With all the recent turmoil in the world — yet another U.S. military intervention in Iraq, the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the outrage and unrest in Ferguson, even the death of Robin Williams — I’d almost forgotten there was an election next week. In fact, I just realized that I forgot to transfer my voter registration to Duval County, so I’ll be sitting this one out. (I know, I know.)
For better or worse, I won’t be missing much. Charlie Crist’s takeover of the Florida Democratic Party, just a couple years after he was elbowed out of a Florida Republican Party that, under his watch, was riven with corruption scandals (see Greer, Jim), is a fait accompli, his victory over actual Democrat Nan Rich all but assured. Crist has the money, the name recognition, the machine, the chameleon-like ability to change on a dime in service to his own self-interest.
He also is a politician’s politician. As the Tampa Bay Times put it in a recent expansive profile: “[Crist] can walk into a room filled with mostly strangers, and when he leaves, even if it’s just an hour later, everybody feels as if they know him. Feels as if he knows them. Feels good. He makes politics look easy.”
Charlie Crist has all of that. Rich has principles. She’s going to get crushed. Make of that what you will.
It’s not that I have any particular affinity for Rich. As big an elephant-in-the-room as Crist is, her inability to raise money or gain any semblance of traction doesn’t bode well for her chances against Rick Scott, who, like Crist, has loads of money and a greased-up machine behind him. A better challenger would have been able to energize the base, to take advantage of Crist’s Republican past (remember when he called himself “Chain Gang Charlie”?), his effortless shape-shifting, his ceaseless political ambition, and the fact that, despite his effervescence, Florida voters aren’t sold on Charlie 2.0. (He is mired in a low-40s morass in polls, unable to break away from the equally disliked Scott.)
The larger issue here is the profound weakness of the state Democratic Party’s bench. It’s no secret that earlier this year some party activists were openly begging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to jump in. He declined. So did Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink. Beyond that, the party faithful (and their money) had nowhere else to go.
Crist is saying all the right things — he’s now pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-medical marijuana, pro-education spending — and in Scott he’s got an opponent as likable as a baby possum. This is also a crucially important election; not just for the usual reasons, but also because the winner, whomever he is, will appoint 15 of 37 members to the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission in 2017 (most of the other members will come from the almost-certainly conservative Legislature), a once-every-20-years exercise that will profoundly impact state governance far beyond one governor’s time in office.
Given that, given all that’s riding on his victory, Crist should have no problem rallying the troops. But he is. And so we have a candidate whose ads insist on telling us he’s Not Rick Scott and not much else — which, for me anyway, hardly inspires enthusiasm.