It had been quite a ride already. I had gone from a sure loser without a viable way to quit the race to the surging frontrunner. Now the stars had aligned again for Crist. The bickering Florida legislature and an unpopular bill had given him the opportunity to wear the mantle of a post-partisan populist. He made the most of his opportunity and reclaimed the lead in the race for the U.S. Senate. A Rasmussen poll released on May 4 confirmed he had retaken a lead, though by a smaller margin than Crist’s pollster had given him. Making matters worse, a new issue loomed that gave him the perfect platform from which to take command of the race.
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon had resulted in an uncontainable oil gusher that was pouring fifty-three thousand gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening Florida’s coastline. Predictably, support among Floridians for offshore drilling dropped dramatically. I was asked by a reporter on May 4 if I still supported off-shore drilling. I responded by acknowledging the horrible threat from the oil spill, and confirmed I still supported offshore drilling. I didn’t believe we could become energy independent without it. Crist saw his opportunity and pounced. Although he had supported drilling in 2008, he was now 100 percent against it. It was a smart political move.
I knew that as long as oil was spewing uncontrolled into the Gulf, offshore drilling would be unpopular. But when the well was capped and the spill contained, over time, support for offshore drilling would increase. People understood the country needed all its energy resources. But in the present crisis, support for drilling, like support for Social Security and Medicare reform, would be a test of principle over politics. My only hope was that voters would give me credit for being serious about the issue and not opportunistic. Time would tell.
Another issue that had come to the fore began to hurt us as well. I was troubled when the Arizona legislature passed an immigration bill that allowed law-enforcement officers to demand proof of legal residence from anyone they had lawfully detained and suspected of being in the country illegally. I thought the law would lead to racial profiling. As I started to hear more about Arizona’s illegal-immigration problem, I recognized that Arizona’s situation was different and more severe than Florida’s. Florida doesn’t share a porous border with a neighboring country. It’s surrounded by ocean. We certainly have an illegal-immigration problem, but it is mostly caused by people overstaying their visas.
The Tucson border sector in Arizona is the scene of rampant illegal crossings, drug smuggling, gunrunning, and human trafficking. An all-out drug war in Mexico was starting to export violence to Arizona cities. Arizonans were fed up. They wanted something done immediately to address the crisis, and state legislators had answered by passing the new immigration law.
When I was first asked about it, I strongly criticized the law and said it raised the specter of a police state. But as I learned more about the situation in Arizona, the provisions of the law, and the modifications that had been made to it, I softened my opinion. I still didn’t support state immigration laws, and I didn’t want a law like Arizona’s enacted in Florida. But I understood why Arizonans supported it. If I had been in their shoes and my state had been overrun by cross-border violence, I probably would have voted for it, too.
Now I was getting it from all sides. The anti-illegal-immigrant crowd was upset with me because I didn’t think Florida should pass a similar law. Pro-immigrant groups denounced me for supporting the law in Arizona. I had managed to unite both sides against me.