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Crist works a crowd of North Florida Democrats

He says he's not a candidate for governor -- not yet anyway. But Charlie Crist sure looked like one Friday.

"I'm seriously considering it," Crist said. "I just think Florida needs to be on a better track, and I think she will be."

In  his quest to discover how receptive grass-roots Democrats are to him, the former governor worked a crowd of several hundred Democrats in Tallahassee, one of the state's most reliably liberal areas. The occasion was a wild game dinner hosted by Jackie Pons, the elected Leon County school superintendent and long-time friend of Crist's.

Pons, a popular former high school basketball coach, had organized a rally on the day Crist infuriated many Republicans in 2010 by vetoing a controversial bill that would have tied teacher pay to student test
scores. Crist also was a featured speaker at a well-attended 2011 Pons fund-raiser in the superintendent's last race.

Crist brushed off a reporter's query about being a target-rich candidate who will be hammered with hard-hitting ads over his past flip-flops, his evolution from Republican to independent to Democrat, and his record as governor. "You're way ahead of me," Crist said. At a photographer's prompting, he gleefully took out his wallet and displayed a Democratic voter registration card. "Here it is," he said. "I'm very proud of that."

The consummate retail politician, Crist thoroughly worked a room filled with educators and posed for dozens of pictures. Among the faces in the crowd: former Sen. Al Lawson, former Rep. Curtis Richardson, lobbyists Fred Dickinson, Ron Meyer, Juhan Mixon and Steve Uhlfelder, businessman David Rancourt, lawyer Mark Logan. Most who were there were showing support for Pons, who led a successful campaign to renew a half-penny sales tax for schools last fall; Crist's appearance caught many by surprise.

Accompanying Crist in the role of travel aide was his friend Greg Truax of Tampa. It was Crist's third recent appearance at Democratic grass-roots events; the others were in Bradenton and Fort Myers.

"You have no idea how comfortable it is to be a Democrat," Crist said.

-- Steve Bousquet