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As if it was necessary, more evidence of Crist and his lack of base...

In a recent survey of Florida voters, Public Policy Polling asked Florida voters to name their most favorite and least favorite Governor. 

Not shockingly, Jeb Bush (42% chose favorite, 33% chose least favorite) led both categories.  In addition to being one of Florida's most polarizing politicians in generations, he is also the most recent and memorable.   There are twice as many voters in Florida today as when the fellow who came in second, Bob Graham (23% chose favorite, 15% least favorite), served as Governor.   

The man in fourth (Bob Martinez finished last, with 5%)?  Charlie Crist.

The fact that a mere 9% chose Crist isn't on its face all that newsworthy.  As I've mentioned before, he is not the kind of leader who creates a natural fan base, and thus, will never do well in these kinds of surveys.   However, this survey once again shows that the GOP base is done with him.

Not only do 3 times as many GOP voters (12% to 4%) chose Graham as their favorite Governor, as compared to Crist, but Crist finishes in a statistical tie with Lawton Chiles as Republican voters' choice for least Governor. 

Democrats don't love him either, where he finishes fourth in the "favorite" rankings, behind Graham, Chiles and distant third, Jeb Bush.  That's right, even Democrats like Jeb better than Crist, at least when it comes to their most favorite Governor.

In fact, survey wide, only Bob Martinez fares worse across the board than Crist.  This probably has more to do with the fact that Martinez's term was a mere blip in a twenty eight year period dominated by three heavyweight personalities: Graham, Chiles and Bush.

What does all this mean?  Not much, other than more evidence that Crist's climb is really uphill in his primary.

The ratings:

Bush:  42 (Fav):33 (Least Fav)

Graham:  23:15

Chiles:  21:16

Crist:  9:17

Martinez:  5:19



Crist gets back to his roots

For most of the last year, Crist has ineffectually tried to define himself as the real conservative in his primary against Rubio.  Clearly, it is a strategy that is going no where.  Seemingly, each new poll that comes out shows Rubio climbing and the only thing dropping like a rock in Cristworld are his own numbers.

But just in the last few weeks, he appears to be changing course, first deciding to appear with President Obama in Tampa, then staking out a more moderate terrain with his budget, then today, getting back to the tone that defined his first few years as Governor, with comments like this: 

While there is great virtue in being true to your principles, conviction must be tempered with practicality and pragmatism. Taken to an extreme, conviction becomes inflexible – even destructive. Extreme views rarely solve problems and frequently create them. Look around the globe. Can’t we agree our world would be better with less overheated rhetoric and more common sense?

The reality is Crist is never going to be able to change the hearts and minds of the most conservative elements of the GOP because his problems run far deeper than just one Presidential man-hug. 

From embracing the science of climate change to taking the principled stand in 2008 that long lines should never stand as a detriment to a citizen's right to vote, Crist has found himself at odds with his own party---hence my comments a few months back about him lacking a real base.  I might have a better chance of convincing some conservatives of my bona fides than Crist.

But in this political environment, Crist has one way to get his mojo back, and admittedly, its a hail mary:  stand up as a leader.  With people of all colors frustrated with Washington, Crist has a narrow 60 day window to wrestle some common sense into Tallahassee.  If he succeeds (and people give him credit for it), he's got a shot.  If not, he's done.  It is just that simple, which is why a few weeks back, I suggested that he simply suspend campaigning and focus on running the state, which is the only way he is going to change minds.

It may not carry him to victory, but clearly the road he was on was leading him into the desert.  So why not get back to what he knows best?

Clearly he is taking a step in a new (or really old) direction...or maybe he's two steps ahead of us and is just laying the road work to run as an independent....

(I doubt it)


Election Day is still eight months away.

Last week, a former co-worker and political commentator extraordinaire, Joy-Ann Reid penned an interesting opinion piece about the state of the top two Democratic campaigns, Alex Sink and Kendrick Meek.

In her op-ed, Reid addresses some of the frustration among Democrats about the pace of the campaigns. I hear it too, nearly everywhere I go, to which I have one basic response:  Relax.

The 2008 election, particularly for Democrats, was a non-stop event.  The sheer amount of advertising, as well as staff, created an all-consuming political environment.  But that isn't how campaigns actually work, especially in non-Presidential elections.

So to my Democratic friends, I would remind them of two things:

1.  Despite the attention paid to the Presidential campaigns, the operation in Florida didn't start until late June/early July.  Both McCain and Obama campaigns had tiny staffs in May, but neither campaign got going in earnest until well into the summer.   Heck, now President Obama didn't make his first real general election visit to Florida until July 31st.  It is only February.

2.  In the words of my friend Paul Tewes, "polls are shit."   Sure, Sink is trailing McCollum, but then again, a lot more folks know who he is.  But more importantly, the election isn't for eight months.  Both parties should remember that as late as May 1, 2008, McCain held an average lead of 12 points over Obama in Florida. 

For Democrats, Sink and Meek have plenty of time to define themselves to Floridians, assuming they have the money to do so.  This is why the uncontested party nominees (McCollum, Sink and Meek) are focusing on really the only thing they should be doing:  raising money, and all three are doing that well.  From an activist stand point, this might not be as exciting as the kind of hand to hand combat that defines the latter months of a campaign, but without the resources, they wouldn't have a shot in a state that is as big and expensive as Florida.



Want to run for Congress? Move to Central Florida.

With the census about to start in earnest, I wanted to take a look at the likely winners and losers from the next reapportionment and redistricting.  I am not even going to try to predict how that 2012 process will benefit the parties or individual members.  Certainly as anyone who has lived through one redistricting session (I did in 2002) can attest, there is very little you can predict once pen goes to paper.

However, I do believe that by tracking the 2000 census data through the most recent census population projections from last year, there are some interesting nuggets about how the map will evolve.

The number one takeaway, assuming that Florida gains only one new Congressional seat:  the new Congressional seat will likely fall somewhere between Orlando and the eastern part of the Tampa media market.  And in the unlikely scenario that Florida gets two, the Tampa and Orlando media markets will likely each be the beneficiaries of one.

But that's only the beginning.

Since 2000, Florida has experienced subtle demographic shifts.  For example, the 2000 census showed that just under 54% of all Floridians lived in one of the state's seven 'urban' counties, counties with a population of more than 750,000 (Broward, Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Orange).  Today, that number is 51.7%.  The shift, not surprisingly, is almost exclusively into the midsize (typically suburban/ ) counties. 

Except, unlike the rest of the country, it hasn't been due to urban flight.  For example, the three counties who have dropped the most in terms of their share of statewide population:  Dade, Broward and Pinellas all share in common one thing:  they are at or nearly at maximum density due to geographic constraints.

On the flip side, the counties that are the fastest gaining in terms of their share of statewide population:  Lee (though the failed housing market there is now leading to some retreat in numbers), Orange, Osceola, St. Lucie and Lake all share a similar trait---lots of room to grow.

So what does all this mean?

In general, shockingly little all in all.  Most parts of the state will see very little change in terms of their total representation, though that doesn't mean that everything will be the same.

First, the state house map will show the most obvious shifts.  If counties were apportioned seats strictly based on population (which we know they are not), Dade, Broward and Pinellas would likely each lose an entire seat in the house. 

On the flipside, Orlando/Osceola would gain another (and it would likely be majority Hispanic), and SW Florida would receive another, likely based in Lee County.   The lost Pinellas seat would be absorbed within the media market, but would end up far further north and east, potentially even benefiting the Villages.

In total, the Miami media market would be down two, and the Orlando media market would be up two.  Southwest Florida gains one, stealing some from the eastern side of the state.

In the State Senate, SE Florida will likely watch the power centers of a couple of their districts shift north and west, as Orlando and SW Florida grab bigger chunks of the map. 

That being said, within media markets and even counties, there are subtle shifts that will likely lead to some interesting cartography. But in the interest of space, I'll take those on at a later date.

Agree?  Disagree?  As always, let me know.


Five Takeaways from the Week

Poliitcs had a busy week in Florida and dominates this week's five takeaways.

5.   Baker out of the Agriculture Race-  State Senator Carey Baker,  universally considered one of the good guys in Tallahassee, dropped out of the race for Agriculture Commissioner.  Baker, who many considered to be an underdog in his GOP primary against Congressman Adam Putnam, was nonetheless waging a very credible campaign.  His departure essentially sets up a match between Putnam and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox, who this week got a fair amount of attention for aggressively taking on near beach oil drilling.

4.  More from the GOP Soap Opera- This week brought more coverage of the ongoing drama at the Republican Party of Florida, as new disclosures showed that the party continued to run up their American Express card bill, despite Jim Greer's very public decision to cut up his own card.  Next week, the GOP will select a new Chair, ending what Marco Rubio this week called the "dark period" at the state party.  While many of my Democratic friends are having a good time with the drip, drip coming from the GOP, I have no doubt the party will recover. 

3.  Subpeonas in the Sansom Case include Rubio.  This week, the House committee investigating Ray Sansom made the decision to issue subpeonas.  The biggest news:  Marco Rubio will be asked to testify.  Up to this point in his Senate race, Rubio has had a pretty free run, but issues like the Sansom case will certainly lead to more public scrutiny.  Surely, there is no one more than Rubio that hopes this thing gets settled---because even if he had nothing to do with the case, the last thing his 'outsider' campaign needs is media attention that shows him to be the quintessential insider. 

2.   Redistricting Showdown in the Legislature.  This week, Ellen Frieden, Chair of the Fair Districts came to Tallahassee to testify before a joint House/Senate redistricting Committee to discuss the constitutional initiative that she is taking to the ballot next fall.  Like the initiative or not, Frieden more than held her own under four hours of intense scrutiny.  Certainly if history predicts anything, expect legislative leaders to continue use this soapbox to try to turn public opinion against the initiatives.

1.   Lincoln Diaz Balart to retire from Congress.  Catching many political observers off guard, Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balartannounced his decision to not seek re-election, setting off the dominos in Dade County.  The first move, Lincoln's brother Mario, the Congressman from the 25th district in Florida, announced his decision to run for his brother's much 'safer' seat, creating a opening in his seat.    State Representative David Rivera is assumed to be getting in the open Congressional seat, and there is considerable buzz that both State Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Alex Villalobos are considering getting in.  On the Democratic side, many are encouraging US Department of Energy official Joe Garcia to get in the race. 


I haven't forgotten my blog! 

In the last few days, I have taken on some significant new work duties, taking over the 2010 political shop at the Florida Justice Association.   

It has taken me a few days to adjust to the organization (and probably will several more).   But more posts are coming soon, I promise. 

Topics to come include what regions will be the winners/losers in redistricting and more on the Mass Senate race, notably, why candidates matter.  I might even profile the changes in a certain Florida House seat that one GOP member kindly noted to me that I failed to mention in my recent post on state house change! 

Thanks for your patience.  As always, if you have thoughts, comments, and/or snarky comments about my blog, or you have suggestions for posts, please drop me a line at steven DOT schale AT gmail DOT com. 



Five Takeaways from the Week

5.  Gutierrez drops out of race against Grayson:  Congressman Alan Grayson had a good week when Armando Gutierrez dropped out of the race for the Congressional District 8 seat.  While Gutierrez wasn't the top tier recruit that the GOP had hoped to get in the district, I argue he was the Republican's best shot against Grayson, due to his fundraising base and his potential ability to draw a few votes out of Grayson's large and growing Hispanic base.  The next best challenger, State Rep Kurt Kelly from Ocala is not well positioned geographically.  

4. GOP wants to roll back class size amendment.    This week, GOP legislators announced plans to go back to the voters with a down sized class size amendment.  Given the make-up of the legislature, odds are pretty good it gets to the ballot.  My question: is that really what the GOP wants to do?  Getting to 60% is no easy challenge here, and all you do is give education-minded Democrats another reason to show up to vote. 

3. RPOFgate, part 32821:  the Delmar Johnson Chapter.    As the Jim Greer era comes crashing to an end, the latest revelation is that the party Exec Director earned more than $400,000 last year (for what it is worth, more than 4x what Obama State Directors earned in 2008), plus apparently was a fan of the party credit card.   In talking to my GOP friends (yes, I have GOP friends), the reaction has been visceral.  The bad news for Democrats, I have no doubt that either John Thrasher or Sharon Day will run a much tighter shop.  The good news for Democrats:  Scott Arceneaux is easily one of the best party ED's in my party's history, and who given his GOP counterpart's news, clearly deserves a raise. 

2. Obama reshapes NASA mission.   President Obama's budget proposal will significantly reshape the mission for NASA, by in the short term moving away from manned missions and using NASA resources in research.  The net result is scrapping the troubled Constellation program and a quick return to the moon in favor of spending the next decade building the technology for longer human space missions.  Given NASA's economic impact, many in Central Florida are concerned about what this means.  From my perspective, the change in course provides a real opportunity to build a high tech/space corridor in Central Florida.  For those who fear this is the end of the space industry, fear not, according to Buzz Aldrin.

1. Crist unveils his budget.    Governor Crist unveiled his 2010-2011 budget, which was greeted in the legislature with the same level of enthusiasm as if Sarah Palin showed up to address the Democratic National Committee.  That being said, it is the opening salvo in Crist's attempt to focus on governing and save his political career.  How he performs this session, and more importantly, how voters perceive his leadership, will likely seal his political fate one way or the other. 


Near misses:   Press starts to take on Rubio, House panel refuses to drop Sansom case, Sink vs. the Governator, and most importantly, NASCAR is back on track. 


Dante Revisited: The Nine Circles of Florida Road Warrior Hell

It has been a busy couple months in the old Toyota (so old, it is pre-recall era), which makes it an opportune time to have a little fun with the blog. 

So here goes, Dante's Inferno revisited:  what the nine circles of politico hell would look like if hell was Florida's highways, destinations and airports.  As I've visited all 67 counties in the last couple years, most many times, I feel like I am pretty well suited to make these calls. 

Sometime in the near future, I'll hit the various spheres of Florida's road warrior Paradisio.  Hint:  Tampa Airport.

I hope my fellow political road warriors will weigh in with their thoughts.

1.   Political Conferences at Disney and other "Destination" resorts.   Growing up most of my life in Florida, I am a fan of Disney.  Nikole and I have been many times and love the place.  However, going there for a business is almost unfair.  You know you want to have fun and get in the Disney spirit, but you have to put on a suit and tie and play the other role, while everyone else around you is essentially care-free.   And if you aren't at Disney, Murphy's Law dictates that your political conference will probably be some place like the Fountainbleau in Miami, where you get to try to hold meetings while watching the surf.

2. Tallahassee.  I live here and it is a great place.   However, getting to and from this place is often just a tiny bit easier than getting to and from Bismarck, ND (trust me, I know this one).  As they say, Tallahassee is just one stop from the world, except that one stop is Atlanta airport (a place Dante definitely dreamed about in writing Inferno), which is the wrong way if you are headed anywhere south.  Sure, you can fly direct from Ft. Myers to Germany, which is probably the same connection you will make if you try to get from Ft. Myers to Tallahassee. Oh, and for the pleasure of one-stoping to the world, you will pay about 4 times what it costs if you lived in say, Tampa. 

3. Following a school bus on U.S. 1 in the Keys (nominated by Tom Eldon).  Going to the Keys for work is a perk of living in Florida, except getting to the Keys tends to take some work, and sometimes that work means following a school bus down Overseas Highway.  As Tom Eldon of Schroth, Eldon and Associates suggests, if this happens to you, pull off the road and go fishing for two hours, and by then, the chances are good that you won't catch the bus before you get to Key West.  Why isn't this further down the list, you might ask?  Well, because its the Keys and how bad could it be?

4. Orlando International Airport.  In the Pantheon of big airports, MCO is a pretty good one.  Well laid out, clean and easy to get around (just avoid the $5 a gallon gas station nearby).  Except when you go through security and you are in a hurry.  One day, TSA will find a special method of clearing all those massive tourist shopping bags, but until then, pull up a chair because you will be there for a while.

5. I-10.  I've probably driven I-10 at least 400-500 times in my political career.  As an interstate, it is uniquely special.  On a road where driving 70mph could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, expect to find about 75 state troopers every mile.   How many times have you been on I-10, say passing Madison going towards Jacksonville, then feel like you drive for 2-3 days, only to realize you are just getting to Live Oak?  You know who has never driven I-10?  Cell phone companies.

6. US 19 from St. Pete to Weekee Wachee.  I like Pinellas County a whole lot.  I am a big fan of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County is without a doubt home to the best grouper sandwich in Florida (Woody's).  I've spent so much time there in the last four years that they might make me start paying taxes.  In fact, it is one of the few places in Florida that I could see living in one day---as long as I could avoid US 19.  US 19 is essentially the spine of Pinellas County, connecting coastal Pasco and Hernando counties with St. Petersburg along a highway that includes 1750 traffic lights, 37 Hooters and more chain restaurants per mile than any place else in Florida, except maybe US 192. 

7. I-4.  Tampa to Orlando.  I-4 is Florida's Box of Chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.  Sometimes you leave downtown Orlando at 10:00 AM and find yourself in downtown Tampa a few minutes after 11.  Sometimes you leave downtown Orlando at 10:00 AM and find yourself in downtown Tampa a few minutes after 11---a week or two later.   On behalf of everyone who has spent most of an afternoon in a rain storm on I-4, thank you President Obama for high speed rail. 

8. I-95 from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami.  For most of the length of I-95, the driving is pleasurable, as long as your idea of pleasurable is bump drafting at Daytona.  But once you get to Ft. Lauderdale, it turns into a real adventure.  As one nominator said about the stretch, "it is seven lanes of hell, complete with thousands of drivers who apparently have made peace with God."  Hint:  pay the toll to use the express lanes in Dade County.  At least you will have orange cones to protect you from the melee.

9. The Miami International Airport.   Flying into Miami isn't all that bad, assuming you can figure out how to get to the expressway from the sand lot behind the abandoned industrial complex--also known as rental car row.  Leaving Miami on a regional jet?  Good luck.  First you have to navigate the parking lot known as Dolphin Expressway just to get there, then find your rental car return location, ride the bus to the airport, stand in line for TSA, walk halfway around the world to your gate, get on a bus to ride well out into the tarmac, get off bus and hope it isn't raining, then board your plane. 

Near misses:  Love/Hate relationship with Panera Bread, Continental's prop planes, Atlanta International Airport, the Sawgrass Mills Mall. 



What's Crist to do (besides dropping out and endorsing Kendrick Meek)?

If I had a dollar for every question I've gotten about the Crist campaign, just in the last 96 hours, I wouldn't be driving a seven year old car with 130,000 miles.   I can only imagine how many calls my GOP friends are getting. 

The most recent frenzy is driven by three recent polls that show Rubio ahead anywhere from a few to a dozen points, once again turning both Tallahassee and Washington on its head.   I even spent a good solid hour today beating down the rumor from my friends in the nation's Capitol that Crist was about to join the Democratic Party.  Apparently, false speculation that Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Crist had dinner last week fueled that rumor. 

Adam Smith and Beth Reinhard today wrote a solid article about Crist's current fortunes.  It is a must read and in it, the Governor talks about what he plans to do about it:  focus on governing.  Quite honestly, that isn't enough.  I'd take it one step further. 

So here it is Governor, my advice.  Just two things: 

1.  Suspend your campaign. 

Crist's own numbers show he has more than $6 million on hand, more than enough to run a strong primary.  What Crist needs to do now is change people's perception, and he can only do that by being a strong leader.  People like Crist personally, but he's never ditched the view that he's just another ambitious pol. In these economic times, that perception is certainly dogging him. So, Governor, be bold and call a press confernce to announce you are stepping off the campaign trail until the session is over and get to work running the state.  

Now, surely some will compare it to McCain's ill-fated decision to 'suspend' his campaign in 2008, but the circumstances are totally different.  First, McCain wasn't running the country and secondly, when he stepped off the trail to help save the economy, he did nothing to show he was a leader.

Go be the Governor now and make yourself not just relevant, but the leader of this state during its most trying times.   America is looking for leaders, not politicians.  You have a rare chance to redefine yourself as one of the former.

2. Be yourself.

Why did people flock to Barack Obama?  He was different and authentic.  These characteristics also drove Scott Brown to victory in Massachusetts. 

Right now, Governor Crist is never going to out right Rubio, and he should stop trying.  He is who he is, and he should embrace it.  His best shot, quite honestly, is the right becoming concerned that Rubio simply is too far to the right to win.  So stop trying to be the "real conservative," it clearly isn't playing and its not going to work.   So Governor, go be yourself.  It has served you well throughout your career, so why not just embrace your brand?

The Hard Truth

As Smith and Reinhard said, the problem for Crist is he doesn't have a lot of good options.  The economy is largely out of his control, and that is impacting him more than any ideological issue. Moreover, the simple fact that Rubio leads Crist by 50 points in one poll among voters who have an opinion about both is very bad news.   But in that poll, 60% of Republicans still approve of his job as Governor, another reason for him to focus solely on governing.

Frankly, he could do these things and still lose.  But on the flip side, he is losing, so why not mix it up?

And for all you disaffected Crist GOP voters who believe that Rubio is to far to the right for your liking, I have a suggestion for you:  get to know my friend Kendrick Meek


Five Takeaways from the Week

5. Marco is in the lead.  This week, Quinnipiac released a poll that showed Rubio with his first lead over Charlie Crist in the race for the U.S. Senate seat that became open when Mel Martinez went all Sarah Palin on Florida by up and quitting one day.  Rubio has experienced a fairly clean ride up to this point, but now that he has a lead, expect the press to start doing a more thorough job looking at his record. 

4. President Obama and Crist meet again.   In February, during President Obama's first post-election trip to Florida, Governor Crist appeared on stage to endorse the Recovery Act, though in doing so, cemented the growing belief among Republicans that he wasn't a pure Republican.   There was great speculation about whether Crist would appear with the President again, finally agreeing to meet the President when AirForce One landed in Tampa.  To me, it seems as though over the last 7-10 days, Crist has gotten back to his more moderate roots, figuring to win, he needs to be who he is.  And in case you missed it, no hug this time.

3. The State of the Union.   President Obama threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday, striking a very populist and centrist tone, calling on Congress to get its act together and start working for the American people.  After working through the traditionally tough first year of any Presidency, Obama seemed to find his feet on Wednesday, returning to many of the outsider themes that propelled him to a landslide victory in 2008. 

2. Fair Districts Makes the Ballot.    A constitutional initiative that would require the legislature to follow standards in the drawing of Congressional and Legislative districts has made the ballot.  The initiative, sponsored by Fair Districts Florida, already has Tallahassee insiders and incumbents worried, since it would reduce the ability of incumbents to draw districts exactly the way they want. 

1. All Aboard.   On Thursday, President Obama and Vice President Biden traveled to Tampa to unveil a new national high speed rail initiative, one highlighted by a $1.25 billion grant to build a rail line between Tampa and Orlando.  The project, which will start in 2011, will generate thousands of new jobs and help Florida modernize its economy.  And picking Tampa for this announcement is certainly smart politics, as the winner of Hillsborough County has won the White House in every election since at least 1948. More on that here:  Welcome Back, Mr. President.