Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager issued a memo Friday forecasting that Democrat Charlie Crist will defeat rival Nan Rich by a margin of 81 to 19 percent or better on Tuesday. The memo by Tim Saler also seeks to forge a post-primary narrative that Democrats face an "enthusiasm gap" in the upcoming general election campaign.
Saler writes: "Judging by history, if Democrats have any enthusiasm at all on their side in 2014, they should be able to bring in several hundred thousand more primary votes compared to Republicans. The last time a Republican governor ran for re-election (2002), Democrats had 40% more votes in their primary than did Republicans. This is the baseline performance for Democrats in the 2014 primary. If Democrats fall short of that metric, it would be a dangerous sign for their base enthusiasm entering the general election, and we are watching that metric closely."
Saler is right that Democrats should turn out in bigger numbers than Republicans because they have two statewide contests (Crist vs. Rich and George Sheldon vs. Perry Thurston for attorney general), and Scott faces two no-name GOP challengers.
But Saler's comparison to 2002, the year Jeb Bush became the first Republican governor to win back-to-back terms, is flawed for a couple of reasons.
The only race on the Republican primary ballot that year was a down-ballot three-way primary for attorney general -- won by Charlie Crist, by the way. Democrats had a spirited and extremely close primary for governor in which Bill McBride narrowly defeated former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for the right to face Bush.
Reno, a Miami native, ran a South Florida-centric strategy in that race while McBride focused on the I-4 corridor and North Florida, so two well-financed candidates were aggressively pushing Democratic turnout in different regions. The year 2002 was also the first midterm election in the presidency of George W. Bush, who was in the White House because of his disputed 537-vote Florida victory. Those wounds were still raw and Democrats were angry and in a fighting mood, but in the end, Jeb Bush easily won re-election.