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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.



Welcome to my website.

As one might expect, this page will focus largely on the Florida political world, though it surely will spill over to other issues from time to time. 

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Please feel free to share your thoughts here, or you can always contact me at steven DOT schale AT gmail DOT com.

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