The Florida governor’s race, one of the most expensive — and definitely the nastiest — in the state’s history, is too close to call.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist have tapped their parties for almost every vote available. They are going to have to court independents and Libertarians to win.
A Center for Public Integrity study released Sept. 24 showed $31.8 million had been spent on 64,000 television ads run for the Crist and Scott campaigns through Sept. 8.
However, while the two candidates appear in most of those ads, the commercials are not being paid for directly by either campaign. The Center for Public Integrity found the Crist and Scott campaigns are responsible for less than 4 percent of the TV ad spending, the tiniest rate of candidate participation in any governor’s race in the nation.
How is that possible?
A Florida law allows independent political committees to raise unlimited amounts of money. They can also coordinate the use of that money directly with the candidates’ campaigns.
The Center for Public Integrity found PAC-candidate coordination is allowed at a level in Florida that would be illegal in most other states.
As an example, the center pointed to a Rick Scott ad, “Grandpa.” Scott and his grandson appear in the ad, but it’s paid for by the Let’s Get to Work political campaign committee.
Crist is using outside money to pay for his ads, too, with a slightly different twist.
The political committee backing Crist gives its money to the Florida Democratic Party, which then coordinates the advertising with the Crist campaign.
The ads run by both campaigns have been nasty.
In the “Guys Like Rick Scott” ad, Crist blames “greedy Wall Street bankers and corporate takeover artists, in other words, guys like Rick Scott,” for causing the 2008 recession, the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
The Florida GOP, on the other hand, paid for an ad in April 2014 that accused Crist of “Running Away” from Florida by campaigning for the U.S. Senate while still governor, and still a Republican.
The Republican Party of Florida also attacked Crist for his support of Obamacare in an ad that debuted Sept. 23, “Doctors and Patients.”
The result of all of these TV ads is that close to half of likely Florida voters have decided neither Crist nor Scott is honest or trustworthy. Forty-nine percent turned thumbs down to Crist’s character in a Quinnipiac University Poll released Sept. 24. Fifty-one percent don’t believe Scott is trustworthy or honest.
“When fewer than four in 10 voters think both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are honest, you know this has been one of the nastiest races in state history,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “They have been throwing so much mud that they both are covered in it.”
The Quinnipiac Poll also shows Crist and Scott need to be aiming their advertising at independent and Libertarian voters.
While both men have solid support among their party bases — Crist is doing very well with Democrats even though he was a Republican when he was previously the governor of Florida — there are still voters’ minds that need to be won over outside of the parties’ ecospheres.
Brown said Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie’s supporters should be aggressively courted.
“Wyllie voters are the bigger unknown because there is little way of predicting if they will stay with the third-party challenger or decide to switch to Scott or Crist in order to be with a winner,” Brown said.
With Wyllie out of the race, the Quinnipiac Poll showed the race would still be too close to call. Scott would lead by two points, 46-44 percent.
Leaving Wyllie in the race, the poll showed Scott edging Crist 44-37 percent among independent voters, with 11 percent for Wyllie. Scott leads 80-11 percent among Republicans, with 7 percent for Wyllie, and Crist leads 83 -7 percent among Democrats, with 6 percent for Wyllie.
Women are divided with 43 percent for Crist, 41 percent for Scott and 8 percent for Wyllie. Men go Republican 48-40 percent with 8 percent for Wyllie.
With six weeks until Election Day, 81 percent of voters say their mind is made up, while 17 percent say they might change their mind.
So Crist and Scott should double down on their advertising and flood the already saturated minds of likely voters in Florida, right?
Probably not, according to Brown.
“At this point, neither major party candidate is doing markedly better as a second choice of Wyllie voters,” said Brown.
“It is also worth considering that there is a consensus that negative campaigning tends to be a turnoff more to the very people who seem to hold the keys to the kingdom – independents and third-party voters.”