SEBRING — Gov. Rick Scott and former governor Charlie Crist are neck-and-neck in Florida’s gubernatorial race, which will be a hard fought and expensive election with national interest and implications, political watchers say.
An April 24 poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. showed that Scott and Crist were tied at 42 percent with Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie at 4 percent and 12 percent of those polled being undecided.
Lynn University (Boca Raton) Coordinator of American Studies Robert Walker said the governor’s race is a tight 50/50 race that “will go down to the wire.”
Crist’s biggest advantage is his likability and he remains “reasonably popular,” especially among Independents, he said.
Scott’s biggest advantage is the money he has raised, Walker noted. He is shattering fundraising records and has been spending millions of dollars in advertising in the past six months, Walker said.
All of Scott’s spending hasn’t made him necessarily more popular, Walker said, but has brought Crist down, Walker believes.
“The governor’s race in Florida in 2014 this fall will be the single most expensive race in the United States, no doubt about it,” Walker declared. It’s also the most important midterm race, he believes.
“The old saying that the road to the White House runs through Florida is true,” he said. Since 1960, the candidate who won Florida won the presidential race in all but one election. Since 1924, except for two instances, the candidate who won Florida won the presidential election, he said.
University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus also said the Sunshine State’s gubernatorial election is a “highly nationalized race” with a lots of money coming from outside the state.
A good prelude to this was the U.S. House of Representatives District 13 special election on March 11 in Pinellas County, she said. Jeb Bush recorded an advertisement for Republican candidate David Jolly while Bill Clinton recorded an automated call out message for Democrat Alex Sink.
MacManus believes that shows Republicans and Democrats “have one eye on this year’s election and the other eye on the 2016 presidential race.”
The governor’s race is tight because Florida is a politically divided state, she said. For example, the 2010 governor’s race was the closest in the state’s history.
Scott defeated Sink by less than 70,000 votes out of 5.3 million cast. In the 2012 presidential race, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by only .9 percent of the vote, MacManus said.
Walker also described Florida as a national “bell weather” with north Florida resembling the southern U.S. politically, and south Florida the north. The east and Gulf coasts are different and central Florida is agricultural, Walker added.
Every major demographic is also represented in big numbers in Florida, he said, blacks, Latinos, Jewish, elderly, veterans and active duty military.
Florida may be the fourth largest state in the country, but it is the largest swing state, Walker said. The three larger states, California, New York and Texas, are not in play for the presidential election.
“We know already that Texas will vote Republican in 2016 and New York and California will vote Democratic,” he said.
So with Florida’s 29 electorial votes at stake, outside money is pouring in, Walker said.
Prominent Democrats and Republicans have campaigned in the state and will continue to support their party’s gubernatorial candidates.
“They know if you have the governor’s office it can provide an advantage in 2016,” he said. “For that reason Hillary Clinton has been paying attention to Florida. She knows that if Charlie Crist is in office that can help her in 2016.”
While it is widely speculated that Clinton will run she has not formally announced her candidacy.
MacManus believes voter turnout will be important this year.
The young vote helped “thrust Obama to the victory lane” in Florida, she said, but they have a history of not turning out in midterm (non-presidential) elections and the same is true of minorities and single women, she said.
Republican candidates, such as Scott, count on support from suburbanites, including suburban women who, at the last minute, changed their support from Romney to Obama, MacManus noted.
“Both parties know that midterm turnout goes down a lot for the younger voters, which means the older voters will make up a larger portion of the actual voters,” she said.