Florida’s Very Interesting Race for Governor

In November, Floridians will see three names on the ballot for Governor: incumbent Governor Rick Scott, the Republican; former Governor Charlie Crist, the Democrat; and Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie.

Incumbent Rick Scott is probably the least interesting of the candidates. A former hospital CEO, he won in 2010 spending mostly his own money ($70 million) to fund his campaign. He ran as a fiscal conservative, and mostly has followed through on his campaign platform to lower taxes and shrink state government.

Scott has played politics a bit. Originally, he opposed Medicaid expansion in Florida under Obamacare, but he reversed his position to support it once it was clear that it wouldn’t pass the legislature. And after cutting education spending at the beginning of his tenure, he supported expenditure increases in K-12 education last year, and is campaigning on his support for public schools. But mostly, he’s followed through on the fiscally conservative platform on which he ran.

Scott’s Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, is well-known to Floridians because he was governor prior to Scott. Crist was elected as a Republican in 2006 and would have been easily reelected, but he chose to run for an open US Senate seat rather than for a second term as governor. He began his Senate race as a Republican, but when it became apparent that Marco Rubio had a lead for the Republican nomination, he dropped his Republican affiliation and ran as an independent.

As we know, Crist lost the Senate race to Rubio, and subsequently changed his party affiliation to Democrat, and is now running for the office he voluntarily left four years ago.

Crist is a charismatic candidate, and clearly has Scott beat on that count. But it does appear to me he has two big strikes against him. First, he voluntarily vacated the office he is now seeking, and second, he changed parties to do it. Voters must be thinking that if he really wanted to be governor, he would not have left the office after one term when he could have easily been reelected. And, will Democrats really support the candidate they were running hard against just eight years ago? Of course they will prefer him to Scott. But that doesn’t mean they will actually go to the polls and vote for him.

This makes Adrian Wyllie a more interesting candidate. Scott and Crist are polling about even right now, but Wyllie’s support seems to be about 8%, which is pretty high for a candidate from the Libertarian Party. That’s not going to win him the election, but it could affect whether Scott or Crist wins.

Ordinarily, I’d expect a Libertarian candidate to get most of his support from potential Republican voters, so he’d be taking votes away from Scott. But the baggage Crist brings to the election might cause some Democrats to think twice about voting for him. Of course they won’t vote for Scott, but as a protest vote, or an expressive vote, as academics might phrase it, they might vote for Wyllie. They’d be thinking, “I don’t want to vote for Crist, but I can’t vote for Scott, so I’ll vote for this other guy I don’t know.”

My prediction is that Scott will be reelected, but not for any of the reasons I gave above. Incumbents have a big advantage in any election, so I’ll always bet on the incumbent, and win that bet most of the time.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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