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Florida looks brighter than ever for Democrats

May 14, 2014, at 3:18 PM
 
Crist, a relatively recent convert to the Democratic party, has a decent shot in Florida.

Crist, a relatively recent convert to the Democratic party, has a decent shot in Florida. Photo: (Edward Linsmier/Getty Images)

Recently on Political Wire's podcast, we spoke to Tampa Bay Times writer Adam Smith, one of the nation's top political reporters, on Florida's gubernatorial contest and the presidential aspirations of two of the state's most prominent GOP politicians.

Here are five takeaways from the conversation:

1. Charlie Crist (D) is seen as an opportunist for switching parties. But that may not actually hurt him. At one point Crist was a popular Republican governor in the Sunshine State, and many political observers suggested that he was vice presidential material in 2008, if not a future presidential contender. After losing in his Senate run during the Tea Party wave of 2010, Crist ditched the GOP and then became a Democrat. And now he has a serious chance of recapturing the governor's mansion from Gov. Rick Scott (R). "This is one of these really you-can't-make-this-stuff-up Florida political stories," Smith said. Naturally, Crist's party switch has some crying foul. But as Smith noted, recent polling suggests that the party switch may not be all that harmful, at least not yet. A majority of voters said that the switch was a good thing, because it showed pragmatism on Crist's part, Smith said.

2. A Scott defeat could mean a lot more than losing the governor's mansion. Right now, Republicans hold not only the governor's mansion, but also other key statewide offices such as attorney general and chief financial officer. But Scott is looking vulnerable, and polls show Crist holding the edge (albeit one that has tightened recently) over the unpopular incumbent. This may be the Democrats' best shot of not only recapturing the governor's mansion, but rebuilding the state party, Smith said. "Because once you have the governor's mansion, you can raise money. And once you have money, you can win other statewide offices and other legislative offices," Smith said.

3. It's hard to see former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) running for president. Political insiders seem to think Bush is planning on running for president. But Smith is skeptical. "It's been a while since he's been on the ballot," Smith said. Smith also noted of Bush that "he has not been the most patient guy with the media, even in the old cycles where it was 24-hour news cycles, not minute-by-minute news cycles." Bush's recent comments on immigration reform, which caused an uproar with conservatives, serve as a prime example. "I just don't know if he's got the patience to deal with that day in and day out," Smith said. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), on the other hand? He's looking more and more like a presidential candidate every day, Smith said, and it looks as though he will run.

4. Bush wasn't such a moderate while governor. It's true that Bush has spoken out in favor of changing the GOP's attitude on immigration, and he also has spoken out in favor of Common Core, a set of education standards that conservatives strongly oppose and could be a sleeper issue in the 2016 nomination process. But his stances on those two issues don't make him a moderate, Smith argued. "Basically the people that have seen him in Florida have seen a very aggressive, almost radical conservative activist," Smith said. If anything, the rise of the Tea Party has made Bush look more moderate than he actually is. "It's more a reflection on what's happening with the party nationally than what's happening with Jeb Bush," Smith said.

5. Florida looks like a great state for Hillary Clinton. Back in 2008, many thought that then-candidate Barack Obama would skip the Florida primary entirely because of Clinton's strengths in the state with Latinos, seniors, and Jewish voters, Smith said. Clinton and her husband's strengths with those voters, as well as with independents and swing voters, would serve her well in 2016 in this increasingly important battleground state, Smith argued: "She's going to be very, very strong in Florida, I think."

Listen to the whole conversation here:

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