Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Embracing Charlie Crist With Open Arms, Florida Democrats Look Poised To Bury Gov. Rick Scott In 2014

In some political parties, the desire to win trumps old disagreements, which must be the case for Charlie Crist's success with Florida Democrats in recent polls. But expect Rick Scott's team to play-up past associations like the ones above (a campaign appearance with Palin in 2008, then Obama four years later) to highlight Crist as a political chameleon.

The current state of Florida politics would be entirely unrecognizable to a to a time-traveling political observer from the year 2006. Then, a popular politician named Charlie Crist looked like a rising Republican star who drew barbs from Democrats rather than adoration. In fact, he performed down-right poorly among traditional Democratic voting blocks in his successful gubernatorial run, winning just 14% of self-identified Democrats, 21% of liberals, and 18% of African Americans.

My, how things change.

Flash forward through a bitter 2010 Senate primary campaign against Marco Rubio (which, rather than lose embarrassingly, Crist withdrew from), a failed Independent bid for US Senate, and a speaking slot at the 2012 DNC, to the man who will again seek the seat he abandoned for Washington D.C., this time as a Democrat.

And Democrats seem entirely willing to welcome him into the fold. In a recent survey, Crist attracts 85% of the Democratic vote against incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott. He garners over 80% of liberals, and over three-quarters of African Americans - literally, the polar opposite of the coalition he built to defeat Democrat Jim Davis in 2006.

And lest you think Democrats are simply flocking to Crist as the lesser of two evils between he and Gov. Scott, he's killing it in a match-up with his only announced competitor among likely Democratic Primary voters, 59-16%. 62% of Democrats view him favorably, as compared to 43% of ALL likely Florida voters.

The sitting Governor's political evolution may not be nearly as complicated as Charlie Crist's, but his current political standing is in much more dire straits.

Unlike Crist in 2006, Scott was never elected with a real mandate from Floridians - he defeated his Democratic opponent Alex Sink just 48.9 - 47.7% in what was otherwise a wave-Republican election year. He's suffered from uniquely poor job approval ratings his entire term in office, and currently sits  at 33/55% per PPP, leading their President, Dean Debnam, to label Scott "one of the most unpopular Governors in the country. . . "

Based on his head-to-head numbers against Charlie Crist, he's also one of the most at risk of losing his seat, trailing 50-38% in the most recent poll. And the bad news runs deeper than the top line.

Pull back the curtains of the PPP survey, and you'll see that women and men, young and old, black, white, and Latino - virtually every demographic & political group surveyed prefers Crist over Scott. And despite what the information in the chart below might suggest, no, it isn't because PPP finds a much more racially diverse electorate than the one that turned out in 2010 (and in some ways, 2012).

The percentage of white, likely Florida voters in 2014, if PPP is to be believed, is 7 points lower than found in 2010 exit polling. The number of 65+ yr olds is 7 points lower than in 2010. The Democrat's partisan identification advantage is 4 points higher than in 2010. In general, the upcoming midterm electorate, as a whole, looks much less friendly to Republicans than it did three years ago.

But like mentioned above, it isn't the unfriendly electorate that does Governor Scott in. He has weak fundamentals through and through, regardless of who decides to cast a ballot.

To be sure, some of the PPP demographic findings were reweighted to 2010 exit polling, just to see the extent of the hole Rick Scott must dig himself out of by next November. And it's pretty steep.

No matter how you slice it, Governor Scott's in trouble.

Consider further the tables below, which track Republican and Democratic candidates for Florida President, Senate, and Governor's performance among various demographic groups, dating back to the 2004 presidential election:

By comparing Rick Scott's performance in the PPP survey among various demographic groups with past Republican performances in the state, these charts help to illustrate what I mean when talking about Rick Scotts' weak fundamentals

Consider the Florida GOP's most recent electoral failure, 2012 Senate candidate Connie Mack.

Mack actually managed to win white voters 52-47% last year, while still losing the general election 55-42%. What does that say about Gov. Scott, who actually trails Crist 45-44% with this group?

IF Scott's margin with white voters held through election day next year, that would put him in VERY terrible company, alongside the likes of 2006 failed Senate candidate (and 2000 recount lightning-rod) Katherine Harris. She is the only GOPer for Senate, Governor, or President to actually lose the white vote in Florida, since before 2004 (55-43%). What's worse, she lost the general election by an embarrassing 60-38%.

But don't make the mistake of thinking Governor Scott is performing deficiently with just white voters. It shows up with Latinos as well, where Republicans have averaged 48% of the vote since 2004. Scott attracts just 32% of this vote, whereas double-digit 2012 Senate loser Connie Mack even managed 37%.

And while both Crist and Scott are under-performing past candidate's average performance with their own parties, Crist only does so by 17 points, while Scott does so by 22 points (and Crist was a Republican Governor less than 3 years ago)!

No snapshot of an electorate taken 13 months prior to an election is set in stone. But as a starting point, the data indicates Scott has his work cut out for him. Though the Governor may still have a few secret weapons in his arsenal. For starters, the 2014 campaign hasn't started, and Crist has yet to announce he's running. Furthermore, Rick Scott is known for his incredibly deep pockets, and has the ability to tap into his own substantial personal wealth.

But perhaps most significantly, Mr. Scott can tout an impressive economic recovery, accompanied by a steady reduction in unemployment.

Since taking office in January 2011, the unemployment rate in Florida has dropped nearly 4%, from 10.9% in January 2011, to 7.3% in August 2013; a more impressive performance than fellow class of 2010 Governor's up for reelection in 2014 like Nikki Haley of SC, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and more.

So, Scott has some great points to campaign on. But if you buy the limited 2014 polling out there, and if you believe Charlie Crist will enter the race, Governor Scott starts out in the rare position of being an incumbent underdog.

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