Former Fla. Governor Charlie Crist Is Running For His Old Job, As A Democrat
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- As Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat and former Florida governor, sat outside his waterfront condominium here in his hometown recently, the "Go, Charlie" shout-outs never let up.
A Lincoln Town Car pulled up and Mr. Crist leaned in and shook hands, doing what he does best. "Hey bro, what's happening?" the driver asked. "I'm good, man," Mr. Crist replied. When a Duke Energy worker recognized Mr. Crist, the former governor gave him an earful about solar energy. "You got my vote, buddy," the man said. "There's our next governor right here."
Whether Mr. Crist, a man who sprinted from Republican to independent to Democrat in three years, can wrest the governorship away from Rick Scott is anybody's guess. But on Friday he filed his paperwork to run for governor. And on Monday, with the enthusiastic backing of most leading Democrats, Mr. Crist, 57, is expected to formally announce his intention to reclaim the governor's office in 2014.
Mr. Crist's announcement is all but certain to kick off one of next year's most expensive, contentious and rancorous governor's races, pitting betrayed Republicans out for revenge against hopeful Democrats out for redemption.
In an interview last week, Mr. Crist, who governed as a centrist from 2007 to 2011 before leaving after his unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate, said Floridians were "heartbroken" over issues like education, the environment, voter rights and Medicaid funding.
"I know we can right the wrongs," said Mr. Crist, with his trademark tan and easygoing style. "I know it can be done. I know it in my heart. I know Floridians want it. They are very hopeful for a bright future. And I believe it's coming."
But, he said, he has no doubt about the intensity of the brawl that lies ahead: Governor Scott, a Republican and a multimillionaire, is expected to counter Mr. Crist's charm offensive by focusing on claims that he helped turn around the Florida economy and raising a record $100 million to protect his job, a sum that he will begin spending on Monday when the first attack ads are scheduled to air.
"It's kind of a daunting task to face," said Mr. Crist, explaining why it has taken so long to come to a decision on the race. "It's kind of like looking at a $100 million meat grinder, face first."
Much of that money will be spent trying to portray Mr. Crist as an opportunist, a man willing to switch parties and positions on issues to suit his political ambition. Mr. Crist, as governor, fled the Republican Party in 2010 to become an independent after it was clear he would not win the Senate primary against Marco Rubio. Last year, he became a Democrat.
The Republican Party of Florida did not wait for Mr. Crist to join the fray. It began its assault weeks ago, highlighting his shift over the years on issues like gay rights and Obamacare. To that end, it opened up a Tumblr account and a Twitter feed titled "This day in Crist-ory."
"Charlie had more positions than a gymnast," said Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant who once worked for Mr. Crist. "He will tell Democrats what they need to hear, and he will tell Republicans what they need to hear."
But, Mr. Wilson added, Mr. Crist has "peerless skills in the actual game of politics," which makes him a formidable candidate.
The campaign, one in which former foes are now friends and former friends are now flamethrowers, promises to be anything but dull. It comes ready-made with a history of slights and grievances on both sides toward both candidates.
And it undoubtedly will offer up a vivid contrast in personalities: one man a centrist and inveterate crowd-pleaser who sidesteps dogma; the other a Tea Party conservative, a shy executive who prefers to steer clear of prying eyes and cameras.
Mr. Crist also will face an already-declared candidate, Nan Rich, a former State Senate Democratic leader who reminds voters at every turn that she is a "lifelong Democrat." But, after months of campaigning, Ms. Rich's candidacy has not gained much traction.
For most Florida Democrats, any misgivings they may have had about Mr. Crist evaporated in a burst of pragmatism. Once Mr. Crist joined the party, he quickly became the most viable candidate to take on Mr. Scott and the conservative wing.