It's now exactly 4 months before voters in Florida will decide who to pick for governor.
Amid the recent twist of events as well as the multi-million dollar barrage of ads from the re-election campaign of Gov. Rick Scott against former Gov. Charlie Crist some pundits are already proclaiming Crist's campaign off course. They have argued he is in need of a campaign shake-up or he needs to debate Democratic state senator Nan Rich or he needs to release his wife's tax returns etc. etc.
Well, that's for the pundits to debate.
But let's take a look an overall look of where things stand at present:
MONEY: It was reported back in 2013 that the Scott campaign planned to spend $100 million to get re-elected. Well, while that goal is still possible - it's not apparent that amount is a sure thing.
It has appeared that Scott's main re-election vehicle _ Let's Get to Work _ was poised to burn through all of its cash by the time the Aug. 26 primary rolls around. The June 27th reports filed with the state indicated that LGTW had about $11 million left in the bank after spending $17.3 million - most of it on television ad buys since March.
The Republican Governor's Association, however, kicked in $4 million just two days ago according to updated filings on the LGTW web site.
It's significant that the RGA chose to share that money with LGTW - which can run ads attacking Crist but can't run ads that explicitly tell voters to stick with Scott. The Scott campaign has been proclaiming for months that it the incumbent governor was raising most of his money for the Republican Party of Florida. RPOF can run ads that urge voters to choose Scott, but only if they also tout other candidates. It's also significant since one of the supposed advantages of buying ads through the party as opposed through LGTW is that the party can purchase ads at a cheaper rate. So obviously there was a feeling that the burn rate needs to be even higher than it has been.
So barring any additional significant contributions we can anticipate that LGTW will have spent $30 million from March to the end of August or a little more than 2 months left before Election Day.
Crist for the most part has been waiting before tapping into his campaign warchest. The most recent reports indicate that Crist has at least $10 million in the bank.
Crist, who has tapped into public financing in his past runs for office, will likely get a substantial amount of matching money from the state later this month.
That means there's a good chance Crist will still have a healthy bank account once the primary election is over (although it won't be surprising if third party groups bankrolled by unknown parties go after him this month in an attempt to force Crist to spend more than he wants prior to the primary.) So far, however, Crist has gotten help from the Florida Democratic Party which is running its own ads going after Scott which means that Crist can continue to hold back.
We still don't have a good idea of how much money outside groups plan to bring into the state. A billionaire has already pledged to spend considerable sums to go after candidates on the issue of climate change including Scott. Meanwhile, other groups appear waiting in the wings to assist Scott.
At this point it would be save to assume that at least $100 million will be spent by everyone involved in this race - or at least four times more than has been spent to date but probably less than what was once hinted at.
POLLS: Much has been made of the tracking in the polls that have shown Scott erasing the lead Crist once had and in some cases leading the Republican turned independent turned Democrat although it is usually within the margin of error.
Well, the issue of course hinges on whether the turnout models used by the various polls will be accurate.
Early signs are that Republicans will not replicate the 2010 turnout that helped Scott squeeze out a victory over Democrat Alex Sink. The expectations of course are that the Democrats will not come close to witnessing the type of turnout that helped President Barack Obama win Florida a second time in 2012.
But let's consider how quickly things can turn - even with a candidate spending considerable amounts of money.
On June 29, 2010 Quinnipiac University had Scott up on Attorney General Bill McCollum by a 43-32 margin in the looming GOP primary for governor. By August 18, 2010 Quinnipiac had it totally flipped with that poll among "likely primary" voters to a 44 to 35 percent edge for McCollum.
One of the recent polls that has gotten a lot of attention was that the Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released in late June that had Scott at 41 percent and Crist at 38 percent (or within the margin of error meaning essentially they were tied). This was a poll of self-selected "likely voters" according to the Chamber. The Chamber, for what it's worth, released a poll (done by a different company) on Aug. 13, 2010 that showed McCollum had turned the tide against Scott and was actually up by 12 points.
The point is this: The general trendlines suggest a tightening of the race, which actually should not have been unexpected. But we may be a tad too far out to have an accurate gauge on who will actually vote in this election. (See this previous post on whether or not Scott can count on the GOP base to show up like it has in past elections.)
Case in point: The Quinnipiac poll from April 30 showed Crist up by a full 10 points. But that poll also showed Crist pulling in 10 percent of Republican voters, while Scott was pulling in 9 percent of Democrats. Even more interesting is that even that poll contended there was no more than 9 percent undecided.
Bottom line: After Scott and the Republicans have spent $17 million the race is essentially tied and Democrats and Crist are only now returning fire.
ORGANIZATION: We don't have to do much analysis here: Scott and the Republican Party of Florida have a bigger staff and a larger organization and it's unlikely that will change.
They plan to use a microtargeting plan that will attempt to identify voters who can propel the incumbent governor to victory. Not that there hasn't been a long line of missteps along the way, i.e., the entire episode with finance chairman Mike Fernandez.
Crist has had his own series of problems putting together a staff. It does appear he will have a fair amount of help from Democrats. While the Democrats are underfunded, they did not actively recruit a lot of legislative and Cabinet candidates that will compete for scarce resources. It's a big gamble, of course, since Crist could lose, but a win would help the Democrats immensely. There have been suggestions that the vaunted Obama network will come into play but at this juncture it doesn't appear that it will resemble anything close to what the OBama campaign did in this state just two years ago.
WHAT'S NEXT: For many Republicans there is an expectation, and hope, that maybe wasn't there a year, or even 6 months ago. They see the fundraising numbers, the polls and the problems so far experienced by Crist's team as proof that victory is within their grasp.
But it's also true that Crist has not begun a sustained assault against Scott.
We already seen some hints of where he plans to go: On a recent stop in Tallahassee Crist argued that voters will get the "old Rick Scott" a.k.a. the one who cut education funding by more than $1 billion and killed high speed rail and not the new Scott who has tried to take a few steps to the middle. Expect more of that. Expect public service workers and unions to ramp up to remind their rank and file that Scott was the person who took 3 percent out of the paychecks of every teacher, prison guard and even sheriff's deputies across the state. Expect Scott to continue to be drawn into the ongoing contentious battle over Common Core that shows no signs of diminishing and could haunt him all the way to Election Day.
There will be debates, there will be continued economic news that could hamper Scott's pro-jobs message, and not to mention a court ruling on gay marriage that could also force the Scott administration on the defensive. (The state is defending the state's current ban on gay marriage.)
Bottom line: Four months out it is evident Scott is no longer losing. But it's hard to argue anyone is winning either.