All eyes on governor's race in Florida primary, turnout is key

MIAMI Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:29pm EDT

Combination file photos show former Republican Governor Charlie Crist (L), now running for the Democrats, addressing supporters during a rally in St. Petersburg, Florida, November 4, 2013 and Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott speaking at a ceremony in Doral, Florida August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Steve Nesius/Joe Skipper

Combination file photos show former Republican Governor Charlie Crist (L), now running for the Democrats, addressing supporters during a rally in St. Petersburg, Florida, November 4, 2013 and Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott speaking at a ceremony in Doral, Florida August 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Nesius/Joe Skipper

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MIAMI (Reuters) - When voters go to the polls in primary elections across Florida on Tuesday most attention will be focused on the race in November for the state's governor's mansion, shaping up to be one of the most contested - and expensive - in recent memory.

The outcome of Tuesday's Republican and Democrat primaries is a foregone conclusion with incumbent Rick Scott and his main Democratic challenger, former Governor Charlie Crist, forecast to win by wide margins.

The race between Scott and Crist in November is expected to be one of the nation's most closely watched races because it offers Democrats a rare chance to unseat a Southern Republican governor. The last time Democrats won the Florida governor’s race was in 1994, when Jeb Bush narrowly lost to incumbent Lawton Chiles.

Scott and Crist, who was a Republican when he served as governor from 2007 to 2011, are in a virtual tie in polls and already engaged in a blistering TV ad campaign bashing each other’s records on everything from taxes to jobs, education and energy policy.

Scott faces two primary contenders who offer no threat, while Crist has refused to debate a stronger challenge from his main rival, Nan Rich, former minority leader in the Florida Senate.

Rich has tried to paint Crist as a Democrat-in-name-only highlighting his record as a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat instead of a dependable liberal. But one poll released by the company St Pete Polls last week found Crist opening up a 50-point lead over Rich (69 percent to 19 percent), a wider margin than when Crist entered the race last November.

“The question is how well (Crist) does in a Democratic primary, having just become a Democrat. He spent the vast majority of his lifetime as a Republican,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll.

Turnout on Tuesday could be a good indicator of how things might go in November, said Lance deHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

"Even though it's not much of a contest you get a good sense of what the core vote looks like down the road," he said. "If it's low that would not be good for Crist," he added, noting that Democrats usually lose in Florida when turnout is low.

"Republican voters pay more attention and are more intense," he said.

Crist has a huge financial advantage over Rich. The state's last finance report, as of Aug. 21, shows Crist reported $14.5 million, while Rich raised $665,699.

The Rich campaign recognizes the spending gap, focusing instead on volunteer organization to get out the vote, and Crist's past as former longtime Republican legislator, state attorney general and governor.

Meanwhile, the Republican effort to retain control of all statewide elected offices is flush with cash.

Last week the Scott campaign and the pro-Scott Let’s Get To Work political committee announced combined fundraising totals of almost $42 million since Jan. 1, 2013. The Republican Party of Florida reported another $53 million.

(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Bill Cotterell in Tallahassee; Editing by Bill Trott)

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Comments (5)
Damocleez wrote:
Most of the electorate in Florida still probably think Crist is a Republican, instead of a turncoat, big government Democrat. What Florida doesn’t need is another sycophantic Democrat for governor, but the average voter probably can’t remember what they had for breakfast, let alone what party Crist is running as.

Aug 26, 2014 5:52am EDT  --  Report as abuse
njglea wrote:
Good People of Florida, PLEASE get rid of shaved-head, woman-hating, poor-hating, Koch brothers flunkey Rick Scott. If Mr. Crist is truly a “reformed” republican he is exactly what your state and America need and will he will help restore civility and fairness in the state. Please help America get back on the road to democracy. Thank You.

Aug 26, 2014 10:12am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Pampe wrote:
I don’t care whether Crist is a ‘Republican’ in disguise, and I certainly don’t care whether he’s truly a liberal. The problem is ignorant people like Damocleez who think they have it all figured out because they’re ‘no-nonsense conservatives.’ Turncoats don’t matter to me. Sycophants don’t matter to me. What matters is that Governor Rick Scott PERSONALLY ensured educators did NOT receive a simple standard of living increase in pay by threatening members of the boards of schools if they granted pay increases. He has convinced the citizens that ‘college must be affordable’ rather than recognizing the costs go up because the costs of EVERYTHING go up. So a student who can take out student loans like I did and like many of us did should get a break from that, but I–as their teacher–should struggle to pay bills?

If you as a citizen honestly believe that, you are nauseating. You are a despicable person. Yet if you believe that it’s unfair that college instructors are paid less than some of the students in their classrooms and that since student loans have not been derailed and are not detrimental to the student, then I urge you to vote for Charlie Crist. He was strong on education once before. I don’t care what party he ‘betrays.’ I care not for parties. I care for the people teaching you and yours.

Aug 26, 2014 12:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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