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The Democrats' Florida dilemma

Months ago, when Florida Gov. Charlie Crist left the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, it looked like good news for the Democrats: Crist went ahead of Republican Marco Rubio in the polls and it appeared the G.O.P. might be deprived of a seat it needs to have a shot at a Senate majority.

But the latest news is not good for Crist. A new Mason-Dixon poll shows Rubio ahead with 40 percent among likely voters to 28 percent for Crist and 23 percent for Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee. Meek gained substantial ground from an earlier poll, and Rubio was up, too.

Crist’s first problem is that Republicans are sticking with Rubio. Among GOP likely voters, Rubio leads Crist 75 percent to 18 percent with only 1 percent for Meek. In Florida, as in most of this year’s primaries, American’s who call themselves Republican are overwhelmingly conservative: there just aren’t many moderate Republicans left. Meanwhile, Florida Democrats are split: 44 percent for Meek, 37 percent for Crist, 10 percent for Rubio. As long as Democrats remain divided, neither Crist nor Meek will be in a position to take the lead from Rubio. But Crist’s core weakness may be among independents, who presumably should be sympathetic to him. The Mason-Dixon poll found that independent likely voters favor Rubio 38 percent to 27 percent for Crist and 20 percent for Meek. Crist has been hemorrhaging independents both to Rubio and to Meek. A month ago, he led among independents 44 percent to 31 percent for Rubio and 13 percent for Meek.

All these numbers point to the difficulty this year for candidates trying to get elected from the middle-of-the-road. To win, Crist needs to persuade Democrats that he is their only hope of depriving Republicans of a Senate seat, but he also needs to hold on to enough independent voters to push him past Rubio. It requires a philosophical two-step that Crist is having trouble executing.

Instead, Democrats who had supported Crist earlier in the race seem to be moving back to Meek in substantial numbers. This deprives Crist of his best argument: that he is the only potential winner of the two anti-Rubio candidates. It also reinforces Meek’s argument that the party should stick with its own nominee. If Crist’s support keeps fading, Meek would become the only plausible alternative to Rubio. The best thing for Republicans is the split that exists right now, with Crist and Meek holding each other down.

Crist is clearly aware of his need to get back the Democrats he’s losing to Meek. One of his ads emphasizes his own willingness to “cross the line” by defying party-line thinking. But all three issues he uses to emphasize his independence are matters on which his views are closer to those of Democrats and liberals: his veto of an education bill opposed by the teachers unions, his support for stem cell research, and his willingness to take stimulus money from President Obama’s economic recovery plan.

The failure of either of Crist or Meek to emerge as the incontestable alternative means that each has to strategize against the other rather than concentrate fire on Rubio. The longer their standoff continues, the harder it will be to defeat Rubio.

By E.J. Dionne  | September 28, 2010; 10:34 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Check the latest polls, Rubio, jeb's sock puppet will not win, he actually has one of the CHENEY daughters as an advisor!He has lived on the Republican't credit card for years!

Posted by: bakerw1 | September 28, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Wait, bakerw1, are you calling Crist or Rubio Jeb's sock puppet?

Because Rubio's been up in every single poll taken since August 11th, and leading by double digits in most.

Posted by: blenderboy5 | September 28, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Wait, bakerw1, are you calling Crist or Rubio Jeb's sock puppet?

Because Rubio's been up in every single poll taken since August 11th, and leading by double digits in most.

Posted by: blenderboy5 | September 28, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Crist's problem is that he's not a moderate, he's a liberal.

A three way race with two liberals versus one conservative makes for a very easy victory for the conservative.

Same thing applies in Alaska, except that Alaska is a more conservative state so Joe Miller would probably win a 3 way race no matter what the ideology of the 3rd candidate.

Posted by: bot_feeder | September 28, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

are you dreaming?
Neither of the two progressives running in Florida have snowballs chance in Miami Beach of beating Rubio.
How's that third party strategy working out for you liberals now?
Get out of DC every now and then and see the real world.

Posted by: xcon | September 29, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Even worse for Dem in Florida, nutball Grayson is also losing.

Used to be there were some moderate Democrats, not they are all just liberals.

Posted by: manapp99 | September 29, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"But all three issues he uses to emphasize his independence are matters on which his views are closer to those of Democrats and liberals." Yes, Crist was trying to prove that even when he was a Republican he was "crossing the party line" to take the position of the Democrats. If there are realistically two positions on an issue, what could "crossing the party line" mean but periodically taking the side other than the one Crist's Republican colleagues encouraged him to take?

Either way, that is not the real issue here. You just misunderstand Rubio's popularity and Crist's lack of it. Crist was quite popular before because he was seen in a fairly conservative state as the only realistic candidate for Senate. And Republicans didn't realize just how malleable his "convictions" were at the time. Because he didn't have an incentive to amend them for the sake of his own career's expedience.

Over the course of the primary race, Crist proved that he lacks convictions and those that he maintained were hardly thoughtful ones, while Rubio has demonstrated his intelligence, reasonableness, and thoughtfulness. Crist embodies everything distasteful about politics in his public persona. Rubio may well be quite the politician, but that doesn't come through. What comes through is a thoughtful, principled person. It is fortunate that his principles are more conservative than the average position Crist takes. But Rubio's popularity is not merely because he is more conservative.

Rubio very much appears to represent a "change" in the style of senatorial politics that Obama suggested he'd bring about, while Crist represents the inglorious politics of yore.

Posted by: TheThinkingMansMan | September 30, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr Dionne; all DIMocRATS,

get it through your heads: the DIMocRATS are going to LOSE both houses of Congress & virtually ALL the governor's offices too in the BIGGEST BLOODBATH for the DIMocRATS in modern history in just FOUR WEEKS.

get ready to be as relevant to the political process as the WHIGS are. ===> NOBODY, who is either moderate or conservative, wants anything from the DIMocRATS but them GONE from every position of power, as none of us "regular folks" trust you any more.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | October 4, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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