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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Crist at the DNC: A setup for another run for governor?
Joe Saunders
By any measure, Charlie Crist is an outsized figure in Florida politics. A former state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and governor, he's been in the public eye for 20 years. With that attention comes controversy, especially in the state Republican Party, which Crist left in 2010 upon facing an almost-certain primary loss in his U.S. Senate bid. Now with the law firm of Morgan and Morgan, Crist remains a dominant political presence, particularly with his speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he spoke on behalf of President Obama's re-election. While Crist has said he is not interested in seeking a return to the governor's office as a Democrat, his convention appearance renewed talk that he plans to do just that in 2014. So we asked several observers of the political scene: Could Crist's appearance in Charlotte help him win the Florida Governor's Mansion?
Ed Dean
Political Radio Show Host

In the world of professional sales, the seller at times will hype or overhype a product to induce a buyer. A sales gimmick will sound like, “this is the last one I have” or “this business opportunity won’t be around again.”

But in the political world opportunity comes around knocking more than once. And in Charlie Crist’s world, it’s knocking hard.

With the recent endorsement of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, it was only a matter of time to see not if, but when he would come out and endorse president Obama. And with that endorsement, the opportunity opened up again for Charlie Crist.

Charlie Crist's speech at the DNC convention was neither hype nor a slick oil salesman speech. It was, rather, a laid back endorsement from a brand-new foot soldier in the Obama army.

Originally, Crist was nowhere on the DNC map to speak at their convention. But a week earlier, word came out that former Democratic congressman and huge Obama supporter Arthur Davis was going to be featured as a keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. Davis' speech was how the president has broken his promises and the Democrats couldn’t be trusted.

The Democrats needed a counter punch and quick. Their man? Charlie Crist. And why not? Over the past two years, Crist has heavily campaigned that he was chased out of the Republican Party by its far-right wing. But the Democrats needed something more than just a speech from a disgruntled former elected official.

And bam! it hit them.

The Democrat consultants' thinking process (behind the scenes) was that since Crist really has no political home, he is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He could be a hit to possibly woo over independent voters.

And on the surface, it should have worked. Crist's speech started off by invoking the name of Ronald Reagan and how Reagan said the Democratic Party left him.

Then Crist told his story how the Republican Party left him. In another move to try to win over undecided independents, Crist said he and president Obama don’t agree on everything. Crist's speech was neither hype nor overhype but a typical laid-back, soft-spoken, vintage Charlie Crist speech.

The crowd at the DNC Convention enjoyed Crist speech. The only problem is, most of the audience – outside of the Florida delegation, of course – probably didn’t know who Charlie Crist is.

Political observers view Crist speech as the kickoff to run for governor in 2014. Crist has denied he's running for a return to the post, but he also said in February of 2010 on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace he wasn’t going to leave the Republican primary to run as an independent.

Florida Democrats are split down the middle in their support for Crist. State Sen. Nan Rich – a declared candidate for governor – said Crist, if he runs, is going to have to explain Democratic voters why they need to vote for him.

Crist has been all over the map on positions ranging from abortion to gun control to offshore drilling. Unlike the Florida Republican Party, Sunshine State Democrats don't have a deep bench of attractive candidates. Rumors of another run from

Alex Sink have been talked about, as well as one from state party chairman Rod Smith.

A lot could hinge on this year’s election. If Obama wins and carries Florida it could be a mixed bag for Charlie Crist. For example, if Obama does win Forida, who takes credit?

Rod Smith, Alex Sink, Nan Rich or Charlie Crist.

And what or who could be the reason why Obama wins. If the Democratic base brings home the victory for Obama, then certainly the base will go for someone within their own party. But if the independents carry the state for Obama, then that gives fuel for a Charlie Crist run for governor in 2014 as a Democrat.

Republicans openly mock Crist as someone who doesn’t stand a chance to win in 2014. But if that’s the case, then why did the party, during the week of the Democratic convention, run web ads showcasing the flip flops of Crist? (The Democrats pulled the same stunt in 2010 from the Kendrick Meek campaign running TV ads showing how Crist was a Reagan conservative one week and a Sarah Palin supporter the next.)

Crist has done well in the past as a retail politician. But in order for him to win this game, he will have to win voters over as a wholesale politician. And for Crist that just may be impossible.

If Charlie Crist makes the jump to run in the Democratic primary for governor in 2014, he's going to be doing a lot of explaining and damage control too win the support of primary Democrats.

Ed Dean's radio show can be heard daily from 2 to 4 p.m. on 90.3 FM on Florida's east coast and 89.3 FM on the Gulf Coast.


Seth McKee
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.

That speech would have been most effective for a potential gubernatorial run in 2014 if Crist not only expressed strong support for President Obama’s re-election bid, but concluded it with the declaration that he is now a Democrat and thus made his conversion right there on the spot, for the whole world to see and hear.

In order to have the best likelihood of winning the Florida governorship, Crist must convert to the Democratic Party, because otherwise he would need to “clear the field” of any strong Democratic nominee if he chose to stay as an Independent in the general election. This would be a tall task and it isn’t necessary since in the 2010 Senate contest Crist already proved he can win Democratic votes – he took 44 percent versus Democrat Kendrick Meek’s 47 percent (according to the 2010 exit poll). Rubio, of course, was victorious and in part because he garnered 51 percent of independent votes to Crist’s 38 percent (same source).

As I thought he might, Crist turned the old line used by Southern Democrats who convert to the GOP on its head. For the last several decades a Southern Democrat could credibly claim that because of the party’s growing liberalism on numerous issues, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me.” Likewise, because the Republican Party has become so ideologically conservative, Crist averred that he is no longer a Republican because, the party “left” him by moving too far from the center of the electorate, where Crist has always positioned himself.

Let’s face it, Governor Scott is a very weak incumbent, as witnessed by every approval poll ever released (he never cracks the low 40s!). Nonetheless, “No Party Affiliation” is just that and independent voters are more likely to vote for a major party candidate because they have a better chance of winning office than an independent. Surely Crist knows this, so his best strategy is to embrace the Democratic label and tirelessly remind voters that he is a centrist who intends to craft a winning coalition comprised of Democrats and moderate independents.

Florida Republicans bitter about Crist exiting their party, rail against him for being a selfish, “me first” politician. But ironically, by not declaring his Democratic conversion at the DNC, Crist was clearly serving the Democratic Party’s agenda because he is a much more effective voice as an independent for the purpose of attracting undecided voters to Obama, most of whom also exhibit weak or nonexistent partisan ties.

Lenny Curry
Republican Party of Florida Chairman

With his recent endorsement of President Obama and speaking gig Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention, Charlie Crist is trying once again to shed his political skin.

But his own words and actions speak for themselves. Crist has built his career bashing virtually everything President Obama and the Democrats stand for, including the president's spending programs and so-called signature achievement, Obamacare. That’s why it is no surprise he couldn’t cite a specific policy that he agrees with the president on in his speech at the DNC.

Crist is a self-proclaimed pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, anti-tax Reagan Republican – who called himself as conservative as you could get. His attempt to rebrand himself as anything less is a sad, shameful display of political opportunism. Charlie Crist is proving yet again that the only thing he is truly concerned about is furthering his own political ambitions. Even Florida Democrats see through this ruse and remain cool to the idea of Crist switching to their party just to seize an opportunity to run for governor again.

In an attempt to explain away his own questionable actions, Crist has claimed he left the Republican Party because our views changed. However, the fact is that Crist didn’t leave the Republican Party in 2010 because he disagreed with the party’s beliefs and positions or suddenly became an Obama supporter – he left because polls showed he had a better chance to win the Senate seat as an independent. And now that it looks like he may have a better chance at a political future as a Democrat, he’s ready to change parties again.

But even if Crist can convince Florida Democrats that he was only joking when he repeatedly called himself pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax and as conservative as you can get, what are the Democrats getting? They will have to defend what I call the “Crist Collapse.”

There is no denying that under Charlie Crist, Florida’s economy melted down and collapsed.

Unemployment skyrocketed from 3.5 percent to 11.1 percent – the second fastest increase in the country – leaving more than a million Floridians out of work. He left office with nearly a half million homes in foreclosure, making Florida third in the nation, while median home sale prices plummeted more than $100,000. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of the “Crist Collapse” of Florida’s economy.

No doubt, Crist will try and point fingers to save his own hide. But will he point them at President George W. Bush whom he so heartily embraced and endorsed during Bush’s entire presidency, or does he blame it on his newest man crush, President Obama?

Either way, we are gleeful at the prospect of running a campaign where we have Crist debating himself on virtually every issue and answering for his dismal economic record.

Charlie Crist always has, and always will, do what is best for Charlie Crist. His endorsement of President Obama is just another example of his crass political opportunism. But don’t be fooled – the only thing they have in common is that President Obama killed our national economy and Crist killed Florida’s economy. And the RPOF won’t let Floridians forget that.

Charlie Crist
Former Florida Governor

Excerpts from former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's speech to the Democratic national convention, Sept. 6, 2012.

… Half a century ago, Ronald Reagan, the man whose relentless optimism inspired me to enter politics, famously said that he didn't leave the Democratic Party; the party left him. I can certainly relate. I didn't leave the Republican Party; it left me. Then again, as my friend Jeb Bush recently noted, Reagan himself would have been too moderate and too reasonable for today's GOP ...

I'll be honest with you, I don't agree with President Obama about everything. But I've gotten to know him, I've worked with him, and the choice is crystal clear. When he took office, the economic crisis had already put my state of Florida on the edge of disaster. The foreclosure crisis was consuming homeowners, the tourists we depend on couldn't afford to visit and our vital construction industry had come to a standstill. President Obama saw what I saw: a catastrophe in the making. And he took action.

One of his first trips in office brought him to Fort Myers, where I was proud to embrace him and his plan to keep our teachers, police and firefighters on the job. Well, that hug caused me more grief from my former party than you can ever imagine. But even as the Republican Party fought tooth and nail to stop him, this president showed his courage, invested in America – and saved Florida. Two years later, Florida and the Gulf Coast faced the worst environmental disaster in our nation's history, this time when a ruptured well spilled nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama came to our rescue again, leading a massive cleanup effort and demanding accountability from those responsible. He didn't see a red state or a blue state. He simply saw Americans who needed help. And I once again saw the leader our country needs ...

I look around Florida, and I see a state bursting with diversity and opportunity, a state that looks like America's future. When I look at the Republican ticket today, I see two candidates who would break the fundamental promise of Medicare and Social Security, and cut investments in our middle class which are so important to our economic recovery. And when I look at President Obama, I see a leader with a cool head, a caring heart and an open mind, a president who has demonstrated through his demeanor and through his deeds that he is uniquely qualified to heal our divisions, rebuild our nation and lead us to a brighter future together.

That's the leader Florida needs. That's the leader America needs. And that's the reason I'm here tonight, not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as an optimistic American who understands that we must come together behind the one man who can lead the way forward in these challenging times: my president, our president, Barack Obama! And if you see the president before I do, give him a hug for Charlie!



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