(News-Press.com) - Fasten your seat belts. For the next six months it's going to be Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, all day, all the time. And if you think the mud-slinging and name-calling between the two gubernatorial candidates have been brutal, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.
"Sadly," said prominent political science professor Susan MacManus, "the public already anticipates a slugfest ... an endless slugfest."
MacManus, who teaches at the University of South Florida in Tampa and analyzes political races for TV stations across Florida, expects vicious punches and counter-punches to highlight the governor's race.
"It looks like both sides have enough money," she said.
Now that the legislative session has ended in Tallahassee, Scott is making an eight-city tour. He was in Fort Myers on Tuesday visiting the Gartner Group, touting an expansion that will add 400 jobs the company announced in January, and at O'Brien Hyundai — to kick off his re-election campaign and promote his tax cuts.
This governor's race is squarely in the cross-hairs of Washington's political movers, lobbyists and power brokers.
"It means," MacManus said, "candidates have less control of their campaigns. Outside money is calling the shots."
The importance of this gubernatorial race nationally can be seen, MacManus said, by who has already gotten involved.
"There is already the heavy imprint of (Jeb) Bush and (Hillary) Clinton on this race," she said.
MacManus likens it to the recent Congressional District 19 race in Southwest Florida where super-PAC money played a big role in the nastiness of that race and forced the contenders to apologize for some of the attack ads that came from their PACs.
Money is pouring in to both candidates. The Republican Governor's Association wrote a $2.5 million check to Scott and last month the Democratic Governor's Association gave Crist $500,000.
Scott's campaign has already spent more than $5 million on TV advertising. He's about to launch a campaign, which will air in Fort Myers and throughout South Florida, aimed at Hispanics. Crist, on the other hand, has yet to do much on the tube.
Privately, some say that the Naples resident could spend upward of $100 million in campaign funds if that's what it takes to win re-election. He spent around $78 million of his own money four years ago to win.
Scott's "Let's Get to Work" committee is rolling in money. This super PAC has raised nearly $28 million. Crist's "Charlie Crist for Florida" PAC has collected a bit more than $5 million of his $11 million raised.
All of this money, however, has not helped Scott, yet. Crist leads in most polls, including the latest by Quinnipiac University that shows the challenger with a 10-point advantage.
Being behind is nothing new for Scott, however. At this time four years ago he wasn't even a speck on Republican front-runner Bill McCollum's radar.
Vacillation. Shilly-shallying. Fence-sitting. That pretty much summarizes the issues of the campaign.
"Each has changed," MacManus said. "It could be a battle of the flip-floppers."
Crist, who is the presumed Democratic candidate, is heavily favored to win the primary against former legislator Nan Rich and has done the ultimate flip-flop. When he served as governor prior to Scott, he was a Republican. Then he became an independent when it was evident he couldn't beat Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Now, he's a Democrat and even spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
The Republicans will hit him hard for changing his stance on Cuba. He now says the embargo should be lifted, 180 degrees from where he was while governor.
Crist, though, doesn't have a monopoly on changing his mind. Scott now favors the medical marijuana bill that the Legislature passed, and he said he would sign it. He's also flipped his stance on immigration, battling for the 14 percent Hispanic portion of the Florida electorate. He said he would sign Florida's DREAM Act, which approves in-state tuition for college students who came to the United States illegally when they were children. Just last year, he vetoed a bill that would have given DREAMers driver's licenses.
Scott is campaigning hard on jobs and the economy. "The message will be 'promises made, promises kept,'" MacManus said, referring to Scott's first-term campaign of creating jobs, lowering unemployment and fixing the economy.
Crist bashes Scott's corporate record as CEO of Columbia/HCA at every turn. In a recent speech in West Palm Beach, Crist called his opponent a thief.
He said Scott's wealth came from "hundreds of millions of dollars of money (he) stole from poor, sick people."
That was in reference to the time when Columbia /HCA paid a $1.7 billion fine when it was found guilty of inflating Medicare bills. Scott was never charged.
Before coming to Fort Myers on Tuesday, Scott was in Brandon where he was in attack mode.
"Gov. Crist is a lot about words, but not big on action," Scott said. "And you can't trust what he says. I mean, today he is campaigning with Bill Clinton, the same guy, a couple years ago, he called on to resign as president of the United States. So, Charlie Crist will say anything. Just put a camera in front of him."
And so the vitriol continues. But at what cost?
"If it gets so negative, it reaches the point of diminishing returns," MacManus said.
In the end, she said, the result of the election will likely depend "on the state of the economy ... and people's distrust of government."