It may surprise you to know that Charlie Crist is not the Democratic nominee for governor in our state. Nearly everyone assumes he will be, but he first has to win the primary election Aug. 26 against former state Sen. Nan Rich and, well, voters don’t always do what they’re expected to do.
Just ask soon-to-be former U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor.
“Everybody thought Eric Cantor was going to win. He didn’t win,” Rich said. “The truth is, the only people who get to decide these things are the voters on Election Day.”
Cantor, as you undoubtedly know, was one of the most powerful men in Washington. As House majority leader, he was seen as the heir apparent to John Boehner as speaker of the House. That is, until primary voters in his Virginia district decided he wasn’t listening to them and gave the election to little-known DavidDave Brat.
Now, Rich is about as large an underdog as one can be, and winning a statewide election is far different from winning a compact congressional district race. Sometimes, though, dedication can make the difference. Voter turnout was low in Cantor’s race, but Brat’s supporters turned out in large numbers.
If primary voters here stay home because they assume Crist has it won, well, you never know. All those rubber-chicken dinners and drive-through lunches Rich has consumed on the campaign trail could pay off.
She said she stopped counting the number of personal appearances she has made after passing 325 a couple of months ago. She stopped counting car miles to make all those engagements, too, after reaching 135,000.
“The No. 1 thing I took away from Congressman Cantor’s race is that voters matter and grass-roots organization is important,” she told me during a telephone chat on her way to a three-day swing through the Panhandle.
❖ ❖ ❖
“Money is a factor, but voters can be a greater factor. (Brat) worked hard, went door to door and developed his support. That’s what I’m trying to do. We go everywhere we’re invited. As long as there is a group of Democrats who want to talk to me, I’ll be there.”
According to documents filed with the state elections office, Rich has raised $623,000 so far compared with $4.5 million for Crist.
Crist has been avoiding her like she’s contagious, especially on the subject of debates, but she keeps chasing anyway.
She has no campaign staff in the Panhandle, so volunteers are handling everything. What she does have is a long-held, unabashedly liberal message, compared to Changeling Charlie — the Republican-turned-independent-now-evolved-Democrat.
“People I speak with are expressing the feeling that the state is going in the wrong direction,” she said. “They want a strong public education system that is not going to be privatized and handed over to outside for-profit interests. They especially don’t want public education funds diverted into school vouchers.
“You hear that people oppose the Affordable Care Act, but from what I’m hearing that’s not true. People are appalled that this governor and this Legislature didn’t take $51 billion in Medicaid funds.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Those are solidly Democratic talking points, but is anyone listening? Party bosses have kept their distance from Rich, and Crist refuses to engage her. That’s a strategy that could backfire even if he wins the primary because Scott could use that as a reason not to debate Crist in the fall.
For now, though, no dice.
“I sure hope (a debate) will happen,” Rich said. “Gov. Crist calls himself the people’s governor. Well, 89 percent of the people say they want to see a debate.
“He is a relatively new Democrat. He has changed many of his positions, and his poll numbers (against Scott) have been declining. People want to hear what he has to say.”
Otherwise, there is always a chance he won’t like what the voters have to say.