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Five Takeaways from the Week

It has been a long few days of political operative world travel, so pardon the late and shorter version of 5 Takeaways from the week.


5.  Florida Emergency Management Director resigns.   It isn't every day that a key member of the state's emergency response team resigns with no notice, especially in the middle of the state's worst cold snap in years.  But given the accusations made about Ruben Almaguer, it should come as no surprise.

4. Rothstein to plead guilty.   Alleged ponzi schemer and occasional world traveler, Scott Rothstein will plead guilty to a variety of charges.  The question on the minds of many---did Rothstein give away anything for his plea deal? 

3. Meggs still after Sansom.  After courts threw out the other charges against former House Speaker Ray Sansom, Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs came back with a few more creative charges.  Even if these don't stick, Sansom isn't out of the woods as a House Committee begins hearings on whether or not he will remain a member of that chamber---and he and future pols in his same boat probably should hope Dan Gelber's honest services bill doesn't become law. 

2.  John Thrasher to become new RPOF Chair.  With a resume that already includes House Speaker, State Senator, Alex Sink donor and Uber Lobbyist, John Thrasher now wants to be chair of the GOP.  Thrasher is a very organized and hard-nosed fundraiser who would surely bring order to the disorder of the Republican Party of Florda.  However, he is also the epitome of establishment, arguably even more 'establishment' than Jim Greer.  Will the grassroots accept that?  We will find out soon.

1.  The GOP Soap Opera Ends:  Greer is Out.  After months of hand-wringing, the GOP finally forced its embattled and controversial chair, Jim Greer, to resign.  Greer, known more for bluster than winning, had managed to alienate both donors and activists, all while running up an endless number of newspaper headlines around his party's credit card spending. 

Now here's the interesting part:  Greer still knows which GOP politicians had access to those credit cards and where they spent party money, undoubtedly with the chance to embarrass at least one or two.  My gut says Greer is a good party guy and holds his powder, but just the fear that he could drop a dime to a Bousquet, Caputo or Deslatte, is probably enough to keep a couple pols from sleeping well at night.


HONORABLE MENTION:  Me guest lecturing for Hse GOP Leader, Adam Hasner's grad school class.  I started this morning in Boca Raton (long day that included Miami, Orlando and now St. Augustine), giving a guest lecture for a class at Lynn University taught by Adam Hasner.  Needless to say, I was a little surprised when Adam called to ask me to join him, but I really enjoyed the opportunity.  He's got a good group of students at Lynn, has put together a fun course and I had a good bit of fun. I hope he'll invite me back next year.


More on Crist's base (or lack thereof)

This weekend, both the Times/Herald bureau and the Sentinel papers tackled this issue of Crist and his base.  Now that this is the political question de jour, I wanted to see if the data backed it up.

Yesterday's dismal Jacksonville Jaguars game provided the perfect opportunity.

I went back and looked at the Rasmussen data, starting in April of 2008.  I chose Rasmussen because it provided the most easily accessible data set (While I am not a big fan of robo-polls, I don't care for the R vs D polling company question- data is data, as long as it is collected using scientific standards). 

If I could figure out how to insert a chart, I could show this visually (still working on this). But generally, Crist has generally maintained a wide delta between his overall favorables and his very favorables.  

While his overall favorables has ranged from a low of 49 (twice 7/22/08 and 10/21/09) to a high of 74 (on 12/15/08), with two exceptions, his very favorables have never moved outside of a range from 14-19%.  Even if you factor in the two spikes (in Oct 08, his VF was 22 and in Dec 08, his VF was 34), his "very favorable" average is only 22, certainly not bad, but not worthy of the untouchable status that the media has given him over the years.

Moreover, even if every single point of very favorable came from his own party (which we know is not true), Crist's historic very favorables among Republicans would still be under 50%.  Hence, he has never really had a base.   For Crist, it was only a matter of time before he faced a challenge like this.

Can he still win?  Absolutely.  He is still one of the most popular public officials in recent Florida memory.  But without a doubt, it is going to require mustering all of his political skill and motivation to reintroduce himself to GOP voters and remind them why they have stood with him so many times before. 

Then he has to do it all over again in the general.



Top Ten Takeaways from 2009

Fortunately, politics had another slow week in Florida, so I will use this space for the obligatory end of year, top ten list.


10.  McCollum wants to sue over health insurance reform.  There is nothing particularly top tenish about this specific story, except that it highlights McCollum's clear strategy for election:  nationalizing the 2010 Gubernatorial election.  It may be the only play for a candidate who has run for office some 13 or 14 times in a year when it doesn't appear the electorate wants more of the same. 

9.  Jim Greer and the Florida GOP.   Personally,  I've never understood the choice or Crist's support for Greer, but I am sure glad he's around.  The bombastic and ever confident Chairman, Greer's greatest hits include proclaiming that Obama had no chance in Florida, renting his own plane to follow Sarah Palin around, while running up massive travel expenses, then losing the state in the Presidential election.  He then ran for Chair of the RNC after losing the White House and seats in Congress and the Legislature, floated his own name for Congress and suggested the President's motives in speaking to school kids was "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."  Carl Hiassan couldn't have dreamed this guy up. 

8.   Barack Obama inaugurated President.  In a nation as closely divided as we are, competitive states are always special, especially when they are worth twenty-seven electoral votes.  Proof of the importance of Florida, the President has already made several stops in the state, including one that created an image that will partially define Florida's US Senate race, and another to deliver a large grant for green energy jobs.   Moreover, the President's election led to a budget stimulus package that bailed out the stateand created the impetus for the passage of commuter rail by the legislature.

7.  Commuter Rail passes.  As I wrote in Five Takeaways a few weeks back, the passage of commuter rail combined with the possibility of Florida receiving a significant high speed rail grant could redefine transportation in Florida, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.  It has also created a great wedge issue in the GOP Gov primary, between new Tea Party GOP types led by train opponent Paula Dockeryand more mainline GOPers, led by train supporter Bill McCollum.

6.  Obama Stimulus Bails out Florida budget.    It took them a week longer than allowed by the Constitution, but on May 8, the legislature passed a $66.5 billion budget, which thanks to some $5 billion from the federal stimulus package, averted many serious cuts--and real debate about Florida's budget and tax system. 

5.  Charlie's Not so Awesome Year.  Imagine being Charlie Crist.  Eighteen months ago, you thought you might be John McCain's running mate. Twelve months ago, you were unopposed for re-election and nearly 70 percent approval.   Six months ago, you raised 4.3 million in two months for the U.S. Senate race.  Now you are tied with a former State Representative whose support isn't much higher than his name-ID.  The big question:  Can you rally?

4.  Marco Rubio raises nearly $1 million in US Senate race.  Personally, I believe that most political process stories (polling, fundraising, staffing, etc.) are meaningless, other than to the circle of 500 people who live this stuff, with one exception:  Marco Rubio's 2009 third quarter haul.   The political world was writing off Rubio after his second quarter haul (case in point why process stories are not relevant), suggesting he might run for AG.   Then he raised a million, and now people are openly suggesting the race is over for Crist.  His money made him credible. 

3.  Public Corruption Arrests Rampant.  While news on the public corruption front focused on the case against former GOP House Speaker Ray Sansom, he was certainly not alone.  Prominent electeds in Broward and elsewhere received new professional photos, leading to a renewed call for tougher ethics laws.   One solution, proposed by Sen. Dan Gelber, would allow state attorneys to prosecute under honest services laws, which could open the door to many more investigations and arrests.

2.  Charlie Crist announces run for Senate.  The decision by Governor Crist to not seek re-election and instead run for the U.S. Senate has created the largest political domino effect in FL in generations.   Because of his decision, every statewide office will be on the ballot without an incumbent seeking re-election, something that hasn't happened in over 100 years.  History could look back at this cycle as the most significant in Florida since Chiles and Askew won in 1970.

1.  It's the Economy, Stupid. 


Near Misses:   Senator George Lemieux, Oil drilling, Florida to get one new Congressional Seat, the return of John Thrasher, Alex Sink outraising Bill McCollum.


Five Takeaways from the Week--Christmas Edition 

5.  Would You Like Grits or Potatos with your Waffles?  More egg for the Florida Department of Transportation this week as the stories about the breakfast-food coded internal emails regarding the central Florida commuter rail deal continued.  Now the Tampa Tribune is reporting that the DOT Secretary and other leading players in the investigation where communicating by Blackberry instant message, a form of communication that is much harder to track through public records.  Not a good revelation for an agency trying to argue that they weren't using words like "waffle" and "pankakes" to elude Florida's public record laws.

4.  Worst Week Ever: The Charlie Crist/Jim Greer Chronicles continued:  It was another bad week for Governor Charlie Crist and Jim Greer.  Crist announced this week that the Diaz-Balart brothers had withdrawn their endorsement, as Greer endured more calls for his resignation, efforts he called treason.  Things have gotten so bad that he even quoted my piece suggesting that a change in party chairs could be tough on the GOP as a justification for his remaining GOP Chair.    Thank God for Crist and Greer it was a short week.  However, for Greer, if he makes it another month, I'd be shocked. 

3.  More Sansom Troubles:  As the House gets ready to begin its hearings into former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, new documents from the Governor's office clearly show that Sansom was behind the controversial airport hanger in Destin, though omits Jay Odom's involvement.  The St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald reports that the Governor's office document says: "According to House and Senate staff and the Department of Education, this is Rep. Sansom's project."

2. Florida to get One new Congressional SeatWhile nothing is confirmed, it looks as though Florida will gain one new Congressional seat after the 2010 census, bringing the total to 26 (Go Team 28!).  Last year, many were hoping that Florida would gain two, but slower growth rates brought it down to one.  Where that seat lands is the next great debate, though personally, I believe it will have to end up benefiting Central Florida, where the fast growth in Democratic leaning Puerto Rican voters will make it hard for GOP map drawers to create a new safe GOP seat.   One other note: with Ohio likely to lose two seats, Florida's role as the pre-eminent Presidential battleground state will only grow.

1.  God Bless the HolidaysFortunately, politics took a much needed break for a few days around Christmas (AMC's non-stop Griswold Christmas was much better than non-stop CNN).   Personally, my wife and I have enjoyed a few days in western North Carolina just getting away from it all) coming from a big family, my Holidays usually looks something like the Griswold family Christmas).  I hope you and your family are having a restful Holiday season and as we bring the door down on this year and decade, I leave you with this Holiday message from the Gelber kids.  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


Merry Christmas!

In this season of hope and love, I hope you and your family has a Merry Christmas and warm Holiday season surrounded by loved ones and friends. 


Gore/Graham '00

Today on her blog, the Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard made note of Mark Shield's recent column, If you could change one thing, Al Gore... where Shield's suggests that if he had to do it all over again, Vice President Al Gore would have chosen Florida Senator Bob Graham to be his running mate, not Joe Lieberman.

While Shields' piece is more of a rant against about Lieberman, the Gore/Graham question is an interesting one and certainly has provided plenty of parlor discussion among Democrats in Florida over the years.  It is also a worthwhile place to think about the role of the VEEP pick---or in the case of Florida in 2010, who Sink and McCollum pick to be their running mates.

In the case of Graham, I am convinced that Gore/Graham would have won Florida by a sizable (at least by Florida standards) margin.  I'll admit that could be colored by the fact I am a huge Bob Graham fan, but looking back to 2000, I think it is a fairly defensible argument.  Graham was (and still is) one of the most popular public figures in the state and had just come off a 20-plus point re-election margin in 1998.  Watching the way Graham was still received on the trail for Obama, I have no doubt that he easily would have energized South Florida Democrats as much as Lieberman ,and even if his inclusion on the ticket was only worth a little upstate and along I-4, Gore/Graham would have carried the state by 2-3 points and gone on to the White House.

But alas, he went with Lieberman, a decision at the time that was lauded for bringing new energy to a troubled ticket.  And at the time, it may well have been the right pick.  On August 7, 2000, when Gore named Lieberman, Gore was down double-digits in most polls, and not many considered Florida to be much in play (Gore didn't start running TV ads until late September 2000).  But Lieberman did provide a bounce and by the end of the August, the race was essentially tied.   Would Graham have provided the same bounce?  Who knows. 

It gets even more fun when you speculate what would have happened if Gore/Graham had won. 

The same question could be applied to Palin.   In the rear view mirror, was she the wrong pick for McCain?  Most people would say yes.  But the other question-was she the right pick in the moment is harder to answer?  Like a lot of folks, I shook my head the morning of her announcement, but without question, she lifted the ticket in a way that its hard to imagine a Pawlenty, Crist or Romney could have.

Over the next few months, we get to play this parlor game in Florida.  Does Sink need help in South Florida, would an upstate candidate help her knock a few points away from McCollum, or does she need to think about a seasoned legislator who can help her govern.  What about McCollum?  Does he need a moderate woman to balance the ticket, does he need someone in central Florida to counter Sink's strength, or should he pick a non-political type to blunt criticism that he is a career politician in a potentially bad year for incumbents?  And of course, my favorite question:  does any of it matter?

For Gore, in retrospect, that answer is definitely yes. 



Susan MacManus on Independent Voters

Florida's resident political scientist, Dr. Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida has written a column for the Sayfie Review looking at the demographics of Florida's independent voters.   It is definitely worth a read here:  Florida Swing Voters: A Closer Look at NPA Registrants and Self-ID'd Independents.

To me, the two most interesting data points in her paper are that these voters tend to be younger and more Hispanic than the population at large.  Not that this is in any way surprising, though I think it underscores two very important political trends for Florida in the future.  

First, as a society we are going away from traditional civic organizing. For example, citizens under 30 years old are less likely to join a group, go to church, or attend meetings than the same cohert of citizens in the 1970s. This societal shift by nature means a shift away from political party membership.  Therefore, it shouldn't be as a surprise MacManus finds that while 49% of all Florida voters under 50 are registered without party affiliation, 63% of all independents are under 50.   In addition, these voters are harder and harder to find, even as though they vote at similar levels to previous generations of younger voters.

Secondly, MacManus shows that while Hispanics comprise 12% of all registered voters, Florida Hispanics make up 18% of all independents. This trend is emblematic of the larger Hispanic population shifts in Florida, as the growth among Hispanic voters over the last few cycles has leaned significantly more towards non-Cuban Hispanics, who unlike their Cuban counterparts, do not have a traditional GOP lean.  In fact, if 2006 and 2008 showed anything, this growing segment is leaning more Democratic

Further, as MacManus shows, the percentage of self-identified independents is larger than the number of registered NPAs.   Part of this is the nature of politics, part of this is the nature of Florida, where so many in Florida have historical political affiliations that don't necessarily fit the Florida political paradigm (Gulf Coast Republicans from the midwest,  Panhandle Southern Democrats, etc.).

But one thing is for certain, we know that where these voters head will largely dictate where Florida goes in 2010 and beyond.



Five Takeaways from the Week

This is a section I am going to try to do every week-  the five most noteworthy things that happened during the previous week.  I hope you will take a moment and comment if you agree or disagree, and certainly feel free to nominate things in the future by emailing me at steven dot schale at gmail dot com.

5.   Crist and Rubio are Tied.

Rasmussen Reports has the race at 43:43, and as the St. Petersburg Times showed, the trend in this race is indisputable

Many have suggested to me that this race is over, and in all fairness, Crist might be done.  But the Rubio would be wise to remember that this election is still nine months away and lots can happen.  However, if given a choice, I'd take Rubio's position over Crist's today.

4.  RPOF in Disarray

I honestly thought I'd never write those words.  Throughout my career, I have had the utmost respect for the RPOF's discipline and high level of staff talent (Frank Terraferma is one of the sharpest strategists anywhere, in my opinion) .  But at least on the discipline side, that has gone away, replaced by infighting and open questioning of financial mismanagement

It is almost as though they've studied my party's historical perfection of the circular firing squad.  Right now, they look more like us and we look more like them.  That being said, to steal from ESPN's Chris Berman:  'No one circles the wagon like the Republican Party of Florida.'  They will get it together and be strong organizationally again---and probably very quickly.

3. Wafflegate.

The decision by DOT officials to use breakfast code words to discuss the commuter rail/high speed train deals has led to a whole spate of one-liners around Tallahassee.  Alone, I probably got fifteen emails asking for my opinion on grits, or whether there was a coalition to support hash browns.  It has also led to Alex Sink calling for heads to roll at the DOT and Governor Crist authorizing an investigation into whether the agency's apparent love for breakfast foods was also an attempt to elude open records laws.

How far will this go?  It is hard to say.  But any deal that concludes with a Senate President losing his cool with the FL DOT Secretary probably means somewhere a long the line, changes will happen.

2. Ausley Considering CFO Race

It was reported on Friday that many Democrats have been encouraging Loranne Ausley to run for CFO, me included.  

Ausley is an extremely talented public official, one who knows how to put together a campaign, and who is not afraid to take on tough challenges.  In my opinion, should she make the decision to run, she will complete the strongest statewide Democratic ticket in Florida in at least a generation.  Personally, I hope she will.

1. SunRail becomes Law

On Wednesday, Governor Crist made it official.  Years of fighting over rail came to an end when the majority of players embraced the art of the possible.

In some ways, this is a law that creates a whole lot of political winners.  Central Florida leaders finally get their train, AFL-CIO President Mike Williams shows his union still has muscle, and Paula Dockery has an issue that she can 'rail' on for the next nine months. 

But without question, the creation of Sunrail and the possible high speed grant money from the US Department of Transportation will change the face of transportation in Central Florida and potentially statewide for generations to come. 

And for that reason, it is issue number one this week.


The case for Jim Greer

My friends are going to start questioning my loyalties with two straight blogs about the GOP, and I promise that I will get back to what I know best.  But being a Democrat, I know a thing or two about party dysfunction, so I feel competent to talk about Jim Greer.

The GOP needs to keep him.

I know that sounds nuts and quite honestly, maybe it is.  But hear me out.

Selfishly, I love having the guy around.  During the Obama campaign, he was fun to spar with, especially as he held on to his misguided belief that we were not taking Florida seriously.  I remember once he had his press people try to convince reporters that our decision to move our state headquarters one block to a new building with more parking was a sign that Obama was pulling out of the state.  Even as late as early October 2008, I would end up on television broadcasts with Greer where he would claim that our campaign was a phantom one.  Would we have won without Jim Greer?  Yes.  Did he make it more fun?  Sure.

But that is not why the GOP should keep him.  For that reason, they should only look to the Democrats.

Between 1996 and 2000, the Florida Democratic Party had something like four chairs.  During the same period, the House Democrats ousted their leader designate, Willie Logan.  The result:  utter disaster.  Between 1998 and 2000 alone, the Democrats lost virtually every statewide office, including the Presidency, a couple of state senate seats and 12-14 state house seats.  And it wasn't like the national mood was horrible then for Democrats. In 1998, Democrats won virtually every southern Governor and picked up seats in Congress both cycles.

But not here.  That era alone took my party from relevant minority to the dark ages---a place we are just now still climbing out of.

Party Chair/Party Leader transitions are never easy (I've been through a few of those myself).  They lead to staff changes, changes in style and a fairly lengthy period of constituency confidence building.  I am pretty certain my Party Chair Karen Thurman, who has had a very nice electoral run as Chair, would freely admit that the learning curve of becoming a new party chair is steep and takes time. 

This is the biggest election cycle in Florida since 1970, in fact, it is the first time in 140 years that every statewide office is on the ballot without an incumbent seeking re-election.  How Florida goes in 2010 may impact where this state's politics fall in the next decade, which obviously has even larger implications.  Changing directions for the GOP now would undoubtedly create more organizational dysfunction and internal party strife.  Certainly for Charlie Crist, losing Greer would be a huge blow to his campaign, particularly since Greer may be the entirety of Crist’s base. (See yesterday’s post of more on Crist’s lack of a base.)

This is not to say that I think in anyway that Greer has been a success as Chair.  While many factors impact why candidates win and lose and the Party Chair plays only a bit part in that equation, losing the Presidential election, a net of three Congressional seats and nine State House seats is hardly Tom Slade material.  Further, his antics make it too easy for the press guys on my side of the aisle, and given his record and spending habits I have no idea why he wasn't replaced after November 2008.   Crist's loyalty to him is stunning. 

For these reasons, the GOP has been smart to box him in, by giving well respected former House Speaker Bense a fairly heavy hand in operations at the RPOF (at least publicly). Moreover, party operations in Gubernatorial years tend to be driven by the camp of the nominee anyways, so Greer's influence will naturally wane this cycle.  And they should definitely continue to keep him away from the AMEX and airplanes. 

While I continue to be shocked to watch how the once iron-discipline RPOF has been replaced by something more akin to our model of operating, ironically, history suggests that if they want to win in November, Greer may need to continue to captain the ship.

And I promise next time, I'll talk about my side of the aisle!


How we got to 43:43: Crist's inevitable return to Earth.

To me, the real story surrounding the Crist/Rubio Rasmussen poll has very little to do with Marco Rubio's rise and has everything to do with the one fundamental flaw in Crist's political career:  he's never had a  base.

Let me start by giving Rubio the credit he is due.  Politics is all about timing and opportunity.  Rubio is a politico of enormous talent, but it is hard to imagine if this was 2006 or 2008, that he would have had a similar level of success.  He is what his party is looking for now: energetic, bright and most importantly, ideologically pure.  Quite simply, he's become the leader the conservative movement was looking for.  But lets not forget that six months ago, people were writing him off for dead.  Moreover, the same poll that showed him tied shows him with very little name ID.  In other words, GOP voters are willing to give him a shot today, simply because he is not Charlie Crist.

Which is why this is really a story about the Governor.

Crist has lived a charmed political career.  He represented what was then a rock-ribbed GOP county in the State Senate (Pinellas) and earned great kudos--and a decent amount of statewide name ID, for taking on Senator Graham, even though he was trounced.  His first statewide win was against George Sheldon, legitimately one of the good guys, but who was hardly a household name, then two years later, with substantially more name ID, he beat Buddy Dyer for Attorney General in a race that had a lot more to do with the bottom falling out of the Bill McBride campaign than it did with Crist.  If McBride had gotten to 46 or 47%, Dyer may well have beaten Crist. 

Then in 2006, Crist took on a Democratic Party that was absolutely demoralized after four very bad cycles, beating Jim Davis in a race where he was largely running by himself.  Some reports show Crist outspent Davis by 4 or 5:1.  Yet in someways, that race foretold the future:  48% of Florida voters chose someone else, despite Crist's always high personal favorables.

Early in his term, Crist was viewed as untouchable.  But even when his approval ratings were at their most meteoric, his numbers were soft.  His "very favorables" never moved much beyond 10% of the electorate (compared to Jeb, who had almost all of his favorables in the very fav category). In other words, Florida voters knew they liked the guy, but they weren't sure they loved him, and when times were good, he never convinced the GOP (or anyone for that matter) to really embrace him.   So when the economy tanked, so did Crist.  Unlike Jeb, who easily survived the economic woes of 2001 and 2002, Crist had no well to go back to. 

Surely much of this can be traced to Crist's calculating style of governing.  He's done a masterful job over the years of positioning himself right where Florida voters are---more of a popularist than a populist.  But the tradewinds of this crazy state change just like the weather in the summer.  Florida looks nothing like the state of Crist's political birth, and the mood of the electorate today is very different than at anytime in his political career. 

Is Crist done? No.  In the last twenty-five or so years of FL Sen/Gov races, only Connie Mack, Bob Martinez and Mel Martinez have won on their first statewide try.  In a state where solid TV pushes 2 million a week, running statewide is a great predictor of winning statewide.  Further, Florida voters don't know Rubio yet, and rest assured, he will have to survive the media meat grinder.  Plus Crist is going to have plenty of money to communicate, and voters may begin to worry that Rubio can't win a general. The idea that we can say today that Crist can't win is downright silly.

But without a doubt, this is the biggest challenge of his political life and to overcome it, he will need to develop the one thing that has eluded him his whole career, a base.