Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oh, Florida: The Senate Race Calculus

If the election for the U.S. Senate in Florida were held today, two things likely would happen. First, Republican Former House Speaker Marco Rubio would win easily. Second, a majority of Floridians would vote for someone other than Rubio.

This apparent contradiction is the product of a three-way race between Rubio, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek and Governor Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent. In most polls, Rubio leads the race, with Crist in second and Meek trailing by a substantial margin. Together, the vote for Meek and Crist surpasses Rubio, but in our democracy, electoral addition generally is frowned upon.

The race presents an interesting quandary for Democrats. Meek clearly is the most consistent — and technically only — Democrat in the race. He has been a loyal Democrat during his career in the House and would in all likelihood be a predictably consistent vote for the Obama administration in the Senate. Yet, barring an unlikely surge of truly epic proportions, Meek is not going to win the race.

That leaves Democrats to consider Governor Crist. The Republican-turned-independent also trails in the race, but by smaller margins, making his victory unlikely, but certainly possible. Crist successfully has championed Democratic issues, including the environment, reproductive choice and education. While not as predictable a pro-Democratic voter as Meek, he presents a far more palatable choice for Democrats than Tea Party favorite Rubio.

Hence, the choice: Do Democrats rally behind Meek in a show of party unity, with the likely outcome of sending Rubio to the Senate for the next six years? Or, do they abandon the loyal Democrat Meek for Governor Crist in an attempt to block the Republican and Tea Party surge in the Senate?

Some leading Democrats have endorsed Governor Crist, including former Congressman and liberal icon Robert Wexler and Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson. National Democrats like former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have rallied behind Meek. In the meantime, Rubio has held steady, benefitting from divisions in the opposition, and continues to march toward victory.

Strangely, in the year of the Republican surge, this race rests almost entirely in the hands of the Democrats. It is the Democrats who can push Crist to victory and block Rubio. Politics often is about making choices, not between what you desire versus what you don’t desire, but between options that are far from ideal. Democrats will have to choose between what they want, or what they can actually get.

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