For Crist, the dangers of a guerrilla-like primary
Whenever I write about Florida’s Republican primary, I feel the need to preface my comments with a warning that Charlie Crist is the overwhelming favorite to win the race and there is no guarantee that Marco Rubio can even make Crist break a sweat - let alone win the nomination.
Yet, there continue to be hints that the primary could put the Governor a delicate position. A few weeks ago, I pointed out that the involvement of high-profile Republicans (Mike Huckabee had just endorsed Rubio) could create trouble for Crist. Now, a new story serves as a reminder that an intra-party fight leads to headlines that can easily drive down the Governor’s popularity.
Last month, the state legislature passed a bill allowing community colleges to raise a student fee for transportation services. The legislation was approved by a large margin, but Crist vetoed the legislation last Wednesday. This type of news would certainly not be part of this blog’s beat if the bill’s main sponsor (state Senator Steve Oelrich) had not recently endorsed Rubio’s Senate bid.
Said Oelrich: “I sincerely hope the veto was not the product of political expediency or retribution.” He later added: “I’m certain the Governor’s Office would deny all that, but politics being what they are, it’s discouraging sometimes.” While Oelrich was also suggesting that Crist might have been motivated by his opposition to the SunRail commuter rail system, Rubio himself seized on the controversy. In a statement, his spokesperson expressed the campaign’s regret that Oelrich’s endorsement cost him passage of the bill.
There is obviously no way to know what Crist’s motivations were. Even if the veto was motivated by reasons unrelated to the bill’s content, it is not rare and arguably not that controversial for legislation to be sunk in the context of negotiations relating to other issues - in this case allegedly the SunRail commuter rail system. But the point I want to make is that the tensions of the primary (a rare context in which a politician gets ferociously attacked by members of his own party) should lead to the sort of headlines Crist is not accustomed to.
Indeed, this type of coverage is what Crist’s challengers need to generate. Polls testify to the fact Crist is seen as governing in a cleaner way than most politicians - more pragmatist, less partisan. Thus, Rubio and Meek are going to have to find a way to attack him not just on his ideology (too moderate, will say Rubio) but also on what is currently to be his strength: His reputation for good governance.
It won’t be easy to knock Crist off his pedestal, but don’t forget that he will have to go through more legislative sessions, fiscal crises and budgetary woes. More than a year of conservative guerrilla warfare could help make the Governor look like any other politician - petty, ambitious and politically vulnerable.
Without committing, Steelman continues to attack Blunt as insider
With Tom Schweich’s decision not to run in Missouri’s Senate race, all eyes turned to former Treasurer Sarah Steelman. Earlier this year, she had repeatedly suggested that she would challenge Rep. Roy Blunt for the GOP nomination, only to fall silence in recent weeks. Well, Schweich’s withdrawal looks to have spurred Steelman into action.
“Danforth says we need fresh face in DC then turns around and endorses Blunt…Funny the way it is……,” tweeted Steelman yesterday, in a reference to the former Republican Senator and Schweich’s protegee. She also granted an interview to the SEMO Times in order to blast Blunt. Asked for a word that describes the congressman, Steelman responded “Washington.” Clearly taking a stance in the Republicans’ ideological war, Steelman assessed that the GOP had to move to the right to regain its political footing. “The people do not trust us to be conservatives because we were anything but conservative when we were in the majority,” she said.
If she does run, Steelman’s continued willingness to portray the primary race in terms of such clear contrasts should worry Blunt. Not all primary races are fought along neat divides, which are often a recipe for long-lasting wounds. If Blunt survives Steelman’s challenge, he will only do so after months of nasty ads portray him as a quasi-corrupt old-school Washington insider.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Steelman actually jumps in. At this point of the cycle, her saying that “if I can offer some of that new leadership, I would consider” doesn’t sound enthusiastic enough for us to consider her a likely candidate, though her determination to forcefully attack Blunt is enough of a hint that she is planning a race. The most likely situation is that Steelman wants to run but is trying to assess her chances at defying the establishment; Steelman lost the gubernatorial primary last year, and it’s hard to see her political career survive a second consecutive primary loss. Might she be better off waiting for another opportunity?