State senator and former Republican Party of Florida chairman John Thrasher repeated the same mantra when Jeb Bush started his quest to become the first GOP governor to win a second term: "It's all about the base."
Translation: Motivate your core supporters in big enough numbers to negate any advantage the other person and other party may have.
That was 2002 but it might as well have been an eternity ago in Florida politics.
Back then motivating the base was a key reason for Bush's victory (especially coming just two years after the 2000 presidential election chaos showed how divided the state could be in an election.) The late Bill McBride, a first-time candidate, squeezed out a Democratic primary victory over former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. The thinking at the time was that McBride could appeal to the middle and independents more than Reno.
But Bush - buoyed by a strong GOP turnout as well as strong support in his adopted hometown of Miami (which was also Reno's hometown) -took 56 percent of the vote. McBride's showing was so bad that Democrat Buddy Dyer, running down ballot against Charlie Crist in the attorney general's race, received nearly 98,000 more votes.
It's no secret that the demographics and dynamics of Florida and its political makeup has shifted since then as much as sand dunes do following a big storm.
So we know that the electorate is not like it was even a decade ago.
When Bush won a second term there were 9.3 million voters. Now there's 11.7 million. While the numbers of Republicans and Democrats has gone up, the number of independent voters not affiliated with any party has gone up dramatically, soaring from 1.5 million in 2002 to nearly 2.67 million by April of this year.
But in this year's governor's race we have two, or if you like, three candidates who are testing the premise that it requires a motivated base in order to ultimately win an election.
And the strategy comes during a year in which elections in Virginia and Mississippi have led to all sorts of speculation and analysis about the strength of the tea party elements in the GOP and what politicians have do to win these days.
Let's start, however, with Rick Scott and his campaign machine that includes the Republican Party of Florida.
It's been hinted at again and again - but let's repeat it anyway: Charlie Crist is the candidate that Scott world wanted from the get-go. There were people in Scott world as it's known who knew that Crist's record as a governor along with his ongoing political transformation would make him an inviting target to contrast with against Scott.
But just as importantly the hope is that animus against Crist - i.e. the turncoat, the "back stabber" who now supports the hated Obamacare - will motivate Republicans to get out in force come election time in 2014.
Because at the same time Scott and his campaign have taken a variety of policy turns in the last two years that in essence go against the wishes of the tea party folks and those in the base that helped Scott four years ago. In other words, Scott's campaign strategy is - Republicans hate Crist so they will get out in force - but at the same time we will court moderates and the middle.
Consider that since the start of 2013 Scott has done the following:
* Backed expansion for Medicaid a key component of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
* Supported and signed legislation that extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented students living in Florida despite criticism from members of his own party that it was "pandering" to certain types of voters.
* Signed a limited medical marijuana bill.
* Refused to go along with calls to outright repeal Common Core State Standards in Florida. Instead Scott has gone along with a series of steps intended to try to address some of the concerns expressed by activists and grassroots groups angered by Common Core. These included jettisoning the words Common Core from state law even though Florida standards remain based primarily on Common Core. He also signed bills that ban schools from collecting data and give parents more of a say over local textbook choices.
* Has come out in support of All Aboard Florida _ a proposed rail line linking Orlando to Miami _ despite a growing backlash in certain GOP-leaning communities. Scott has had the state support funding for projects that will ultimately help the rail line achieve its goals even if the money isn't going directly to the rail line. it seems an eternity ago when Scott had the state reject billions from the federal government for a high speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa.
If you look at this list you can see that Scott is taking a calculated risk that Common Core or immigration issues won't come back to haunt him like they have other Republican candidates. In other words, he's counting on Republicans to work hard for him despite taking positions that may antithetical to the base.
It was just a few days ago U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz get a good reception from Miami-Dade Republicans when he went after Common Core. There's a wave that has been cresting across the country that has prompted governors in Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Indiana to re-think their education policy in response to the growing chorus of opposition to Common Core which has been at its loudest among GOP activists.
Scott has reportedly told some activists that "Common Core is out" in Florida which is an artful, yet one could say misleading, way to phrase it. He's right that Common Core isn't on the books anymore. But the ghost is still in the machine and it's still guiding what the state is doing.
Scott's re-thinking of his immigration positions are also potentially perilous as well.
Polling has shown that the issue of in-state tuition resonates big with Hispanic voters who are a growing force in Florida and could help decide the race. Yet at the same time it's an issue that has hurt Florida politicians at times. (U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez's decision to forgo a 2010 re-election may have been a personal one, but there's no doubt his embrace of immigration reform had made him a likely target for a challenge from the right.)
So while you have Scott trying to pivot to the middle if he can, you have Crist and Democratic challenger Nan Rich battling over the Democratic base.
And in that instance there is an effort to damage Crist so he will be seen in a less favorable light among Democratic activists and grassroots.
Crist of course has reinvented himself and had changed his positions on such issues as same-sex marriage. Despite his "evolution" or flip-flops, however you wish to term it, he has picked up support from key Democratic-leaning organizations such as the AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association.
But there are groups _ whose funding is shrouded in mystery _ who are trying to remind Democratic voters that Crist was once a solid Republican.
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel the group Progressive Choice _ which has also sent out mailers attacking Crist _ is now running radio ads that attack him for his efforts to bring back chain gangs to the state. Another radio ad took Crist to task for creating a "lost generation" of African-Americans.
It is not known who is bankrolling the effort and of course Crist's operatives speculate that is a front for Republicans.
Regardless of the origin it would appear the strategy could either A)Diminish enthusiasm in the Democratic base for Crist and/or B)Drive up Rich's numbers in the August primary to emphasize Crist's vulnerability. There are some who are hoping that Rich tops 40 percent so that Crist will look like damaged goods heading into the general election.
So in other words this could create a dream scenario for Scott where Republicans upset about Crist show up in force (say somewhere less than the 2010 anti-Obama wave year but still strong enough) and Democrats don't because they are lackluster in their love of Crist once he secures the nomination.
Ok. It could work.
But what if Democrats motivate their base by emphasizing this is a chance to defeat Scott. Despite Scott's attempt to recalibrate his image, he remains for lack of a better word, a villian to the left. Scott and his campaign have made an effort to soften and rebrand him (Constant reminders of his grandchildren, constant mentions that his father lost his job often, that he lived in public housing etc. etc.)
And everyone in the GOP side has taken comfort that Crist's numbers have fallen. Yes, but Crist really hasn't taken to the airwaves yet. What happens then? What if the ads - and the reminders about Scott's record - resonate? You can see it coming: Scott cut education, Scott turned down high speed rail, Scott' lacks integrity because of his time at Columbia/HCA.
Yes, I know some will say, well it didn't work back in 2010. Um, yes. But Scott wasn't a known commodity back then. He presented himself as a business guy who would turn around the economy. Yes, he has the positive that the economy is slowly recovering and the unemployment rate has dropped. (But even that narrative will be tested in the months ahead because the signs are that the rate will likely stay the same, or only dip slightly. That's the curse of an improving economy. As more people reenter the work force, it's harder to move the needle.)
The bottom line remains - what happens if the make Crist a bad guy strategy doesn't really work?
Back in 2002 despite a smaller voting base Bush received 2.85 million votes.
Eight years later Scott got 2.6 million in a big year for Republicans. Marco Rubio got more votes for U.S. Senate than Scott and he was in a three-way race with both Crist and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
This time around there's no Rubio on the ballot to help drive Republicans to the polls. There's just Scott.
And we will see whether it's still "all about the base."