By virtually all accounts, Democrat-turned-Republican Pat Neal is a fine man and well respected in Tallahassee. So much so, in fact, that a plurality of Tallahassee insiders think he will be Governor Rick Scott‘s pick to replace outgoing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. But a much smaller number actually think Neal is the best long-term pick for Republicans.Being the choice of Tallahassee insiders is perhaps the strongest indictment against Neal, in the sense that it’s the last thing voters want in a candidate. Watch any number of campaign commercials over the past decade, and you’ll notice the same theme playing over and over again: candidates running as “political outsiders” and against the Tallahassee machine. Rick Scott used the tactic with great success in the 2010 campaign cycle.
The fact that Pat Neal can’t possibly make the same case if he were to run for election in his own right in 2018 is the main reason why only 6% of Tallahassee opinion leaders actually think Neal’s appointment would benefit Republicans in the 2018 cycle.
Neal was first elected to public office 43 years ago, waaaaay back in 1974. Then he spent the next twelve years in Florida’s legislature before finally being voted out in 1986. In the current electoral environment, anyone who first got into office 43 years ago is a political fossil who offers nothing new, exciting or needed to Florida’s government.
Then there is the fact that he was first elected as a Democrat. While everyone is allowed to change their political stripes, conservatives would be right to be wary of Neal’s ideological conversion, especially in light of his actions back in the 2010 campaign cycle, when he sided with Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist against Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate:
It was a group rarely, if ever, seen together on Florida’s political money trail.
There was Pat Neal, former executive director of the Florida Christian Coalition, mingling near Barbara A. Zdravecky, the head of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
Nearby, former Sarasota Republican Party Chairman Bob Waechter chatted amiably at the appetizer table with the very Democrat, Shirley Brown, he worked to defeat four years earlier for School Board and has vowed to defeat this year.
In another corner of the beachfront estate, State Rep. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat, held court before a gaggle of Republican donors who have already written checks aimed at defeating Rouson’s fellow Democratic colleagues in the state Legislature.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said of the eclectic mix in the room at his first big political fundraiser in Sarasota since he abandoned the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent.
That smacks of Neal putting political opportunity ahead of core conservative beliefs.
It remains to be seen whether Governor Scott will actually make a run for U.S. Senate in 2018, but if he does, the last thing he’ll want to do is saddle himself with built-in criticism that would be sure to come if he nominates Neal.