Here in Florida, candidates running against big government are finding themselves in favorable positions. Currently, both Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist hold a comfortable lead over Democrat Kendrick Meek in the Florida Senate race. As of now, Rubio holds a double-digit lead over the Governor for the Republican nomination, which many attribute to Crist's support of President Obama's stimulus plan.
Rubio, once considered the underdog against the popular governor, has seen a rise in popularity from the conservative base. His renegade candidacy garnered him some powerful endorsements, including those from Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Jim DeMint, and his keynote speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) propelled him into the mainstream.
In my neck of the woods, Rep. Allen Boyd (D- FL 2), is feeling the backlash from constituents who disapprove of his decision to support the healthcare legislation. Boyd, a Blue Dog Democrat, had previously voted against the bill. His flip-flop on the issue has no doubt contributed to his 38% approval rating (OpenCongress.org). Other sources, such as Visible Vote, show even lower numbers.
Boyd's growing opposition in District 2 has lead to a surge in popularity for his challengers. A recent straw poll by Tallahassee radio station 100.7 WFLA shows Boyd in a dead-heat for last place among all the candidates, with only Democratic challenger Al Lawson ranking lower (obviously, the poll is not scientific, and suffers from a considerable selection bias merely from the fact that it was conducted by a conservative talk radio station).
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the poll is the victory by candidate Paul C. McKain. I had previously covered McKain's campaign last October in my article, The new threat to party politics. Since then, McKain has dropped the Florida Whig Party affiliation to run as a straight Independent.
The decision has apparently paid off; McKain received over 40% of the vote in the WFLA straw poll, with rival Independent Steve Southerland placing second with just over 25%. Republicans Eddie Hendry, Charles Ranson, and Dianne Berryhill were not so successful, and none managed to break into double-digit numbers.
McKain's popularity will no doubt put to rest any skepticism about his viability as a candidate. Independent candidates like McKain stand to gain the most from Boyd's departure from his Blue Dog ideals. It appears as though he has appeal not just among disillusioned Republicans, but conservative Democrats hesitant to give their vote to the GOP.
Most political strategists agree that the Republican Party has a strong chance of regaining control of the House in the 2010 mid-terms. Some, including Dick Morris, even go as far to say that the GOP will take both houses of Congress. In any case, it seems the American people, in general, are rejecting the Democrat agenda, which has thus far failed to achieve the economic recovery promised during the 2008 election.
As our economy wobbles in an effort to get back to its feet, Democrats continue to insist that the government provide a crutch. Eventually, however, it'll have to stand up on its own. In the meantime, Republicans and Independent candidates will surely capitalize on Americans' discontent, and use it to fight the Democrats' big government agenda.
Once again, it seems, Americans want change. This time, however, the kind they want is change in the other direction.
Tom Bortnyk is a columnist for the political blog Informed-Dissent.
*EDIT 3/19/2010, 11:37AM*
Evidently, I the poll results shown to the left were premature. The final results have McKain at 42.55% and Southerland at 24.51%. Other candidates saw no significant change. -T. Bortnyk