No "Can't Win"
Over the past week I came across no less than three or four newspaper articles where Rod Smith supporters are saying publicly that Jim Davis can't win.
Their charge brings back memories. And they're not good ones.
Nobody remembers, but at this time eight years ago Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay was actually beating Jeb Bush in statewide polls. In fact it wasn't until February or March of the following year (1998) that Prince John (Ellis Bush) took a polling lead he'd never relinquish.
About that time, two things happened that permanently tilted the race in Jeb's favor.
First, Jeb's fallacious re-packaging as a moderate began to take root in the public psyche. Remember when Jeb ran in 1994, he told African-American voters he would do "probably nothing" to help them. He picked right-wing-whack-job Tom Feeney as his running mate and campaigned with an arrogance we've come to know as the Bush smug.
By 1997, the real Jeb was cleaned-up for public consumption. He began to like education and black people. In fact he put them both together in his Liberty City Charter School. He first picked a pro-choice moderate woman as his running mate before selecting the telegenic and energetic Commissioner of Education as his number two.
People bought it.
But I thought at the time that the far more damaging occurrence for Buddy MacKay was the public chatter among Democrats that MacKay couldn't win.
A group of well known Democratic donors began a public search for a candidate "who could beat Jeb." Naturally, they searched no farther than their own ranks for a replacement and found none.
But the sting was delivered on the front page of every state newspaper. And the echo of MacKay's inability to succeed never faded. It dogged him through the summer and into the fall campaign - his slipping poll numbers reinforcing the perception which impacted his polling numbers which ... you get the idea.
In my mind at least, a rule has developed from that MacKay experience.
Democrats: don't go there.
Disagree on choice? Let's debate it. Differ on gun policy? Tee it up. Want to make a case that one candidate is better suited to win in November? Fine by me. But don't make that case by saying your opponent can't win.
If Smith's allies continue to say in public that Davis can't win and Davis is our nominee, those predictions may become self-fulfilling. We have a hard enough time winning in Florida without hanging a "can't win" anchor around our own necks.
In 1997-98, there was also a conservative central Florida Senator in the race for Governor. Senator Rick Dantzler did everything in his power to wrestle the nomination from MacKay. He made a case that he was a better General Election candidate. But, to his credit, I don't ever recall him saying MacKay couldn't win. That was classy. And it allowed him to accept a spot on the ticket as MacKay's running mate.
In 2002, Bill McBride was loud and clear about his concerns about a Janet Reno candidacy. He said she couldn't win. It was a dangerous gamble that paid off for him in a primary election miracle. I agreed with his assessment of Reno's chances at the time, but he still should have known better. Had he fallen short that September, he would have done untold damage to our nominee.
Rod Smith should follow Dantzler's example.
Not only is Jim Davis no Janet Reno, it's a great opportunity for Smith to be a leader.
He should issue a campaign edict to his supporters to knock off the "can't win" talk. It would demonstrate a partisan loyalty that is one of Smith's true weaknesses in this race. And it would be classy.
To be clear, I'm not supporting anyone in the Governor's race. I briefly worked for Rod Smith in the Senate and I honestly like him. He has some things to say in this race and if he's our nominee he can count on my full support. He should extend the same courtesy to his opponent.
But if the "can't" talk continues and Davis is our nominee, Smith could be an unfortunate profit. And there's too much at stake next year to wound either of our potential nominees - especially with our own careless bullets.