Now that Congress is back in session, midterm election season is in full swing. And if ever there was a time to test the country's political temperament, it may best be done in two closely watched races that both feature lawmakers named Charlie.
In Harlem, longtime incumbent Rep. Charlie Rangel and his ongoing ethics saga represent one of the key problems facing Democrats: the charge that they've become complacent and misused their power in the majority. Meanwhile, in Florida's hotly contested Senate race, remodeled Independent Gov. Charlie Crist represents an issue that could plague both parties: the potential that voters have become generally fed up with the country's divisive rhetoric altogether.
As expected, Rangel is campaigning hard ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary, despite his looming ethics battle. Most watchers on Capitol Hill don't expect the trial to begin until after election day in November, but Rangel's woes have already given the GOP plenty of fodder on the campaign trail.
"It's only one Democrat ... but certainly, it goes to their whole caucus -- and obviously, he's one of the leaders," Republican candidate Matt Doheny told reporters earlier this summer.
But Rangel's four decades in office make him hard to beat in his mostly black Harlem district. At least one of his competitors, Adam Clayton Powell IV, remains optimistic and is focusing his campaign on the 13 charges brought by a House ethics subcommittee against Rangel earlier this summer.
"The response I'm getting on the streets is absolutely unbelievable," Powell IV told The Hill. "That by no means guarantees victory, but I can assure you that this will be very competitive."??
Down in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist is working hard to paint himself as a viable Independent candidate in the state's Senate race. Crist, a former Republican, changed his party affiliation early on when he realized conservative wonderboy Marco Rubio would surely give him a run for his money. Rubio handily won the Republican primary, while Kendrick Meek topped Democratic challengers. That leaves Crist with the unenviable task of trying to appeal to both sides of the state's often unpredictable electorate.
And for Crist, such a task calls for a political makeover. On Monday, he came out in support of civil unions, adoption by same-sex couples, and an end to the military ban on openly gay soldiers, all issues he had opposed in the past.
According to the Miami Herald, both Rubio and Meek are calling the moves clear signs of Crist's political flip-flopping, but Crist -- who's been known throughout his career for being unpredictable -- says it's an example that he puts "people ahead of politics," according to the Herald.
So far, gay rights advocates are applauding the sudden about face. Predictably, conservatives aren't too happy. It's still hard to tell if the makeover will have any real results at the polls on election day.
Crist's appeal to liberal voters is part of his ongoing strategy to take votes away from Meek and paint himself as the only viable alternative to Rubio's stalwart conservatism. He's said repeatedly that Meek doesn't stand a chance in the race, a speculative assessment mostly on polling data. A Rasmussen poll taken shortly after the state's primary elections showed that Rubio led the way with 40 percent of the vote, while Crist trailed with 30 percent and Meek had a comparatively low 21 percent.