Thursday, November 5, 2009

Next Stop, Florida

The teabaggers have set their sights on Florida.

The state’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate has all the ingredients for an ideological powder keg. It pits the sitting governor, Charlie Crist, who embraced President Barack Obama’s spending plan, against a scrappy former state lawmaker, Marco Rubio, who’s become a darling of the conservative movement.

And it’s all happening in the nation’s biggest swing state, which typically leans Republican but fell for Obama in the 2008 election and has five statewide seats that will be up for grabs in 2010.

Some conservative groups active in a New York congressional race that forced out a moderate Republican say Florida is next on their agenda.

”There’s no question that the Florida race is going to be a focal point of the 2010 election cycle, with its classic David-and-Goliath matchup,” said Mike Connolly, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that spent $1 million in the last month in New York. ”There’s no question that Florida is going to attract and energize conservatives.”

The group is expected to endorse Rubio in the coming weeks, raising the prospect of an anti-Crist media blitz that could cut into the governor’s fivefold fundraising advantage. FreedomWorks, a group that led many of the anti-Obama ”tea party” rallies nationwide, is also setting its sights on Florida.

”The small government activists and the tea party movement is drawn to Rubio with great enthusiasm, and they’re going to assert themselves,” said FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey, a former Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

Seeing as how well that went for their candidate in upstate New York — Bill Owens, the Democrat, won the seat from the Republicans for the first time since 1872 — it will be interesting to see how they avoid the inevitable inter-party fighting and the resentment of outside interference that could play right into the hands of the Florida Democratic Party.

On top of the expected influx of craziness, Gov. Charlie Crist has troubles of his own thanks to some of his friends who have been involved in some questionable financial dealings. Justin Elliott of TPM reports:

With the accusations this week that Scott Rothstein, fast-living Fort Lauderdale attorney and friend and donor to Gov. Charlie Crist, orchestrated a massive fraud out of his law firm, there are now three Crist moneymen caught up in alleged criminal or extremely shady activity.

Crist, whose career has been fueled by his skill as a fundraiser, finds himself entangled with the trio of scandals just as his U.S. Senate primary campaign against conservative Marco Rubio is attracting national attention. And there’s already talk down in Florida that the Crist-linked scandals may become a factor in the primary contest.

Besides Mr. Rothstein, two more of Mr. Crist’s allies have problems; Alan Mendelsohn, who was indicted in September for fraudulent fund raising, and Harry Sargent, who garnered some attention in the 2008 election with his contracting overcharges on fuel delivery to the US military in Iraq to the point that the McCain campaign had to return his donations. He’s also a close friend of Gov. Crist and was the state GOP finance chair until he was forced out earlier this year.

Then, of course, there will be The Question about Gov. Crist; the one that dare not speak its name. I’ve already gotten some blind e-mails about his private life, and I’m sure there’s plenty of opposition research going on about Marco Rubio, so you can expect to see some stories about him and his foibles popping up between now and the primary.

For the moment, the Democrats are stocking up on popcorn.