Commentary: Florida is an elections battleground state again

For Floridians, the most significant news to emerge from the off-year elections around the country is that the outcome of an obscure congressional race in upstate New York ensures that the Sunshine State will be a key battleground in the 2010 election cycle. Oh, dear.

As a political bellwether state, Florida's races always draw national attention. But the fight over the Republican nomination for an open seat in the U.S. Senate between Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami is shaping up as epic struggle for the soul of the Republican Party, and that could be a mixed blessing.

In New York's 23rd Congressional District, a bitter split in GOP ranks developed between supporters of an insurgent conservative, Douglas Hoffman, and the original Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, a pro-choice moderate whose support of gay rights alienated the right wing of the party.

Mr. Hoffman was endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and commentators Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, while Newt Gingrich and other GOP luminaries endorsed Ms. Scozzafava. The money poured in, but local voters and local issues were overshadowed.

In the end, Ms. Scozzafava bowed out and threw her support to Bill Owens, who became the first Democrat to win that seat in more than 100 years. Conservatives who saw this as a fight to purify the party ideologically were energized because Ms. Scozzafava was denied a seat in Congress. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was more realistic: "I don't see a victory in losing seats," he said afterward.

Now the conservatives have set their sights on Florida, where Gov. Crist is deemed to have strayed from the fold of true believers by adopting a moderate stance on such issues as President Obama's stimulus package and efforts to pass climate-change legislation.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.