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Who is Charlie Crist? The politician who is what you want him to be

In an extended profile on Charlie Crist, the Tampa Bay Times asks the question: "Who is Charlie Crist." The answer is complicated. Find it here. 

Some excerpts:

"If politics is a series of interactions that ultimately are transactions, means to an end — give me your money, give me your vote — then Crist, say people who like him, and also people who don't, has an undeniable gift. He can walk into a room filled with mostly strangers, and when he leaves, even if it's just an hour later, everybody feels as if they know him. Feels as if he knows them. Feels good. He makes politics look easy.

"It's all the more remarkable because little else about Crist suggests a logical winner...


"But who is Charlie Crist?

"Charming or scheming? Focused or distracted? Disciplined or reckless? A lover of people or a user of people? Uncommon empath or unrelenting opportunist?

"The answer to all: Yes.

"A "vessel," Crist called himself last month. It's unwittingly introspective, an apt description, more true than he even intends. A vessel is empty until it's not. Who do you want him to be? What do you want him to do? He's a devoted listener. Fill him up."


"'He almost wasn't like a normal high school kid," Crayton Pruitt said, suggesting Crist was strategic about "wanting to be with the right people." He went to the right parties...


"The failure of his first marriage did more than make Crist sad and his sisters scared. It made him, his father thinks, more reluctant to make that level of commitment again...


"It wasn't just the natty clothes, superhuman politeness and game-show-host good looks. It wasn't a keen mind for policy debates; he avoided those when he could. In a state capital packed with oversized egos, Crist was known for his deferential, borderline obsequious manner. But what really set him apart was his innate grasp for what mattered to average Floridians — coupled with uncanny media instincts."


"I have heard that you were gay, sir, and I wanted to know if that was true."

This was Jan. 14, 2005, at a Tiger Bay luncheon in a ballroom at the Wyndham Harbour Island hotel in Tampa. The questioner was a woman named Lee DeCesare, a Democrat from Madeira Beach and a former community college English professor. People fell silent waiting for Crist's answer...


"Crist stood in January 2007 in front of the old Capitol in Tallahassee for his inauguration. "We will work together to do what is right," he promised.

"Earlier that day, at a prayer breakfast, Crist was mobbed by well-wishers — including, from St. Petersburg, Kara Tucker. Today, she's 25, a lawyer living in Miami who along with her adoptive family still suspects Crist is her biological father. She didn't want to comment for this story... 


"We talked to more than a dozen people who worked under Crist in the governor's office, and they say that Crist, the nicest man you'll ever meet, behind the scenes is frequently icy and dismissive. No one would speak publicly about that side of Crist, mindful he could be elected in November. But their anecdotes are strikingly consistent...


"The thing that changed Crist the most, according to members of his inner circle — personally, definitely, but also politically — was the evening in September 2007 when he met the woman who would become his second wife. Crist sashayed into Campagnola, an Italian restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side, for a late fundraising dinner... 


...He leaves in his wake this genial mist. You practically have to remind yourself of the actual contents of the conversation."