The ads have hit Crist on everything from his support for Obamacare, high unemployment when he left office in 2011, and rising college tuition costs in the state. They have also hammered him for refusing to release his wife's tax returns. The message that permeates it all is, as Florida GOP consultant Rick Wilson put it: "Charlie Crist is nothing, believes nothing, and has nothing inside him except ambition."
Since late June, Crist and Florida Democrats have spent between $2 million and $3 million on three ads of their own, but polls show the race shifting in Scott's direction.
"As the Depeche Mode song goes, 'Everything counts in large amounts,' " Wilson said. And that sentiment doesn't stop with media. As of early July, Scott's camp had 49 field offices around the state; Crist's team had four.
Two of the biggest takeaways for Democrats from 2010 were that Scott's early spending spree helped define Sink and gave him an advantage later on. The cash vacuum left by the state's sprawling and diverse media landscape left too little funding for field and voter-turnout operations—particularly in heavily Democratic and Hispanic South Florida—that are widely recognized as crucial for Democrats in low-turnout midterm-election years.
Former Obama state director and Crist adviser Steve Schale half-jokingly speculated, "They have more press staffers than we have staffers total."
Since Scott began his media deluge in early March, polls have shown a tightening race. Scott trailed Crist by an average of 10 points in 2013, but the most recent automated survey from WFLA-TV/SurveyUSA had Scott edging Crist 45-43 percent. In a memo sent to campaign donors Tuesday and obtained by National Journal, Scott Deputy Campaign Manager Tim Saler expressed confidence the campaign's early ad blitz is having its desired effect.
Saler wrote: "In June, the governor locked in his lead—a year after being down 10 points. With today's survey from WFLA in Tampa, the governor has either led or been within the margin of error in 11 consecutive public polls."
Scott ad maker Joanna Burgos of OnMessage said, "We've had very effective advertising that's brought Charlie's negatives up. Our goal right now is to remind voters of what life was like under Charlie Crist—high unemployment, low education funding, and high debt."
Democrats are well aware of the challenge that confronts them. In an interview with The Atlantic in March, Crist acknowledged the financial threat posed by Scott, and used it to discredit the idea his comeback bid is solely about personal ambition. "Yeah, this is a delightful opportunity, to run into a $100 million buzz saw face-first. That's a joyous thought, right?"
Schale compared the impact of Scott's early advertising to competition between two known brands. "If Pepsi stopped advertising tomorrow, Coke sales might go up," Schale said, but added, "Alex started that race with 20 to 30 percent name ID. Rick Scott was able to build an entire narrative from scratch. He was able to define her in a way that you can't define Charlie Crist because he has a brand."