Ever since Charlie Crist announced that he had become a Democrat, local Democratic Parties around the state have gone into “Charliemania”. For example, the Manatee County Democratic Party has Crist as their main speaker for their next annual awards dinner, which is this weekend. But the Manatee County DEC is just one of many that have gone “ga ga” over Crist.
Over the past few months, those who support Charlie Crist (many who are former Republicans themselves) have gone around the state convincing real Democrats that Crist is the only Democratic candidate that can beat Rick Scott. In all honestly, they do have a point. The state of the Democratic Party in Florida is so dismal that Crist is the only serious Democratic candidate to run for this position. Therefore, the Florida Democratic Party only has themselves to blame for Crist being the only serious candidate for the position.
With that taken into account, the fact that Crist is the only serious candidate provides Florida Democrats with a lose-lose situation. Even if he wins, Democrats will more than likely lose. And still, he would have to beat Rick Scott, or possibly another Republican.
So, what could happen with Crist being the Democratic nominee?
Well, he could lose the general election. In a recent poll from Hamilton Campaigns (a Democratic polling firm, so they are not GOP-leaning), Crist and Scott were tied at 41%-41%. With that poll, Crist is already in a world of trouble. Scott is already at the lowest point that he can be at, and his only possibly movement is up. On the other hand, Crist could possibly be peaking right now, with all the Charliemania going on, and he could suffer as the election gets into the “hot phase”. At that point, Scott will pull out the big guns, attack Crist as a flip-flopper and try to suppress Democratic turnout but running commercials from Republican-leaning CCEs showing Crist’s life as a “pro-gun, pro-life Republican”. At this point, Rick Scott has more of an opportunity to improve his image, and Crist has more of a chance of having his tarnished.
But even with that, we need to look at the numbers when examining any midterm election. Republicans are a much larger percentage of the electorate than Democrats or NPAs during the midterms. Historically, it doesn’t matter if it is a “Republican wave” election or a “Democratic wave” election, Democratic turnout is substantially lower. And, as of right now, there is no evidence whatsoever that Charlie Crist would increase Democratic voter turnout. Even this doesn’t really matter, as will be discussed later.
Another thing that the Crist people like to point out is that Crist can win the moderate vote. In 2010, this “go for the moderate vote” theory blew up in the Florida Democratic Party’s face. Alex Sink won the moderate vote by 23%, but still lost the election. The fact is that less people in Florida are identifying themselves as “moderate”. In 2008, 47% of the electorate identified themselves as “moderate”. In 2012, only 43% identified themselves as “moderate” in a high turnout presidential year, when moderate numbers usually skyrocket (as did in 2008, which was the largest ever moderate turnout).
What does this mean? It means that the Florida electorate is becoming more polarized and are less likely to look for a moderate option than in the past. In the 2012 Florida presidential election we all know that Obama won, even though most people thought Romney would take the state. Why did this happen? Well, liberals were 22% of the overall vote, the highest they have ever been in any Florida general election. When Obama won the state in 2008, only 19% of people identified themselves as liberal. Therefore, the state is starting to become more liberal at the expense of moderates.
Another extremely important factor is that the Florida electorate identifies themselves less with a party than it had in the past. In 2004, 23% of Floridians identified themselves as “independent” or “NPA”. In the 2012 election, 33% of people identify themselves in this way. These numbers purely show a move away from partisan politics. Therefore, the electorate in Florida is more likely to see a Crist vs. Scott match up instead of a Crist (D) vs. Scott (R) match up. And in that case, it doesn’t really matter if Crist has a (D) next to his name or not.
So, looking at all of this, let’s turn back to the Crist’s problems. First of all, the state is becoming more liberal. With Crist refusing to move off his “I’m a moderate” line, liberals are less likely to vote for him. Sink proved this strategy to be valid in her defeat to Rick Scott in 2010. In addition, when the attack ads come out (and they will come out) showing Crist as a “pro-gun, pro-life Republican” even more liberals will stay home.
Second, we have the issue of Crist running as a Democrat. As was mentioned, more people are identifying themselves as “independent or NPA” than ever before in Florida political history. Not only does the exit polling data prove this, so does the actual voter registration numbers. If we look at the 2010 election, only 36% of those who identify themselves as “Democrats” voted. This means that only 36% of the electorate cared that Alex Sink was a Democrat. And as time passes, party affiliation will have less of an impact on elections in Florida as it did 20 years ago.
Of course, some will argue that “Crist will win moderate Republicans which will help us win the election”. There are two statistical flaws to this argument as well as one observational flaw. First, and I hate that I keep on repeating this, Alex Sink won the moderate vote by 23%. Second, statistically, those who identify themselves with a party usually stay with that party. Let’s take Crist’s own numbers for 2010 as an example. If the “Crist will win moderate Republicans” argument worked, then he should have done fairly well with Republicans in 2010. But no, he only won 12% of the Republican vote, blowing that theory completely out of the water.
The third and observational flaw is that Republicans hate people who switch parties. Usually those who switch from Republican to Democrat lose their next election. Crist’s party-switching will just be used by the Republicans to motivate their base even more, which will make it even harder for Crist to beat Rick Scott.
So what does this all mean? It means that the Florida electorate is becoming more liberal and less partisan. The fact that Crist is running as a Democrat means less today than in the past. The only electorate that care that Crist is a Democrat are Democrats themselves. The bigger issue is that liberals, who are increasing in numbers, will have no motivation to vote. This is what happened in 2010, and it could happen in 2014.
Those who feel that Crist will win in a landslide over Scott aren’t really dealing with the reality of the situation. Yes, they are happy that they Crist switched parties and they are convincing themselves that Crist will easily beat Scott. This is exactly the kind of complacency that the Republicans were hoping for.
Unfortunately, because of those who have run the Florida Democratic Party for years, there has been a lack of alternative options to Charlie Crist.
Part II will be on Thursday.