Our takeaways from Florida's primary election

The surprises in Tuesday's primary election didn't happen near the top of the ballot. Everyone knew former Gov. Charlie Crist would defeat former state Sen. Nan Rich and emerge as the Democratic nominee for governor. Though Crist grew up a Republican, even die-hard Democrats grudgingly came to realize he represented their best shot at the Governor's Mansion.

Again this cycle, we saw the importance of money and name recognition, and how it's impossible to win a statewide race simply by shaking a lot of hands, making a lot of speeches and hoping for a grassroots groundswell, as Rich did.

But let us take this moment to give Rich her due. For as a favorite daughter of Broward, this former state senator from Weston made us proud. Despite a lack of support from a party she long served, she hung in there. Despite an opponent who refused to debate, she engaged the issues with depth and caring. And despite losing by almost 50 percentage points, she held her chin up and quickly endorsed Crist, proving yet again that she is a class act who still has much to offer.

Some have suggested that Rich's supporters will sit home in November, angry about how she was treated. After a tough primary, this is not an uncommon feeling for supporters of those who've lost. But the looming avalanche of mailers, robo-calls and television ads will create a new head of steam. Turnout will again be greater for the general election than for the primary. It remains a sad commentary that fewer than 20 percent of Florida voters turned out on Tuesday, even less in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

For political junkies, there's nothing like watching the returns roll in on election night. As a candidate, you hope against hope that your name gets the checkmark. And if you're an informed citizen following at home, you know the excitement and disappointment, too.

One of the ever-present takeaways — seen again Tuesday — is the power of incumbency. From the halls of Congress, to the Florida Legislature, to the county School Board and courthouse bench, we again saw that a candidate has no greater power than a voter who knows his or her name.

Sometimes it doesn't even matter if that name has made headlines in a negative light — driving while impaired, for instance, as we saw with one Broward circuit court judge. There's some truth in the old adage: "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right."

The power of incumbency also allows officeholders to build a machine that can turn out voters in down-ballot elections, which too often are decided by a small number of voters. Incumbency also allows them to raise big bucks. After all, who wants to risk angering an incumbent by putting their name on an upstart's donor list?

Indeed, the power of incumbency often keeps quality people from running. It's why no strong contenders are challenging Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater in November. Rather than face proven winners, some plan to wait four years when term limits will clear the field.

Still, we did see two incumbents lose their seats Tuesday — both at the courthouse. In one of the season's nastiest races, Broward Circuit Judge Steve Feren lost to attorney John Contini. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board had a hard time making a recommendation in this race. That said, we congratulate Contini and hope he keeps in mind the concerns of many.

Similarly in Palm Beach, Circuit Judge Diana Lewis lost to attorney Jessica Ticktin, who so desperately wanted to bump Lewis off the bench that she followed the incumbent as she switched races in an effort to run unopposed. For too long, Lewis failed to heed criticisms of how she ran her courtroom, so the legal community flexed its muscle to make change. They showed why elections matter.

Tuesday's election also means we must say farewell, for the moment, to some familiar faces who've well served our community. It's always dangerous to name names for fear of missing good folks, but let us give a special shout out to Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, who lost his primary bid for attorney general; and former Rep. Joe Gibbons, who waged a spirited campaign against Hollywood Commissioner Quentin "Beam" Furr for the Broward County Commission.

Over the next 10 weeks, we'll have much to say about the choices in the general election. But let us close today by offering a tip of the hat to all those who gave the primary a run.

We thank you for your engaging voters in the issues that affect our public — and private — lives. And though you may not have been successful this time, remember what football great Vince Lombardi said: "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."

Don't give up. Try again. Or find other ways to serve. You still have much to give. Just because you didn't win, doesn't mean you lost.

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