Floridians aggrieved by George Zimmerman’s acquittal might get some succor from a federal civil rights charge, or maybe at some point a civil suit. But the one thing for sure they will have at their disposal in a 2014 election in which the case and the concealed-carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that affected it will be an inevitable issue. At National Journal, Beth Reinhard takes a look at the post-trial politics of the case, and suggests it could be a real problem for Rick Scott, who has been slowly recovering from the intense unpopularity he earned in his first couple of years in office.
Rick Scott couldn’t do much worse among black voters than in 2010, when only 6 percent backed him for governor.
Or could he? African-American leaders outraged by the not-guilty verdict in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin are assailing Scott for supporting the “Stand Your Ground” law that arguably helped Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, go free. Students protesters are camping out in the governor’s office, musician Stevie Wonder has announced a boycot,t and Attorney General Eric Holder denounced the law at the NAACP convention in Orlando earlier this week.
If black voters turn out in force against Scott in 2014, they could swing a race as close as his last, which he won by only 61,550 votes. Black voters comprised between 11 percent and 14 percent of the vote in recent gubernatorial elections, and their share of the electorate is on the rise. Racial and ethnic conflicts, such as the bitter debate in 2000 over custody of Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez, have a history of shaping elections in the nation’s largest swing state.
To be exact, the African-American percentage of the Florida electorate dropped from 13 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2010 and then went back up to 13 percent in 2012. This represents a relatively normal dropoff in minority voting from a presidential to a midterm election; anything that provides an unusually powerful incentive to high midterm voting by minorities is a big deal in a state like Florida.
Scott’s likely Democratic opponents on Thursday joined the criticism of his leadership after the racially polarizing trial. “I’m troubled that we don’t have a governor that can bring people together after such an emotional and personal public debate,” said Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who switched parties and is expected to challenge Scott. “No law is perfect, and it seems to me that Trayvon’s tragic death provides an opportunity for a real dialogue on how we can improve our laws to ensure that we are protecting self-defense while not creating a defense for criminals.”
Democratic Sen. Nan Rich, who’s struggling to gain traction in the polls after running against Scott for more than one year, mocked him for being out of town during the sit-in in his office, though he returned to Tallahassee late Thursday and met with protesters. “I think he’s afraid to come back,” Rich quipped. “Leadership is lacking, and we need leadership from the governor to change this law.”
Crist, Reinhard notes, did about three times as well as Scott did among African-American voters when he was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2006, and improved his reputation in that community significantly by supporting a restoration of voting rights for ex-felons and expanded early voting opportunities in urban areas in 2008. And even before the Zimmerman verdict, Crist was leading Scott in a June poll by 10%.
A wild card for Scott in 2014 will be fallout from his failure to convince Republican legislators to support the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, after his own flip-flop from opposition to support. If he were to submit to pressure to call a special legislative session to act on the expansion, he could attract a primary challenge. If he does nothing, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Florida, leaving many thousands of low-income Floridians ineligible either for Medicaid or for Obamacare tax credits to buy insurance on the new exchanges, could become a pretty big deal in 2014.