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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Crist stepped down when he should have stepped up


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First things first — I won’t be voting to re-elect Rick Scott next year. Not unless the only other name on the ballot is Putin or Strangelove.

Nan Rich or Charlie Crist will have to do. Not first-round draft picks, but they’ll do. Rich, of course, has been running for a year — and still has no money, no name recognition and no chance. Crist, 57, will be the nominee unless Bill Nelson changes course, announces he’s only in for one term and names a certain ex-mayor of Tampa as his lieutenant-governor-upgrade running mate. Crist has access to money and has plenty of name recognition — although the latter is a razor-sharp, double-edged political sword.

Former Gov. Charlie “For the People” Crist’s biggest hurdle in returning to Tallahassee is not his track record as a serial candidate, his reputation for being an ideological chameleon or his past incarnations as No Party Affiliation and a Republican — a pro-life, pro-gun “Reagan Republican” at that. Nor is it his chronic “flop-flipping,” to borrow a line from Al Gore.

No, Crist’s biggest issue — and it can transcend the party-affiliated as well as independents — is having stepped down when he should have stepped up.

When the state of Florida was experiencing the most trying economic times in memory, its governor had conflicting career priorities. Republican ads are already referring to how he “abandoned” the Sunshine State in 2010. In an era of unconscionable political hyperbole, that doesn’t qualify. He did.

“For the career” trumped “For the People.” That’s the one that will likely matter most. That’s the one that most easily resonates with all voters. That’s the one that could put a governor, pun intended, on turnout. Republicans remember a quisling. Dems perceive a Republican-lite opportunist. Independents see the man who made it possible for there to even be a Gov. Scott. In an election that will be determined by turnout, that could be huge.

But there’s also this.

Scott rode the Republican wave in 2010. In a post-government shutdown era, this could barely be a wavelet. Last time, more Republicans (7 percent) than Democrats voted. For the past few years, anti-Scott sentiment — as underscored time and again in polls — has been proven potent. He is as unpopular a governor as there is in the country. Moreover, Crist’s endorsement and campaigning for President Barack Obama last time could gin up the black vote into a difference maker.

Last time, Scott faced off against an inept campaigner in Alex Sink. No one expects that out of the politically savvy, personally likable Crist. Imagine the optics: charm-offensive guy vs. offensive guy.

And while the big-bucks Scott machine will lambast Crist with ads that will sting, Crist could reply in kind. There are few political ads that would be more devastating than a continuous loop of Scott’s weasely deposition from hell on that Medicare-fraud case. This is Florida, Medicare fraud should mean more than a flip-flopping rep.

Speaking of, where there’s flip-flopping, there’s also the spin and parsing of “flexibility” and “adaptability.” Crist can evolve with the times, it will be asserted, which doesn’t have to be a character flaw. Tea party ideologues, however, can’t — although some wink-and-nod moves (ostensible teacher-salary hikes, Medicaid-acceptance protocol) are strategic givens.

And never under- or overestimate the electorate. It will be up to the Crist campaign to remind Floridians that it isn’t fair to blame Crist for Florida being bludgeoned by the Great Recession. Nor is it fair to accord Scott credit for Florida’s participation in the national recovery. Not when Scott, for example, duplicitously (ask Paula Dockery) turned down the money, jobs and growth-potential inherent in megalopolis-connecting, high-speed rail between Orlando and Tampa. Not when he failed to lift a lobbying finger (ask House Speaker “Won’t” Will Weatherford) in favor of federal Medicaid-aid acceptance.

It doesn’t help Florida, a net tax-donor state, that its governor is still running against Obama. This time it should cost him. Yes, Charlie Crist has baggage, to be sure, but Rick Scott has his own carousel.

For the next year it will be game on. National pundits will be all over the landscape. It could devolve quickly. Money will play a big part. Are these candidates “for the people” or “for sale”?

The take of former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, a refreshing model of political deportment, is ominous.

“I’m only making one prediction,” says the former four-time mayor. “It will be the nastiest campaign you’ve ever seen. It will be ugly.”

Murray excels on field, in class

Aaron Murray won’t win the Heisman Trophy this year. The University of Georgia quarterback from Tampa’s Plant High was in the hunt before the season, but the season has fallen shy for both Murray and Georgia. That said, Murray will still wind up as the SEC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes.

But there’s another award that Murray is still very much in the running for. The UG senior is a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy, which honors college football’s top scholar-athlete. Whether he wins it or not, it’s a reminder that at a time when “student-athlete” is too often an oxymoron, Aaron Murray — with more than 100 career TD passes — is the ideal. As difficult as it is to account for all those TDs and devote so much time to SEC football, it’s even more challenging to do it while honoring your academic commitments to the point of scholar-athlete status.

Well done, Aaron Murray: Georgia Bulldog and Plant Panther.

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