A new St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll finds only 42 percent of likely Florida voters think Charlie Crist is doing a good or excellent job as governor — by far the worst approval rating of Crist’s 34 months in office.
It’s been a long time since I helped out on one of your campaigns. In fact, I think the last time we worked together you were running for…the U.S. Senate (do you remember the time when, on our way back from campaigning with Ollie North in Panama City, my car tire blew out and I got stranded in Chiefland?). A lot has changed since 1998. Unlike that race, you’re the front-runner with all of the money and establishment support and likelihood of winning.
Lately, however, it has not been another great day in Florida. I’m not sure when it all started — maybe it was when you embraced President Obama’s stimulus plan or it could have been when you appointed George LeMieux to the Senate — but every day seems to bring more bad news for you and more good news for Marco Rubio’s insurgent campaign.
Just this last weekend, you got blasted by The St. Petersburg Times for taking off 10 weeks a year and then tagged by a columnist in Forbes as the worst governor in the country. At the same time, Rubio had another glowing interview with a national conservative magazine. If the coverage stays this way (and you lose the straw poll on your home turf in Pinellas), it won’t be long before Jeb comes out for Marco and your lead in the polls no longer exists.
So, Charlie, how can you turn things around? Well, here are a few suggestions.
1. Recognize the situation and start making changes immediately. Rubio is not the Obama to your Hillary, but he could be the Deeds to your McAulliffe. Charlie, you’ve never faced this kind of scenario: being the chalk but still having to look over your shoulder. So stop pretending like Rubio doesn’t exist or that he isn’t a threat to your candidacy. On Friday, I went to see, more like witnessed, Rubio speak at the New Tampa Republican Club and I came away awestruck. There were 250 people there. In October. A year away from the Election. Rubio delivered a command performance. He sounds like Jeb, only without the arrogance. This guy can beat you. It doesn’t mean he will beat you. But you have to acknowledge that he is a threat.
2. Campaign like you are the underdog. Take a page from your friend John McCain, whose campaign all but collapsed before the New Hampshire primary. After blowing through all of the money he raised, McCain found himself wandering the campaign trail. So McCain went back to the basics which had made him such a successful candidate in the past. McCain flew coach. He relaunched the Straight Talk Express. He eschewed the conventional thinking which was ruining his campaign. He returned to his insurgent roots even though he was the establishment candidate. Charlie, you need to do the same thing. Fire a couple of advisers, shake up your staff, bring in some new blood that doesn’t care that you are the governor, but thinks of you only in the terms of your Senate campaign.
3. Do not take off another day from work until Florida’s unemployment rate falls below 10%. 10 weeks off from work? Really? This is going to be the issue Rubio and Meek hammer you with when the race goes negative. So, and don’t make a big deal of it, start burning the midnight oil. Work late. Schedule extra meetings. Host conferences. Call a special session. Whatever it takes, just look busy, especially when so many Floridians would do anything for a job.
4. Clear the deck of lingering policy issues. Either the compact with the Seminole Tribe gets approved or it doesn’t, but be done with it. Finish the Everglades deal or take it off the table. Put together a plan for high-speed rail or don’t bring it up. You just look distracted and ineffective with these all these issues still on the table.
5. Get a Blackberry. Learn social media. Embrace the 21st century. Even with your prematurely gray hair Charlie, you’ve never seemed old. But you do seem out of touch with your unwillingness to embrace 21st century technology, like a smartphone. You remind people of John McCain when he said he didn’t email or George H. Bush when he was surprised by the scanner at the grocery checkout. Even if you have to hire someone to download and print your emails, get with the program.
6. More importantly, integrate social networking and new media into your campaign. Charlie, it’s like you’re running for office in 1998 the way your campaign has absolutely no presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Yet, that’s where Rubio’s insurgency find its strength. This is one of my most important points, so please pay attention: If Rubio wins the nomination, it will be because of Twitter.
Every day, hundreds of his supporters use social networking as an echo chamber to amplify his message. A positive article is written about Rubio in Pensacola and it’s twittered about throughout the state. A national blog criticizes you and it’s linked to by hundreds of Facebook users.
And while Rubio thrives on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and the blogs, you are all but non-existent. There is no one — NO ONE — telling your side of the story. You need to take a page out of the playbook of the candidates for president of South Korea and hire several firms and dozens of workers to overwhelm the new media outlets.
Because it’s in the new media where the stories you read in the traditional media originate. All of the major newspapers now have beastly blogs which have to be fed constantly and they are getting their feed from social networks and new media.
What’s worst for you is the psychological effect the social networks and new media are having on Rubio’s campaign. Four years ago, if someone like Rubio was running and he had a grassroots supporter spreading the word for him, he was likely on his own. He was that one guy at the county executive meeting who everyone ignored. But now, because of Facebook and Twitter, this guy has a network of support he never had four years ago. He’s no longer isolated, he’s emboldened. Bottom line, just like you have to get with the program, so does your campaign.
7. Running a modern campaign, means running a modern campaign. Charlie, your frugality has always been something to admire, but now it appears like you are being pennywise, but pound foolish. You need to hire a more robust, smarter, more flexible staff. And if you want to advertise use YouTube, instead of radio ads. Your first jab of the campaign is a radio ad? What is this, 1952?
8. Dominate the upcoming legislative session. The 2010 legislative session could be your Waterloo if you do not have an inspiring vision and clear set of goals for the Legislature. By all means, make sure the Legislature writes a budget on time, preferably with millions of dollars in turkeys for you to veto.
9. Deliver a series of foreign policy speeches. You are running for the U.S. Senate, so you are encouraged to outline your vision for America’s foreign policy. Work it out with a couple of the DC think tanks to deliver a series of policy speeches on Israel, Iran, South America, etc. Burnish your conservative credentials by sounding as hawkish as possible. You’ll look senatorial, while giving Rubio little room to criticize you.
10. “Encourage” the left to begin attacking Rubio. If things really start to go south, find an ally who will establish a 527 to attack Rubio from the left, but in a way that makes Rubio look like he could never win the general election. The moderate wing of the GOP will rally around you if they are convinced you are the only candidate possible of winning in November.
11. Finally, commit to winning the Pinellas County straw ballot. If you lose the straw ballot of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, there will be blood in the water and you may never recover. So commit as much of your resources as possible to winning this straw ballot. Send each member of the PCREC a personalized DVD highlighting your career. Host a holiday party. Launch a targeted website. Send a field operative to manage this micro-campaign. Buy some billboards or some cable television time. Encourage local Republicans to contact the precinct chairs who make up the PCREC. Just win.
Otherwise, what happens in Pinellas, may happen everywhere.