February 22, 2018

Up Front

The Role of Independent Voters

Andrew P. Corty | 9/1/2010

For Floridians, this is shaping up to be one of the most fascinating political seasons in decades. By the time this column is printed, the August primaries will be in the rearview mirror, and we’ll be down to two finalists in each contest.

Except, of course, in the race for U.S. Senate, where we will choose among three candidates — a Republican, a Democrat and an independent. Gov. Charlie Crist has shaken things up by breaking ties from his Republican family and running without party affiliation. That seemed foolhardy, but I’ve learned over the years never to underestimate my neighbor from St. Petersburg.

Andy Corty
Andy Corty
Recently, I heard an illuminating talk by John Avlon, the former CNN correspondent and author of the new book “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America.” In his lexicon, the Wingnuts are people “on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum” who are dominating American political “discourse” by yelling on television, radio and the internet.

They range from leftists who denounced President Bush as “illegitimately elected” to birthers who claim President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim.

The Wingnuts book is important because it might shed some light on what is happening in Florida today, especially in the Senate race. After Crist lost his party support and appeared to be headed for defeat in the primary, he quit the GOP to run as an independent. Recent polling has Crist right in the mix, with each candidate getting about one-third of the vote. Pundits say a plurality of 37% or 38% might be enough to win this Senate seat.

Back to author Avlon. He concludes that the “frustration of hyper-partisanship” is causing many Democrats and Republicans to abandon their parties. I thought I’d check to see if his pronouncement was as true in Florida as elsewhere — lo and behold, it is entirely accurate.

According to the Florida Department of State, voter registration for the two traditional parties has been in decline for four decades. In 1972, only 3% of Florida voters registered as something other than Republican or Democrat — “other” includes splinter parties such as Libertarians and also includes the major category “No Party Affiliation.”

But today, this other group has grown to more than 22% of the electorate, which means that 2.5 million of Florida’s 11 million voters don’t affiliate with either major party. Those 2.5 million voters are disenfranchised from our closed primaries so don’t play a role in selecting major party candidates. With these moderate citizens on the sidelines, the major parties tend to gravitate left or right to appease their hard-core voters.

What does this large independent voting block mean for Charlie Crist? That’s exactly what we’re going to find out on Nov. 2. Will either the Democrats or the Republicans have enough loyalists to sway the electorate in their direction, or will a surge of independent voters put a more moderate Crist in office?

As you think about the election, please take a look at this month’s story on U.S. Sen. George LeMieux . LeMieux granted Trend writer Amy Keller excellent access to his office, and she notes in the article that he isn’t just warming a seat for a successor since Crist appointed him to fill Sen. Mel Martinez’s seat just one year ago.

New Year’s Resolution Update: We enjoyed a family vacation at the Ponte Vedra Resort, where daily beach runs and a gym overlooking the Atlantic allowed me to hit eight workout sessions for the month. But the gastronomic temptations were great, and I lost only one pound for a total of 15 pounds y-t-d. I’m renewing my resolve.

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