Florida, Florida, Florida!

The inside/out take on Florida’s primary

The story on the recount state’s primary even before a single vote has been counted seems to be: we got it wrong. The press, that is.

Remember that anti-incumbency, anti-establishment wave thing we told you about? You know, the one that even in Florida saw newcomer Marco Rubio shake old Charlie Crist off the elephant and snatch the Republican senate nod? Well, turns out we were a little premature.

The most recent polling in the Democratic Senate primary between Rep. Kendrick Meek and billionaire one-time-frontrunner Jeff Greene has Meek now leading 39-29. And on the Republican side, Attorney General Bill McCollum now leads health industry executive Rick Scott 39-35 in the race to the gubernatorial nomination. Two points to the insiders.

And that big-spending-candidates-pricing-challengers-out-of-the-running idea? Well, the Fiorina-equivalents in this race—Greene and Scott—have spent like madmen and still look likely to be practicing their concession speeches tonight. From Reuters:

Neither Scott nor Greene has ever held elected office. Both were virtual unknowns in their political parties and both are relatively new to Florida.

“They’re not just not members of the establishment, they are total outliers,” said Mac Stipanovich, a Republican strategist and campaign manager for former Governor Jeb Bush. “They just came from nowhere, opened their checkbooks and attempted to buy the nomination.”

…They seemed to be riding a trend seen in California, where two powerful Silicon Valley businesswomen won Republican nominations for governor and the U.S. Senate after capitalizing on their business acumen and personal fortunes.

But strong early showings by Green and Scott began to fade as voters learned more about them and the Democratic and Republican party leadership closed ranks around Meek and McCollum.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz puts it this way in his assessment of the Arizona and Florida races:

Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona and Florida appear likely to deliver a few surprises — surprises, that is, for anyone who accepted the conventional wisdom of just a few months ago.

…In Florida, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek was nearly written off this summer as he was being buried under an avalanche of television ads from his wealthy opponent, political novice Jeff Greene. Today, Meek leads Greene in the polls.

In that state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, another wealthy businessman, Rick Scott, poured tens of millions of his money into his race against state Attorney General Bill McCollum. But after leading in the polls, Scott trails his rival.

The contests offer more evidence that establishment candidates can prosper in this year of the outsider. They are also a reminder that personal wealth cannot overcome personal flaws, particularly among political novices.

Can we call it conventional wisdom if it turns out unwise?

Of course, today’s hot state primaries are more than just cautionary tales for journalists keen to draw sweeping generalizations across the country. They are idiosyncratic, exciting, uniquely peppered races (precisely the reason generalizations are dangerous). To bring yourself up to speed on the unique Democratic senate primary and Republican governmental primary being decided today in Florida, the best coverage is local. Published Sunday by the St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald, “In the homestretch, Florida candidates fan out, trade more attacks,” gives a roundup of the most recent election twists, each campaign’s finances, and an overview of an election defined by some rather elaborate mudslinging.

The pro-McCollum Florida First Initiative has dispatched a sport utility vehicle emblazoned with “Rick Scott: Release the Deposition” to follow the Naples executive wherever he goes. Dressed as a doctor and black-and-white-striped jail bird, the driver and passenger wave signs bashing Scott for refusing to release a deposition he gave in a lawsuit involving Solantic, a chain of walk-in clinics he founded.

The same demand was made in a banner carried by an airplane flying over the exhibition game in Jacksonville between the hometown Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins, signaling that voters can expect the final days of the campaign to be unrelenting. Scott plans to take out full-page ads in newspapers statewide linking McCollum to the disgraced former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Jim Greer.

And, on the contentious issue of Israel in the Democratic primary, the report gives detail and clarifies the candidates’ records (if showing some obvious favoritism against the mogul):

In between campaign stops, Meek decried a new mailer that suggests he is a weak supporter of Israel and features pictures of street violence.
“It’s really offensive when someone would stoop so low,” said Meek, who boasts a strong pro-Israel voting record. “I’m at the point where I feel like Mr. Greene has lost all credibility in his arguments.” …”I think I do understand more about Israel than Kendrick Meek,” said Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire and real estate mogul who has never held public office.

It’s well worth a read for an as-we-stand view. But for a rawer and more thorough look at how the primary has played up until today—with discussion of issues such as immigration, Israel, abortion, as well as the usual ads-polls-strategy pap—The Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog should satisfy. (Though, it is laden with some posts only a true junkie could love: “Don’t let the heat at Tampa International fool you. It was downright icy a few moments ago when Bill McCollum and Rick Scott’s paths crossed. Scott walked by McCollum without a word.”)

For live analysis and blogging as results come in today, keep your eye on Naked Politics as well as The St. Petersburg Times’s Buzz blog. If you like your news a little pithier, try following the Times’s Political Editor Adam C. Smith and political reporter Alex Leary on Twitter, as well as the Herald’s Beth Reinhard and Mary Ellen Klas.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.