There is one thing I will not do on this blog and that is gloat obscenely about my masterful prediction of Governor Empty Chair Charlie running for the United States Senate seat being vacated by nobody loser Mel Martinez.
Um, okay. Yeah. I will.
But first, a quick re-cap of Spencerian coverage of the upcoming United States Senate race in Florida, starting with my early prediction in December of 2008 that Charlie Crist would in fact run. Broken down by date:
Political Newsclippings, Issue 73, Vol. II (12/02/08)
Like the Sound of Senator Crist? (12/02/08)
Jeb Out for Senate in 2010 (01/06/09)
Florida Senate Showdown: Will it be a Crist Versus Rubio Cage Match (01/15/09)
Martinez Preps to Bolt -- and Crist Gets Set (02/02/09)
More Senator Crist Speculation (02/10/09)
Mayor Pam for Senate? (02/12/09)
Connie's Out: Predictive Redemption Rests with Senator Charlie Crist (04/02/09)
The Spencerian Endorses: Dan Gelber for United States Senate (05/02/09)
Marco is in for Florida Senate (Marco *Who*?) (05/07/09)
Would I be going to far in pointing out that I even called the Crist/Rubio cage match back in January?
Very well. I will let it go.
Alright, I'll be honest: it was not much more than a guess. An educated guess, but a guess nonetheless.
Still, I'd like to talk about some of the factors that I think played a role in Crist's decision to get in, and why I think some of my esteemed political blogging colleagues (no names named) might have gotten it wrong, or at least maybe less right.
Reason to Run #1: You're a rat. The ship -- the ship of state -- is sinking. Fast. What do you do?
Jump, and crawl over all the other little rat bodies and make a little dead-rat life raft if you have to.
This is what Charlie Crist is doing. And in point of fact it is what he has made a career of doing.
It is not much of an exaggeration -- or an exaggeration at all, really -- to say the state is falling apart. The legislature patched up a six (or so) billion dollar budget hole with band-aids and one-time stimulus money. It's a quick, temporary fix. Fine for this year.
If you're wondering how things got so bad with the budget, you can talk about the housing bubble and the global economic recession, but there is really only one name you need to remember: Charlie Crist. He was the heart and soul of the failed property tax scheme of Amendment 1. In the seventh lowest tax burden in America, our governor's idea of leadership came in the form of a massive tax break, benefiting almost exclusively the wealthiest of Florida.
This will go over well with the likes of inside-the-beltway kingmakers such as Grover Norquist. As the housing market continues to crumble andcritical services are slashed from the budget and even fall completely apart, it's not so good for the other 18 million people who live here.
Reason to Run #2: You're one of them "moderates" people love so much!
Charlie Crist has been built up by the national media as a "moderate". Whether he is or not is entirely irrelevant. He is now playing out his prescribed role -- United State Senate candidate.
The key to understanding this is understanding that politicians on this level don't give a small amount of consideration to the role they feel they must play, the role that has been defined for them. This was done in some part by the Crist political machine. We saw it in his attempts to buy back the large swaths of the Everglades. We saw it in his language, which he constantly tempered, with a remarkable discipline you have to admire no matter what side of the political aisle you're on.
There is now a national Charlie Crist expectation, and not a few Republicans who are hungry for a new national face and leadership. Is Charlie Crist that leader? Let's hold off on more predictions, at least for right now.
Reason to Run #3: The new Mrs. Crist. I admit that I heard this from a different source who will remain anonymous here. You may think I'm being sexist, you may think this is off-base, but think about it. Mrs. Carole Rome Crist is all about the high society life. No offense to my friends in Miami, but I am guessing that Miami is maybe no longer doing it for her. Tallahassee sure isn't (no offense to my friends in Tally, either). This is a woman who is used to the kind of extravagance you can only find in capital cities. Like Washington, D.C. And with New York just an hour plane ride away, why, who wouldn't want to live in D.C.? In short, it seems likely Mrs. Crist had some influence on her husband's decision to run for Senate.
Reason to Run #4: Charlie Crist wants to be Vice President. Which means Charlie Crist wants to be President. This is the most important reason of all. This is about introducing himself to the Washington media elite, the inside-the-Beltway GOP crowd... and subsequently accessing their cash.
He is hacked off that he was passed over by McCain. He must be. But McCain was a tool of the establishment GOP crowd, which is why he went with Palin. Now it's up to Charlie to round out his resume.
Which leads us to a very practical question: can Empty Chair Charlie be beat?
Yes. I disagree that Crist has this in the bag already. But it'll be a tough race. As I endorsed Dan Gelber, my hope is that he will be the nominee on the Democratic side. Even if he's not, I think there are some things a Democrat can do -- and some things which may fall into place -- which could make this a real race.
1. Focus on the extraordinary budget cuts and make this a referrendum not just on Charlie Crist's failed leadership, but on the Florida (and even national) GOP in general. There are more Democrats than Republicans in this state. Tell the story of how the GOP has let them down -- talk about specific stories of people who are hurting under the "leadership" of Charlie Crist.
2. Marco won't win it, but he'll make for a tough primary, damaging Crist. Exploit that. This really is going to be a cage match, and if Crist -- who has never had a real tough race on his hands -- thinks he can cakewalk through the primary without throwing (and taking) punches to (and from) Rubio, then he's nuts. Now, there is already an impressive array behind Crist, including the NRSC, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign (which is the welcome wagon of that D.C. establishment I mentioned earlier). Still, if I were Charlie Crist's campaign team, I'd be bracing for a fight from the right.
What this means for a Democrat is staking out the middle ground now. This advice is going to hack off a lot of my liberal and progressive friends, but there is no other way. Get to the middle. Claim bold positions to get our state back on track. And then wait for a damaged Crist to come out the other side. And go to work.
3. People will say Crist aligned himself with Obama, and that's true to some degree -- but there are hidden stories there. For example, although he accepted the stimulus money, he allowed the Republican-led Legislature to turn back money for extending unemployment benefits. Talk about that. There are more stories like that out there.
4. Force him to commit to issues. Don't let him get away with soft-peddling every issue, which he will try to do ("I dropped taxes like a rock!" Yeah? Then what happened, Charlie? Unemplyment, up. Homelessness, up. Critical needs, up All on your watch. And now, no way to pay for it.) The problems facing Floridians aren't answerable in 30 second sound bites. Talk about the issues, develop a positive plan, and then challenge Crist. His equivocation will sound weak.
5. Reach out to Republicans.
If I didn't totally alientate my liberal and progressive friends before, they'll throw me under the bus, now.
I know. The concept sounds dumb because Crist is a "moderate Republican", but the moderate Republicans in the state ought not be written off. Make him fight for the vote of every single one. Concede none of them.
Does doing all of these things -- in addition to the other things one must do -- guarantee a victory? Not by a long shot. Charlie is going to be a tough candidate to beat. But he is not a lock.
Alright, so how did I know, way back in December, that Crist would do this? Because it's who he is. He is an obvious political animal, hungry for the next thing. And this is simply the next thing. He is not a policy guy -- that much is obvious. He's a political creature, he's about running for the next big office. I knew that he wouldn't want to be around for hard economic times in a position where he'd have to answer to the people of Florida. This, if you think about it, is a natural next step for him.
I believe that to be the case. So it may well be that Charlie Crist will leave his Senate chair empty. Of course, at that point, he'll have his sights set just a little bit higher.