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Too Close to Call

Previewing an unpredictable election


In many other election cycles, I have written a cover story preview of the upcoming elections for this very publication. So there is an irony in covering probably the hottest Florida election of my lifetime in 800 words.

But here we are.

People always ask me, “Who do you think will win [insert political contest here]?” And usually I have a good guess.

This time around, however, not so much.

The early voting data doesn’t suggest the kind of “Blue Wave” that pundits hoped for earlier this year. Post-Parkland gun control issues and the unresolved ecological catastrophes of red tide and green algae haven’t made the electorate particularly blue.

But—and there is a but—2018 will not be another 2014, especially where the gubernatorial race is concerned.

The 2014 election saw vulnerable, newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist challenging Rick Scott. Crist’s operation was muted up here. And Scott was, well, Scott: a message-disciplined candidate with a unique ability to match his policies to his own economic interests and those of his allies.

Scott got over, of course, winning by 1 percent. “Chain Gang Charlie” was a hard sell to black voters; polls had him getting just over 70 percent of that pivotal Democratic demographic. That number was not helped by ads produced by Republican front groups and blaming Crist for a “lost generation of African Americans.”

Andrew Gillum won’t have Crist’s handicap. The black vote will turn out, though probably not at the levels President Obama inspired in 2012. Gillum has consistently opposed the police-prison-industrial complex … and in fact signed the Dream Defenders pledge to that effect, as Ron DeSantis’ campaign continues to message.

DeSantis has a path to winning the race, and his campaign has been unapologetic in making its case. They say Gillum is too radical and too corrupt (a case helped along by the drip-drip-drop of documentary evidence around Gillum taking money and Hamilton tickets from an FBI agent investigating city corruption).

And yes, there have been overt racialist appeals from the DeSantis campaign (like the candidate’s warning not to “monkey this up”). The psychology there is clear and quintessentially Republican: create doubt in voters, push their buttons, and maybe they won’t be so quick to fill in the bubble beside Gillum’s name.

As was discussed in my Oct. 10 column, the local GOP establishment is all-in behind DeSantis. One has to wonder how effective local lobbyists will be in pushing local priorities if Gillum wins and the overheated national economy sees slower growth and higher interest rates. Lenny Curry’s second term, should we get there, may lead to less ROI from the capital city if DeSantis doesn’t down the D.

If Gillum wins, one wonders how City Hall reaches out. Worth noting: Councilman Garrett Dennis, who has often been a one-man army at war with the Currycrat establishment, has quickly become the most enthusiastic and visible local support for Gillum and other Democrats running.

How much water would Dennis carry for the Mayor’s Office? He has no reason to help out. Dennis says he has experienced pressure tactics and bullying during his term. He and Curry’s chief of staff have even fought flame wars on Twitter.

Jacksonville Democrats who have been allied with Curry, such as Councilors Ju’Coby Pittman, Tommy Hazouri and Reggie Gaffney, likewise won’t have any stroke.

Long story short: City Hall and associated interests have all bet on red here.

It’s easy to forget about the down-ballot races, given how Gillum has captivated the imaginations of donors and commentators, both statewide and across the nation.

Voters should realize that there are stark differences between attorney general candidates, Democrat Sean Shaw and Republican Ashley Moody. Perhaps the starkest is their respective fealty to the prison industry and the mass incarceration ethos that has held sway in Florida for decades. Moody represents the status quo; Shaw, a change.

The same holds true in the agriculture commissioner race. Nikki Fried is the candidate you want if you believe that medical cannabis (and, soon enough, legalized adult use) is a key issue. If you want another Adam Putnam type in there, you’ll like Republican Matt Caldwell.

The CFO race likewise offers a clear choice. If you liked the Rick Scott years, you’ll love the outgoing governor’s appointed political protégé Jimmy Patronis. He raised $7 million for a run against Democrat Jeremy Ring.

And the Senate race? We all know what Rick Scott is about. Bill Nelson, too.

For those who honestly can’t decide, consider this: Democrats in the Cabinet represent a bulwark against the GOP state legislature. Gillum would be able to ensure fair districts in reapportionment.

If you like the status quo, you can keep the status quo. If you want change, though, this is your best chance to get it for the next eight years.


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