Following Florida’s Political Winds

Big money, high drama and, of course, the Tea Party. Why we're watching the Sunshine State.

By Jamilah King Aug 24, 2010

Florida voters are headed to the polls today to cast their ballots in the state’s highly contentious primary battles. As always in Florida politics, there are plenty of national implications. The Senate race could well generate either a Latino or African-American senator–a rarity in the upper chamber. And if Cuban-American Marco Rubio wins, he’ll cement his place in history as one of the first Latino Republicans in the Senate.

More broadly, while only a handful of states are headed to the polls today for primary elections (Florida, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma and Vermont), Florida and Arizona are both races that are helping shape the national picture. With midterms less than two months away and Democrats holding onto their House majority by a slim margin, Arizona has become a testing ground for hardline, anti-immigrant electioneering. And Florida’s big money, high drama, and ideological upswings will no doubt help shape the national debate both in November and beyond.

Florida Senate Race 

It’s a three way toss up.  

Of the four Democratic candidates, the primary is likely to come down to two contenders: Rep. Kendrick Meek and millionaire Jeff Greene. Neither candidate is a saint; Greene’s already poured millions into his campaign, and Meek is already facing an ethics investigation. On the Republican and Independent sides, there’s more drama. Rubio–a conservative Cuban-American, pro-SB 1070 wunderkind–was once seen as a Tea Party backed shoo-in for the Republican nod. But ever since Gov. Charlie Crist switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent, Crist’s been doing surprisingly well in the polls, and may end up splitting the conservative vote.

So far, Rubio’s been straying from the Tea Party tack-back lines. The New York Times reported last weekend:

Mr. Rubio spends less and less time trying to tap into the discontent that has been at the forefront of the midterm elections. A wiser course for Republicans, he said, is offering an alternative, not simply being the angry opposition.

"The solution isn’t just to paralyze government," Mr. Rubio said in an interview as he traveled the state last week from here in the Panhandle to Miami. "Vote for us because you couldn’t possibly vote for them? That’s not enough. It may win some seats, but it won’t take you where you want to be."

Sunshine State Governor

Today also marks the state’s gubernatorial primary, and it too looks like anyone’s race. The bitter GOP primary battle has already been a wildly expensive contest between corporate executive Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum, according to the Miami Herald. McCollum is among those who have taken a page out of the Arizona playbook, having proposed a beefed up version of SB 1070. All that has worked slightly to the advantage of Democratic hopeful Alex Sink, who was statistically tied in the polls with McCollum at the beginning of August. Lawton "Bud" Chiles, an Independent, is still seen as a long shot.

Jonathan Martin at Politico has already reported that both Scott and Greene have plowed $60 million into their primary battles, making Florida’s politics some of the most expensive in the country–including Meg Whitman’s spending spree in California.

Polls close today at 7 p.m. eastern. Stay tuned.