Kirk Wagar is right.
Lawton “Bud” Chiles’ run for governor is good for precisely one thing: screwing Alex Sink. Wagar, a prolific fundraiser who lent his mojo to Team Obama in 2008, made in plain to Adam Smith:
“Bud Chiles is nothing more than a tool of the Republican party. The only role he would play in this election is being the only path for a Republican being governor of Florida in 2010,” Wagar said. “I’d like to know who gave him the advice to do it. He’s a nice enough fellow, but he’s got absolutely no qualifications to be governor except for his last name. It really is almost sad. … Max Linn was more credible than him.”
The truth hurts. So what’s the big deal? I for one am very much in favor of contested primaries, which I think are good for voters. But … this is no primary.
Had Chiles simply primaried Sink, it wouldn’t have made the Democratic establishment happy, but at least it would have been a straight up way to challenge Sink’s candidacy, if Chiles’ reason for running is that he thinks her candidacy is weak. A primary fight, even an unwanted one, might even have lit a fire under Sink, who many activists have complained has been a lackluster campaigner (it certainly has done that for Kendrick Meek, who suddenly is fighting like hell, with Jeff Greene in the Senate race.) It might have forced to her spend cash, which no candidate likes, and possibly presented Republicans with handy attack lines to use against her in the fall, but it might also have allowed Sink to sharpen her message and counter-attack skills, in a fight with a finite end date — August 24th — leaving plenty of time to recover. As nasty as primaries can often be, the Dan Gelber/Dave Aronberg race is proof that Democrats can manage to have a spirited contest and give their voters a choice, without killing each other.
But by essentially primarying Sink in November, Chiles can only help the GOP.
Both Sink and Chiles are relative unknowns, and if the recent polling is to be believed, Chiles much more so. And since he has imposed fund raising restrictions on himself, it’s likely that, unless Big Lawton left him Osama bin Laden type inheritance money, Chiles will remain a relatively minor candidate in November, with no clear shot at winning. Some Floridians of a certain age may remember his dad, but many of us living here are transplants from someplace else. If Bud doesn’t have the money to buy name ID (though he’ll get earned media, simply because he’s a legacy and the media won’t be able to completely resist), or come up with some stunning difference from Sink that makes his candidacy distinct from hers on issues, he can’t win, but he can do damage.
Sink has the party’s backing. It’s almost a certainty that between Democrats hungry to retake the governor’s mansion, Emily’s List, the DGA and on and on, she will raise lots of money. And once she starts spending, and people get to know, for instance, that she’s a woman … Sink will have decent name ID by November, plus one hell of a voter registration advantage courtesy of Democrats’ hard work in that area. But at that point, Chiles starts to draw whatever support he gets, mostly out of Sink’s base of Democrats and moderate Republicans and Independents. The latest Quinnipiac poll backs that up — showing that in a three way race with either McCollum or Rick Scott, Chiles holds Sink below 30 percent.Now of course these polls are early, have a high margin of error, and carry the major caveat that 8 in 10 of those polled said they didn’t know enough about Chiles to form an opinion. But over time, the potential for harm remains, or even grows.
Because he is running NPA a-la Charlie Crist, some voters who like the IndieCrist action may double-punch, which further picks off bits of what would otherwise be Sink support. Even if he only draws votes from old folks who don’t realize his dad passed on, Bud Chiles is to Sink what Alex Snitker is to Marco Rubio in the Senate race … the Ralph Nader to her Al Gore (without the mysterious separation…) because every percentage point he takes out of Sink’s hide puts us one step closer to Governor Smoke Monster.
Ironically, Gov. Crist, because of his universal name ID in Florida, all the earned media he can stand, and potential to draw votes from both parties, has almost a mirror effect. Even if he just takes a fourth of the GOP vote, Crist’s candidacy has the effect of putting a lid on Marco Rubio with moderate Republicans and Independents. To the extent he hurts Rubio, Crist makes the Democrat easier to elect. To the extent he hurts Kendrick Meek, by being for all intents and purposes, the default Democrat in the race at the moment, Crist likely would caucus with the Democrats if he were to win anyway, and he’s quickly moving toward positions Democrats approve of. And if Jeff Greene manages to spend Meek to a loss in August, Crist becomes the even more likely winner, since Greene lacks a base beyond Palm Beach.
In short, Charlie Crist’s candidacy gives Democrats a 2/3 chance of having a Senator they like, or can live with, in November, while Bud Chiles reduces Democrats’ chances of having a non-crazy person in the governor’s mansion. With SB6 and the abortion ultrasound bill looming offstage, ready to charge into the Klieg lights again once Tallahassee evacuates Crist’s veto pen and turns off its cellphone, Democrats really can’t afford to take chances.
Of course, Chiles has a perfect right to run. This is, after all, a Democracy (or rather a Republic, if you can keep it…) But his quixotic run doesn’t seem like the best way to lay the groundwork for a future in Florida politics as a Democrat. Then again, maybe that’s not what Chiles is in it for.
Meanwhile: a Koskid pleads with Chiles to switch course, and run in the Democratic primary. Chiles has until Friday at noon to change his mind if he still wants to get into the primary. The five-day statewide qualifying window opened Monday. And Chiles isn’t the only unknown indie candidate in the race.
So, what should Alex Sink do? Should she ignore Chiles, or attack him?