The Florida Senate race is a microcosm of what is occurring in our politics nationally and it offers a glimpse of where we might be headed in 2012.
Marco Rubio won the Republican nomination with strong and early support from Tea Party activists. He also drove a much more moderate Republican, current Governor Charlie Crist out of the Party forcing him to run as an independent rather than face the conservative elements of the GOP. Kendrick Meek also cemented his position as the Democrat in the race with his victory in the Democratic Primary last night.
Looking at the electoral map for 2012, it appears to me that President Obama will need Florida in his column to win re-election. That makes the U.S. Senate race in the Sunshine State perhaps the most important contest in the country in 2010 as well as the most unique.
Now come the questions: The first question is how well will Charlie Crist do with Democratic voters in November? Can he pull enough Democratic votes away from Meek to sneak past Republican Marco Rubio and win election to the Senate as an independent? Or will Democrat Kendrick Meek not only hold on to his base – but succeed in pulling enough independents away from Crist to score a surprise victory in November? And finally there’s this one: how hard will Barack Obama work for a Meek victory?
The White House would clearly prefer a Meek or Crist victory in November. A win by either man could give the president a boost in his re-election bid a little over two years from now. A win by Rubio would not help the White House and could hurt the president in 2012. But the White House cannot sit on the sidelines. The president and Democrats all over the country are going to have to put everything on the line for Kendrick Meek to win in November.
It looks to me to like a zero sum game. Building up Meek tears down Crist. If Democrats fail to take enough votes away from Crist supporters to secure a Meek victory they risk wounding Crist in a way that offers Rubio a path to victory.
If Rubio wins Florida’s Senate seat it means 2010 will be a big year for the GOP. Not only that but then makes it that much harder for President Obama to win the state in 2012.
And here’s one more reason to pay attention to the Florida Senate race from now until November: A Crist victory as an independent candidate would suggest that both parties are in bigger trouble than they think and might even spur an independent candidacy for president by a serious contender in 2012.
If Meek, the Democrat, wins in November it will be considered an upset but also a critical win Obama needs to help secure his own victory in Florida in 2012.
I would not bet against Meek and the White House. But Crist has the right message – and voters do not like either party right now. There’s just one major stumbling block. Will they believe his switch from Republican to independent is genuine? Stay tuned.
Joe Trippi is a Democratic political strategist and Fox News contributor.
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