Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sarasota Herald-Tribune Endorses Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate

Crist for U.S. Senate
Florida voters know him, trust him and share his priorities

A centrist state like Florida - where registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans -- needs a centrist U.S. senator.

Crist Of the three top candidates running for the seat, Charlie Crist best fits the centrist label.

A longtime Republican who left the GOP to run as an independent, Crist's foes call him a flip-flopper. He has indeed zigzagged on some major issues. Yet his strong and lengthy record of service to Florida leaves no doubt about his depth of commitment.

Crist is the only one of the three leading Senate candidates who has won a statewide race. In fact, Crist has done so three times: governor in 2006, attorney general in 2002, and education commissioner in 2000. This extraordinary trail of success shows that Florida voters know Crist, trust him, and share his priorities. He has avoided extremes, hewing mostly to a moderate-populist style of politics.

Republican Marco Rubio, the frontrunner in the Senate race, is more conservative and ideological. A former legislative leader from South Florida, he is a bright and talented member of the shrink-government movement. Rubio says the new health- care reform act should be replaced, and contends that the economic stimulus package was a waste.

Lauded as a visionary, Rubio has a blind spot when it comes to job creation -- an issue of incalculable importance in recession-ravaged Florida. Asked how he would stimulate the economy, Rubio has offered mostly rehashed tax cuts. Experts say the strategy, unless coupled with large cuts in government, would explode the U.S. budget deficit. Rubio's proposed spending reductions would offset only a small portion of his tax cuts, analysis suggests.

Rubio deserves credit for his willingness to talk about entitlement debt problems -- a subject other candidates often won't touch. But on the whole, his economic ideas are inconsistent with fiscal reality. In comparison, Crist's decision to accept federal stimulus money -- dollars the state needed desperately -- looks smart, compassionate and pragmatic.

Rubio's stance on climate change is also of concern. Last February, he told The Tampa Tribune that "scientific evidence" hadn't justified the case for man-made global warming. Scientists would overwhelmingly disagree with that assessment.

As governor, Crist pushed for renewable energy and policies that would reduce emissions which contribute to climate change. Rubio was part of a legislative effort to rein in Crist's proposals.

Kendrick Meek, the Democrat in the race, is the most progressive of the top candidates. Consistently pro-environment, pro-choice, pro-health-care reform, pro-education, pro-jobs and pro-consumer, he has built an appealing record of service as a South Florida legislator and congressman.

Meek is an ally of President Barack Obama, and gets some criticism for that -- even though Obama carried Florida in 2008.

Meek's platform is strong, but as a Senate candidate he lacks statewide experience and needs to better articulate his vision.

This three-way Senate race is among the most notable in the nation, in part because of Crist's split from a state Republican Party that has slid far to the right. Increasingly over the past year, Crist refused to go along with GOP legislation that lacked centrist support. The most prominent example of this was the divisive Senate Bill 6, which would have up-ended tenure for teachers.

Crist vetoed the measure, winning plaudits from teachers and from much of the public. But his later departure from the GOP, in the midst of a primary battle he seemed likely to lose, cost him important Republican support.

He's not a man to be counted out, however; his record proves that.

There are 10 candidates, several of them running without party affiliation, listed on the ballot in this race. The Herald-Tribune recommends Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate.

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