Next Tuesday, Florida will likely follow the same pattern we have seen developing around the nation this midterm primary season. An uninspired and dispirited electorate will, in huge numbers, fail to vote. That will mean quirky results in some important races, and a major test for the continued viability of the so-called Christian Right as a force in Republican politics.
While most polls have shown Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist leading his race against Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher by at least 20 points, our InsiderAdvantage survey, conducted for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, suggested that Crist was leading, but not by a huge margin.
Unlike the other surveys, ours showed a substantial percentage of undecided voters. This is consistent with the results of polls we have conducted in other southern states, where these undecideds actually turned out to be non-voters. When this happens, races get tricky because only the most hard-core voters go to the polls.
Crist is a handsome and articulate candidate who would have broad appeal to voters in the November general election. But, for whatever reason, he felt compelled several weeks ago to declare that he favored allowing civil unions of same-sex partners in Florida. Within a matter of days, famed Republican strategist/ad expert Mike Murphy had mysteriously signed on with Gallagher's then-failing campaign.
Anyone who has been around GOP politics on a national level over the past few decades and knows the power that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has in his home state could easily add two plus two and figure out that Murphy would never take on a long-shot campaign if he felt by doing so he would be offending Bush, who is officially neutral in the race. More importantly, why take on a losing cause?
The answer: It might not be such a losing proposition. Gallagher, who has had a long and often controversial career in state politics, decided long ago to hitch his star to the conservative and religious-right segments of his party. In two televised debates, he attacked Crist for his positions on abortion, the cost of alleviating classroom overcrowding, civil unions and a host of other conservative red-meat issues.
His campaign TV ads basically say that Crist is not a "Jeb Bush conservative." It's a very polarizing effort, which, in a normal year for voter turnout, would likely backfire and send moderate Republicans flocking to the polls to defeat a candidate with such a "far-right" message.