Novelists and movie scriptwriters, such as the brilliant folks at Pixar (who produced the movie Up, which I photoshopped above), are known for creating great characters. They know characters are the engine that drives successful storytelling. The same axiom is true in politics.
In statewide races in Florida, interesting characters win. Just look at our recent electoral history. Donald Trump is a far more interesting character than the shopworn Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama was more interesting than both the cardboard Mitt Romney and dusty John McCain. In 2010, Rick Scott was a more interesting character than either Bill McCollum or Alex Sink, both of whom came off flat and uninspiring. Even in 2014, Scott edged Charlie Crist, himself an interesting, albeit, all-too-familiar, character.
Because interesting characters win races in Florida, John Morgan is the front runner to be Florida’s next governor. He’s hands down more interesting than say, Gwen Graham or Bob Buckhorn. But is Morgan more interesting than Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine? Probably.
Morgan’s trial balloon, launched this week to test the political winds, immediately sailed in the direction he wanted it to go, and reached an altitude even he probably didn’t expect it to reach so quickly.
But what makes Morgan such an interesting character? That’s easy. It’s a combination of his boyish face, his ever-present television and radio commercials, and his willingness to do a lot more than just dabble in the Florida political scene.
It’s that last part that sets him apart from other pretenders. John Morgan puts his money where his mouth is. When the 2010 elections left Charlie Crist a politician without an office, Morgan came riding to his rescue, hiring him into the firm and plastering Crist’s face on billboards all along Interstate 75, proclaiming both Crist and Morgan’s law firm to be “for the people.” It is well-known that Morgan has spent millions of his own money pushing political issues, most notably, this year’s Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Florida.
Morgan also has a brand. A trial lawyer by trade, he basks in his reputation as a defender of the defenseless. He has cornered the market on fighting for the underdog, if not in deed, then certainly in word, for his image and tagline are ubiquitous. People see or hear his ads everywhere – on buses, on billboards, television and radio.
It’s not clear if the “trial lawyer” tag will be enough to hurt him, but Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver seems to think it will. He told the Orlando Sentinel, “I don’t think a personal injury attorney is what most people had in mind for their governor.”
Morgan wrote this week that he needed time to think about his run for office. Certainly, weighing just how badly Republicans might tarnish his brand with “ambulance chaser” attack ads will be part of the calculus. But unless both the Democrats and Republicans come up with a more interesting character to compete for the nomination, John Morgan will be the man to beat.