Yesterday I asked readers whether they could think of any comparable collapses of major political figures absent some major scandal or precipitating event. There were a number of suggestions -- the best of which were Rudy Giuliani (Prez 2008) and Geraldine Ferraro (NY-Senate 1998). But neither really seemed to compare to Crist.
With Giuliani, yes, the collapse was pretty dramatic. But Rudy's ascendancy in 2007 was largely the product of national media obsession, the unpopularity of John McCain and the poor name recognition of the other candidates. The real issue is that Giuliani was running in a national electorate he'd never run in before. Not even close. Even within New York State, New York City GOP politics is pretty separate world. And it's nothing like running in GOP primary electorates around the country. As I and many others said at the time, Rudy's poll numbers were always an illusion. (Ironically, he put his bets on Charlie Crist pulling his nuts out of the fire in Florida. But Crist eventually betrayed him and endorsed McCain.)
A more interesting comparison is Ferraro. She started the 1998 Senate race a big poll favorite. But her numbers collapsed and Chuck Schumer won the primary and eventually the Senate seat against Al D'Amato. But again, there were some significant differences. One, Ferraro had never run statewide before in New York. And she essentially came out of retirement to make the run. She hadn't been in elective office in more than a dozen years. What she had in her favor was a lot of admiration and nostalgia about her pioneering vice presidential run in 1984.
So again, an interesting comparison. But substantially different.
The thing with Crist is that you can't say his immense popularity was phantom support. He's been in elective office since 1992 in Florida and he's come off two straight statewide races -- elected Attorney General in 2003 and Governor in 2007.
Again, I can't think of another comparable collapse in recent memory.