Charlie Crist is a darn nice guy. This past Monday after I had finished asking him several somewhat awkward questions about allegations that he was gay, I said, "Well, I'm sure you're busy ...". A lot of candidates in the middle of a suddenly heated gubernatorial election a couple weeks from the vote would have said, "Yes I am. goodbye."
Crist said, "Well, I'm sure you're very busy, too. I know how hard it is to do the kind of work you're doing, especially when you might not be comfortable with some of the questions."
By the time I got off the phone, I felt like voting for him -- and I'm sure he has that effect on the majority of people he has contact with. The problem is that the tone of his campaign is getting farther and farther away from the personal character he displays to the world, aka his chief political strength. As last night's debate showed, it's become a balancing act between Crist the friendly Floridian and Crist the cold campaigner, the alter ego once dubbed Chain Gang
The idiotic "Empty Chair" commercial is a good example. Look, Crist's bringing up Davis's attendance record in Congress is fine -- repeating it over and over and over and saying things like, "This guy doesn't even go to work," makes him look tacky and cheap. It puts the lie to his good guy image (and opens him up for good comebacks like Davis's line about how it's more important to "stand up" for issues). Then, for him to bring up Davis's trips to Cuba and the Middle East (where he met with Yasser Arafat) as evidence that the Democrat has some how commiserated with "terrorist leaders" is just sickening.
This kind of thing -- cheap labels and dishonest implications -- has worked splendidly for Republicans in the past (check out records of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove to jolt your memory), but I don't think it's going to work this time. They're trying it in Tennessee on Democratic Senate Candidate Harold Ford, as well. I'm just not feeling it this time around for the GOP's cheap and dirty, and usually effective, innuendo.
For more takes on the debate, check out coverage in the Miami Herald (Beth Reinhard and Noah Bierman), Sun-Sentinel (Anthony Man and Tonya Alanez) and the Palm Beach Post (Brian E. Crowley and S.V. Date). For my money, the Post's story captures the debate in superlative fashion, but all three have their strong points. (In blogdom, check out the takes of SotP and Flablog). One thing that strikes me: Whoever wins this governor's race will be a great improvement on his predecessor.