tampabay.com

It's time for Davis to punch, not jab

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published October 28, 2006


For months, the governor's race has been Charlie Crist's to lose.

As Election Day nears, more voters are paying attention for the first time, like fans turning on a Bucs game at the two-minute warning.

Ten days to go, and the race is at a key juncture. Candidates must be at the top of their game when it counts most. Like now.

Crist had a bad week. He turned in only an adequate TV debate performance the other night, serving up too many platitudes and too little of the meat and potatoes voters are craving.

Then, under attack by Jim Davis for not being tough enough with insurance companies, Crist threw Gov. Jeb Bush and fellow Republicans under the bus. He said he probably would have vetoed the insurance bill, but he was largely silent in the spring when his opposition would have meant something.

Then Crist dug himself a deeper hole by saying he favored key parts of the bill.

Then he laughed off those obnoxious, illegal Republican Party-funded Crist signs on office buildings in St. Petersburg and Tampa as "good advertising."

The quip had a ring of arrogance, as if Crist and the GOP have so much money they need not worry about silly things like city ordinances. As the controversy stewed Friday, Crist's campaign asked the party to take down the signs.

The question is whether the uninspiring Davis, who has weaknesses in his own party, can capitalize on all this.

Davis' first debate effort on public TV Tuesday was his best showing, but not good enough to win. Some supporters are frustrated that even though Davis is within striking distance of Crist, he seems unwilling to take off both gloves in the ring.

That may be changing. Davis unleashed a new TV ad Friday mocking Crist's "stay the course" talk with newspaper articles that criticized Crist's insurance and tax programs.

Something Davis did this week - or didn't do - says a lot about his campaign.

Davis' team also produced a sarcastic TV ad every bit as effective as Crist's empty-chair spot (which pokes at Davis for missing votes), using humor so as not to come off as a harsh attack.

You haven't seen the ad, have you? You won't, unless you visit his campaign Web site (jimdavis2006.com).

The ad, called "Sorry Charlie," says that while Florida was grappling with the insurance crisis, Crist was busy declaring "Folic Acid Awareness Week" and using the power of his office to sue a shady wedding photographer.

The ad is pure theater. But it taps a perception that Crist is a bit too frivolous for the gravity of governing this megastate.

Why let a good ad languish on the Internet? Davis' campaign says he wants to let his current ad saturate the airwaves before he changes his message. One suspects Davis doesn't have the money to run it.

During the TV debate, Davis showed Crist his insurance bill, but missed a chance to say that Crist, a renter, can't feel what homeowners are going through.

"One day at a time," Davis said the next day, as if he had all the time in the world.

The second and final prime time TV debate, with Chris Matthews on NBC Monday, will be a crucial encounter.

But bad week or not, Crist has a massive money advantage, is well liked, has led in every poll and shows no sign of relinquishing it.

Considering what a terrible environment it is for Republicans nationally, that's no small accomplishment. The race for governor is still Crist's to lose.