Crist Announces, Scott Pounces

Just a day before the odd-numbered year election, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced his political comeback attempt. Crist, who previously was elected as a state senator, attorney general, and governor when a member of the Republican Party before losing a race for US Senate as an Independent, now as a Democrat, is attempting to re-claim the office he left in 2010.

The toughest thing for any party-switcher is winning the first nominating election before the candidate’s new partisan electorate. Crist is off to a fast start in locking down the key Democratic leaders and, so far, faces only state Sen. Nan Rich as an active Democratic opponent though four others have also announced their candidacies for the nomination.

Crist made his official announcement yesterday in his home county of Pinellas, and several Democratic officials including former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, an ex-US congressman, several mayors, and party county chairmen were on hand to support his entry into the race. But the party support is not universal, as Sen. Rich vowed to continue her campaign.

Crist struck the theme that he will be “the people’s governor,” and referred to GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who he said came to the office as an outsider but has since strayed from his original intent. “He went from taking over Tallahassee to becoming the example of what’s wrong with the place,” Crist said about Gov. Scott in comments from his announcement address as reported in the Miami Herald newspaper.

In response, Scott came out swinging. Launching a $500,000 media buy through his “Let’s Get to Work” political committee and beginning on the day that Crist officially entered the race, the incumbent uses video clips of Democratic luminaries such as former Vice President Al Gore, 2010 gubernatorial nominee and current congressional candidate Alex Sink, former congresswoman and Florida Democratic Party chair Karen Thurman, and others all making negative statements about his new official opponent.

Announcement day gives us a clue as to the type of gubernatorial campaign that Floridians will see in 2014, and these early indications suggest a political version of a mixed martial arts match in terms of intensity and competition.

Scott has been polling poorly for months. The latest Public Policy Polling survey (Sept. 27-29; 579 registered Florida voters) gave him failing job approval grades, as the governor recorded only a 33:55 percent favorability index. But the University of Northern Florida (Sept. 30-10/8; 526 registered Florida voters) countered with much better numbers. According to their results, Scott had a 49:42 percent positive to negative job approval rating.

In ballot test polling, Crist maintained an early advantage. The PPP survey posted him to a 50-38 percent advantage. The UNF poll found a much tighter Crist margin, recording a 44-40 percent spread over Scott.

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