(Recap and analysis of the week in state government)
By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Oct. 1, 2010……….The people who elected the self-proclaimed “people’s governor” appeared this week to tell Gov. Charlie Crist that he shouldn’t quit his day job.
But Crist has already handed in his walking papers to run for the U.S. Senate, and a poll released this week found him in danger of getting them handed to him when voters decide his three-way with former House Speaker Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek next month.
The Quinnipiac poll showed Crist winning 46 percent of Democrats, which likely would have made the governor do jumping jacks when he announced his independent bid for the U.S. Senate in April. But the same poll found Marco Rubio doing almost as well with no-party affiliation voters as the independent Crist, which would have blown everyone else’s socks off in the spring.
Basically splitting a constituently virtually everyone assumed would mostly go to Crist boosted the former House Speaker to a 46 to 33 to 18 percent lead overall over Crist and Meek.
Just 43 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Meek, the longtime Democrat. With that in mind, Meek, who sought to win back Democratic support from Crist by reminding voters of Crist’s past with the Republican Party, launched a television ad with Crist saying the word “conservative” as often as the Miami Congressman’s campaign could fit into a 30-second commercial.
The Quinnipiac poll suggested that there may not be enough seconds left for Meek to catch up, or for that matter, minutes, hours or Election Days. Seventy-eight percent of the poll’s 1,151 respondents said their mind was made up. Just three percent said they were undecided.
Voters have apparently decided, however, that Crist is doing a good job as governor, even as he concentrates mostly on the campaign for Senate – even Democrats. Fifty one percent overall approved of Crist’s job performance, including 72 percent of Democrats, a much larger share than the percentage that said they would vote for him.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who remains popular himself, especially among conservative-leaning voters, took the opportunity to needle his successor. Bush noted the difference between Crist’s approval ratings and his position in Senate polls in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, saying “popularity’s a fleeting thing,”
Democrats made the difficult argument that the poll showed the third-place running Meek was in better position to beat Rubio than Crist, if only the Democrats who are keeping Crist in second place would support Meek instead.
“…As long as they continue to believe that Crist can win, which the Quinnipiac poll shows he can’t, a vote for Crist is a vote Rubio,” Democrat strategist Steve Schale said. “It’s time to realize that getting behind Meek – I know it’s not an easy case to make – is still more viable than thinking Crist can win.”
Crist loyalists, of which there are not nearly as many as there used to be, were similarly buoyed by the numbers, despite the fact that he’s losing.
“People think I’m off the wall, but his popularity as governor continues to grow and that tells me something,” Sen. Mike Fasano said. “Voters will turn to him in the end, because he’s someone they can trust, he’s humble, and he’s in it because he wants to serve.”
The problem for Crist at the moment, however, is voters seemingly want him to serve as governor, not U.S. senator.
A SINKING FEELING IN THE GOV’S RACE?
Charlie Crist was not the only Florida politician who made a U-turn in poll position this week. The Democratic candidate to replace him, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, found herself trailing Republican Rick Scott, who she led in several recent polls.
Sink, who is vying to become Florida’s first female governor, was also trailing with a constituency pundits figured she would do well with: women. Sink narrowly trailed Scott among women voters, 47-43 percent.
But the biggest problem Sink appeared to be facing in the polls this week was a man – the one who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Fifty-six percent of Floridians disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance, the survey showed. If that improved, so would Sink’s standing in the governor’s race, Quinnipiac Polling Director Peter Brown said.
“It’s a fair bet that if the president had a 56-40 percent approval rating, instead of the opposite, Sink probably would be ahead,” Brown said.
Scott, who like Rubio, is boosted by strong support among those who identify themselves as evangelical voters, Tea Party supporters, and those who say they are angry with state government, liked the president’s approval numbers they way they are.
“This poll, like others, shows that voters are rejecting Obama-liberal Alex Sink’s job-killing economic proposals,” said Joe Kildea, a Scott spokesman. He added that voters “clearly see that Rick Scott is the candidate with an honest plan to create jobs.”
Sink’s campaign saw it differently, saying “we’re going to continue to show that Alex Sink has the honesty and integrity to be governor,” a not-so-subtle implication that Scott doesn’t, an argument that did not work out so well for Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary this summer.
Elsewhere in politics, Democratic Central Florida Congressman Alan Grayson compared his opponent, former House Speaker and state Sen. Dan Webster to a terrorist in an ad that appeared by week’s end to becoming back to terrorize Grayson. A narrator in the Grayson ad referred to Webster as “Taliban Dan” in an ad focused on abortion rights and biblical interpretation, which was centered around a clip of Webster saying “wives should submit to their husbands.”
The only problem was that Webster was saying the opposite.
Longer footage of the 2009 speech surfaced, and it showed Webster saying that husbands should choose other biblical passages to dedicate to their wives than the ones that encourage submission.
“Don’t pick the ones that say ‘she should submit to me,’,” Webster said in a Father’s Day speech. “That’s in the Bible, but pick the ones that you’re supposed to do…she can pray that if she wants to, but don’t you pray that.”
Grayson stood by the ad, but by week’s end, it looked like Webster’s fundraising prayers were coming true. Webster said he had raised more than $100,000 since Grayson’s ad began airing. Not bad for a week that began with him being compared to terrorists.
A big fight over water in Florida continued this week, though another H20 battle with neighboring states hasn’t made much of a splash here.
Environmental officials in Florida discussed coming federal water pollution standards that the federal Environmental Protection Agency agreed this week to delay by a month as a U.S. Senator said he’d try to block the new rules altogether. The EPA moved the deadline for finalizing new numeric limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15, at the urging of the state’s congressional delegation.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who supported the delay, said the extra time will be used to collect more feedback on the standards, which follow a long legal fight between the state and environmentalists. But Nelson’s counterpart in the Senate, George LeMieux, a Republican, moved independently to altogether block the new regulations, which would allow different nutrient levels in different water bodies.
Elsewhere, there was talk about a long-standing water dispute between Florida, Georgia and Alabama in the race to replace Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
However, in the races to replace Crist and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who are both also leaving office early next year, not much has been said about the search for a deal to better share the water that comes from the Atlanta area through the Chattahoochee River and down into the Flint and Apalachicola Rivers.
Of course, the issue will likely be more pressing for the next Georgia governor because a court ruled last year that the state’s sprawling capital city, Atlanta, takes more water than it should at the head waters of the Chattahoochee. In 2009, the states were given until 2012 to come up with a water-sharing agreement.
If that doesn’t happen, water allocations for each state will revert to 1970s levels, halfway through the new governors’ first terms. But that seemed to matter more this week to Georgia candidates Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal than it did to Sink or Scott in Florida and Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks in Alabama.
Courts were also involved this week in the decision by a central Florida group aligning itself with the Tea Party movement to push for the ouster of two Florida Supreme Court judges because the two men voted to strike from the ballot a proposed constitutional question on the federal health care law. Citizen2Citizen, partnering with the Central Florida Tea Party Council, launched a campaign this week to boot from the state’s high court Justices Jorge Labarga and James Perry, who both go before voters for a merit retention election this year.
Also, Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, announced more hires this week, including Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget director, Jerry McDaniel. Perhaps more importantly for Senate staffers who’ve watched the dismissal of several prominent long-term employees, Haridopolos said there would not be any more firings.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Charlie Crist, who once looked like a sure thing in the U.S. Senate race, faced not-so-sure polling this week. Democratic voters that he needs to win over as an independent like him, to the tune of 46 percent, but an angry, conservative-leaning independent electorate looked like it might like Republican Marco Rubio more.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “What happened to Charlie Crist is that he is seen as a politician who stands for everything, so he stands for nothing,” University of South Florida government professor Darryl Paulson, summing up a tough week, in polls anyway, for the governor who would like to be senator.