A distinctly independent-ish response to this morning’s endorsement, targeting those darned party hacks in D.C. who are always trying to push state voters around. Oddly, no objection was made when the D.C. party hacks at the NRSC threw their weight behind Crist’s Senate bid before Rubio had even had a chance to introduce himself to voters. Some Washington politicians are more equal than others, I guess.
If you play around with the “what-if calculator” that Pollster.com’s Mark Blumenthal created, and give Rubio, say, 75-80 percent of the Republican vote along with a bare minimum of 25 percent of the independent vote and a few percentage points of Democratic support, he seems to have a floor of about 36 percent of the vote overall, whatever reasonable assumptions you might make about turnout. Indeed, given the mood of the electorate, I would be very surprised if Rubio wound up with less than 36 or 37 percent of the vote, unless there were some major scandal (always possible) or he ran a terrible campaign (also possible).
In a three-way race, what this means is that Rubio is guaranteed at least second place. He could still lose if the race were Crist 37, Rubio 36, Meek 27, or Meek 37, Rubio 36, Crist 27, but you can’t get more than one-third of the vote in a three-way race and do worse than second.
This is advantageous, since it means that nobody much will defect from you for strategic reasons. Say, for instance, that your order of candidate preference were Rubio, Crist, Meek. If the polling at some point in late October were Meek 40, Crist 35, Rubio 25, a voter might consider defecting from Rubio to Crist to prevent Meek from being elected, thinking that his vote would otherwise be wasted. But this doesn’t come into play if it’s Meek 40, Rubio 35, Crist 25 — then switching to Crist only helps to ensure Meek’s election. Nor does it come into play if the polling is Crist 40, Rubio 35, Meek 25 — then Meek isn’t really in the running and you’ll simply vote your first prefernce (Rubio) over your second (Crist).
Bottom line: Crist will have a hard time peeling off Democrats from a likable candidate like Meek, which means that even if Rubio trails on Election Day, Crist’s core constituency of centrist Republicans are apt to vote strategically and defect to the GOP nominee to stop Meek from winning. The trick for Rubio going forward will be to attack Crist without getting so nasty that Crist’s loyalists end up hating him to the point that they’d actually rather see Meek win out of spite. Frankly, given the mounting loathing for Crist among the Republican base, I wonder if Charlie wouldn’t face that problem too if somehow Rubio faded and it ended up being a two-man race. Would conservatives outraged by Crist’s opportunism really rather prefer to see him elected than Meek? I’m not so sure.
Don’t worry just yet, though. The GOP still has a few tricks up its sleeve.