Can Nan Rich Be Charlie Crist’s Next Marco Rubio?

You’d have to admit, it would be pretty rich… – 2009 Popular Governor Charlie Crist get’s GOP blessing to be US Senate nominee; leads Rubio by 30+ points in GOP Primary
– 2010 Marco Rubio turns the lead upside down and takes 30+ point leads over Crist; Crist becomes an Independent and loses General election
– 2011 Charlie Crist becomes “No Labels”
– 2012 Charlie Crist becomes Democrat and speaks at Democratic Convention
– 2013 Charlie Crist gets Democrats blessing and runs for Governor; Leads Nan Rich by 30+ Points in Primary

 The Democratic primary isn’t until August, and Crist leads former FL Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich by roughly 40 points. And Crist now is facing the same problems he did against Rubio back when he was a Republican. Will Democrats trust Crist to be a faithful liberal, or will they give a look toward the long-time Democrat? Christ’s positioning against Scott isn’t even all the great, especially given how mediocre Scott’s popularity is. Crist has name recognition, but is it good name recognition? Certainly, this wouldn’t be crazy for Rich to upend Crist. Also in 2010, Arlen Specter bailed the Republican Party when he realized he was going to lose to Pat Toomey. He merely ended up losing in the Democratic primary anyway.

2014elections_small2 Can Nan Rich Be Charlie Crist's Next Marco Rubio?

2014 Gubernatorial Election in Florida

Race Features Current GOP vs. Previous GOP Governors 

While the 2014 Gubernatorial elections are typically overshadowed by the quest for control over the US Senate, a number of races for Governor will rank high up on the interest charts as well. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker will be looking to win election to a second term in a tough state after having to beat back a union-backed recall effort in his first term. Meanwhile, a Gubernatorial race in Colorado offers a glimpse towards 2016 as the GOP attempts to regain footing in states where liberals may have overplayed their hands. Then there is Florida, where the two most recent Republican Governors are poised to battle each other in the general election.

The Republican Incumbent

Rick Scott was never supposed to be Governor. But 2010 was a different year when not being a well-known political figure was a benefit. A venture capitalist with no political experience, Scott spent over $70M of his own money in the gubernatorial election. He defeated long-time politician Bill McCollum by 3 points in the GOP primary and then Democrat Alex Sink by about 2 points in the general election. His opposition to Obamacare, a big cash advantage, and being on the same ticket as Marco Rubio no doubt helped him.

 As Governor, Scott has been a relatively quiet, low-controversy figure. Having huge Republican majorities in both state chambers also helps simmer down the controversies, but his overall tenure could best be described as ho-hum. He’s not really a tea party guy, and not really an establishment guy either. He just sort of is. A guy without a base who just managed to be elected Governor. As such, Scott has never really “won” Floridians over and his biggest obstacle isn’t so much job performance as it is his persona.

The Democratic Challengers

Nan Rich is the former Minority Leader of the Florida Senate who hopes to be the Democrat’s version of Marco Rubio to Charlie Crist’s… Charlie Crist. In 2010, Crist was the then-Governor of Florida who bailed on a second term in order to run for the US Senate when it opened up due to an early retirement. Crist appointed a place-holder to temporarily fill the seat, but was unexpectedly upended by Rubio, a more conservative challenger from the right.

After seeing huge primary leads turn against him, Crist bailed from the GOP and ran as an Independent for the Senate seat – angering both Democratic and Republican activists. The once-popular Governor received less than a third of the vote, changed all of his positions in the process, and it looked like he may be done in politics. Then Crist became a “No Labels” guy before finally transitioning into full-blown liberal Democrat. In 2012, Crist was given a coveted speaking slot at the 2012 Democratic Convention.

In order to woo liberal Democratic voters, Crist has had to turn further to the left than many Florida Democrats have in the past. There are few people running in 2014 who are bigger cheerleaders for Obamacare than Crist. Probably not a big help. Meanwhile, he’s had to take harder line stances on pet liberal issues ranging from guns to abortion that could also harm him in a general election. Crist has been the “pick” by establishment Democrats for quite awhile. But then, he was also the pick of Republican insiders back in 2010. He is way ahead of Rich in the primary… but then, he was way ahead of Rubio, too.

Early Outlook

Things were looking better for Crist before he officially announced he would run for Governor again, this time as a Democrat. Before announcing, Crist led Scott by double digits in most trial heats, but that has fallen to low-to-mid single digits since. When he was still a “Reagan Republican” Governor in early 2009, Crist’s approval numbers were impressive: 68% of Floridians viewed him favorably and just 21% viewed him unfavorably. A January, 2014 poll by a Democratic firm had his favorable numbers all the way down to 36% positive and 46% negative.

Perhaps many are over-estimating Crist’s political savviness. Why would Crist want to be the Governor of a state he has literally no chance of governing the way he wants? (The GOP has 2-1 majorities in both chambers.) If he were savvy, Crist would have just dropped and supported Rubio and been the inevitable Senate nominee in 2012. To Scott’s benefit, the race has been turned into as much a referendum on Crist as it is Scott.

 How will Crist handle his multiple positions? How will Crist handle running as a completely different candidate than he was before? Can Crist shake the image of being a political opportunist with no core beliefs? Most importantly, how motivated will Democrats be to get out and vote for a guy they had opposed for years and may or may not trust. Will they be more motivated than conservatives who really, really oppose Crist and all that he has done?