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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

Moreover, if Crist wanted to be governor of Florida so badly, why didn’t he run for re-election in 2010, rather than parlaying the apparent opportunism of a Senate bid? In that sense, Crist created his own opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, and opened the door for the Tea Party lurch to the right of the 2010 elections. He made this mess.

These are some of the questions I’m hoping to broach with Crist in an interview. How can Democrats trust you? Was there a moment of sincere change? What is the compelling issue that gets you out of bed in the morning, beyond just “the people” or the middle class?

“So, if you had to draw odds on me getting any phone time with Charlie, how much would you bet?” I shoot a message to Poe, two days after my initial request.

“At this point, I wouldn’t. Everyone is trying to get to him,” Poe responds. “It’s totally out of my realm, but I’ll give it another push.”

Nothing happens.

On Friday, Nov. 1, Crist pulls a surprise move Oand files with the state Division of Elections to run for governor as a Democrat three days before his scheduled “Special Announcement and Rally” in St. Petersburg. Republicans leap for the news cycle and reiterate their promise to blow millions to take aim at Crist’s character straight out of the gate with ad buys. I book a hotel in St. Pete near the rally for Sunday night in hope of some kind of last-ditch interview coup.

A surprise text comes in from Bob Poe Sunday evening. “We are at the Vinoy,” it reads, speaking of a classier hotel up the road. “Getting ready to go out for a walk if you want to meet up.”

This is my chance! Except it isn’t. Poe meets me at an outdoor café along St. Pete Bay’s Beach Avenue with his partner Ken in tow. Newly hired fundraising consultant Jessica Clark, also from the Florida Obama operation, joins us shortly after. Poe is now officially chair of Crist’s independent (and therefore unlimited) fundraising committee, “Charlie Crist for Florida,” and has now taken to teasing me about getting an interview with Crist, though he still hasn’t counted me out completely.

Poe recalls having difficulty running against Crist’s general likability when he was chairing the Florida Democratic Party. His conversion to working for Crist is one mostly borne of practicality. The Legislature won’t go blue until at least the next redistricting cycle in eight years. “I worked my way back from there,” he says. “The governor has the ability to put his thumb on the scale with the Legislature when it comes to redistricting and to make sure that they do what they’re supposed to do. This is the only way for the state to be more reflective of the population.”

As for the dissension in the Democratic ranks, Poe calls it “disappointing.”

“Democrats get into primaries. There are a lot of times that you have to support candidates that you opposed initially,” he says. “If there are two Democrats in a primary, and one wins, you get on the team.”

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