Charlie Crist and Rick Scott will head into their second debate on Wednesday night, hoping to create some momentum in what appears to be an ever so tight race for governor.
What might get lost in the back-and-forth and barbs about fraud, Scott Rothstein, and HCA/Columbia is how each governor is prepared to deal with the political future and reality that will exist no matter which one of them wins.
And that reality is that the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature will have a lot to say on how the next four years go...for both candidates.
The fault lines will be obvious for Crist.
He has already said he's ready to issue an executive order to try to carry out Medicaid expansion if the Legislature remains recalcitrant to the idea as it has the last two years.
This is actually not a new tactic for Crist. He has done this before, on issues like voting, where he has dared the Legislature to sue him on issues he knows enjoy some level of popularity. In the past, state legislators were hesitant to do this (save then-House Speaker Marco Rubio's challenge to a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.)
But you can rest assured that on Medicaid expansion the legal challenge - at least from the House (where one of the chief expansion opponents is Speaker-in-waiting Richard Corcoran) - will come quickly.
Crist has already said several times that he thinks he can work with the Legislature because he will "have a pen." That threat, however, would be rendered useless if Republicans gain a veto-proof majority as some polls are suggesting. You can bet a Legislature chagrined by the prospect of a Crist governorship will not hesitate to challenge Crist at every opportunity.
A Crist governorship could be a bonanza for political and policy reporters who would get to witness an endless game of brinkmanship as it happened at times under Florida's last Democratic governor Lawton Chiles. Just think of the joys of a possible mid-summer session to craft a final budget deal in order to keep state government running. (And a wonderful side debate of who constitutes a "essential" or "non-essential" state employee.)
Except Crist might not be the only one who could be at odds with legislative leaders.
The plain fact is that when talked to privately many GOP legislators continue to have discomfort with Scott four years after he knocked off GOP establishment favorite BIll McCollum and contended on primary night that the Tallahassee insiders would be "crying in their cocktails." Scott has an uneasy alliance with many Republican heavy-weights in the state who have remained quiet as he brought in outsiders - many of them connected to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal - to run the Republican Party of Florida.
Let's look at the facts of his four years in office. It really wasn't until this year - when he was down in the polls against Crist - that the Legislature pivoted from three years of a respectful, yet standoffish at times relationship, to giving way to help carry out Scott's top priorities.
There's an argument that part of this was due to Scott's realization after months without a lieutenant governor that maybe he needed someone like Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former state legislator from Miami, to broker deals. But lawmakers, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, made a conscious decision to help Scott out on such issues as a tuition break for Dreamers, or eliminating the tuition law that was passed at the insistence of the Legislature (and signed into law by a reluctant Crist.)
Many of Scott's top priorities from his 2010 election - such as a massive cut in the state's corporate income tax - were politely rejected by the Legislature.
Want a more recent example? Just look at the decision by Scott to have Lopez-Cantera and Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth gauge support for a potential new deal with the Seminoles. As reported recently by The Associated Press, the goal of this deal was come up with one that outshined the one that Crist approved and get more money for the state. But the deal was a tough sell especially since it would require yes votes from Democrats in order to pass and was opposed by the state's pari-mutuels and those supporting Las Vegas-styled casinos. The entire effort quickly collapsed.
That's not to say there won't be a lot more common ground between Scott and members of his own party than between them and Crist.
But many of the Tallahassee insiders who Scott predicted would be crying now fully expect the Legislature to be the place where the real action - and real power - will lie during the next four years. That's more likely since Scott's power over legislators will wane as his second term goes on. Even as powerful as he was then-Gov. Jeb Bush got into a lot more rows with the Legislature after his re-election.
And how much currency with Scott bring with him if he barely defeats Crist in the same fashion where he barely defeated Alex Sink in 2010?
Scott's platform this time around has been a lot less bolder than it was in 2010. He has mostly crafted it around ideas like increasing spending on environment and education. Scott has promised to continue to grow the economy, but there's no 7-7-7 plan this time around with a sweeping promise to create 700,000 (or 1.7 million jobs) by cutting billions in taxes and spending.
What ultimately might be more important are the platforms of Corcoran, soon to be House Speaker Rep. Steve Crisafulli, Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, Sen. Bill Galvano (and the yet to be crowned Senate president for the 2017-18 time period.) Or it could even be the platforms of the NEXT potential Republican governor - Adam Putnam or Jeff Atwater.