Peter Schorsch: Five critical political questions leading up to November’s election

Labor Day is at least a week into the rearview mirror, so the white pants should be closeted away until next June. The kids are back at school, football has returned to the tube, and, even in Florida, the temperature has dropped a degree or two.

In other words, elections are less than two months away. Here are five key questions the answers to which will illuminate Florida politics like jack-o’-lanterns soon will light front porches.

  1. Is Rick Scott leading Charlie Crist by two or three points — or is his lead now outside the margin of error?

There has been one direct relationship since Crist announced his candidacy last November: the more Scott and his allies have spent on television ads critical of the Democratic nominee, the further Crist has fallen in the polls. Crist’s approval rating is in the same toilet-bowl levels  Scott’s has been for most of the governor’s time in office.

The three most recent polls have Scott minus two points, plus six points, and plus two points. These numbers raise the question is Scott’s lead inside or outside the margin of error.

Why does this matter? Because Cristworld will tell you that it planned on and even modeled scenarios where it was down a point or two to Scott – and then fought back.

But if the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s poll showing Scott up six is accurate, Crist is in a place his strategists did not expect him to be.

There’s less than a month before Florida’s new election day — when ballots are mailed to early voters. Crist needs pick up a point a week on Scott before those ballots are mailed. Fortunately for Crist, this is mostly a zero-sum proposition. Unfortunately for Crist, he’s not yet been able to stop the slide he’s been on since Scott’s campaign went up on TV.

  1. Is John Morgan the Achilles’ Heel of the Amendment 2 campaign?

For months, it seemed like the campaign to legalize medical marijuana could do no wrong. Despite opposition from most Republican officials and much of the state’s law enforcement community, most polls showed Amendment 2 headed to passage.

Then The Rant happened.

The Rant, in case you haven’t checked YouTube lately, is attorney John Morgan’s drunken, NSFW speech to a group of legal pot enthusiasts after Morgan debated Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Laced with F-bombs and non-sequiturs, the video has since gone viral and threatens to do what no anti-marijuana advocate could do: keep Amendment 2 from receiving the 60 percent it needs at the ballot box.

Yes, The Rant is that cringe-worthy, almost surpassing Howard Dean’s infamous post-election scream. But it’s not the video that should most worry Amendment 2 supporters. It’s that the controversy surrounding The Rant could sideline Morgan at the worst possible moment for the campaign: when the campaign is running on fumes and needs a massive infusion of cash to combat what is expected to be a deluge of negative ads from the Sheldon Adelson-backed opposition.

  1. Will Gwen Graham be national Democrats’ bright shining light?

According to most political prognosticators, a GOP wave IS NOT developing at the national level, despite forecasts that Republicans will take the U.S. Senate and expand their lead in the U.S. House. If that happens, there will be few victories for national Dems to celebrate in November.

Gwen Graham could be one of those victories. The daughter of the iconic former U.S. senator and governor is deadlocked in a heated race against Tea Party incumbent Steve Southerland for the North Florida congressional seat. One gets the feeling that unless something breaks the race open for either candidate, the winner will be whoever has the ball last. Were Graham to win and Crist to lose, look for her to be the party’s standard bearer in any of the statewide races expected to be competitive in 2018.

  1. Will Senate President Designate Andy Gardiner spend money to help Ellyn Bogdanoff knock off Maria Sachs?

The math is simple. It takes 27 votes in the Florida Senate to overturn a gubernatorial veto. Right now, there are 26 Republicans in the upper chamber. Were Crist to win, having a veto-proof majority in the Senate would be the ultimate equalizer for the GOP. Yet Senate President Gardiner, to-date, has not appeared interested in winning that final vote, which would come with Bogdanoff’s defeating of Sachs.

Privately, Gardiner has told Republican donors he has yet to see any indication that the seat is winnable. But that assessment has not kept Sen. Jack Latvala, who needs Bogdanoff’s vote to become Senate President, from investing heavily in the Senate District 34 race. Meanwhile, every Democratic operative and resource not already locked-down by the Crist campaign is being put to Sachs’ defense.

  1. Where are the black swans? 

In economics, black swans refer to events that come as a surprise, have a major effect, and are often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

At a recent conference of Florida lobbyists, during which political consultants and strategiests  of both stripes talked about what they expect to happen in November, there wasn’t a black swan in sight. Republicans predicted Republicans would win, while Democrats said the same about their candidates. But in a state known for close elections and where Marco Rubio knocked off Crist and Scott upset Bill McCollum and then Alex Sink, black swans can be found among the flamingoes.

The question is which races will produce black swans?

Material from Wikipedia was used in this post.

 Peter Schorsch is a political consultant and new media publisher based in St. Petersburg. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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