An Inside Look at the Charlie Crist Gubernatorial Campaign

| Written by: Lauren Antista

The FPRA-Capital Chapter recently got a fascinating look into the 2014 Florida governors’ race between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, from the perspective of Kevin Cate, former consultant for Charlie Crist’s campaign. At the November monthly meeting, Cate laid out the elements that he believed swayed the outcome of the election.

“Don’t feel sorry for Charlie Crist or his campaign,” Cate said during the luncheon. “We knew what we were up against.” He explained, Scott’s level of campaign spending was unprecedented, including one of the largest media buys in Florida’s history.

Cate said Governor Rick Scott’s campaign exponentially outspent Crist, pouring $32 million dollars into television ads alone. Toward the end of the race, Scott’s campaign over an eight-day period spent $1,156 per minute on television ads 24 hours a day. According to Cate, more than 85 percent of those ads were negative. Cate pointed out that with those kinds of odds, television viewers were seeing Rick Scott’s ads on average nine times a day compared to only twice a day for Charlie Crist’s ads. The viewer base for the ads was also not in Crist’s favor.  The age group watching the most television was older adults, not the Democrats’ target age group of 18 to 24- year-olds.

Cate felt there were also a lack of statewide narratives about the major issues the candidates were addressing, like Crist’s position on Medicare, minimum wage and gay marriage. Although Crist held his own during debates and continued to have a positive rating, the combination of poor media coverage and the over-saturation of Scott’s ads put the former governor at a disadvantage.

To his advantage, Cate said Crist had prior name recognition and toward the beginning of the race his campaign was willing to throw in some extra spending to compete with Scott. But, in the end Scott’s campaign had a major financial advantage and the spending continued to snowball until the end of the race.

Combine these elements with what Cate labeled as “passive media consumption and low voter turnout” associated with midterm elections and it’s hard to get voters motivated to go to the polls. Cate did note that voter turnout was better than in the 2010 race for Florida governor, but in the end, by a slim majority, Scott came out the victor.