The competitive three-way race for the open Florida Senate seat has some interesting new developments. Republican Marco Rubio is boasting impressive fund-raising numbers, pulling in more than $4.5 million in the second quarter, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is pushing to place an offshore-drilling ban on the ballot.
While still leading in the polls, Crist needs to thread the needle carefully to win in November. It seems the best strategy is to paint Rubio as an extremist. This has two goals. First, it helps Crist, running as an independent, win votes from moderate Republicans and right-leaning independents. It also helps Crist to shore up the left-of- center vote. If Crist can keep the future Democratic nominee's poll numbers in the teens, he can peel off left-leaning voters by depicting the actual Democrat as a spoiler. Voting for the Dem will only throw the election to the right-wing boogeyman, Rubio.
I suspect the goal of painting Rubio as a radical played a role in Crist using his gubernatorial power to call a special legislative session to put a constitutional ban on offshore drilling on the November ballot. Due to the BP oil disaster, support for offshore drilling has collapsed in Florida, shoving Rubio’s pro-drilling stance far outside the mainstream. Sticking the measure on the ballot will keep the issue front and center until the election.
Rubio mainly needs just to run a good enough campaign to make voters think he is not crazy. Because of the three-way split, Rubio doesn't even need to appeal to the true center. He needs only to win heavily with Republicans and take the bulk of the right- leaning independents to piece together a sufficiently big plurality. Rubio will have ample resources to run an impressive statewide campaign if he can fine-tune his appeal to the voters.