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Florida’s Charlie Crist plots political comeback as Democrat

Saturday, October 26, 2013

ORLANDO, Fla. — Charlie Crist had barely entered the room before a throng of teachers swarmed him.

The union delegates – and stalwart Democrats – wanted autographs, pictures, hugs and even kisses from the former Republican governor.

“We love you, Charlie!” a woman shouted, locking arms with Crist as someone snapped a picture.


Charlie Crist

Chris O’Meara, AP (File)
Forner Florida Governor Charlie Crist, right, hands his drivers license to Piniellas County Supervisor of Elections worker Janet Hamilton in St. Petersburg, Fla. Crist officially switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat on Dec. 13, 2012.

“I love you all,” he told those gathered at the Florida Education Association’s annual convention this month.

Nearly three years after losing a U.S. Senate campaign to Republican Marco Rubio and leaving the governor’s mansion, Crist is plotting a political comeback that seems fantastical even by Florida’s stranger-than-fiction standards.

The man who once identified himself as a Ronald Reagan Republican is preparing for another gubernatorial bid, this time as a Barack Obama Democrat.

As he travels the nation’s largest swing-voting state, Crist is emphasizing the bipartisanship and consensus-building that marked his sole term as governor. Most early polls show him leading the unpopular incumbent, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital company executive elected with tea party support in 2010.

Democratic officials, looking for a candidate to lead them back to power in Florida after 15 years, have embraced the convert.

In an era of political polarization, Democratic leaders see his pragmatic governing record as a national model for a party trying to claim the political center and solidify gains among the country’s fast-growing bloc of independent voters.

A statewide victory also would give Florida Democrats an organizational edge in the 2016 presidential election.

“The shutdown and the fiasco in Washington have made that style of bring-everybody-together government much more popular,” said Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and ex-chairman of the National Governors Association. “Charlie’s going to ride a wave.”

According to a Gallup poll this month, nearly half of Americans now identify themselves as independent, an all-time high. A separate survey found that a record 60 percent of Americans are so dissatisfied with the way Democrats and Republicans are governing the country that they favor the creation of a third major party.

Crist, who calls himself “the people’s governor,” might be able to capitalize on that disenchantment – if voters are willing to overlook his history of conflicting positions in key areas.

His reputation as a moderate governor stemmed in part from his willingness to break with the GOP on major issues. He vetoed legislation that would have required ultrasounds before abortions, killed a bill that would have instituted merit pay for teachers and supported the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons. Scott has since signed ultrasound and merit-pay bills and reversed Crist’s voting rights effort.

Crist calls “bringing a new tone to Tallahassee of bipartisanship” his proudest achievement.

“People are so fed up with the partisan rancor that we are experiencing on a national level,” Crist recently told The Associated Press. “I would compare it to children in a schoolyard, but that would be insulting to the children in the schoolyard.”

The messy primary fight with Rubio in the 2010 Senate race has made him far from the perfect Democratic messenger. He spent much of that race campaigning as a pro-gun, anti-abortion, small-government Republican, saying it would be hard to find anyone more conservative.

When GOP activists and donors rallied around Rubio, Crist mounted an independent bid.

After the loss, he began backing Democrats in state and federal races and campaigned for Obama in last year’s election.

“I feel at home, truly,” Crist said recently.

Republicans have not forgotten – or forgiven – Crist’s defection.

Scott, who spent more than $70 million of his own money on his 2 010 campaign, already has raised nearly $18.5 million from donors, promising a withering ad blitz against his opponent early next year. Signaling what’s to come, the state party has started painting Crist as a political chameleon “unfit to govern.”

Some Democrats also are suspicious and are favoring candidate Nan Rich, a former state Senate minority leader. Rich has questioned Crist’s Democratic credentials but has had trouble raising money for a statewide campaign.

Crist surprised many Democrats this year when he declared his support for gay marriage. In 2006, he backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Florida, a position he reaffirmed in 2008 and in 2010.

Crist said Obama’s support for gay marriage last year prompted him to change his mind.

Democratic leaders, who have spent much of the last decade on the sidelines of a GOP-dominated Legislature, are excited by the prospect of nominating Crist.

Lawton Chiles was the last Democrat elected governor, in 1994.

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20 more reader comments:

  1. Wasnt he in Cocoon?

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:08pm
  2. watch this snake in Outrage

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:08pm
  3. Hhmmm . . . I smell a tea bag in coffe clothing

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:14pm
  4. I am not surprised. Some republicans are sick of the party and are converting.

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:17pm
  5. Maybe we can start a national ex-Republican movement. You know, counsel current Republicans that they can change, that they can give up the Republican lifestyle.

    Replied on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:39pm
  6. We can start a 12 step program for recovering Republicans

    Replied on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 11:25am
  7. Maybe now he’ll come out.

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:18pm
  8. Ouch!! (well, maybe he will....finally).

    Replied on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:38pm

    Replied on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 6:51pm
  10. he is out he came out last year

    Replied on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 7:39pm
  11. Crist is NOT out. In fact, after much speculation (and a few damaging press reports) he married Carole Rome in Dec. 2008 and they are still married.

    Replied on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 10:56pm
  12. I always liked him. I wish him success.

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 5:41pm
  13. and he’s exhibiting his number of times he will do this…

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 6:45pm
  14. By today’s insane Republican standards….Charlie Crist is way to liberal to be in the party.

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 6:47pm
  15. i don’t care anymore… as long as we achieve equality then i’ll go for anyone who can give that to us… i could careless if he is a DINO… i could careless if he supported a ban in same-sex marriage in the past… as long as he can commit on repealing that ban AND restore the rights of women to have an abortion without the unnecessary ultra-sound and restore the quality of education and the voting rights in florida then i’ll donate to his campaign… we need a democrat in the office and we need to replace rick scot!

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 6:58pm
  16. It’s called Repug -to- Democrat Conversion Therapy!

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 7:12pm
  17. cool

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 7:39pm
  18. florida needs to go back to its normality and cut the crazy stuff out

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 11:09pm
  19. Charlie Crist is just as much of a dirtbag as Rick Scott. It’s pretty disheartening to see so many elections that don’t have decent candidates running for office. If these are the best candidates that Florida could come up with out of the millions who live there, then that’s pretty sad. Then again, New York has a huge population and also elected nutjobs for both governor and NYC mayor.

    Posted on Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 11:32pm
  20. FLORIDA’S CHARLIE CRIST PLOTS POLITICAL COMEBACK AS DEMOCRAT: whether you want to believe it or not, that is, whether you want to deal with reality or remain as one of those Americans, or, in this case, one of those Floridians, who believes All Is Well In America, Things Have To Change, that is, things have to change in America, you know, the land of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. CHARLIE CRIST, no matter what you hear or what you think, or thought, is Our Knight In Shining Armor, Our Saviour: Our Future, that is, If We Have A Future. Charlie Crist is a very brilliant man and he has the ability and talent and wherewithall to become Governor Of Florida…and…and…and…if and when this happens, the Constitution of the United States of America will be Alive And Well once again since the Right Wing Christian Republican Party, along with the Tea Party, usurped America with their internal and external, conscious and unconscious threats of attacking OBAMA on a daily basis as their reaction to losing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (twice)…and…and…and…they have been foaming at the mouth thinking of 2016, the day they believe they will all move into the White House, bags all packed since the election of 2008…and…and…and…repacked in 2012. They are all wearing their party hats, ready to celebrate their win in 2016, waiting to amend and re-write the Constitution of the United States of America, so that, the Right Wing Christian Repubican Party and the Tea Party will, once again, reclaim the title GOP. Charlie Crist can move Florida into the American Dream: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…and…and…and…Freedom, Freedom, Thank God WE THE PEOPLE Have Our Freedom. Florida will then become a land where people can feel the power of the Democratic Party…for…ALL PEOPLE. Florida needs to VOTE CHARLIE CRIST TO SAVE FLORIDA…AND…KEEP FLORIDA FREE…from the right wing christian republican party…

    Posted on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 3:34pm