Move over Kentucky, and congratulations Florida, because you have suddenly grabbed the title of Most Interesting Senate Race of the 2010 election cycle. Things were already pretty interesting in Florida when it was simply the tale of an insurgent Republican primary challenger, Marco Rubio, and his ever-increasing lead over popular Republican governor Charlie Crist in the closed Republican primary. A story about the battle for the heart and direction of the party. The classic tale of conservatives versus moderates, and an establishment figure against a fresh face. Yet, in the past few days, the race got a lot more interesting.
Yesterday, Crist officially left the Republican party primary to seek the Senate seat as an independent. He instantly turned what was likely to be a hopeless head-to-head primary race against Rubio into a rare three-way general election race that is currently anyone’s game. Just having a legitimate three-way race for an open senate seat is unusual enough in American politics to make the Florida Senate race very much worth watching. Since we don’t use runoff or instant runoff voting systems, we force people to make strategic voting decisions, like voting for only their second-favorite candidates in order to stop the candidates they hate the most from possibly winning. But the recently added entertainment value does not end there.
Billionaire Jeff Greene has decided to run for the Democratic nomination against Rep. Kendrick Meek. Greene plans to use his vast fortune to effectively self-finance the whole race, while pointing out that it frees him from the influence of special interest groups. Greene has a colorful past, but anyone with millions to spend on a media-heavy election like Florida, and has a top strategist as part of his campaign can’t be ignored.
In the past 24 hours, the state went from having a competitive Republican primary with basically an unopposed Democratic nominee, to having a competitive Democratic primary with an unopposed Republican nominee–plus a popular governor’s independent candidacy thrown into the mix.
To add extra interest to the race, there will be two important ballot measures that Floridians will be voting on that could affect turnout. One is a state constitutional amendment to relax a previous amendment from 2002 that put a limit on school class size. Kendrick Meek helped spearhead that effort back in 2002, and this Republican plan to increase class size should have the teacher unions fired up. The other is the “Florida Health Care Freedom Act,” which is meant to be a rebuttal to the new health care law and would ban an individual mandate to buy health insurance. The measure is, from a policy perspective, fairly meaningless because it would be preempted by federal law, but might be used to help drive turnout among conservatives, thus helping Rubio.
I suggest people fire up the popcorn and get a comfortable chair because the Florida Senate race is going to be interesting.