What is it with Florida politicians passing on the opportunity to move into the Senate? Jeb Bush, Alex Sink, Allen Boyd and Bill McCollum have already declared that they would not seek to succeed retiring Mel Martinez. For such a large state, a bizarrely small number of congressmen have been as much as mentioned as potential contenders - and even fewer look to be seriously mulling a run. This week, the ranks of potential Senate candidates shrank further as Republican Rep. Connie Mack bowed out of the race in a letter he wrote to Governor Charlie Crist:
Based on ongoing press speculation, I know that you are giving serious consideration to the question of whether to seek re-election, or whether to instead seek election to the United States Senate.
As you contemplate this decision, I want to let you know that I have decided not seek election to the U.S. Senate in 2010, and that I will instead seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Not so long ago, Mack looked like he was preparing for a Senate run, and he would undoubtedly have been a formidable contender because of built-in name recognition: Mack shares the name of his father who served as the state Senator’s from 1989 to 2001. (Mack’s great-grand father was also Senator.) A recent Strategic Poll showed Mack beating all potential Democratic opponents and polling better than all Republican candidates save for Governor Crist; the poll also found him Mack leading a GOP primary sans Crist.
The letter suggests that Mack’s decision is not contingent on Crist’s Senate plans; the three-term congressman will not run for Senate even if the Governor passes on the race. But Mack does go on to offer his full support to Crist. “I also want you to know that, as you contemplate your own political future, I will be your strongest supporter and champion — regardless of whether you seek re-election or election to the Senate,” Mack writes.
And so we go on, waiting for Charlie Crist’s decision. If he does not run, he would join Jeb Bush, Bill McCollum and Connie Mack - all these Republicans would have been their party’s clear front-runner had they chosen to run, all somewhat inexplicably decided not to do so. (How is it possible for that many politicians to pass on a golden opportunity to move to the Senate?) If Crist does run, Mack’s letter confirms what we already know: the Governor will face heavy establishment support and he will be heavily favored to win the seat.
Yet, we are starting to hear rumblings that Crist might be wasting his shot at an uncontested primary by angering his base. Crist rushed to Barack Obama’s rescue during the stimulus fight, adding another line to the long list of unorthodox positions that have attracted the ire of conservative activists. Will Florida Republicans really accept rallying behind Crist at the same exact time that Pennsylvania Republicans - including many establishment figures - are trying to get rid of Arlen Specter?
A new Mason-Dixon poll suggests that Crist could be vulnerable on his right. Only 23% of Republicans say they would “definitely” support Crist if he ran for Senate; 18% say they would “definitely not” support him.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that former House Speaker Marco Rubio is now considering challenging Crist in the GOP primary - a move that would give disgruntled conservatives a candidate to rally around. (Rubio is close to former Governor Jeb Bush, so a Crist-Rubio primary would have broader implications on the fight to control Florida’s GOP.) Rubio has already said that he would run for Governor if Crist does not run for re-election, but this is not the first time we hear he might be changing his mind: he took a clear shot at the Governor in the video in which he launched his exploratory committee.
I previously argued that Rubio’s comments were an attempt to carve himself a conservative reputation (always useful in any Republican primary) rather than an indication that he would consider going head-to-head against Crist. I am now open to changing my mind.
As long as Rubio is determined to run statewide, he could very well face an easier time in a senatorial face-off against Crist (it could attract national attention and draw the support of conservatives countrywide) than a gubernatorial primary. After all, if Crist leaves his seat open, a number of prominent Republicans like Attorney General Bill McCollum would run to be Governor and Rubio would have no obvious opening to carve himself a niche.
Two last notes about the topics of this post:
- Mack’s decision: The DCCC has little to be depressed about, as an open seat race in Mack’s FL-14 would have been a hard one to negotiate. The district clearly leans Republican, as it gave Bush 62% of the vote in 2004 and McCain 57% in 2008; sure, Democrats do hold a few districts that are that conservative, but the GOP would be overwhelmingly favored to keep the district.)
- The Mason Dixon poll: The survey also tested a potential gubernatorial match-up between Attorney General Bill McCollum and state CFO Alex Sink. The Republican is ahead within the margin of error, 36% of 35%. Neither will run for the seat if Crist runs for Senate, but both (especially Sink) will be likely contenders if Crist does leave his seat open. And the poll suggests that a a gubernatorial race without Crist could be just as open as a Senate race without Crist.