Florida (Open Seat)
Outlook: Leans Republican
August 2, 2006 Update:
A lot has changed and nothing has changed. As we have said all along, Charlie Crist is likely to defeat Tom Gallagher for the Republican nomination. Given Governor Jeb Bush‘s popularity, Crist is a slight favorite in November, but we stress the word slight. If a Democratic wave develops, then the Democratic nominee will have a realistic chance to win. Who will that nominee be? The polls suggest that Congressman Jim Davis is maintaining his edge over state Senator Rod Smith, but it’s tight and the primary could go either way.
June 29, 2006 Update:
If you hate “the politics of personal destruction” and unpleasant private issues that seep into campaigns, then Florida is one state you do not want to be these days. Three of the four gubernatorial candidates in both parties are spending time talking about their painful marital pasts. Hardest hit has been the GOP’s Tom Gallagher, whose first marriage ended very badly and let to charges of theft, drug use, and, well, let’s just stop there.
His Republican opponent, Charlie Crist, had one brief marriage must earlier in life, and his lack of a family has led to scurrilous rumors about his sexual orientation which have plagued his campaign for months. Add Democrat Rod Smith to the list of messy divorces, and throw in an old accusation of unpaid child support. Smith’s Democratic foe, Congressman Jim Davis, is the only one of the gubernatorial quartet with a happy, enduring first marriage. Will any of this matter come the primaries or the general? If the candidates and the press keep talking about it, probably so.
March 27, 2006 Update:
It still looks like Charlie Crist will be the Republican nominee, and it still appears that Jeb Bush‘s popularity can overcome George W. Bush‘s unpopularity and elect Crist over the eventual Democratic nominee. But we’re watching this one carefully, because if 2006 turns solidly Democratic, the Sunshine State could easily have an upset Democratic winner for governor.
All in all, the script written months ago was followed. Attorney General Charlie Crist cruised to victory over state CFO Tom Gallagher by nearly a two to one margin (64 to 33 percent). The Democrats were more divided, but the early favorite, Congressman Jim Davis, defeated state Sen. Rod Smith by 47 to 41 percent. These relative proportions suggest the general election odds, at least at the starting gate. Crist has the edge over Davis, though it is not a daunting one. Still-popular Governor Jeb Bush will do his best to help Crist keep the statehouse in Republican hands, while Davis will try to make Crist pay for his ties to another Bush, President George W. Bush, newly unpopular in the Sunshine State.
Jeb Bush will likely finish his two terms as governor of the Sunshine State as popular as he has been throughout his eight years, and that gives hope to Republicans that they can hold on to this key statehouse.
Either of two GOP contenders could end up as the nominee: state Attorney General Charlie Crist or state CFO Tom Gallagher, but Crist is the clear, current frontrunner.
There appears to be only one notable Democratic candidate: Congressman Jim Davis. Better-known candidates such as 2004 U.S. Senate nominee Betty Castor and Lawton “Bud” Chiles III, son of the former Governor, are not running. Davis may now be the Democratic favorite. State Senator Rod Smith (no, not the Denver Broncos’ wide receiver) is also running.
While we are tempted to list this contest as “Leans Republican,” there are still too many unknowns. How divisive will the GOP primary be? Will Davis find a traditional Florida campaign gimmick (such as work-days or walking the state) and catch on with voters? Will anything happen before November 2006 that could put the Jeb Bush administration in a less favorable light? Some early GOP optimism here is justified, but euphoria is not.