Judging by the ugly tone of the Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist political campaign ads, this is shaping up to be the Scott Rothstein election.
For those who may be living in a cave without wi-fi, Rothstein is the former South Florida attorney who was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison for perpetrating a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. Before Rothstein got caught, he took enough smiling pictures with Crist to fill a photo album. But his love for Republicans was spread far and wide. There is even a photo of Rothstein with then GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Some will find irony in that.
Normally, this is reason for Democrats to celebrate. But Crist, now the Democratic standard bearer in the November election, was once a Republican.
The Republican Party of Florida has been aggressively running ads accusing Crist of letting Rothstein pick judicial appointments in exchange for campaign contributions.
Crist has even tried to use Rothstein as a rebuttal, calling Scott’s bluff. What is the truth?
The Miami Herald’s Truth-O-Meter calls GOP ads misleading. But the truth behind the allegations doesn’t really matter. What really matters is what voters hear and believe, and too many unsuspecting voters usually believe an allegation once they hear it repeatedly on television.
A recent Tampa Bay Times survey found that a majority of voters distrust Crist when it comes to honesty and ethics. Scott’s numbers are slightly better, but they are still in the red.
When you have two candidates of questionable ethical character spending millions to smear each other, only thing is guaranteed: Many voters are going to be turned off. Turned off voters stay home.
Four years ago, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink and Scott were smearing each other, many Democratic voters who had stood in line for hours in 2008 to vote for Barack Obama decided not to show up at the polls. Scott won by 62,000 votes in a low-turnout mid-term election.
History could repeat itself. After Crist took an early lead in the polls, Scott has begun to put some daylight between him and his predecessor. If it looks like a blowout, Dems will stay home and other candidates farther down the ballot will also get trounced. That bodes ill for Democrats. That bodes ill for democracy. That bodes ill for Florida.
Andrew J. Skerritt is author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He lives in Tallahassee. Follow him on Twitter @andrewjskerritt. Column courtesy of Context Florida.