Maybe we were lulled into thinking that politics was starting to calm down in Florida.
For much of the past year we were captivated by the steady erosion of support for Gov. Charlie Crist, the once all-but-certain Republican nominee for an open Senate seat. Then came the surge for Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the state House and the darling of conservatives. Finding himself a certain loser in the primary, Crist left the GOP in April to run as an independent.
A complete absence of drama on the Democratic side: Rep. Kendrick Meek was going to be his party's nominee.
And the race for governor to succeed Crist? Also a done deal: state Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) vs. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D).
Nobody counted on Rick Scott. Or Jeff Greene.
Scott, a multi-millionaire former health care executive, jumped into the GOP race for governor and now leads McCollum by 13 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
Democrat Greene, a Palm Beach real estate billionaire, is virtually tied with Meek for the Senate in that same poll, with Meek holding a slim 29-27 percent lead.
What accounts for their sudden success? Money. Scott has spent more than $12 million on his race, and Greene says he will spend as much as $40 million to win his primary. Much of their money has been directed towards buying up media time.
Wealthy candidates winning primaries or elections is nothing new. We saw Meg Whitman pour some $70 million of her own money to win the California GOP gubernatorial nomination. Michael Bloomberg reached into his own deep pockets to win three races for mayor of New York City. And New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine won both a Senate seat and the governorship until his luck ended last year.
But Florida's two millionaire candidates seem to have come out of nowhere. Scott describes himself as a "pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Second Amendment and pro-family" conservative outsider. Greene's rise in the polls is even more hard to explain. Mike Tyson was the best man at his wedding, Heidi Fleiss lived in his guest house after she left prison, and he made much of his fortune from betting on the fall of the housing market.
But money has a strange way of changing political campaigns, and so neither candidate can be written off. Scott has a tough ad taking aim at McCollum's record on the housing crisis, citing votes when he was in the House.
Greene's ads are equally tough, going after Meek's relationship with the ethically challenged developer Dennis Stackhouse. And as for charges that he was a profiteer of the foreclosure crisis, writes The Atlantic's Chris Good, "his campaign says he's a businessman who saw the crash coming and did what he should have to protect the jobs he had created."
The Florida primary is Aug. 24.