Charlie Crist is hoping so…
By Jamie Miller
A standing ovation.
The speaker leaves the podium to much adulation and the audience mobs the candidate for pictures, handshakes and words of encouragement. The candidate is taken aback by how long it takes to get on the road to the next appointment.
This could describe a campaign event for Marco Rubio or Katherine Harris. Conservatives have seen this story played out. No it isn’t a thriller or a comedy but a tragedy in the making. A bright, young politician takes on the “the establishment” for the future of the party only to have voters make the determination.
During the past few weeks, I have had several people ask me, “Why do so many conservatives believe Marco Rubio can beat Gov. Charlie Crist for the nomination for the U.S. Senate, but you still think the nominee will be Crist?”
My reply is: I’ve lived through the Marco Rubio campaign when I managed Katherine Harris’ campaign for U.S. Senate. I can appreciate what they’re going through. The ups of having so many grassroots leaders supporting the campaign, the downs of being on the short end of the fundraising race, quarter after quarter.
The similarities are too great to ignore.
The first and most obvious similarity is not only the lack of fundraising but the similar “burn” rates for both Rubio and Harris. Rubio has been out-raised by Gov. Crist by about four to one, but the governor holds more than a six to one cash-on-hand advantage.
The reason is simple; Rubio is burning through 44 percent of his cash because he is raising more money through the mail which is one of the costliest ways to raise campaign dollars. It is true that many of these donors will be able to repeat their donations several times during the year, but this burn rate is too high for a successful statewide campaign. On the other hand, Crist’s “burn” rate is less than 10 percent.
Of course there are similarities between Rubio and Harris’ grassroots support, their speaking ability and their natural gift of charging up a crowd. They are both dynamic speakers who will travel anywhere to give a speech to any size crowd. I still enjoy watching either of these gifted speakers at events. It’s fun to watch the crowd respond. But, good speeches don’t necessarily translate to good or successful campaigns.
Rubio’s campaign faces a primary challenger in the sitting governor from the same party while Harris’ campaign faced the incumbent U.S. Senator from the opposing party. Rubio is trying to defeat a more experienced candidate who has won major statewide races much like Harris’ opponent in 2006. Harris had the advantage of being elected statewide in a minor cabinet race while Rubio’s only major statewide experience has been as Speaker of the Florida House, an election with about 80 voters (other House members of the same party).
Finally, one of the similarities between Rubio and Harris is that neither had ever faced the sting of defeat until they ran for the U.S. Senate. I think this alone gives them loftier expectations from themselves and their campaigns than can be realized in a race of this size.
I always tell my clients that I want them to be successful in three areas regardless of whether they win or lose a race – personal, professional and political. A failed political campaign of this magnitude can have a devastating effect in all three areas of one’s life.
What Rubio fails to realize with his lack of fundraising and his burn rate is that he simply isn’t going to have the “voter contact” dollars available to him to be successful in a top-of-the-ticket federal race.
Most political watchers would agree that by the time the August primary rolls around, Rubio will have about $4-5 million to spend on the campaign (I think this is probably a high) versus Gov. Crist’s $12 million (which is a conservative guess). Rubio then has to make a couple of choices, does he spend it all on negative TV to take Crist out, does he spend it all on positive TV to prepare himself for the general, or does he spend $3 million on positive and $2 million on negative. My guess is that, like most candidates, he splits it. That will give Crist the opportunity to spend $6 million in positive TV to offset the $2 million spent against him in negatives and another $6 million to spend on negative TV against Rubio. So, at the end of the election, Crist will have Rubio covered. For every negative TV commercial you see of Crist, you will see three positive. For every positive commercial you see of Rubio, you will see two negative.
Rubio is on a collision course with a failed political campaign.
My advice for Rubio would be much the same as it was for Harris in the spring of 2006, “leave this race while you still have your popularity and can turn it into something you can build on for many years to come.” Katherine didn’t heed that advice, I left her campaign and she is not currently involved in politics (although, she could still sell out a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner every day of the week if she went on the speaking circuit). I suggested, as did many others, that she should take her popularity and pitch her experience as a political commentator on one of the cable news channels. Rubio would build a huge following if he followed this advice.
Since Rubio has never felt the sting of defeat, it is unlikely he will heed this advice either because he doesn’t realize how hard it will be to rehabilitate his political image after that much money is spent clarifying his position without having a similar amount of money to respond.
We’ve all seen this play. It’s amazing to me that because there is a different antagonist, people expect a different ending.
Jamie Miller is a political consultant, a former campaign manager for Katherine Harris’ U.S. Senate race, and a former executive director for the Republican Party of Florida. E-mail him at: Repjam@aol.com
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