ORLANDO –If the polls are to be believed, Florida is the scene of one of the nation’s hottest and closest gubernatorial races. Neither Republican Gov. Rick Scott or his challenger, Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, has been able to break into a clear lead, and this one will go right down to the wire.
Perhaps …. or perhaps not, noted Doug Guetzloe. The political consultant, analyst, and radio commentator sees a likely frontrunner in a race that’s been considered a tossup all year.
And while Guetzloe is a lifelong Republican and the founder of conservative grassroots organizations like Ax The Tax and the Tea Party of Florida, he believes one man has the edge, and that’s ….
Guetzloe noted that if he’s right, this result will represent more of a loss for Scott than a clear victory for Crist.
One of the biggest challenges facing the incumbent, Guetzloe noted, is that Scott has never been able to create an appealing and likable persona for voters to relate to.
“I think Scott is incredibly unlikable,” the Orlando consultant noted, “and that may weigh on any undecided voters. He’s not warm and fuzzy. The likability of candidates, the ‘Q’ factor – how do you do on TV – that’s always been the standard. With candidates you don’t like, it’s a challenge to vote for them, and unfortunately for Rick Scott, he’s not likable. He looks like an evil emperor in a video game.
“And,” Guetzloe added, “Charlie is very likable.”
A former Florida attorney general, Crist was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican, replacing the retiring Jeb Bush. Crist presided over the collapse of the state’s housing market and the impact of the national recession, which sent Florida’s unemployment rate into double digits. In 2010, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate, but switched and became an independent when he got challenged in the Republican primary by a more conservative candidate, Marco Rubio. Crist lost that race, and in the same year, Scott was narrowly elected governor on his first bid for public office.
Throughout his term, Scott’s approval ratings have remained anemic. Crist became a Democrat last year, and easily defeated a more liberal opponent, Nan Rich, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in August. The polls have indicated a tight race for months, and both candidates have run a series of often harshly negative ads on television attacking one another over everything from education funding to ethics to the state of the economy.
Guetzloe said Crist has three advantages in this race. One is that as a former state officeholder, Crist has a brand – and a proven talent on the campaign trail, Guetzloe said.
“When you’re talking to him, you’re the only one in the room,’ Guetzloe said. “He can light up the room.”
The second is the presence on the ballot of a third party candidate, Adrian Wyllie, who is running as the Libertarian nominee. Some polls have shown Wyllie getting as much as 13 percent of the vote, and Guetzloe said it’s safe to assume Wyllie could snag as much as 8 percent. Those small-government Libertarians, he said, would likely otherwise have voted Republican in this race.
“That’s going to come directly off Scott’s totals,” Guetzloe said.
Finally, the race seems likely to turn off a lot of voters who will stay home on election day on Tuesday, Nov. 4 – largely because the steady stream of negativity in those dinner-hour television ads are alienating Floridians.
“I think so many voters are so turned off by this race,” Guetzloe said. “All this negativity is suppressing the vote. A lot of the undecided voters right now are not going to vote because they are so tuned out. Then the victory of the race is going to depend on turnout.”
That could benefit the Democratic nominee, Guetzloe said, because special interest groups on the left will go out of their way to get their supporters to the polls for Crist.
“All the way down the line, he’ll have the basis of the old New Deal coalition,” Guetzloe said, a reference to the coalition that President Franklin Roosevelt used to carry him to victory four times in the 1930s and 1940s, under his New Deal programs.
“And the GOP doesn’t have a real get out the vote operation,” Guetzloe said – certainly not one to match what union activists, gay rights activities, women’s rights group and other liberal organizations can deliver, he said.
“The Republican Party has nothing that equals that,” he said.
A new CBS News/New York Times poll has Scott ahead, 47 percent to Crist’s 44 percent. A University of North Florida poll has Crist leading, 47 percent to 42 percent.
On Nov. 4 the voters finally get their say.
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