Swamp Politics: Combative Florida Races Highlight Primaries

Rich Candidates Jeff Greene and Rick Scott Struggle in Florida

August 24, 2010 -- Florida has long been fertile ground for interesting political stories, but even by its standards, today's primary provides a showcase worth noting.

The state presents a real conundrum for Democrats, who might benefit most if the person they'd least like to see in office wins their primary. And this election has served up some hard lessons for rich, self-financing candidates, who have dumped millions into their campaigns but still trail in the polls.

Most of the salacious story lines stem from Jeff Greene, the billionaire seeking the Democratic spot in the open race for Senate.

Greene brings a big personality into the race along with his close personal friendship with the former boxer Mike Tyson--the best man at Greene's wedding and a former roommate in Heidi Fleiss, notorious as the Hollywood Madame. Then there's his yacht called the "Summerwind," where there may or may not have been scandalous parties in far-flung and exotic locations.

Greene burned brightly as a candidate for a short while, but has since fallen behind Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic Congressman who now leads in primary polls.

Meek has the backing of the Democratic establishment in the state and nation, and if he wins the primary will get their vocal backing in the general election too.

Meek has accused Greene, the real estate mogul, of benefiting off the backs of people losing their houses. Greene has said he wants to take a look at rolling back the embargo and travel restrictions toward Cuba.

Greene has said a vote against Meek is a vote against Washington.

Watch Kendrick Meek discuss the race here.

But from a tactical standpoint, a Meek victory would draw Democratic voters from Gov. Charlie Crist, who left the Republican party this year when it became clear that his moderate record and public backing of President Obama's economic policies made him unpalatable to Florida Republicans.

Into the Republican void went Marco Rubio, the former State House Speaker, who quickly became the darling of Washington Republicans and the Tea Party movement.

Washington Democrats Could Benefit From Crist Victory

The three-way Senate race creates a complicated situation for Democrats. The most recent poll of a general election matchup shows Crist, running as an Independent, with a slight lead no matter who wins the Democratic primary. He would be more friendly to them as a Senator than Rubio would.

Crist is expected to do well among independent voters. But he would need help from Democrats to defeat Rubio in November. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats will be more likely to vote for Crist if it is Greene and not Meek on the ballot as a Democrat. Some Washington Democrats, increasingly alarmed that their control of Congress is slipping away, quietly admit that they'd rather have Crist in the Senate than Rubio. And Greene beating Meek makes a Crist victory more likely.

Meek has rejected the notion that he cannot win the general election.

"Once we get out of the primary, you will see a new day," he told ABC's Rick Klein this month. While Crist has technically left the Republican party, Meek said he would be "running against two Republicans" in November.

Democrats aren't the only ones with an interesting primary in Florida.

Republicans Fight In Gubernatorial Primary

On the Republican side, there is a nasty battle in the works in the race for governor. Rick Scott is a multi-millionaire, who like the billionaire Greene, is bankrolling his own campaign.

Between the two of them, they've spent well more than $50 million on their respective primaries. Both are behind in the polls. But Scott is within striking distance of McCollum in the race, which has veered both candidates to the right. Scott cut a TV ad calling on President Obama to oppose the Islamic Center at Ground Zero. And he unveiled an immigration proposal that would be even stricter than the controversial Arizona law that requires immigrants to carry proof of legal residency.

Scott is dogged by a massive $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine – the largest ever – levied against the Columbia/ HCA health care company, when he was CEO.

The most likely Democratic candidate, Florida CFO Alex Sink, has stayed above the fray, but whomever she meets in November will be bloodied by the primary and ready for a fight.

McCain Comfortable In Arizona; Palin a Factor in Alaska

Elsewhere on Tuesday, voters in Arizona and Alaska will take part in primary polls.

Sen. John McCain took no chances with his primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, now a talk radio host. He spent $21 million on the primary – a staggering sum for a candidate who was his party's nominee for President just two years ago. But the seriousness with which McCain took the primary, altering some of his more independent positions to appeal to a conservative base, has helped him put Hayworth in the rear view mirror.

In Alaska, Sarah Palin looms large in the Senate race even though she is not on the ballot. Palin endorsed the Tea Party favored Joe Miller over Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Palin has a long history with Murkowski, whose father she defeated in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006.

Palin recorded a stinging last-minute robo-call against Lisa Murkowski.