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Florida and Georgia feature America's two hottest races this fall

Two of America’s most-watched gubernatorial races will be in neighboring states. Georgia will feature one of the nastiest races, pitting incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal against Democrat Nominee Jason Carter, grandson of former Governor and President Jimmy Carter. Its southern rival, Florida, also features an incumbent Republican Governor in Rick Scott could end up trying to fight back a challenge from former Republican Governor-turned-Democrat Nominee Charlie Crist, assuming he defeats former State Senator Nan Rich in the primary. It’s a pair of races with striking similarities.

Democrat Charlie Crist (right), should he win the Florida primary, will headline a Florida-Georgia gubernatorial race tandem featuring a two incumbent Republicans, a grandson of a former President, and a party-switching former governor.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Both incumbents have been dogged by scandals and allegations of ethics and integrity issues, while their challengers are far from outsiders but portraying themselves to voters as an opportunity to end the “business as usual” mentality in their respective state capitols. In each race, the Republican incumbent is doing their best to style their administrations as “true conservatives,” and are courting both establishment and tea party activists with near rabid determination. Each incumbent has a massive war chest, and has been extremely prolific in fundraising. Both races are being watched because they feature near identical national and state-level implications, and will be widely regarded as a referendum on the legacy of President Barack Obama.

It’s the differences which really make each race worth watching on its own merits. Here’s a look at each state's race, and the details which makes them so juicy the rest of the nation will be watching.

GEORGIA

Voters are being given as stark a contrast in candidates as has been seen in a generation. While Nathan Deal has turned Georgia in America’s most business friendly state (according to a CNBC report), Jason Carter has been spending his time cultivating an image and a friend of middle class Georgians, and has pulled no punches in his attacks on Deal’s ethics and performance.

WHY DEAL COULD WIN: While Carter’s family is a household name thanks largely to his father’s presidential term, the Democratic challenger remains a relative unknown outside of Atlanta. Deal has exploited this degree of mystery to paint Carter is an Obama-supporting liberal who is hellbent on fully implementing the wildly unpopular provisions of Obamacare. Despite a slight jump in the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent (still higher than the national rate), Deal has proven himself quite adept and bringing new business to the Peach State, as the aforementioned CNBC story has demonstrated. While Deal pulls big polling numbers in the largely conservative rural parts of Georgia, he also proven to be extremely difficult to be in the more affluent parts of suburban Atlanta.

WHY CARTER COULD WIN: Carter has taken great pains to distance himself from President Obama and his own father, essentially attempting to establish himself as a “new generation” of Georgia Democrat. While he has worked diligently to paint an image of himself as a bipartisan moderate, he has also been busy portraying Deal as a chum of billionaires who could give a flip less about the plight of working families and those without deep donor pockets. Carter has also been doing a rather adroit tap dance around moral issues, no doubt attempting to court social conservatives who tend to lean left on economic issues. Georgia’s slower-than-the-nation recovery, combined with Deal’s ethics travails and a botched response to the worst winter storm in a generation, could give Carter additional ammunition for those who feel Deal puts off a “what, me worry” attitude towards middle-class voters.’

WHO WILL LIKELY WIN: This is going to be a down-to-wire nail biter. Expect an “October surprise” or two from either side. If the ethics issues with Deal continue to dog him, it plays right in Carter’s hands. Then again, any sort of good news on the jobs or economic front will do nothing but raise Deal’s stock in the eyes of voters. For the first time in over a generation, both candidates will need to carry both urban and rural voters to win. All things remaining equal at this moment in time, Carter wins by 3 percent, but legal papers fly the second the winner is announced.

FLORIDA

NOTE: This assumes Charlie Crist wins the primary over Nan Rich. The primary itself has not yet been decided, so regard this analysis for what it is worth until that time.

The Sunshine State features a classic battle of political underdog versus insider, but with (as always), a Florida-style twist. Incumbent Republican Rick Scott is the current insider going against perceived underdog Democrat Charlie Crist who, in a delicious stroke of irony, was himself a former Republican governor. As it goes, it doesn’t get much more “Florida” than this!

WHY SCOTT COULD WIN: Rick Scott has one thing trending in is favor in a major way; Florida’s unemployment rate continues to drop like a stone on a pond. He has been credited with landing several major business expansions, including Amazon’s decision to open a fulfillment center outside Tampa. The critical I-4 corridor has been experiencing an economic bounce with a recent spate of positive news, and property values are on the rise. Scott’s ideological style has recently yield to a more pragmatic approach, and has shown an independent streak which has surprised both allies and foes alike. Despite several scandals inside his own cabinet, Scott has been able to remain mostly above the fray, and has worked with the sort of instincts found in a wily veteran to keep the RPOF base happy. While he has largely lost his luster as an outsider, Scott still has an ace or two in the hole he can play against Crist, painting any Democratic challenger as a support of President Obama and government interference, while being highly pro-business and devoted to personal responsibility. He has also be highly active on the fundraising trail, but still has plenty of personal cash self-fund his campaign.

WHY CRIST COULD WIN: Charlie Crist’s decision to swap party horses is indicative of a classic axiom of Florida politics – you vote your conscience. Despite being seen as a political opportunist, Crist’s opponents also understand the former governor has a vast wealth of political experience to capitalize on. His familiarity with the blue-collar I-4 corridor is considered his single greatest campaign asset, and his choice of a Jewish-Cuban woman from Miami could be just what the doctor ordered to unify the Democrat Party should he win the primary. Crist will be quick to capitalize on Scott’s many scandals and ethics issues, and has proven quite capable of nasty, mudslinging campaigning. Where Crist's hidden edge could be is whether he can capitalize on the details of Florida's job bounce and should Florida employment upswing has been largely low-paying retail and service sector jobs instead of the high-paying technology, research, and medical positions Scott promised, as well as painting Scott is a friend of One Percenters who never met a corporate welfare program he didn't like.

WHO WILL LIKELY WIN: Despite the fact that Rick Scott has been as abrasive as sandpaper, he still commands huge numbers from both establishment and tea party Republicans. Scott has proven, time and again, capable of delivering a knockout blow when he needs it most. Crist, however, is no rollover candidate – he campaigned vigorously as an independent in 2010 for the U.S. Senate Seat ultimately won by Marco Rubio, a race many believed he would have won had he more openly courted tea party voters. Whoever is able to mobilize 527 groups and voting drives most effectively will have a huge edge. Nevertheless, Florida is an odd state with an odd voting history, and the I-4 Corridor is, again, likely to decide who wins it. No amount of "October Surprises" will change that so, unless Scott pulls a major campaign rabbit out of his hat, that area is likely to break moderate and, combined with a traditionally solid showing from South Florida Dems, Crist should win by a 9-10 percent margin, assuming he wins his own primary first.