If there was any question as to whether Camp Rubio was following today’s breathless coverage of Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist, the following memo–an exact, brutal, and confident analysis from Rubio senior advisors Todd Harris and Heath Thompson–provides a definitive answer:
Florida media is reporting that Charlie Crist will tomorrow announce his intention to leave the Republican primary and run for the Senate as an Independent.
If that is the case, tomorrow will be the best day of Charlie Crist’s new campaign.
Across Florida, liberal editorial writers will burn up their keyboards in praise of Crist’s decision and falsely blast the GOP for “driving him out of the party.” Columnists will write of a new “post partisan era” in Florida politics. Unsuspecting Democrats (who have never even heard of Kendrick Meek) will be harassed in the streets by reporters asking about the Crist switch and what it means for their vote. And the state teachers union will continue to pretend that it actually cares about federal races.
And then the most shocking thing of all will happen: Like Charlie Crist, this too will dramatically change.
Read the rest of it after the jump.
Crist’s current level of support, as measured by polling, in a three-way race is artificially high, while support for Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek is artificially low.
According to both internal and public polling data, Crist is drawing support from a significant number of Democrats and approximately 25-33 percent of Republicans. In some current surveys, Crist actually beats Meek among Democrats. These numbers are based almost entirely on name ID, and as the race develops further they will change dramatically. For starters, there is very little chance Crist maintains his current level of GOP support. To quote Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com:
“It’s asking a lot of a Republican identifier to continue to support a candidate who has just ditched the party — particularly when it seems to be motivated by expediency rather than ideological resolve.”
Additionally, Meek is still largely unknown, even by Democrats. But he is a credible candidate with access to a significant financial war chest. As he becomes better known there is every reason to assume that the overwhelming majority of Democrats will come home and support him.
Similarly, Marco is not currently well known beyond voters who have been paying close attention to the race. In fact, buried in the data of the much-talked-about recent Quinnipiac poll showing Crist leading Marco by two points in a 3-way race was this fact: more than 40 percent of general election voters didn’t know enough about Marco to have an opinion of him. As he becomes better known to a wider audience his general election support will continue to grow.
Despite its reputation as the ultimate swing state, Florida has relatively few Independent voters.
There are two great myths about Independent voters in Florida:
1. There are lots of them.
2. They are all politically moderate.
Neither of these is true. In reality, by registration fewer than 20 percent of Florida voters are Independents. And that number is even smaller when based on actual turn out percentages. In fact, current turn out intensity among GOP voters in Florida is far higher than either Democrat or Independent voters, meaning Independents could make up an even smaller percentage of the actual vote on Election Day.
Secondly, it is a mistake to assume that Independent voters are politically moderate. In fact, survey after survey this year has found that voter anger about Washington spending and the growth of government is every bit as high among Independent voters as it is among Republicans. In fact, in some cases, Independent voters are actually more conservative on these fiscal issues than actual registered Republicans. Poll after poll has found that when given a choice between a hypothetical candidate who will go to Washington and support President Obama and his agenda, or a candidate who will be a check and balance on that agenda, Independent voters overwhelmingly want a check and balance. Marco Rubio’s message will resonate very well with Independent voters, while both Crist and Meek will be seen largely as Obama rubber stamps.
As an Independent, Crist will have no access to any party infrastructure.
Despite all of its recent problems, the Republican Party of Florida remains quite good at a very key thing: targeting and turning out voters on Election Day. In fact, Florida’s county GOP offices are some of the most organized and sophisticated in the country and will provide the backbone of any GOP turnout operation. In addition, Crist will be starting from scratch to recruit, organize and mobilize volunteers for his campaign, whereas both Marco and Meek will have built-in volunteer networks to draw from.
This problem will be compounded by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Crist’s own campaign staff is likely to quit once he makes his announcement official.
Whether it’s a two-way or three-way race, Marco’s message will stay the same.
As we pointed out above, Marco’s message has great appeal not only for Republican voters, but for huge numbers of Independent voters as well. His appeal to conservative Panhandle Democrats in a three-way race should not be underestimated.
For more than a year we have been running against one candidate (Charlie Crist) who cannot be trusted to go to Washington and stand up to President Obama and offer a clear alternative. Now it appears we will be running against two candidates who fall into that category. Either way, our message does not change. Crist has no credible message.
Crist will now try to present himself as an outsider. One year ago he was the ultimate establishment insider. He will now try to present himself as above politics. But just days ago he took a poll to make that decision. He will now try to present himself as post-partisan. But two years ago he actively campaigned to be McCain’s running mate. And heaven help Barack Obama if Joe Biden ever decides to retire.
The fundamental Crist problem remains the same: when you don’t believe in much of anything, it’s extremely hard for people to believe in you.
Last quarter, Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek both treaded water. Their cash on hand basically held steady. Conversely, Rubio raised approximately three times as much as each of them and stockpiled close to two million dollars.
The trajectories here are clear.
While Marco and Meek will both no doubt benefit substantially from party finance infrastructure going forward, Crist is now on his own. Large numbers of Republican donors will demand their money back, fundraisers will quit, and while Charlie will no doubt refuse to return requested contributions, the pressure to do so will grow. This will significantly further complicate future finance efforts. After all, it’s hard to buy the whole listening to “the people” thing when you won’t even listen to the donors who actually invested in you in the first place.
While Crist leads in cash on hand for now, that advantage is fleeting. He can now no longer raise primary money, only general election money. Meanwhile, Marco and Meek will be able to raise both primary money and general election money through the August Primary. This is especially good news for Marco since less than five percent of our donors have maxed out for both the primary and general election.
We estimate Charlie Crist has roughly $6 million cash on hand today. It may take a little while for Marco (and Meek) to catch him. But we will.
This is going to be a tough race. No question. There will be ups and downs with lots of unintended consequences.
However, it is also a race that will look a lot different this fall than it does today. Marco and Meek will have the wherewithal to become better known. Republicans will react to Charlie’s switch. Democrats will be introduced to Meek. And voters from both parties will begin to gravitate back to their respective camps.
Furthermore, Independents really only know one candidate right now. And that’s not going to remain true for very long either.
At the end of the day, our biggest advantage is that general election voters will ultimately clearly understand why Marco is running. Meek knows the reasons he is running but will have to obscure them. And Charlie? He will have to figure them out, perhaps several different times.