicates your standing as a candidate, and has nothing to do with your personal party affiliation.

The other very important thing to remember under Florida Law is that you don't need 50 percent-plus-one to win a race anymore. We have winner-takes-all elections that don't require a majority of voters. This saves money on runoff elections, both for the state and campaigns, never mind the cost to democracy.

Now back to Charlie. I began wondering what was up a month ago when he suddenly rediscovered his love of the stimulus. Granted, it was very strange when he denied support. I was">there in Fort Myers when he literally embraced Obama and said "it’s important that we pass this stimulus package." It was never credible to run away from that. Still, he had been backing away from it because of the primary, and coming back around to his original position was a major change in electoral strategy.

Now he has vetoed a Republican elections bill and threatened to veto the teacher pay bill. That would piss of Jeb Bush, who already has taken some shots at Crist since the health care bill passed.

At this point, I think it will be hard for Crist to win the primary. He's 30 points down, and most likely just saw his financial edge wiped away. That leaves his two options: stay and fight the good moderate fight for the soul of his party, or run, and possibly win, without party affiliation.

Now I've read some liberal blogs suggesting liberals should woo and welcome Crist to their side. None of those bloggers are from Florida. Though I am a lib myself, I have had some respect for tea party guys who say Crist has no core values. They are right. Crist ran for Senate in 1998 as a hard-right conservative. As governor, he has been more liberal than Lawton Chiles. Wherever the political wind blows, Crist follows. When the stimulus was popular, he supported it. Then he changed his mind, then changed back again. Does he have an agenda to implement? I am sure, but he is no fool, and knows you first have to get a job before an agenda is implemented, and that means politics first.

So Charlie does what it takes to win. Charlie can't win the Republican primary. Charlie can win as an NPA. You follow?

That is where the winner-takes-all law comes into play. Kendrick Meek so far has run an almost invisible campaign. He has banked on raising his game after a Republican comes out of that contest bruised and battered. But right now, both Crist and Rubio have far more visibility and name recognition.

Consider this. What if the Crist-Rubio battle was rescheduled overnight for November? Could Meek possibly make himself a contender in a three-man race? I say no. With an independent Crist, Meek will only get the hard-core partisans to vote for him in the general, and that's only about 30 percent. The contest will be all about Crist and Rubio. They will be fighting over the remaining 70 percent. And whoever gets more of them is our next U.S. Senator.

If that's Rubio, it's a definite win for the Republicans. But it's also a win for them if Crist wins. He will likely remain a registered Republican, and will caucus with them in Washington.

Since this is already a Republican seat, Florida Democrats likely won't even feel much of a loss.

And Florida loves its incumbents. Last time we voted a Senator out of office was in 1986 when Bob Graham booted Paula Hawkins, and it took a popular sitting governor to do it then. Which, of course, is what Charlie Crist is now. Despite his low polling with his own party, Crist is a Republican with broad appeal with Dems and Independents.

To me, running NPA is a pretty clear path of victory for Crist. And I've never seen him pass that up.