Make No Mistake - Tuesday Was Not a Good Night for the Florida Republican Party
There's a reason why Florida Republican Party Chairwman Carole Jean Jordan is will almost certainly step down and why the replacement is likely to be former Speaker Allan Bense
- someone completely unconnected to Tuesday's elections.
Rank and file may be excited by Charlie Crist's promotion to the Governor's mansion, but insiders are not pleased.
The GOP retained the governorship only by circling the wagons to stop the campaign of conservative Republican Tom Gallagher and backing a pro-choice, pro-civil union candidate in Charlie Crist. They lost two congressional seats and may lose another in Sarasota, they lost their uncontested grip on statewide constitutional offices with the election of Alex Sink as CFO, and they lost eight legislative seats - including their number one target in Tampa Bay's own SD 16 (which also creates a 21-19 moderate majority in the Florida Senate). And let's not forget that the nation's most vulnerable Democratic Senator, Bill Nelson, sailed to re-election over a joke of a candidate in Katherine Harris.
The conservative ascendancy begun in the early nineties and that culminated in the election of Jeb Bush, a popular governor who was also a die hard conservative, has hit a roadblock.
The question now is whether the GOP will be able to regroup as a more moderate party under Bense and Crist, or whether Democratic successes the other night foreshadow what happened in the late eighties - the last time we saw (but did not fully recognize) the end of one party rule in Tallahassee.
GOP operative, elected officials, and activists will be able to ride on the good feelings generated by Crist's crushing defeat of Democrat Jim Davis, but it's only a matter of time before the reality of their reduced power becomes clear.
This is not to say Democrats are dancing in the streets. They are still the clear minority party in Tallahassee and they failed to effectively challenge for a potentially wide open governor's race. But they now have real power in Florida and a base to build on.
I personally do not see Democrats winning the state back in the next four years, but what happens in the next four years will go a long way towards determing happens in the next six to eight. I do wonder whether the GOP will not miss Jeb more than they might admit. He was a rare figure - a hard line social conservative who was well liked by moderates and rarely seen as polarizing figure, despite very conservative views. Crist is also well liked by moderates, but shares relatively little of Jeb's conservative ideology. It's an open question as to what this means for the GOP. Crist could succeed in continuing the GOP ascendancy led by Jeb, or he could be more like Lawton Chiles - a blip in a trend line moving in the other direction.