On Election Day, hours seem like decades for candidates and campaign operatives. They can't resist obsessing about what they might have done differently, or better. With a close result expected between Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, the losing side is likely to form a circular firing squad, and what follows is an orgy of second-guessing and scapegoating.
If Scott falls short in his bid for a second term, critics are sure to cite his decision to not show up for the first seven minutes of a statewide TV debate on Oct. 15. There's no evidence from public polls that Scott's absence changed the minds of many voters, but it altered the rhythm of the campaign at a key moment, and if Crist wins, it will be tempting to view it in hindsight as a turning point: the night Crist seized the upper hand.
If Crist loses, Democrats will be forced again to ask how it got away, including what else they could have done to improve turnout. Should Crist have rolled the dice and brought President Barack Obama to Florida to increase black turnout? Should Crist have hammered home a message of economic populism more than he did? Should Crist have played more to his strength of retail politicking, rather than raising the tens of millions he needed to stay competitive with Scott?
Should Scott have taken his attack ads off the air and spent more money showing that warm-and-fuzzy ad of he and First Lady Ann Scott walking along a beach? Should Crist have selected an African-American running mate, as U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings suggested publicly? Should trial lawyer John Morgan have raised more money for Crist? Should Scott have sensed a shift in public opinion and called on Attorney General Pam Bondi to drop the legal challenges to same-sex marriage?
One what-if that applies to both candidates is the question of whether each should have spent less money trashing his opponent and more money offering voters a positive vision of what he would do to improve the state. But with polls open for only a few more hours, it's too late to debate that now. Let the second-guessing begin.