September 30, 2010

The "Loudest Minute" Begins in Florida as Crist Sinks

Hatched by Dafydd

In yesterday's post, the Loudest Minute, I offered a few examples of longtime incumbents in Washington state, California, and Nevada who couldn't break through the 49%-52% ceiling of support; I opined thus:

These are classic examples of incuments who simply cannot close the deal. Given that, I expect that starting in October, Rossi, Fiorina, and Angle will "unexpectedly" surge forward by at least the amount of the undecided respondents, which ranges from three to eight percent.

We're starting to see some actual "unexpected" surging in the U.S. Senate race in another state, Florida... not for front-runner this time, but for runner-up:

[Coat-turning Gov. Charlie] Crist had been leading the state's three-way Senate race in surveys taken after he abandoned his failing Republican primary campaign in April and switched to independent, presenting himself as a middle-of-the-road alternative to both parties. His campaign envisioned a formula of centrist Democrats, liberal Republicans and independents -- a counterweight, strategists thought, to the tea-party movement boosting his chief competitor in the race, GOP nominee Marco Rubio.

But surveys now show [Marco] Rubio, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, taking the lead and Mr. Crist dropping into a battle for second place with Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek, a congressman from the Miami area. Mr. Rubio is ahead among independents and Mr. Meek is beating Mr. Crist among Democrats, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released over the weekend.

The survey showed 40% of voters backing Mr. Rubio, 28% Mr. Crist and 23% Mr. Meek.

Notice how close Kendrick Meek is to Crist; we'll come back to that point in a moment.

While the Rubio surge may be news to the conventional-wisdom media, it actually began a month and a half ago. Crist had elbowed his way into the lead even before May 13th, the day he renounced his Republicanism and declared himself "unaffiliated with any party" -- running as a squishy, "third way," grey area between the liberal Kendrick Meek and the conservative, Tea-Party-esque Marco Rubio. Looking at the RCP polling history, Crist was solidly in the lead in the three-man race by anywhere from three to 11 points in every single poll except Rasmussen. (Rasmussen continually showed Crist tied with or trailing Rubio.)

Crist's front-runnership lasted right up until August 9th-11th, when both Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon noticed a Rubio surge. A Quinnipiac poll a few days later still found Crist ahead by 7 points, but that proved to be a late outlier; in fact, since August 16th, every single poll conducted by anyone has shown Marco Rubio with a substantial lead. And since September 11th, Rubio has led in every poll by double digits.

The latest Mason-Dixon poll that the Wall Street Journal is so het-up about is just one of seven polls that show Rubio with a commanding lead of 11 to 16 points. Simply put, Charlie Crist is toast, and Marco Rubio is the next senator from Florida.

Ergo, the Florida race for the lead is not really an example of a well-known incumbent running ahead or neck and neck with an unknown challenger in a two-man race: It's a three-way, not a two-way race; Rubio is nearly as well known as Crist; and he has been running strongly ahead of the sitting governor for many weeks. The main event fits none of the three criteria from our previous post.

But there is a perfect example lurking in the sideshow of this race, far away from the big top... and that is the race for the silver medal between Crist and Kendrick Meek:

  • The race for "first loser" is a two-man contest between Crist and Meek.
  • I cannot imagine that Meek is anywhere near as well known as either Gov. Crist or the high-profile former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Marco Rubio. Meek's electoral victories have all been pro-forma events, as his district is so liberal that Meek ran unopposed all four times. In fact, in 2008, he was "automatically elected" without even being on the ballot, as he had no opposition at all -- not even a write-in candidate. I suspect that he is little known outside his own district.
  • Meek has been behind Crist in every three-way poll, but not by much; Crist has been unable to nail down second place.

Taking the September polls and ignoring front-running Rubio, we see the following pattern:

Lead-in paragraph:

Caption here
Poll/date Crist Meek Crist lead Undecided/other
Sunshine St. News 9/7 34 24 10 5
CNN/Time 9/7 34 24 10 6
Fox News 9/11 27 21 6 9
Reuters 9/12 26 21 5 13
Rasmussen 9/14 30 23 7 6
Mason-Dixon 9/22 28 23 5 9
Quinnipiac 9/26 30 18 12 3
CNN/Time 9/28 31 23 8 4
Rasmussen 9/28 30 21 9 8

The important numbers here are those in bold italics, and the take-away is that in all but two polls (marked in blue), Crist's lead over Meek is very close to the the number of undecideds and those voting for some other candidate; that is a tenuous lead for a sitting governor and arguably the best known candidate in Florida; it indicates a very strong chance that Charlie Crist will in fact come in third in the Senate race, as the undecideds break for Meek or for Rubio, abandoning the Ineffable Crist.

The "why" is fairly obvious in this case: Republican partisans dislike Crist because he turned his coat; Democrat partisans dislike him because he used to tout himself as a staunch conservative; and the vast middle of liberal Republicans, moderate Democrats, and Independents -- the constituency he targeted for his run -- dislike him because he flip-flopped on a number of hot-button issues, such as ObamaCare... and because most voters really don't like candidates who are neither fish nor fowl, "beyond Left and Right," no matter what they tell pollsters about the joys of "centrism."

In reality, we like to enforce centrism by electing lefties and righties and letting them duke it out... not by electing squishy, indecisive, "on the one hand, on the other hand" ditherers whose position on actual bills is always a deeply shrouded mystery until the roll is actually called.

But watch your hat and coat, because the race for first loser fits the Lizardian paradigm: If Crist manages to eke out a second-place finish, it will be by the film on his unbrushed teeth.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 30, 2010, at the time of 1:21 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

Always remember that another name for "Middle-of-the-roader" is "road kill."

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 30, 2010 1:39 PM

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