Tuesday's Florida primary election results offer an interesting look at the schizophrenic psyche of the Sunshine State electorate.
First, there's the unsurprising news that less than one out of four of Florida's 11-million registered voters cast a ballot in these critical midterm primary elections. That turnout total indicates the kind of depth and breadth of voter disconnect and apathy that can allow smaller groups of activated voters, like the Tea Party, to have electoral power far beyond their numbers. Bad News.
The next thing that jumps out at you is that the two rich guys, "The Outsiders" who spent so many millions running brutally negative attack campaigns against far more well-known and established Florida politicians, got very different bangs for their big bucks.
In the fierce fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, the scandalized former CEO of a lawbreaking health insurance company, multimillionaire Rick Scott, spent about 40-million on his successful campaign to take down tired old warhorse and now lame-duck Attorney General, Bill McCollum.
Scott's millions, along with his in-your-face conservative rhetoric, bought him a three-percentage-point victory yesterday - and helped gut Florida campaign finance regulations in the process, as he sued successfully to wipe those regulations out so he could outspend his GOP "establishment" rival without any monetary limits, or counterbalance.
Over on the donkeys' side of the fence, super-rich guy and last-minute Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Jeff Greene, didn't fare nearly as well as Scott did with his money or his rhetoric. A billionaire with a shady past, a Republican from California until a couple of years ago, a real estate tycoon with questionable business ethics, Greene was still able to spend, misrepresent and attack his way to a seemingly surging lead over Congressman Kendrick Meek, until a couple of weeks ago.
But then the Meek campaign got onto TV too. Democratic Party
organizations, activists and volunteers went into overdrive. Bill
Clinton came to town to stump for Meek, followed by President Obama. And
in the end, voters got sick and tired of Greene's dirty tactics and
rallied around the longtime public servant and lifelong Democrat - to the extent that Greene's lead turned into yesterday's embarrassing 26-point loss.
It's good news that most Democratic voters in Florida are willing to take a hard look at the actual individual candidates behind all the paid political advertising, able to withstand a barrage of negative attack ads, do a little fact-checking, and make their minds up for themselves.
That's good news for Meek too, as he heads into an even tougher, far more complex battle against runaway winner of the Republican nomination and Tea Party favorite, Marco Rubio, and the laying-in-the-weeds (lying in the weeds?) governor and No Party Affiliation candidate, Charlie Crist.
Back over in the elephants' den, the news is more troubling. It is not a good sign that Republican voters went ahead and nominated a man who ran a company that defrauded American taxpayers out of billions, a guy who is outspoken about being anti-tax, anti-government, anti-health reform, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-choice, and of course most of all, anti-Obama.
The good news for the GOP is that in a state where Democrats have more than a five-percentage-point edge in registered voters, Republicans still turned out about 300,000 more voters for their gubernatorial and senate primaries yesterday than the Democrats did - although they fell hundreds of thousands of votes short of the record turnout the Scott campaign had been predicting for weeks.
Sure, the runaway primary winner and solid mainstream Democratic candidate for governor, FL Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, was not in any kind of a battle for the nomination. But Kendrick Meek was fighting for his political life for a while there. And there was a hotly contested race for the Attorney General nomination, won by deserving State Senator Dan Gelber. So while it's easy to say that the Republican race for governor was an attention getter. the fact is that there was plenty worthy of attention and higher turnout on the Democratic side as well.
If Sink and Meek are to win their critical general election races and prevent ultra-partisan political extremists like Rick Scott and Marco Rubo from gripping the reins of power, than someone or something is going to have to light a fire under plenty of Democratic butts in the next seventy-plus days, and get them out to vote in very big numbers.