There’s one question Susan MacManus gets more than any other as we head into a contentious election season. And despite her long and impressive credentials as a political scientist, even she can’t answer it.
Who will occupy the governor’s desk after November? Will Rick Scott stay put? Will Charlie Crist return as a new man? Or is it time for Nan Rich to take over?
“Who is going to win the governor’s race? I don’t know yet,” MacManus, a Land O’ Lakes native, told the Republican Club of Central Pasco on June 25. “And neither do you.”
Two things for certain are that this could not only be the most expensive governor’s race in history, but also the most negative. Political groups on both sides already have launched mud-slinging ads against each other, Scott taking hits for the Medicare scandal that rocked his former company in the 1990s, and Crist for raising taxes and fees during the economic downturn.
Want a good look at what’s to come? One only has to look back to the recent special Congressional election in Pinellas County between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly, MacManus said.
“The mood of the public is a very angry mood,” the University of South Florida professor said. “They are very disappointed in politicians, and don’t like any one of them, and don’t believe any one of them. And this already is the most nasty race known to humankind, and not just to Florida.”
But it doesn’t have to be all negative, MacManus said. Two ads that stood out over the last several months were Sink appearing with her father and Scott with his grandchild. Both resonated well with voters, but barely get a glance in the sea of negativity.
“A couple nice ads are very refreshing, but then the next ones after that are slash and burn again,” MacManus said.
The biggest problem facing politics is money not directly raised by a candidate’s campaign. Both Sink and Jolly had plenty of spending beyond their campaigns, setting a tone that neither of them felt represented them. The same already is happening between Crist and Scott as the voice of outside money gets louder and louder.
With the governor’s race too close to call, those wanting to peer into the future might have to look at other factors on the ballot, especially ones that might draw people from a certain party. MacManus starts and stops with the three proposed state constitutional amendments.
The first one, which MacManus said should appeal to both Democrats and Republicans, would commit 33 percent of net revenues from existing excise taxes to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund conservation program. The second would legalize marijuana in Florida for medicinal purposes.
The third is one that could be a warning bell for Democrats: It would allow a governor to make judicial appointments before a judge’s term is up. That would allow an outgoing governor to decide seats in the judiciary that would affect the next governor.
“Every editorial board in the state is going to be against that,” MacManus said.
One amendment that may not be as big of an advantage for Democrats is medicinal marijuana. The popularity of that amendment has started to wane in recent months, and opposition groups are raising millions of dollars to combat it, MacManus said.
That means the push to get out the vote on that measure will likely split between both parties, although it’s still unclear how many more college students might head to the polls because of it.
“Guess where they got all the signatures to get that on the ballot to begin with?” MacManus said. “It was every college campus in the state. You couldn’t walk across out campus without being interrupted by someone passing a petition.”
Outside of that, however, MacManus still feels turnout will be a big problem in November. A drop in Pasco County voters in the presidential election of 2012 may have cost Mitt Romney the White House, she added.
The Tampa Bay media market remains an important one to all parties, MacManus said. It’s already split evenly between Republicans and Democrats with 37 percent each, with the remaining going to the ever-growing number of independent voters.
Florida will be on the national stage for the mid-term elections, drawing in big names like the Clintons and Obamas to help generate turnout for Democrats. But the GOP has some weapons as well, MacManus said.
“If the Republicans can split the women vote and the independent vote, they can win the statewide races,” she said. “Those are key.”
Published July 2, 2014
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