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Monday, August 27, 2012

Making Sense of Charlie Crist

So often, politicians put on a good face when voters speak loudly, toss some platitudes and then go about just ignoring the people. For much of his political life, former Gov. Charlie Crist has been a master at this. But I take notice that the man who threw such a cog in the 2010 elections nationwide is going about things a different way as he braces for an inevitable run in 2014.

The first major step came earlier this month when he threw his support behind Bill Nelson in the Senate race. This is the sort of race where if Crist was still a sitting Republican governor, he would have had the choice either of backing Connie Mack's losing Senate bid or simply staying out of the race completely, tacitly endorsing Nelson as he did so. Now that Crist is out of politics, he could still go ahead and endorse Nelson because he worked closely with the senator, and not risk much with his Republican supporters of yore.

But the stakes went up significantly this weekend when Crist wrote an Op-Ed in the Tampa Bay Times backing President Obama. Everyone interested in Florida politics really needs to read the whole thing on the link, but here is an excerpt:

As Republicans gather in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney, Americans can expect to hear tales of how President Obama has failed to work with their party or turn the economy around.
But an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they've proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.
The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.
In the short term, of course, the hope is that this will help Obama win over swing voters as Mitt Romney tries to paint Obama as some type of socialist extremist. But the obvious question on the minds of most political observers is what this truly means for Crist's future.
The broad speculation for months has been that Crist will attempt a return to the governor's mansion in 2014, challenging the utterly unlikable and eminently unpopular Rick Scott, and doing so as a Democrat. He could beat Scott, of course, but based on polls from pretty much the day Scott took office up until now, most any Democrat would have a good shot. That is the ultimate upswing to having a disaster in Republican politics hold the governorship.
The question becomes then, why should Democrats nominate Crist? As a constant and vocal critic of Crist and his craven history of political gamesmanship, that certainly is an important question for me.
But as I blogged in May, there is always room for rethinking one's own position on a candidate. Let me excerpt my own post just to hold myself accountable to what I said:
We would do our own ranks a severe disservice by dismissing their candidacies based solely on Crist's celebrity status. But if Crist made the switch to Democrat now, if he spent the next two years fighting for Barack Obama to win Florida, for Democrats to take more seats in the state Legislature, to rebuild a party which has been in tatters for a decade and a half, then Democrats should consider forgiving Crist of his past sins. But he shouldn't get a pass to the big race. He needs to prove he cares more about a set of public principles than his own ambitions. The good news is there is still time to do it.
I don't pretend this blog is highly influential, but I do know that post I wrote was emailed hundreds of times, more often than anything ever written on these pages. If this short checklist of things to do ever made it in front on Charlie Crist, I must acknowledge that in just a few weeks, he has made some significant progress.
If Bill Nelson stays in the Senate and if Barack Obama wins Florida, Charlie Crist will be able to claim some credit. I want to see him do some real work on the trail, but writing this enormous Op-Ed just as the GOP convention gets underway definitely counts. It also sounds like he will be the most high-profile ex-Republican official to speak in Charlotte at the Democratic National Convention this year. Frankly, it sounds like Charlie Crist is well on his way to achieving those accomplishments which I said he must before he deserved the accolades of anyone on the left?
Can he help us win back some legislative seats? Can he get us a couple Congressional seats this year? I at least would like him to try. Has he yet shown a commitment to a set of principles important to the left? I guess that's what got him in trouble with the Marco Rubio crowd to begin with. 
I recommend he change his registration to Democrat sooner than later if he really plans to run in 2014. My guess is he may do this in high-profile fashion at the DNC this year.
Of course, there will be a primary for governor, and I would like to see who really throws their hat in the ring before hinting a handicap on this race, much less considering an endorsement. Proving he is a good Democrat still doesn't mean Alex Sink or Nan Rich should set their own ambitions aside. It is also noteworthy that other offices, including every Congressional seat in Tampa Bay, will be up in 2014 and Crist may see greater appeal in a different job than governor. He did forgo a run at re-election two years ago in favor of seeking a Senate seat.
But is Charlie Crist in fact worthy of consideration for a Democratic nomination for high office? Based on his invaluable contributions of personality to our cause this year, I have to say, inevitably and undeniably, that the answer is yes.

1 comment:

  1. I agree....not only is Christ doing a service for our state and for the Democratic party, but he also is proving the point that there is no place for a centrist in the Republican party. I think he is vying for a run and I do hope he is able to rebuild the Democratic party in Florida.