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Why it is downright silly to count out Kendrick Meek

Conventional wisdom is a lot of things, but one thing is for certain, it is often wrong in the long run.

Here are my two favorites from the last year:

  • Charlie Crist is unstoppable, regardless of what he runs for (this one dates back to 2006).
  • Start measuring the drapes Bill McCollum. You are the next Florida Governor.

It seems the latest CW de’jour is Kendrick Meek is done, toast, finished, and like most CW, this one is grounded in virtually no fact.

Let’s review.

In most polling leading up to the Charlie Crist switch-a-roo, in head to head polls, Meek would land in the high 20’s to low 30’s, essentially the baseline Democratic vote, roughly the same you would find if you  put me in those head to heads.  Why?  On a statewide basis, he is a relative unknown.  This isn’t his fault, Florida is an exceedingly hard place to earn name ID and when you do have it, it can be fleeting.

Alas, Crist makes the switch and all of the sudden, Meek finds himself in the mid-teens.     The last poll, done by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, has the race at 41 Crist, 30 Rubio, 14 Meek.

But from where I sit, nothing much has changed.

Crist has always had high favorable that crossed partisan lines.  He also has universal name ID, a rarity in Florida that is likely only shared by Jeb Bush (not even Bill Nelson or five time statewide winner Bob Graham can claim it).   And unlike Crist, neither of his general election opponents, Marco Rubio or Kendrick Meek have anything near it.  Hence the polling.  It is all about him having real name ID, while his opponents do not.

However, that will change.  While the press has been writing him off, Meek has slowly been building up a healthy war chest, one that will allow him to run a healthy paid media effort during his primary.  And as Meek’s name ID increases and voters become more comfortable with his story, so will his polling numbers.

In some ways, Meek’s bigger challenge isn’t the general, its getting out of his primary.  While part of me thinks it requires a certain suspension of reality to see Democratic voters select Jeff Greene, you can never count out a billionaire who clearly isn’t afraid to spend it.  But unlike the GOP primary, where voters seem to be actively looking for an alternative to Bill McCollum, Democratic voters don’t know Meek—yet.  But they will soon.

Assuming Meek can win his primary, which I think he will, the real fun begins.  If Meek is able to spend 4-6 million in his primary, he will likely emerge with 50-60% statewide name ID, and more importantly,  higher numbers among Democrats.  That higher name ID will almost certainly lead to much more interesting three-way match-ups between Meek, Crist and Rubio, which will lead to more fundraising and more TV.

I do believe that right now, there are Democrats who are rallying around Crist because they know him, but as I’ve written about here before, Crist’s support has never been more than an inch thick.  And as Meek grows in stature, that support will peel away. 

It is a long ways between today and August 24th and even further until November, which is why no one should write anyone off yet, and definitely not Kendrick Meek.


Looks like Bob Graham was right, again.

I'll admit it, I am an unabashed fan of Bob Graham.  In fact, one of the great honors and joys of my 2008 Obama experience was getting to spend time with him.  There are few who have ever understood this state like him, and few that ever will.  

That being said, many people shook their heads when a decade or so ago, Bob Graham predicted that the state's long term demographic shifts would lead to a much better state for Democrats.  The doubters weren't without good cause, a decade ago, Jeb Bush had just easily won the Governor's mansion, and Republicans were sweeping pretty much everything, at all levels of the ballot. 

Fast forward.  Obama wins Florida, on the back of a grassroots effort that is without comparison.  Democratic voter registration advantage surges from 250,000 to over 700,000, in just a year or so.  Some GOPers claimed it was a fluke, or at worst (for them), a one time boost and that Florida was still a reliably "red" state. 

Fast forward again.  Obama's popularity slides and all is lost for the Democrats, or at least that is the message coming out of the politarazzi.  But does the data back it up? 

Not exactly.

Since the close of the registration books in October 2008, 38% of all new registrants in Florida signed up as Democratic, compared to just 25% with the GOP, an advantage of some 50K voters, continuing a four year trend of growth for Florida Democrats.  In fact, going back to the close of books in 2006, 42% of all new registrants signed up with the Democrats, compared to only 25% for the Republicans. 

Now, I'd love to claim that guys like me have a lot to do with it, but the truth is simple demographics are working in the favor of Democrats, just as Bob Graham predicted. 

If you look at voters registered before 2006, not only is the Dem to GOP margin closer (+3 Dem), but the state had a different look.  Almost 72% of registered voters were white, with African American/Caribbean voters making up 12% and Hispanics making up another 10%.   But since 2006, the numbers tell a different story.  Of voters registered since 2006, 17% are African American/Caribbean and 18% are Hispanic (the numbers are pretty consistent from 2006-2008 and from 2008-2010).

Within these populations, the Democratic advantage is stunning.  Among the 340,000 or so Hispanics who have registered since 2006, the Democratic advantage over the GOP is 44-19.  Given what just happened in Arizona, there is no reason to believe this trend will change anytime soon.

Among new African American/Caribbean voters, the advantage is 81-3,  Even among white voters, where the GOP held a 10 point advantage pre-2006, among new voters, the advantage is +6 (both pre-2008 and post-2008).

Dig a little deeper and you see that seven counties in Florida make up more than 51% of all new voters since the close of registration in 2006, and in those four counties, more than 4 out 10 new voters were either African American/Caribbean or Hispanic.   I'll break this down a little further in a future blog post.

Add these trends to the fact that 2010 marks the first time in 140 years that every statewide office is on the ballot without an incumbent running for re-election---plus Cristpalooza, and this one is lining up to be a wild one, Florida style.

And once again, it looks like Bob Graham was right. 


The next generation of communication

Given all the fun in Florida politics over the last month, I've been a little remiss on commenting on a recent survey about teenagers and how they communicate that came from the Pew Trusts.

Several have already written about the findings.  For example, the survey found that the average teen texts about 100 times a day (wonder how that compares to the average legislator), and that some 34% of teenage drivers admit to texting while driving.  Given the research on self-disclosure of bad personal behavior, and our collective experience, we all know the last figure to be significantly higher.

However, one piece has been underreported, at least in my opinion.  In this survey, only 34% of 17 year olds and 33% of all teens say they talk to their friends face to face on a given day, compared to 54% of all teens (and 77% of 17 year olds) who say they text with their friends every day.  Certainly anyone who has teenagers or who interacts with them frequently (I am the proud uncle of several) will attest to the accuracy of this.

So what does this mean in the realm of politics?  More than you can imagine.

Here is some more background.

A couple years back, when I was plodding through grad school at FSU (on the working student five year plan!), I worked on a paper with a few classmates where we attempted to measure whether you could predict someone's likelihood to become active civically based largely on the number of friends they had on Facebook.  Knowing that traditionally, the width and influence of one's network of friends (loosely known as social capital) can of whether someone would vote or even run for office themselves, we wanted to see if the same could be a predictor using social networking.  The answer we found:  maybe.  That's a whole other blog post.

But in that research, we also discovered a fascinating paper written in 2007 by an Ohio State professor who wanted to find out among college students if face to face debate was better than virtual (online debate).  The results, at least to me, were stunning, that yes, among this universe of voters, the online debate was just as valuable and that the students were "more candid (used) more direct opinions and engaged in more heated debates," than those who did the same thing around the table.  Another study found that "the ease of electronic communication may be making teens less interested in face-to-face communication with their friends" (Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 2008). 

So to sum this up, teenagers and college students not only utilize electronic communication more than face to face communication, they value it just as much.   And that changes everything.

Sure, as these kids grow up, they will begin to meld into society, but we are largely products of what we learn as youngsters, meaning that there is no reason to think that even as 30 and 40 year olds, the subjects in this study won't continue to value electronic communication as much as face to face. 

Take all these findings and it is fair to assume that as today's generation grows into tomorrows, we will be looking at a society that debates less at the water color and more on self-selected facebook groups, and one where fewer people lobby their neighbors by banging on doors and more lobby their friends on twitter or over text message.  And it won't just impact politicians, this new era will impact all of the ways that we communicate with each other as we move into a world where we are all connected all the time.

So next time you see a kid sitting at the dinner table at Applebees texting during dinner, just wait, one day that young person might be your co-worker debating you on the merits of a company policy over gchat, facebook, or that same cell phone. 


How to read the Sink/Scott Rasmussen poll.

Today, Rasmussen released a poll which showed RickScott and Alex Sink in a statistical dead heat.  As usual, the punditocracy overreacted.   Here's why.

First, Rick Scott has been on statewide TV and radio for a month, to the tune of $4-6 million.  At this level, voters in every market in the state--including the very expensive Miami market, have seen his ads 7-10 times a week.  

On the flip side, Alex Sink has not been on TV, which for this time of year, is very normal for gubernatorial voters.  Alex Sink will undoubtedly run a robust and easily largest paid media program of any Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate in history. So he will not communicate in a vacuum forever.  And almost no voter has learned that as a hospital CEO, his company got slapped with a $1.7 billion fine for committing the largest Medicare fraud in American history.

But back to the poll:  Scott's one point lead is fueled by an important stat:  he is getting 76% of Republicans, compared to Sink getting 68% of Democrats.  In the latter camp, they just don't know her yet.  But considering Jim Davis got 85% of Democrats, one can fairly assume that Sink will do at least as well.

Sink, despite her relative lack of name ID, is still beating Scott among NPA (voters not registered with one of the two major political parties) voters by 3 points.  Again, noting that Davis beat Crist, according to the exit polls, by a point, it is a reasonable notion that Alex Sink will do at least as well.

So, if you fast forward and based on this poll, make the following assumptions:

1.  Alex Sink gets not a single vote out of the remaining 13% of GOP undecideds.  In other words, on election day, she gets 11% of GOP voters, which is one less than Obama in 2008.

2. She gets 86% of Democrats to vote for her. One point more than Davis earned, and one less than Obama

3.  She only gets 1 in 5 of the remaining undecided NPA voters in the Rasmussen survey.

If you do this, Sink beats Scott by 2 points on election day, 51-49, a virtual landslide in Florida. And that is before a single point of television communication by Sink. 

Quite frankly, that is a pretty strong place to start. 


The most important number of the week:  38

Most of the reporting about the recent Mason-Dixon poll that showed Rick Scott within 14 points of Bill McCollum focused on exactly that, the 14 point gap.  But from where I sit, it isn't the 14 point cap that should scare the daylights out of Camp McCollum, it is the other number:  38.

Here's why.

McCollum has run for statewide office now four times.  He has very high name ID and and even higher  name ID among core Republicans. 

On the other hand, less than a month ago, probably not more than four people could pick Rick Scott out of a line-up. 

Even today, according to the same poll, McCollum holds a substantive name ID advantage among Republicans of 57-29 and a favorable advantage of 46-28.  Take these factors into play and he should be above or at least close to 50 in a head to head with Scott.

Yet he is at 38.

And 40 percent aren't sure how they will vote.

Even in the early days, when Rubio had low name ID, Crist was frequently above 50 percent.  It took nearly a year for him to catch up and tie Crist.  Scott's on pace to do it in 6-8 weeks.  In other words, it almost seems like Republicans have been wanting an alternative to the Attorney General and as soon as it popped up, they jumped to it.

Further, he has an even bigger problem.  Rick Scott has already spent more than McCollum has raised and is on place to outspend him 4, maybe even 5 to one. 

Now, Scott isn't without his own problems, namely that he once ran a company that got whacked by the federal government for a $1.7 Billion (yes that is Billion with a B) fine for defrauding the government.   And his decision to stand up and defend the oil industry with the gusher in the gulf may be courageous, but hardly smart politics. 

But the problem for McCollum is it appears his voters are ready and willing to look for an alternative and in the end they may not care, just as they brushed aside Rubio's credit card and other woes.  And if McCollum doesn't start taking this guy seriously and at least try to get some negative earned press, a few more weeks and a few more 4-5 million on TV and he could find himself in a dead heat, or even behind the man from Naples, at which point, it will be Katy Bar the Door time for the presumptive nominee.

Which is why this week's most important number is in fact not 14, but 38.


Thanks Mom!

I have been blessed to live a pretty interesting life so far, and I much of it to my mom.  None of us would be anything without our mothers and my Mom is a special one.  So I am going to take a moment and share a little about her.

My mom was raised a little differently than most in her era, as she was the product of a real two-income family.  My grandmother (who just turned 90) was a real Renaissance woman for her time, raising two kids while continuing to work as a nurse at a manufacturing plant in Illinois while my grandfather worked as an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad (he snuck me on the train when I was four or five, something I remember as clear as yesterday).    Her parents had nothing but the highest of expectations for her and that translated down to her kids.

At 26, my mom married into a ready-made family and ended up raising and putting a total of five kids through college, while for most of that time, teaching kindergarten in St. Augustine's public schools.   Like most families, we had our good years and bad years, but I can't remember her ever making her kids go without---even if it meant driving a ten year old, nearly 200K mile family trucksteresque blue mini-van complete with wood paneling and a somewhat broken speedometer, so we could attend the best schools, chase our dreams and have had every opportunity to succeed as adults.  

And like all good moms, my mother continues to be all in for her kids.  Whether it is chasing my Broadway sister Lisa around the country, or helping Liz raise her "grand-chickens," or in my case, becoming a full time Obama volunteer in 2008 (my mother meeting Michelle Obama will always be one of my favorite memories), she continues to be 100% supportive of whatever we get ourselves into.   Though at least now, she doesn't have to drive a mini-van anymore!

So mom, Happy Mothers Day and much love to you.  Any success I've had is due in large part to the start you gave me and the rest of the crew.  


Cristpalooza, Off and Running

Charlie Crist made it official today, he is running as an independent.  And I picked this day to be in Washington DC, not Florida.  Nice timing, Steve.

If the Governor's goal was to get people talking to him, he succeeded.  I took 10 calls this morning before 9:30 AM, and 9 of them were from reporters talking about this race.  It just carried on from there, in the line at airport security in Tallahassee, on the television in the lobby of my hotel when I checked in, and even the topic of conversation in the lobby of a restaurant.  Heck, even my blog had its best day ever.  It is all Charlie, all the time, just the way he likes it.

Tomorrow it will get even more interesting, when California billionaire Jeff Greene, gets in the race as well, as a Democrat. Only in Florida.

But the real game is between Meek, Crist and Rubio.  As I wrote last night in Cristpalooza Begins, it is a wide open race.  Personally, I think the biggest beneficiary of the Crist move is Meek, but all three have a shot.

Clearly, on the surface, Crist's math is the hardest, 50% of independents and 1 out of 3 GOP and Democratic voters.  If you want to find out how Crist is doing, just ask three of your Republican AND three of your Democratic friends where they stand on the race.  If two of those 6 are with Crist, he has a great shot.  If not, he's probably done.

But as some Crist fans have reminded me today, on the flip side, in order to win, he just needs to convince about 60% of the Floridians who today approve of him to vote for him.  Moreover, Crist is already a likeable guy, and people like to vote for candidates whom they like. Seems, reasonable enough, right?  We'll find out in November.

Regardless of where you come from on this race, or on politics in general, pull up a seat and soak this one in.  It is going to be a great race---and hopefully, create a few jobs in the Florida economy from all the political pundits who will be invading the state to watch.

Please keep reading my blog.  There will be plenty more on this race in the days, weeks and months to come.


Cristpalooza Begins

Ladies and Gentlemen, you only thought Florida politics was crazy.  Well today it just got even more interesting.

So, can he do it? 

Only a fool would say for sure.  I have made pretty compelling cases all week for all three of them, because all three have strong arguments why they will win.  It is jump ball Florida.

But back to Crist.  On the numbers alone, he has a hard row to hoe.  Assuming a win number of 35-36% (I doubt we will see a 34-33-33 race), he needs to get roughly 50% of the independents and 30-35% of the vote in both parties, a very difficult challenge.

The challenge, as Rubio's people pointed out today, the independent vote in Florida isn't as big as some people think. Even on its best day in November, NPA and minor party voters will probably only make up 18% of the electorate, so even if Crist gets 50% of the vote, he only nets 9 points of total statewide vote.    Here is why his challenge is so daunting:

Independents (18% of vote):  50%  = 9 statewide points

Republicans (40% of vote):   35% =  14 statewide points

Democrats (42% of vote):   30% =   12.6 statewide points

Total= 35.6 %

Is that doable math?  Sure.  Is it a long shot?  Absolutely.  Here's why:

Look at the Meek math.  Right now, Rubio is clearly going to try to tie Meek and Crist to Obama, but with the President hovering around 50% approval in Florida, that could be a risky strategy.  If Meek can solidify Democrats to rally around the President for him, he will likely win this thing, even with just a tiny portion of Republicans and Independents.  Here's how:

Independents (18%):   20% for Meek = 3.6 statewide points

Republicans (40%):    3% for Meek=  1.2 statewide points

Democrats (42%):   80% for Meek= 33.6 statewide points

Meek total statewide vote:  38.4%

Play with the math, and you can all of the sudden make the same case for Rubio.  And of course, there is easily a scenario where both Meek and Rubio both get near 40, and Crist barely emerges into the 20's, though my hunch is this could be razor tight with all three above 30.

All three candidates are incredibly talented, and all three have tremendous challenges.  For Meek and Rubio, it is introducing themselves to the state.  Meek has low statewide name ID, and Rubio is only slightly higher.  Buyiing name ID is expensive, which is why first time candidates for Governor and Senator tend to struggle.

For Crist, he has to make the case to 1/3rd of all partisans that vote in an off-year election that they are better off with an independent than one of their own.  Plus he has to figure out how to raise the cash without a party apparatus, and put together a team talented enough to win statewide in a place like Florida.  Neither are easy tasks

But at the same time, all three have really interesting paths and in the case of both Meek and Rubio, some interesting choices to make.  Do you solidify the family or do you try to take away the middle?  Either way is a potential path.   This is political chess at its finest, and any of them can win it. 

For me, this race is going to boil down to Charlie Crist.  He has virtual universal name ID and generally high approvals.  At the top of his game, Crist is as good as anyone who plays it.  Will his new found freedom set him on a new course, or will he get drawn into the weeds, as Rubio did to him in the primary?  If Charlie is Charlie, he can win.  No one likes the lights more than Crist, and for the next six months the lights will shine brightly on him as both candidates take shots at him as they work to secure their own base.   Lose and its take your fan and go home.  Win and you transform Florida politics.  

This is unchartered territory.  This race has no peer group.   There are more questions than answers (I have a whole blog on that subject coming soon).  So sit back, and relax and look keep an eye out on the street for Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd and John King because one thing is for certain, we are all going to have a front row seat to political history, right here in Florida. 

Cristpalooza begins today. 



The road to independence starts in his own back yard

Today, the pride of Kenyon College* (also known as the Sewanee of the north), Adam Smith published an article where it was suggested that the race for the United States Senate may come down to the "I-10" corridor, where Crist might be able to break through with his independent message.

I disagree.

I assume, the underlying argument s voters will vote for Crist over the African American candidate and the Hispanic candidate.  First, to the basic premise there, Barack Obama did about four points better across North Florida than did John Kerry (not to mention that the only state elected African American Republican represents one of the state's most conservative North Florida districts). 

Secondly, the GOP base voter up here is more solid than arguably anywhere in the state, and lastly, Crist's current approval in North Florida, according to the recent Q poll, even with the region's strong GOP base, is lower than any other region in the state.  

North Florida today is home to two party bases, and outside of Duval County and a few others, there is not a lot of persuasion going on.  For example, it is hard for me to imagine a Tea Party center loike Walton County turning out big for Charlie Crist, simply because they don't want to vote for a Cuban Republican.  The North Florida of 2010 is conservative, but that doesnt mean it is the North Florida of 1968.

No, in my opinion, Tampa will decide Crist's fate for the same reason that Tampa decides everything else, it is where the swing voters live, and if you have a message that plays well there, you will play well among swing voters everywhere.

Sure, other factors will play into the final equation.  Crist maintains high favorables in some Democratic circles in southeast Florida, and certainly that will translate into votes.  But in order to win, he needs to carry the bulk of Florida's swing vote, and he will have the benefit of being the home town kid.  The region's large, and much more moderate Republican base, has supported Crist since his days in the State Senate, and are much more likely to peel off in large numbers than voters along I-10, and further down the road, in Sarasota, Lee County and Naples, where the electorate is largely made up of retired Midwestern Rockefeller-type Republican, he again can find pockets of voters who are more likely to be turned off by the extremism of the Tea Party movement than he will find in North Florida.

The numbers bear some of this out.  If you look at the swing vote between Crist and Sink in 2006 (admittedly, not the best comparison, but it is something), the biggest vote swings were in Tampa market, followed closely by Orlando, then the SW Florida counties.  

But more than anything, the best predictor in politics is past performance, and in Florida, there are counties (32 to be exact) that are always Republican and certain counties (7 to be exact) that are overwhelmingly Democratic, plus another 14 or so that are pretty solidly predictable (might go once out of five elections the other way)---and to make things fun, the vote margins for each party out of their base tend to be pretty similar.  History says Meek and Rubio will do pretty well among their voters within their base counties.

This means there are only 11 or 12 that flip frequently from election to election, and out of those 11 or 12, only four would be considered to have large population bases:  Hillsborough, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas.

And three of those are in the Tampa media market.

If Crist wins, it will be close.

And on the off chance that he pulls it out, you will only need to look to history to see how he did it:  the same way everyone else has done it, by winning in Tampa.



*Thanks to politifact for catching my error.  :-)


The last Hail Mary for Crist?

Tonight, the feds announced a formal investigation into the Republican Party of Florida's credit card issues, an investigation that reportedly will include Marco Rubio's extensive spending on the party's credit card.  Press reports have suggested that a number of items on Rubio's card may could be considered personal expenses, and certainly Crist has been making this case for some time now.

Some supporters of Crist are probably hoping the news of this investigation might be his version of Doug Flutie's heroic last minute throw against Miami, but for him, his game was decided long before tonight.

Why?  The grassroots GOP decided long ago that he wasn't going to be their standard bearer.

This goes back to the first post I ever wrote on this blog (and to this date, still the most read one) about Crist's historical lack of a base.   As that post showed, even in Crist's most popular days, he was never embraced in the Jeb Bush way by the GOP grassroots.  In fact, around the Capitol, there was never a shortage of grumbling not only about his leadership style (considered weak), but also what many on the GOP side saw as appeasement tendencies. 

And Crist did little to change that opinion.  He supported changing the state's policy to allow felons who had paid their debt to society to have their right to vote restored, he stood up and said he believed in the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting climate change, and when the lines were long at early voting sites in October of 2008, he signed an order extending early voting.  To make matters worse, on that last one, he only talked to one legislator first, Dan Gelber.   So when he hugged the President, it wasn't the first mistake, it was the last straw.

In retrospect, Marco Rubio could have been Dean Cannon, Jeff Atwater, Adam Hasner or Mike Harridopolis and the result would have been the same.  Someone other than Crist was going to win the nomination.  Don't get me wrong, Marco Rubio is a highly talented guy and he's run a very good campaign.  However, the movement was there, looking for a leader, and Marco stepped up, but if not Marco, there would have been someone else.  My mistake early on was thinking there was a chance that Crist could rally, but clearly that was never going to be allowed to happen.

Now that doesn't mean the attacks on Rubio or the GOP credit card investigation won't have an impact, but it won't help Crist in the GOP primary, and considering that former GOP head, Jim Greer, the center of the controversy, was also put there by Charlie Crist, it likely won't help him anywhere.

I don't think there is any doubt he moves forward and runs as an NPA.  The only question is timing.  Does he pull the trigger tomorrow or wait another week.  At this point, that is the only suspense. 

I still believe his path is uphill and he is very likely to lose, even as an independent.  But then again, there is nothing in modern American history to compare this to, so we will all find out together.