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Florida governor's race: Expect expensive, bloody battle in Scott vs. Crist showdown

Florida Republicans and Democrats selected their nominees for governor this week. The voter turnout in Tuesday's primary for the November election was light and the expected winners prevailed.

Republican Rick Scott, the Sunshine State’s incumbent governor was renominated. He will face off against his predecessor – the state’s former GOP Governor Charlie Crist – who is now running for another term as a Democrat.

Christ chose not to run for reelection four years ago and instead decided to run for his state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. He was heavily favored in the beginning but was blindsided by the candidacy of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Florida is now tied with New York for 3rd place in Electoral votes at 29 and is viewed as the ultimate swing state -- having voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Rubio was a Tea Party and conservative favorite and quickly overwhelmed Crist in polls.

Not to have his ambitions for the Senate cut short Crist then became an unaffiliated voter and, after losing to Rubio in the Republican primary, he ran for the Senate as an independent losing again in a three way race.

But Crist didn’t give up. Undeterred by his losses in the Senate fight, Crist changed his party and became a Democrat. Tuesday’s primary results now set up the fall race against the man who replaced him.

Ironically, Crist could have been re-elected easily as Governor four years ago  and would now be viewed as one of the stars of the Republican Party.

Instead, today, Florida Republicans view him as a traitor. To make things worse, some  Florida Democrats don't trust him and find many of his past positions, especially as a law and order governor unacceptable.

Still, Crist's political survival and his long held dreams of becoming president will force him to participate in what likely be one of the nastiest and most expensive races in the country.

Crist started this race with a big lead over Scott, who has had his problems, but the race is now even.

Florida is the ultimate media state with 10 television markets. Because of its size it is hard to have a really effective grass roots organization, so television and radio advertising become all important.

Florida is now tied with New York for 3rd place in Electoral votes at 29 and is viewed as the ultimate swing state -- having voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

In 2012 Obama defeated Romney by less than one percent of the vote in the closest race in the country.

Based on this last election no Republican can likely win the presidential race in the future without Florida.

So the stakes are high.

Scott was a political novice when he came from nowhere to win in 2010. A multi millionaire health care executive who pretty much self funded his first race he has had his ups and downs since taking office.

He was viewed as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents up this year and his approval ratings have dipped to the low 30s.

Crist was way ahead of Scott early in the year but most recent polls indicate a near even race and some even have Scott leading by a point or two.  

Scott managed to narrow the gap between him and Crist with his negative attacks reminding voters of Crist's endorsement of President Obama and support for ObamaCare. These attacks have been very effective.

Adrian Wyllie third party Libertarian candidate for governor may also be a factor.  With the two major candidates spending tens of millions of dollars in negative advertising in the coming months the winner will be bloody when he emerges from this race and he’ll bring the baggage of record high negative approval numbers into the governor’s mansion.

The biggest issue in the governor’s race will continue to be ObamaCare  and Scott's successful job creation plan.

Getting Scott re-elected is the second highest priority for the national Republican Party in this election season. It ranks right up there with winning a majority of seats in the Senate.

For Democrats, getting the turncoat Crist back in the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee is seen as a necessary evil so that the state can continue to be viable in presidential politics next time around especially with Republicans Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush both considering a 2016 run.  

Both Scott and Crist should consider themselves lucky that ballot requirement passed by the state of Nevada in 1978 which gives voters the opportunity to vote for “none of these candidates” doesn’t exist in Florida. In this year’s Democratic primary for governor that option won in Nevada beating out eight other candidates!

The same option might do very if Floridians had that choice this time.

Edward J. Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Reagan and he managed his reelection campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and a member of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.