MIAMI Florida Democrats made it official Tuesday: They want a former Republican governor to beat the current Republican governor.
Heading into Tuesday's primary election, Charlie Crist's win over longtime Democrat Nan Rich was never in doubt. Only the size of his double-digit win about 50 percentage points was in question.
Rick Scott is far less certain. It's close to a tie race. And it's brutal.
Amid his cakewalk of a primary, Crist has had to deal with the bitter reality of Scott's multi-million campaign juggernaut, which has spent nearly $28 million since November, trashing the Democrat on the airwaves from the moment he officially entered the race.
Crist thanked Rich in his acceptance speech and assailed Scott for everything from immigration policy to voting rights to abortion opposition.
"The only time my opponent isn't looking out for the special interests is when he's looking out for those who share his extreme out-of-touch tea-party ideology," said Crist, pledging that "in 70 days, we want to make Florida Scott-free."
Earlier, at a campaign stop in Tampa, Scott contrasted the jobs gained during his term with the jobs lost when Crist was governor during the Great Recession.
"Charlie gives great speeches. He's really good at it. But there's no action. He lost 832,000 jobs," said Scott, who faced token Republican opposition from utter unknowns Yinka Abosede Adeshina and Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder. He defeated them with 88 percent of the vote.
Republicans drew an added measure of comfort from Scott's win because early returns showed he won about 200,000 more votes in his under-the-radar primary than Crist and about 127,000 more Republicans voted statewide than Democrats even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 455,000 in Florida. The turnout in the low-turnout primary, Republicans said, is a sign that their voters are more enthusiastic about going to the polls.
The campaign will only get tougher for Crist from this point on, said Alex Sink, the former Florida chief financial officer who lost to Scott in a 2010 squeaker of an election.
"If we think we've seen lots of negative ads about Charlie, the Republicans are going to double down. They've saved their worst for last," Sink said.
During that campaign season four years ago, Crist left the GOP to become an independent in his failed bid for U.S. Senate. He became a Democrat after helping President Barack Obama win re-election in Florida.
Asked if she ever thought the party's nominee would have been a former Republican governor, Sink quickly responded: "No. But it's Florida."
Rich, a former state senator and representative, also sounded surprised by the intensity of Democrats' support for Crist. Two minutes after the polls closed, the Associated Press called the election, with Crist leading 75 percent-25 percent. She, too, said she backed Crist.
"We need to show unity so that we can defeat Rick Scott," Rich said.
Not only is the metamorphosis of a Republican-governor-turned-Democratic-nominee a first in Florida's unpredictable politics, so is the fact that the two major candidates have each been governor for four years and are essentially seeking second terms simultaneously.
While each solidifies his base and tries to snatch as many independent voters as possible anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent of the electorate Crist and Scott also have to warily eye the Libertarian Party's nominee, Adrian Wyllie, who could draw as much as 9 percent of the vote, according to one recent poll.
Other uncertainties: Whether Crist's association with the unpopular Obama will hurt or help him and whether improving economic indicators will give Scott more of a boost.
Scott likely leads Crist by an inside-the-error margin amount of a few percentage points or so, thanks in good measure to Scott's ad barrage that began in earnest in mid March. An outside group called "Progressive Choice" and a Tampa Bay Republican state senator's political committee got their shots in as well, bringing the total spent against Crist to more than $10 million in the primary.