It’s about jobs and the economy, said former State Rep. Dennis Baxley recently as he announced his candidacy for his old District 24 seat in Marion County. Baxley had held the seat from 2000 until resigning in 2007.
Baxley resigned the seat to pursue a try for a Florida Senate seat in a special election. After losing to Charlie Dean in the special Senate election primary, Baxley became Director of Florida Christian Coalition. He left the Coalition to work with the Rubio campaign last summer.
Baxley is most comfortable as a combatant in the conservative culture wars, carrying the banner of pro-life, pro-gun (did I mention PRO-gun?), anti-gay and any other wedge issue. As a conservative ideologue, he is a rubber stamp for budget, economic and other issues that hew to the conservative line, like the repeal of the intangibles tax which relieved a tax “burden” on the wealthy and left the state treasury $4 billion lighter, but he was never a leader in such areas.
So, it was a bit of a surprise to hear Baxley emphasize his interest in jobs and the economy in his discussions with the Palm Beach Post and Ocala Star Banner about his reasoning for seeking his old seat. While he did an incredibly clumsy job trying to justify his candidacy as some sort of vital public service, the absence of a sharp wedge issue from his comments was noteworthy.
Are we seeing a shift by Baxley, away from the family-faith-freedom theme of previous campaigns, and addressing the dominant popular issue of jobs and economy? While he lacks a culture war issue to target in 2010, are jobs and the economy – bread-and-butter issues – something that Baxley and other Republicans can use to appeal to angry voters?
It’s a big stretch for Baxley (or any other conservative Republicans) to make a credible argument that they have a meaningful agenda to produce jobs and turn around the Florida economy. Besides Florida having an economic condition that defies short-term solution, Republicans have been in charge for a long, long time. They own the mess.
This does not bode well for Florida incumbents, Republicans in particular who have had complete sway in the legislature and governor’s office for over 10 years. Will they argue that now they will do what they haven’t done for the last decade?
Without a compelling social issue to distract from the desperate economic state in Florida, Republicans like Mr. Baxley may face a strangely different climate in 2010.