Imagine you are an NFL player whose team has made it deep into the playoffs. You have one game left — the conference championship — standing between you and playing in the Super Bowl.
Now imagine that your opponent in that conference championship match-up just decided it won’t be playing that game, meaning you’re on your way to the Super Bowl without having to face your toughest opponent to date.
That’s the scenario that just set itself up for former Gov. Charlie Crist. Instead of having to face what would have been his toughest opponent, Alex Sink, the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor, he’s now on his way to the Super Bowl of Florida politics to face off against Gov. Rick Scott. (Sorry, Nan Rich: You’re a wonderful Cinderella story, but you’ll be lucky to even make the playoffs under the scenario described above.)
This is such a huge deal in Crist-world, which had assumed that Sink would run in 2014, if for no other reason than out of spite for Crist. Or at least she would have taken so much time before deciding not to run that it would be as if she were in the race anyway.
Now, Crist has a clear shot at the Democratic nomination and, more importantly, a clear shot at the Democratic activists and fundraisers who would have remained loyal to Sink. Major players, like uber fundraiser Justin Day, are now free to sign up with Crist. In turn, national Democrats, like those at the Democratic Governors Association, are able to all but fully commit to Crist rather than having to wait more than a year for a primary to play out.
Make no mistake, Sink not running is the most important factor to date in Crist’s chances of success in 2014. The ramifications of Sink not running cannot be overstated.
That said, there are some clear winners and losers emerging from Sink’s decision not to run. Here’s a preliminary list:
John Morgan – Sink not running just saved the prominent trial lawyer and Crist patron, what, five million dollars? Ten million dollars? That’s what Morgan would have had to raise and/or spend out of his personal fortune to make sure Crist beat Sink in a primary. Now that same money can be spent defeating Scott.
Republican fundraisers — If your job is to raise money for Florida Republicans, is there anyone other than Charlie Crist you would want at the top of the ballot? After all, you can’t scare the base without a bogeyman. I imagine the direct-mail shops are already at full bore pumping out fundraising letters.
Nan Rich – The former Florida Senate minority leader will receive 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary just because she’s NOT Crist. The pressure on her to drop out of the race will be enormous by next summer. Before that, though, she gets to go one on one with Crist at every candidate forum and debate leading up to the election. She’ll probably be able to raise a few dollars, especially from Republicans, just to run a guerrilla campaign against Crist.
Steve Schale — Nothing’s worse than when Daddy and Mommy fight. Fortunately for the Democratic Party’s favorite son in Florida, that’s no longer a possibility. Had Sink run, the Florida Democratic strategist would have been in the awkward position of having worked for the 2010 nominee, but not wanting to work for her in 2014. Now Schale is clear to get Crist up and running and, perhaps more difficult, introduced to full-on Democratic Party politics.
Florida’s TV stations – A competitive primary between Crist and Sink would have meant millions of dollars in advertising for the state’s seemingly unending number of media markets. Crist will still spend some money to defeat Rich and the Republicans will still spend money to discredit Crist, but there won’t be eight figures worth of TV ad time like there would have been had Crist and Sink faced off.
Lenny Curry – The chairman of the Republican Party of Florida may be the biggest loser AND winner emerging from Sink’s decision. On the one hand, Curry and Company lose out because they don’t have a legitimate vehicle to attack Crist as they would have had had Sink run. Meanwhile, the RPOF’s reverse-psychology line of attacks involving Nan Rich are increasingly played out. On the other hand, Curry is gonna get what he says he’s wanted all along — a clear shot at Crist. Let’s see what happens when the dog catches the bumper.
Bill Nelson – Conventional wisdom held that Sink would not make her decision until after Florida’s senior U.S. senator unequivocally stated he was not running for governor in 2014. Sink’s announcement has kind of forced Nelson’s hand, leaving him only two options: support Crist (which he actually wants to do) or run himself.
Rick Scott – By not having a real primary, Crist can avoid having to get into a who-is-more-of-a-Democrat fight and instead run as Charlie Crist in the space he relishes occupying: the populist middle. This makes it much harder for Scott to box his way into the center with the kind of independents needed to win — and if Scott can’t get to 50 percent among these centrist voters, his path is nearly impossible. The current debate about Common Core educational standards is a perfect example of this scenario.