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Finding Crist: the auspicious beginnings of Charlie Crist’s controversial candidacy

Former Florida governor launches campaign to be re-elected, this time as a Democrat

Photo: Photos by Billy Manes, License: N/A

Photos by Billy Manes

Photo: , License: N/A


But what is Crist’s substance these days?

“Do you think I can get a sitdown with Charlie to hash this all out before his announcement?” I ask Poe about a week before the projected Nov. 4 event.

He says yes, directing my request through existing consultant channels remaining from Obama’s 2012 Florida campaign, Kevin Cate and Steve Schale. I shoot an email to John Morgan to be safe, and he agrees to put in a good word. Finally, I write an email to the address on Charlie’s card: “Any chance for a proper phoner or a sitdown? Thanks.”

Nothing happens.

There’s more to finding Charlie Crist than standing next to him in a room. While some of the state’s Democrats are already voicing support for the former Republican – “He’s evolved” and “People change” are popular refrains in certain circles – others aren’t so quick to forgive. Crist still has a lot to answer for in a state where progressives have held constant vigil against the last three years of Tea Party-style governance from Gov. Rick Scott (the now-nascent Pink Slip Rick movement from liberal group Florida Watch Action comes to mind). There’s a real fear that this seemingly inevitable race toward the middle – and backward – for the party, by way of utilizing one of its most famous foes, will drive down the motivation and mobilization that led to President Obama’s 2012 victory, along with some notable down-ticket legislative gains. In short, Crist has a trust problem among the more ardent of the liberal base.

“I think the power brokers and consultants came up with this idea and too many Democrats have bought into the idea that Crist is the only person who can win,” Florida Democratic Party Progressive Caucus president Susan Smith says, communicating via Internet from her European vacation. “You won’t have passion and buy-in from many in the grassroots. You don’t motivate volunteers with the lesser of two evils. You motivate volunteers by giving them something positive to vote for.”

Crist has worked on his positive side. He went full Dem in his defense of President Obama at the Democratic National Convention last September, likely hoping that the high-profile move would jump-start his rebranding. The lead-in to his announcement has consisted of some sad-faced groveling – “Tell me what I can do to help,” he pleaded on his first YouTube campaign teaser released in late October – but is his humility even genuine?

“I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe,” Smith, who supports the Rich campaign, says. “If someone had said to all of these Dems two years ago that Crist would soon be crowned their party leader, they would have been gobsmacked. How can anyone take his statements or positions seriously?”

And there’s more to politics than positions. Crist has a series of political and financial loose ends that will likely be exploited by the Republican Party as the campaign rolls along. Three noted Crist donors faced federal probes for fraud as Crist mounted his campaign against Marco Rubio in 2009, though Crist backed away from the scandals at the time by saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong,” according to political website Talking Points Memo. Crist’s footing was even more directly challenged when former Republican Party of Florida chair Jim Greer was threatening to spill the beans on his former boss and best friend earlier this year over alleged campaign finance fraud; Greer eventually took a plea, though his depositions are still out there. Crist was once considered a front-runner to be John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate in the 2008 presidential race, but he lost out to Alaskan governor Sarah Palin. It’s a messy rap sheet to gloss over with a humble face.

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