Florida, the Canary in the Coal Mine

>While Quinnipiac Polling (at least according to some Florida experts) may not be the state's most accurate, nobody doubts the basic premise of its latest survey: two wealthy but deeply flawed outsiders lead in primaries for governor and the U.S. Senate.

Rick Scott, a former hospital executive pushed out in a billion-dollar Medicare fraud scandal, would beat State Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum if the GOP gubernatorial contest were held today.
In the Democratic Senate primary, Rep. Kendrick Meek, who's been campaigning for a year, is well behind Jeff Greene, a sub-prime hedger who moved to Florida two years ago and announced his candidacy just before the filing deadline May 1. 

Yes, McCollum and Meek have been outspent--but each has still poured millions into TV ads pointing out his opponent's problems: Scott's management style (two sets of financial records at his old company), Greene's shady associations (Mike Tyson and Heidi Fleiss are personal friends). And yet, as Susan MacManus, longtime professor of political science at the University of South Florida, says, "Voters know how they made their money and don't seem to care."

Want to know how intense anti-incumbent sentiment is in the U.S. these days? You could look at the president's approval rating (in the 40s), Congress's (in the 20s), the number of people who think the country's on the wrong track (in the 60s) ... or perhaps you could just look at Florida. MacManus says "the attitude is, I'm really upset, I hate incumbents, I want a new face, I don't care what face."

It's true that Scott and Greene have run savvy campaigns against fairly weak establishment candidates; each has campaigned close to his party's base and trumpeted "real world experience." But, as one Democratic consultant told me, "In any other year, with his history, Greene wouldn't have a prayer and neither would Scott." He added that "the White House better watch Florida ... this state is the canary in the coal mine."

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Brian Goldsmith is a contributor to TheAtlantic.com. A former political producer for the CBS Evening News, he is now a student at Stanford Law School.

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