Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is Charlie Crist Running for Senate or Vice President?

Obviously, the current Florida governor is running for Senate, but give me a chance to explain my thoughts on the vice presidency. [Then you can decide whether the link between the two is a stretch.]

First, we'll need to assume a couple of things.

For starters, everything below assumes that the primary calendar and rules will remain virtually unchanged between now and January 2012. We can argue all day about the likelihood of major reforms to the primary process, but for the sake of this exercise, let's assume that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada lead the way followed by Florida and then Super Tuesday.

We also need to assume that Charlie Crist not only takes the GOP nomination for Senate in the Sunshine state, but wins the general election as well.

At this point, these assumptions have a better than 50/50 shot of being the political reality in 2012 as I see it. [Likelihood of disagreement with those odds? 100%.] With that said, how does this get Crist closer to the vice presidency and why doesn't that improve the Florida governor's chances of gaining the GOP presidential nomination?

Well, all this started as a brainstorm that emerged from the comments to the Palin post the other day. The discussion there stretched from recent vice presidential nominees later running for presidential nominations to the importance of the 2012 primary calendar. And that got me thinking about Charlie Crist. As was the case in 2008, Crist's endorsement will be very much sought after in the race for the GOP nomination in 2012 due to the importance of Florida. But let me explain why I think that is.

First, 2012 will be a referendum on Obama. If the 44th president is well-liked, Republican primary voters will either vote for someone who can, in a Downsian sense, capture the ideological middle of the electorate or someone who offers a stark contrast with the current president. In other words, the GOP will either run toward the middle or go off toward the right. If we assume that the calendar remains the same, then, my bet is on the latter. And I'm not putting it past Obama's team or some surrogate(s) to cast a choice for the former -- at least during the primary phase -- as a choice for Obama-lite, a choice I think most Republican primary voters would potentially find unpalatable. [Of course, that could potentially ward off many of the more moderate candidates anyway. And it isn't as if that wing of the party is doing all that well at the moment in what should be dubbed the Specter War.]

That aside, though, why is a more conservative candidate more likely to emerge from the Republican side due to the calendar? Iowa and it's very conservative caucus electorate will be hugely important and will have a large say in who the nominee is. Yeah, that's not saying much. Iowa always has a disproportionate influence over the process given its position. But depending on who runs, Iowa could have an even greater impact. If Huckabee runs, he'll be expected to turn the same trick he did in 2008. If the former Arkansas governor opts out to wait on 2016, then Iowa becomes more important.

Here's why: If Mark Sanford runs, South Carolina's impact will likely be minimized. Nevada faces the same issue if Sen. John Ensign decides to run as well, but Nevada has to worry about timing as well. If the Silver state's primary coincides with South Carolina's primary again, that'll be a double whammy against GOP caucus-goers in Nevada.

Well, what about New Hampshire? Ah, the Granite state. Romney is far from a favorite regional son (former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, but with roots in Michigan and Utah), but my hunch is that Romney will be expected to do well there and will likely be positioned well enough to do so. Does that mean a win is a sure thing? No, but he'll be in good shape to claim the primary.

Any one of those states could have an unbiased influence on the states to follow minus their favorite sons or past winners (and not all will be viable if they choose to run), but there are reasons to believe there could be a massive split heading into Florida.
  • Huckabee could very well win Iowa again.
  • It isn't a stretch to see Romney winning New Hampshire either. He did place second there in 2008.
  • Sanford is still seen as a legitimate dark horse right now and could become just legitimate by 2012.
  • And it isn't out of the question for a local candidate to do well among a small caucus electorate like Ensign in Nevada. Would the senator even be considering this if Nevada wasn't so early in the process?
There are any number of combinations from the above possibilities, but let's assume that all that comes to pass and Florida becomes the de facto tie-breaker heading into Super Tuesday the next week. If you're Charlie Crist, what do you do?

"Hey! Florida is the decisive state here. I could win this thing!"


"Hey! Florida is the decisive state here. I could win this nomination, face a tremendously popular president and never be heard from again."

or (and this is the reason for the post)...

"Hey! Florida is the decisive state here. I could have a real influence over who becomes the nominee


First of all, the influence of endorsements (whether by political actors or newspapers) has still received a far smaller share of attention in the political science literature than it should have (...as Rapoport, et al. (1991) pointed out), and the literature that does exist provides mixed results. But during the valuable invisible primary period, Cohen, et al. (2008) have recently found that endorsements matter as much if not more so than polling (though that is not statistically significant) to fundraising and subsequent electoral success. Regardless, it was the timing of Crist's endorsement of John McCain -- just prior to the Florida primary -- that made it so potentially powerful. And McCain's "just prior to the primary" endorsements -- Schwarzenegger and Crist among them -- seemed to have at least coincided with more primary success than, say, Barack Obama's endorsements from the likes of Ted Kennedy.

And Crist will likely have another chance to influence the nomination. Now, he could throw his hat in the ring himself, but he might be better served by throwing his weight around, successfully endorsing someone and parlaying that into a vice presidential nomination or a prime spot in the 2016 sweepstakes. My money is on the latter there. Crist is, at the very least, politically shrewd. Even if it takes some time, he has shown that he will pick his spots in order to advance his position politically. And 2012 may not be one of those spots. If he is so shrewd, he may want to avoid the vice presidential slot unless victory is a sure thing. Losing vice presidential nominees just have not done that well in winning their party's presidential nomination in subsequent cycles.

This isn't really about Crist and the vice presidency so much as it is about underlining the important role Florida -- and its high-profile Republican politicians -- will play in determining the next GOP nominee.

...if the calendar stays the same.

[Plus, such a post title is usually good for getting people's attention after a long holiday weekend.]

Recent Posts:
Memorial Day Travel and the 2012 Bumper Sticker Battle

GOP Temporary Delegate Selection Committee in Place

More 2012 Polling: Huckabee's Still Tops Against Obama but No One Does Well


Robert said...


I apparently missed this post earlier. I think it has merit, but there would be a problem. Crist is NOT popular with the Republican right. As we talked in our discussion group, the right may not be able to name the VP nominee, but they can stop one they don't like. If Huckabee or Palin get the Republican Presidential nomination, then Crist could be a ticket balancer and help ensure that they get Florida. Palin and Huckabee are probably not the candidates that Crist would endorse, however. A more moderate of the type Crist would endorse is probably not going to need to appease the right. The one exception I can see is Jindal. A Jindal/ Crist ticket would be interesting and might give Obama/ Biden a run for their money.

Sanford has some real problems in getting the Presidential nomination. SC is second only to MI in unemployment and other economic problems. He is taking a 'principled' stand against much of the stimulus money. I can't see him becoming viable unless Obamanomics completely falls on its face, and we are in a full-blown depression. Jindal is taking the same 'principled' stand, but he can afford to because of all the post-Katrina dollars that Blanco accepted and the massive influx of jobs that resulted.

Josh Putnam said...

I agree, Rob. The title was for provocation's sake, but unless a hard right leaning candidate emerges as the nominee, Crist has no shot at the VP slot. I still think his endorsement will matter in the primary, though.

...assuming the right doesn't completely turn on him and Rubio wins the Senate nomination. That is a closed primary after all.