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Charlie Crist, a storm force in Florida politics and political weathervane

Tropical Storm Isaac had just delayed the Republican National Convention when a new menace hit the GOP: Hurricane Charlie Crist.

The former Republican and former governor waited until the Sunday before the Tampa convention to pen an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times that officially cast his lot with President Obama.

It was yet another sign that Crist – now an independent – is expected to join the Democratic Party. It also positions him for a speaking slot at the Democrats’ convention next week as well as a run for his old seat against Republican Gov. Rick Scott in two years.

But Crist also carries baggage that could weigh down the power of his endorsement as well as his future political ambitions. Republicans quickly howled that Crist is a “crass political opportunist” and isn’t so much a storm threat as a gust of hot air

Indeed, Crist was a storm force in Florida politics. But he’s also a political weathervane.

Right now, though, the op-ed is clearly a coup for the Obama campaign. Democrats can crow that Crist’s support is a bellwether of independent-minded voters in Florida and a repudiation of today’s Republicanism.

“Across Florida, in Washington and around the country, I've watched the failure of those who favor extreme rhetoric over sensible compromise,” Crist wrote, “and I've seen how those who never lose sight of solutions sow the greatest successes.”

Yet Crist is a flawed messenger when it comes to talking about achievements.

His term as governor from 2007 to 2011 was characterized by the worst recession since the Great Depression and an inability to square his self-described optimism with the pain of everyday Floridians.

Crist’s health-insurance plan failed to expand affordable healthcare. His tax-cut plans failed to boost the economy. People lost their homes and jobs in droves. He proposed a public-works building program that busted before it turned dirt.

Amid rampant job loss, Crist couldn’t articulate any concrete plans to boost employment. Instead, he visited unemployment centers and talked about job losses. He advocated for President Obama’s stimulus package and unemployment benefits, but the hope of turning the economy around faded.

What’s more, Crist had a schedule that sometimes appeared light on governing and heavy on time off, politicking or travelling. He took an average of 10 weeks off a year.

Then, when a safe-looking U.S. Senate seat came open in 2010, he preferred to leave the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee for a seat in Washington.

But the bad economy and Crist’s literal embrace of Obama and the stimulus cost him. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio started beating Crist so badly in the Republican primary that Crist left the GOP after repeatedly saying he wouldn’t. He lost in the general election.

Crist’s hand-picked Republican Party of Florida Chairman, Jim Greer, had tried to help Crist’s Senate campaign but was later charged with fraud. Greer says he’s not guilty, was set up by Rubio-loving Republicans and was abandoned by Crist.

Crist will now say the party left him, that he didn’t leave the party. But it only happened when an election was on the line. And it proved that a third-party candidate can’t win statewide in Florida.

Now, another election in 2014 looms and Crist could make his third party switch – from Republican to independent to Democrat.

His political evolution has been gradual. Crist last month penned a Washington Post editorial bashing Gov. Scott’s handling of voting rights, and he has helped and endorsed a handful of Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson.

But Crist’s potential bid as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate won’t be easy. State Sen. Nan Rich, a liberal Democrat from Weston, is running. Former candidate and state CFO Alex Sink might as well. They’ll note all the conservative positions Crist once had before he jettisoned them.

Crist, however, could prove popular with black and Jewish voters for his liberal record when it came to voting rights, hurricane insurance, schools and downplaying social conservatism. After calling himself pro-life for years, Crist vetoed an abortion-related sonogram bill.

Crist’s precipitous fall in 2010 was a shock. He was one of Florida’s most popular politicians, a force of political nature who had been on five of the last seven ballots. He has won statewide election three times as a Republican.

Now he’s raining on the very convention he helped bring to his home base of Tampa Bay just when the GOP had to cancel its Monday events due to the threat of Isaac.

Republicans are telling the party faithful to remind voters and the media that Crist once ran as clone of former Gov. Jeb Bush and President Reagan. Republicans also unearthed Crist's old Tweets from 2010, when he was running as an Obamacare-bashing Republican.

“I’ve said it time and again,” former GOP spokesman Brian Hughes said in an email, “he is the silly putty of Florida politics, he’ll bend whatever direction you want and if you smash him against the newspaper he’ll offer you a poll-tested, mirror version.”

But the Republican Party has its own flip-floppery to reconcile with. When Crist was a Republican, the party once praised his handling of the economy and criticized reporters for noting all the struggles that happened on Crist’s watch.

At the same, Democrats like former party spokesman Eric Jotkoff bashed Crist just before the August 2008 RNC for “his $250,000 junket to Europe touring Buckingham Palace and sipping lattes at cafes across Paris as Florida economy tanked.”

Jotkoff is now a spokesman for Obama’s campaign, which selected Crist to write the Tampa Bay Times op-ed that was paired with a column penned by Republican Mitt Romney.

Now Democrats love Crist and Republicans don’t.

The amnesia and intellectual contortions by the parties and Crist over his record is notable because it’s so typical in a political environment that’s like the weather in Florida.

If you don’t like what the political parties and politicians are saying, stick around. It’ll change or blow over.

Comments

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PEter Schorsch

The courage - and danger - of Charlie Crist's endorsement of Barack Obama

bit.ly/OfhTEA

Maxwell

Crist is not an Independent, he's an opportunist.

Crist placed "his guy" Greer as head of the Florida Republican Party and his nightmare began, when Greer attempted to steer the FRP to support Crist for Senate and the majority wanted Rubio, Charlies game was over.

He then tried to make a deal with Democrats for his Senate run, even visiting Obama on vacation at Martha's vineyard to talk a deal, the Crist campaign and Florida press ignored the trip, Crist told locals he was in town for a "fundraiser" though no one could confirm where and with who, was obviously a visit to Obama.

After some Florida Democrats resisted any deal, Clinton was brought in soothe backlash and publicly support Meek, leaving Charlie Crist to either drop-out or run as an Independent.

Charlie was Never an Independent, he's the epitome of an opportunist.

 Barack will lose in a landslide


Charlie who? Is he still around? Who cares what he thinks?

Kathy

Again..........Charlie who??? Sour grapes

BLACKCREEK

CHARLIE CRIST YOU ARE A TURN COAT LIKE ARRON BURR
YOU ARE NOT A CONSERVATIVE OR A LIBERAL YOU GO WITH THE FLOW TO TRY TO SLIDE INTO A POSITION OF POWER. HOW DARE YOU. I HAVE LOST ALL RESPECT FOR YOU AND WILL NEVER VOTE FOR SUCH A WIMP AGAIN. CONSERVATIVE IN FL.

White creek

Charlie has seen the light. He has left the dark side.

Phillip Avon St. Cyr

Hah! Too funny! Republicans are lining up to crucify Crist as they enshrine his twin, Mitt Romney. There couldn't be more undeniable evidence of Republicans' dishonesty: All they want to do is beat the black guy. If they have to despise one flip-flopper while hypocritically supporting another, so be it.

The most dishonest group of politicians in history. Oh, there've been individuals who were as dishonest, but for a whole party to be--AND constantly proclaim themselves to honor the country's "Judeo-Christian" foundation????

Hypocrits who will get their comeuppence.

Suzette

So, a person who thinks for himself instead of blindly following one party or another is not good enough? I think, FINALLY - someone who thinks outside the box. Come on, everyone one in politics is an opportunist, nothing new. I'm a Republican, but I'm looking for people who aren't lemmings but who follow their own beliefs. I'm certain he gave it a lot of thought for a long time. Way to go, Charlie!

Algeria Touchshriek

GOP shills will predictably bash Crist's decision, despite the whole of Florida agreeing the four years under Crist were far better than the Scott era has been thus far. Despite what they claim, Crist is more popular among independents than either Obama or Romney -- this is not good news for the Romney camp.

BTW, Crist didn't leave the party. The party jumped the shark and left him.

whasup

“Across Florida, in Washington and around the country, I've watched the failure of those who favor extreme rhetoric over sensible compromise,” Crist wrote, “and I've seen how those who never lose sight of solutions sow the greatest successes.”

There is simply no way a man who says this could honestly run as a Democrat, rather than an independent.

What's clear is that Shucking Chuckles loves power and the spotlight. Rather than stick around for a second term as Governor...

and have to make tough budget cuts, that would hurt his popularity, Chuckles shucked the job and ran for higher office. He fled the Governor's office when it was time to actually govern in the bad economy.

BTW, Charlie did not prove that an independent can win state office in Florida. All he proved that a former partisan, turned faux independent can not win as an indy.

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