Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Politics, Reality and Florida

"Time is flat circle" ~Rust Cohle

Politics is three legged stool of the political, the governing and the reality. Those who try to balance on only the first, inevitably crash. This morning, Florida (it's always Florida) presents two sets of evidence to test this particular theory.

The Florida 13th

Last night Republican David Jolly beat Democrat Alex Sink in a special election in the 13th Congressional District. Republicans are crowing it is a bell weather for 2014 and yet another death knell for Obamacare. Democrats are downplaying the loss as another typical result of a low turnout election in a Republican-leaning district.

We are so desperate to see signs and portents. Since Stonehenge was thrown up, finding meaning in the vastness is a closed circuit buried down in our limbic battery.

In all this chicken bone reading, few except Dave Weigel note the reality that Jolly didn't exactly run against Obamacare but more against Medicare cuts (less popular in Florida than an early freeze) and Alex Sink is and has always been a terrible campaigner.

Not that the Democrats can blithely wave off another Sink sinking. Like 2010, the math is against them in 2014 and they cannot ignore any soft underbelly.

The Politics - Republicans will use the 13th as grease for the momentum rail. Democrats will try to downplay it while privately fretting about a possible wave election. Expect to see more attention to Georgia's Michelle Nunn as she becomes a firewall for Democratic Senate Control. And that's trouble, because expecting a relative newcomer to turn a deep red state into a blue victory reeks of desperation.

The Governing - The 13th doesn't change any equations. The Republicans were going to keep the house anyway.

The Reality - It's 8 months until the election. Anything can happen. And in the end, places like Alaska will matter more than Pinellas County.

As another Alex Sink chapter closes, one of her previous rivals is attempting to start a new one.

Charlie Crist is back

The former Florida governor was a frequent writing topic of mine from 2008 to 2010. His story was a speedball for a political junkie.

Charlie went from rock star politician with a 70% approval rating and national aspirations to the political wilderness in under three years. Part of my fascination with him was his independent streak but as he unwisely stepped out of the safe cocoon of the Governor's mansion and straight into the buzz saw of the Tea Party machine, I also saw him as a sign of things to come. He became one of the first of a long line of establishment Republican casualties who ignored the fervor of the purity caucus and were tossed onto the pile of kindling

But unlike Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Charlie is no longer fighting the raging Republican inquisition from the inside. Charlie switched sides.

Crist is running for his old job - as a Democrat. Some see this as opportunism. After he was trounced by Marco Rubio in the 2010 Republican Primary, Charlie switched to independent and then lost again. A couple of years later, he celebrated President Obama's re-election and completed the journey to the Donkey side of the aisle.

His response to criticism of this change echoes another former southern governor. Charlie says he didn't leave the Republican Party, it left him.

The Atlantic's Molly Ball has a detailed piece on Crist's nascent campaign and much like Charlie himself, it is not the expected. Of course, he has big money backers but he's eschewing a traditional campaign structure and seems to go where ever the flow of politics takes him.

I learned a few years ago that even the nicest guys don't win if their entire plan is to bounce around from place to place shaking hands, kissing babies and expecting people to act like they have good sense. Charlie Crist's recent electoral experience showed him the price of counting on voters acting rationally, which makes his weird new venture seem more like a soothing of the spotlight jones than a serious effort to retake the helm of the fourth largest state.

The Politics - Current Governor Rick Scott is deeply unpopular. Especially with teachers. And one political maxim every governor lives by is don't piss off the teachers. However, much like Georgia to the north, the Republican machine (ironically partially built by Crist) has a stranglehold on politics. Scott has the money and the infrastructure. His only real weakness is his own stupidity.

The Governing - Florida is in better shape than it was four years ago and how much credit goes to Governor Scott largely depends on your affiliation. However, despite being one of the Tea Party torch bearers, he accepted Medicaid expansion. That shores up what could have been a dangerous political flank.

The Reality - Unless your name is Lawton Chiles and you walk from Pensacola to Key West, maverick campaigns don't work in Florida. It's just too big with too many major television markets. Scott's war chest is overwhelming and unless Charlie stops kissing babies and starts setting up a real campaign, he's doomed.