Kevin Cate: How Charlie Crist won

Everyone knows how Charlie Crist lost: votes.

But not enough has been said about how Charlie Crist won.

First, the People’s Governor willingly walked into a $100 million wall.

Rick Scott had $25 million in negative ads waiting to bully any challengers on day one and his campaign was boasting about an unprecedented, and almost entirely negative, $100 million effort.

No one on the planet, including Republicans flirting with challenging a wildly unpopular incumbent, could or would compete with that mountain of money — except Crist.

His job approval, before the onslaught of TV, was 57 percent.

That’s because he was a good governor during the toughest of times.

Crist held nothing back.

His national book tour began with Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. And Fox News radio. Then Stephen Colbert. And this pattern continued throughout the campaign.

He never backed away from a tough reporter or tough issue.

On the issues, Crist was unapologetically bold.

He was ahead of polls, but right where Floridians are today on most every issue. When bystander pundits told him to tone it down, he politely and forcefully objected.

Crist gave Floridians a choice — to raise the minimum wage, make the health-care law work, legalize same-sex marriage, restore civil rights, guarantee equal pay for equal work, phase out the embargo against Cuba, and properly fund K-12 and college education.

Because of Crist, Scott unambiguously moderated his Tea Party worldview.

That was, and still is, good for Florida. But it didn’t really work.

On the only two occasions when Floridians had unfiltered and equal access to the candidates, Crist won. Immediately following the #fangate debate, he was up by 12 points among those who watched the debate. And following the last statewide CNN debate, he was up 3 in his internal simulated vote.

And the simulated vote was, sadly, accurate, eventually predicting Crist’s 1 percent loss.

Crist put in the groundwork to win.

In areas he could afford to organize, Crist increased midterm turnout — Broward by 11.4 percent, Miami-Dade 7 percent, Palm Beach 9.3 percent, Hillsborough 17.1 percent, Osceola 28.2 percent, Pinellas 16 percent, and Orange 13.1 percent.

Crist also crushed every fundraising record available on his side of the aisle.

More than 40,000 Floridians contributed to the Crist campaign — a staggering number.

If this ended the story, Crist would have won on Nov. 4, 2014.

However, with less than a month to go, Scott changed his own rules, bailing out his campaign with a $12.8 million stimulus package. That was smart. He would have lost without it.

It allowed Scott to outspend Crist on TV by $33,452,935.

Or by two to one. Or by 10 Super Bowl commercials.

Toward the end, at least nine times a day and 70 times a week, voters unreachable by Crist field teams or debate coverage were inundated with $1,156 per minute worth of Scott ads, mostly negative.

It was enough. It’s the reason Scott won by 1 percent.

It’s a damn shame, but spending obscene amounts of money to win isn’t a crime.

And for Charlie Crist, failing to defeat obscene amounts of money isn’t losing, either.


Kevin Cate owns, a public relations firm, and is a media adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. You can reach him at [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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