TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — There’s a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on right now about Charlie Crist’s comfortable defeat Tuesday of Democratic gubernatorial combatant Nan Rich.

By capturing nearly 75-percent of the vote statewide in a primary election in which party-liners typically overshadow less fervid voters, the one-time Republican governor proved he has the Democratic chops to garner enough support to defeat — or at least mount a serious challenge — to Republican incumbent Rick Scott in what is already shaping up to be one of the nastiest and most expensive battles in Florida political history.

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That’s one school of thought, at least.

Others, most notably Scott’s campaign team, point out that voter turnout was dismal in Democratic strongholds of South Florida, meaning the enthusiasm gap for Crist could spell disaster for the populist politician trying to get his old job back after a four-year hiatus.

Scott and Crist fans, along with those who favor “none of the above,” agree on one thing, however. November’s election will be all about turnout, turnout, turnout. And, in a midterm match where Republicans typically eclipse Democrats at the polls, the onus is on Crist to get his supporters, grudging though they may be, to cast their ballots.

Crist is hoping to parlay President Obama’s playbook — an intensive field operation and micro-targeted voter outreach that turned Florida blue in 2008 and 2012 — into his own victory this year. To that end, Crist has loaded up his staff with former Obama campaign workers, including Crist’s campaign manager Omar Khan.

To build his ground game, Crist’s campaign has steered at least $8.5 million to the Florida Democratic Party since he entered the race nine months ago.

The result: 21 campaign offices throughout the state, 103 full-time paid organizers, 300,000 phone calls and 100,000 door knocks prior to Tuesday’s primary. And there’s plenty more to come, Khan said.

Like Obama, Crist’s strategy will be to target low-propensity voters — those who can’t be relied on to cast ballots — with a special emphasis on black voters, Hispanics and women.

“Those are the folks that don’t vote and we know if they vote, we win,” Khan said in an interview earlier this month.

“We’re going to let our field program talk on Election Day,” he said, referring to Nov. 4.

Crist’s team also must take as an object lesson Alex Sink’s narrow loss to Scott in 2010 — Scott edged her out by about 1 percentage point — in another historically pricey campaign.

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“If Alex Sink had got 1 percent more of African-American voters, she would have won,” Khan noted.

Tuesday’s “low” turnout for Democrats, particularly in Democrat-rich South Florida, is causing Scott supporters to crow and Crist’s team to shrug.

Crist consultant Steve Schale, who also ran Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008, said “hardly anyone outside of the Republicans and the punditocracy” paid attention to the primary. Tuesday’s turnout fell in line with previous Democratic primary numbers, Schale said.

“It was a typical off-year election primary. There were no competitive elections, and very few competitive down-ballot races that got any attention. So as a result not many people voted. Just move on,” Schale said.

After entering the race, Crist essentially ignored Rich, refusing to debate her and rarely even appearing in the room at the same time as the former Senate minority leader.

With the primary victory and field operations intact, Crist’s job now will be to motivate voters — including independents — before the fall.

“Why would we spend the effort and money to target those people in August when we all knew what the outcome was going to be? We’re not the Rick Scott campaign. We can’t go whenever and whatever we want on TV. We have to make choices. So why would we make the choice to go spend a bunch of money in a primary that we know we’re going to win?” Schale said.

“The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kim contributed to this report.”

Watch the report, click here.


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