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Think About It: What If Charlie Crist Had Stayed Put?

November 1, 2010 - 7:00pm

One of the few really fun things to do when observing the American political game of elections is to speculate on a host of what-ifs. The Florida 2010 election offers more possibilities for this game than most elections do. The root cause of so many variant options to what might have been start at the feet of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist certainly has shaken up who ended up running this time. A year ago I am not sure we would have seen Alex Sink step up to run for governor against Charlie Crist (if he had decided to stay). Both she and Bill McCollum would have stayed put as CFO and attorney general respectively.

So, instead, we now have four newcomers running for those two seats. Those four newcomers would have remained as a prosecutor, a state senator, another state senator and a private citizen -- all, perhaps, seeking a very different office.

If Crist had instead decided to really gamble, he would have appointed himself to the same vacant seat he now seeks as soon as Martinez retired, and in this election he would now be seeking re-election. Instead, he finds himself an outsider, with no party affiliation or apparatus, looking in.

What he chose for himself is a next-to-impossible task. Florida has not selected third-party candidates in the modern era never happened, and it looks like that will hold true this time, too. But Crist has been behind before, and has lost elections before as well.

If he had chosen to appoint himself to represent Florida as Sen. Mel Martinezs replacement, we would have had a year of current Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp serving as governor and we just might have seen a Republican primary battle between Marco Rubio and Kottkamp for a shot at governor. This would then have ended as a one-on-one battle with Kendrick Meek against Crist for the U.S. Senate, rather than the two of them fighting over similar constituencies this time around.

Shakespeare could not have scripted a more tragic play with a more compelling character than Charlie Crist.

Imagine someone who had phenomenal public acclaim and approval being courted by those seeking the highest offices and even being considered for them as well, only later to face a certain defeat at the polls from an antagonist Crist for sure believes to be lesser than he.

In his Poetics, Aristotle outlined what would be the role of a protagonist -- someone of high estate and respect, but one with some kind of tragic flaw that leads to his own destruction. The flaw is usually the same element that adds to both the greatness and the fall, and as they fall they become isolated and with fewer allies and friends. Yet, often they are rehabilitated and rise again, but this time as completely different personalities.

Is Crist done? I would not bet on it. Protagonists usually rise, albeit as very changed people. Crist has served in one role or another for most of his adult life and surely will not be satisfied to be outside the political limelight. Other politicians have been able to rehabilitate their images; so, for one who has been described as the quintessential, consummate retail politician, this should not be difficult either.

The question is, for which office? Maybe Congress, should Rep. Bill Young retire, or for one of the expected new open seats in Florida -- maybe run for the U.S. Senate in two years. But, if so, under which party banner? Maybe a run in 2010 for the U.S. Senate when Bill Nelson comes up for re-election? It sounds as if I am starting a new what-if game.

This election season has offered a fascinating study of politics and decision-making, with a tremendous list of what-ifs. We usually go two years between statewide elections. Two years used to be considered too short for major changes in politics and personalities. Not anymore.

Two years, largely due to the constant news cycle and the manipulation of information through social media, blogs and continuous contact through radio talk shows and quasi-news shows on television, allow too much time for the average voter to consume all that is served. It alters the information we receive and the perceptions we develop about officeholders and challengers.

Now that the election is done, it truly is time to begin another list -- more of a who is running list for 2012, because surely out of the ashes of defeat this time around, there will emerge more than one candidate seeking to resurrect and return, just like a Shakespearian protagonist. Who do you think will return once again?


Ed Moore, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) and previously was president and CEO of the James Madison Institute as well as a senior policy adviser for legislative leadership in the Florida House of Representatives.

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