And they’re off.
Florida’s 2014 gubernatorial election officially began earlier this month when Democrat Charlie Crist announced his campaign challenging incumbent Rick Scott.
Crist still has to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, but he is expected to do that and have plenty of campaign cash to spend. Scott may have $100 million in an effort to keep his position.
The year-long campaign will probably be among the nastiest and most watched in the country.
While Florida is no stranger to national attention – think “hanging chads” in 2000 and 8-hour voting lines in 2012 – next year’s race will be especially intriguing because it will feature two candidates seeking reelection.
That’s because Crist already served as the state’s governor from 2007-2011. Then a Republican, he routinely enjoyed approval ratings in the upper 50s and even into the 60s during his tenure in Tallahassee.
Crist would have probably been easily reelected had he not decided to launch a bid to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat. When it became clear that Crist, a political moderate, would lose to Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio in the GOP primary, he left the party and launched an independent bid. Rubio eventually won the election. Crist joined the Democratic Party in October of last year.
Scott replaced Crist as Governor after beating Democrat Alex Sink, the former Chief Financial Officer, by a 49-48 margin in the general election.
The key to Scott’s victory may have been his performance with Hispanic voters (the term “Hispanic” is more commonly used in Florida than “Latino”). According to a small sample in one exit poll, Scott edged Sink 50-48 with the group.
That slight advantage that is within the margin of error of the study was largely due to Scott receiving 68 percent of the Cuban-American vote. Scott lost the non-Cuban vote 65-33 though according to that same study.
The Hispanic vote in Florida
Florida Hispanics have traditionally been friendlier to GOP candidates than in other parts of the country. If Republicans seeking statewide office run even with their Democratic opponents, they are usually successful.
In the case of Marco Rubio, he won 55 percent of the Hispanic vote according to a Pew Hispanic study of the 2010 election, which assured him of an easy victory.
The fact that Scott may have earned half the statewide Hispanic vote shocked observers due to his support for tough immigration policies and use inflammatory rhetoric throughout the campaign.
And Scott has governed as he campaigned. He has supported an Arizona-style immigration law in the state and even initiated a widely derided voter purge of county rolls in an effort to remove “non-citizens.”
The move was condemned by activists because it seemed to be aimed at removing minority voters who have historically voted for Democrats and in many cases forced them to prove their citizenship despite having been U. S. citizens for several years.
The process resulted in the identifying of fewer than 100 potential non-citizens out over 11.8 million registered voters. Elections supervisors called the process flawed and some even referred to it as embarrassing.
Gov. Rick Scott losing the Hispanic vote
As expected, those legislative maneuvers have negatively impacted Gov. Scott’s standing with Hispanics. A Quinnipiac University survey from March had Crist beating Scott 53-26 among Hispanic voters.
If those numbers hold up over the next 11 months, it’s unlikely that Scott will be winning a second term because every successful candidate in Florida – from President Obama to former Governor Jeb Bush – has either won the Hispanic vote (Obama, Nelson, Bush, Rubio) or broken even (Crist, Scott).
Voter registration trends are also unfavorable for the governor’s reelection efforts. Between the 2010 and 2012 elections, more Hispanics registered as independents than as Republicans – 538,700 to 476,490. Furthermore, there are more Hispanics registered as Democrats in Florida – 645,000 – than both Republicans and independents.
So, in short, Gov. Scott has a difficult path to reelection partly because of his lack of support with Hispanic voters.
As for Governor Crist, he will need to reunite the coalition that successfully won President Obama the state twice. A major part of that effort was mobilizing Hispanic voters who now make up 17 percent of the electorate.
Overall voter turnout will not be near 2012 levels, but if Hispanics turnout at or near the levels they did in 2010 and largely support Crist, it will be his election to lose and he may become just the second governor in Florida history to be elected to nonconsecutive terms.