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Caputo reports: "The biggest Florida speaker at the Democratic National Convention wasn't a Democrat. Yet."

President Barack Obama and Florida Governor Charlie Crist are greeted by the crowd with a standing ovation during the town hall meeting held Tuesday, February 10, 2009, at Harborside Events Center in Fort Myers, Fla. (photo: Lexey Swall-Bobay)
President Barack Obama and Florida Governor Charlie Crist are greeted by the crowd with a standing ovation during the town hall meeting held Tuesday, February 10, 2009, at Harborside Events Center in Fort Myers, Fla. (photo: Lexey Swall-Bobay)

Former GOP Fla. Gov. Crist Says Romney, Ryan 'Aren't Up to the Task'

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

07 September


he biggest Florida speaker at the Democratic National Convention wasn't a Democrat.


After former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist's speech Thursday night, it's only a matter of time before he officially joins the party's ranks in a slow march to running for governor in two years.

Crist's high-profile role disturbed many Florida delegates, but it furthered President Obama's campaign message - that the Republican Party is too extreme.

"As a former lifelong Republican, it pains me to tell you that today's Republicans - and their standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan - just aren't up to the task," Crist said. "They're beholden to ‘my way or the highway' bullies, indebted to billionaires who bankroll ads and allergic to the very idea of compromise."

Crist's speech was as much a condemnation of today's Republican Party as it was an explanation of why he's officially moving toward the Democratic Party and away from the conservative positions he once espoused.

Republicans and many Democrats alike won't let Crist forget he campaigned for years as a pro-life, anti-gay marriage, gun-touting "Reagan Republican" and "Jeb Bush Republican." In 2010, in his unsuccessful Senate bid, he bashed Obama's agenda and ran as a "true conservative."

"Is he here, and in this for his principles?" asked Democratic delegate Bob Hartnett of Orlando. "I've got a long time to think about that. But there are many others in this party qualified to lead and be onstage representing our people."

Crist said Thursday that he was addressing the convention "not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as an optimist." Crist referred to Bush in his speech as "my friend" - a comment sure to irk conservatives as well as Bush, who has described Crist as an opportunist.

Crist ran as a conservative in his first statewide race in 1998, when he unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate. With Bush's help, Crist was elected education commissioner, attorney general and, in 2006, governor where he governed as a centrist.

"Half a century ago, Ronald Reagan, the man whose relentless optimism inspired me to enter politics, famously said that he didn't leave the Democratic Party; the party left him," Crist said. "I can certainly relate. I didn't leave the Republican Party; it left me."

But the timing of Crist's departure from the Republican Party suggests a colder political calculation. He officially left the party just before a candidate-qualifying deadline in the 2010 Senate race.

Crist was running against fellow Republican Marco Rubio, and Crist would have handily lost the GOP primary. So he left the GOP and ran as an independent, though he ultimately lost the general election.

Crist's undoing in the GOP: The infamous "hug," his decision to appear onstage with Obama in 2009 in Fort Myers, where he literally embraced the president and the $787 billion stimulus program.

"That hug caused me more grief from my former party than you can ever imagine," Crist said. "But even as the Republican Party fought tooth and nail to stop him, this president showed his courage, invested in America - and saved Florida."

Crist was the only Republican governor to break ranks with his party to talk up the stimulus, which every GOP governor and Legislature wound up using to patch holes in their budget.

As the primary race intensified, Crist then flip-flopped on the stimulus, alternately bashing it and talking it up depending on the day or the media outlet he was addressing. Crist released a radio ad that bashed Obama for spending. The Florida Democratic Party later released a TV spot that questioned Crist's authenticity.

Crist brushed aside those differences Thursday night.

"I'll be honest with you, I don't agree with President Obama about everything.," Crist said. "But I've gotten to know him, I've worked with him, and the choice is crystal clear."

Crist credited Obama with not only saving the economy in Florida, but for fighting to ensure that BP cleaned up the Gulf Coast after the oil spill. Crist said nothing Thursday about the president's Affordable Care Act, which Crist once described as scary.

Crist's role at the Democratic National Convention underscores the weakness of the party in Florida, where only Sen. Bill Nelson holds a statewide seat. The Legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state.

Democrats want a winner. They note that, as an independent, he garnered 1.6 million votes in 2010 to Rubio's 2.6 million. Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek came in third, with just over 1 million votes, the overwhelming majority of which would likely have gone to Crist had there not been a three-way race.

Meek won't rule out running for governor against Crist. Florida Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich, of Weston, is running. And former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink might want a rematch against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who narrowly beat her in 2010.

"If by some miracle Charlie Crist makes it out of the gauntlet of a Democratic primary even though he called himself a staunch conservative, he then has to run on his dismal record," said Scott's political advisor and pollster Tony Fabrizio, who ticked off the dismal economic indicators that unfolded on Crist's watch.

Former Miami Beach Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber recently penned a column welcoming Crist to the party, and he chuckled at Republicans painting the former governor out as a flip flopper.

"Just a week ago," Gelber said, "Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, a former pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-Reagan economic, self-described progressive who used to be concerned about global warming."

Crist steered clear of mentioning Romney's reversals, but he did echo the Democratic talking point that the Republicans "would break the fundamental promise of Medicare and Social Security" - a line of attack that could prove devastating in must-win Florida, a state with a disproportionate share of elderly residents.

Crist's speech was brief. Accustomed to having a fan at his side to keep cool, Crist didn't have the luxury on Thursday night and was on the cusp of breaking into a sweat on stage.

But he ended quickly and smoothly as he started to win the home crowd, noting "I used to play quarterback just down the road from here at Wake Forest University. My dad always told me, ‘Charlie, it takes a cool head to win a hot game.'"

Crist said Obama had the "cool head" the nation needs.

"That's the leader Florida needs. That's the leader America needs," he said, as the crowd rose to its feet. "And that's the reason I'm here tonight." your social media marketing partner


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+39 # pernsey 2012-09-07 20:10
Good, finally, a republican verifying what we already know. Dumb and Dumber are not by any means ready for the white house. The GOP can keep Nit Wit Mitt and Lyin Ryan!
+26 # Ralph Averill 2012-09-08 06:16
I agree with the sentiment, but referring to Romney/Ryan as being dumb is dangerous. They are both smart, crafty politicians, backed by an ocean of money and by people who have no moral scruples of any kind, who will attempt to destroy anything, or anyone, who gets in their way.
George W. Bush was "dumb" but he made it into the White House twice.
+13 # pernsey 2012-09-08 07:20
Yeah Ralph, they arent dumb when it comes to making tons of money, they are dumb when it comes to being actual human beings. They are not ready for the white house we know that, they could make it with the millions of dollars, pouring into their campaign, from the rich who will benefit greatly if they do get in. I also think they will do whatever the corporations want them to, and believe whatever they tell him to believe, to me that is also dumb.

Ralph I hear ya, I was just thinking along another line.
+14 # brux 2012-09-07 22:18
It's nice to know all Republicans are not completely thick-headed.
+6 # Regina 2012-09-07 23:06
Not so fast -- at this stage of his perhaps-evoluti on, Crist is ready only for let's-wait-and- see, not yet the investment of a major office as a "reformed Republican." The Democratic Party needs committed candidates -- we'll see in good time whether Crist is an honest new Democrat or just a sore-loser ex-Republican.
+8 # angelfish 2012-09-07 23:40
There IS a sensible RePublican left in this Country who's willing to tell the Truth! Hallelujah!
-20 # jimattrell 2012-09-08 07:37
He's finally found himself where he belongs. The Democrats held a wonderful nostalgic display of liberal past and capped it with a Bill Clinton "politico fact-chek" heavy-duty task for the month. To bad there was no mention of the latest six-year long liberal failures and little substance about the economic fiex-up plan.
+3 # reiverpacific 2012-09-08 20:00
Quoting jimattrell:
He's finally found himself where he belongs. The Democrats held a wonderful nostalgic display of liberal past and capped it with a Bill Clinton "politico fact-chek" heavy-duty task for the month. To bad there was no mention of the latest six-year long liberal failures and little substance about the economic fiex-up plan.

"There-You-Go-A gain" (remember that phrase?), spouting the only rhetoric you know.
Allow me to quote you from Bill Clinton's DNC address, en re' 'The Republicans are saying "We screwed things up so bad that Obama couldn't fix it already, so give it back to us to screw up again"' -or words to that general effect.
The really sad aspect of Reactionary rhetoric is that it's so predictable and tired -tiresome even, like their automatic pilot, tattered, dusty, get-'em-off- that-ol'-broken -shelf retrogressive policies without a hint of originality or populist context.
And B.T.W., I'm not a "Liberal" (another catch-all mindless term in so much clichéd use by the right); I'm a Small-Business SOCIALIST. I'd hate to hear y'r definition after tryin' to get y'r little mind around THAT!
+7 # Doctoretty 2012-09-08 07:38
As a Democrat, I can honestly say that Charlie was a pretty good Gov. He was still a Republican, but a reasonable one even then. In retrospect, I wish he had run for a second term as Gov. instead of deciding to run for Senate. To that extent, I blame him for the crook we got to run the state instead! If he does become a Dem., I'm sure he'll be one of the Blue Dogs rather than a Progressive.
+3 # Pancho 2012-09-09 07:19
Charlie can do arithmetic along with the best of them. He didn't have a prayer in the primary. Rick Scott was prepared to spend tens of millions of money he had stolen from Medicaid as the head of Healthcare Corporation of America and did in fact do that...$73 of his (our) own money in fact.

Meek knew he didn't have an icicle's chance in hell of winning the Senate election and could have dropped out. Disclosures of serious ethical problems emerged during the race, but still he hung in there.

The "R"s picked up Senate seats they shouldn't have in 2010, thanks to the ineptitude of the "D"s. Mark Kirk won in Illinois with a plurality thanks to a Green Party candidacy that shouldn't have gone anywhere.
+5 # dick 2012-09-08 07:45
Charlie Crisp needs to revive the tradition of fairly conservative Democrats in the South who did not aggressively oppose the national Party's positions, but offered political diversity within a large tent. But I'd like to see him do some serious work in the Democratic fields before supporting him AGAINST fellow Democratic office seekers. This Fall should be a good test.
+3 # rjmcca22 2012-09-08 10:38
And if Obama had supported Christ's independent Senate campaign, as he did for Joe Leiberman, maybe Christ and not Rubio would be the Senator from Florida. And we would have had a better healthcare law. Obama would have had one more vote in the Senate. Instead, the Democrats gave all of their support to Meek in Florida, who was not even competitive. This allowed Rubio to split the progressive votes. It worked in Connecticut where the national Democratic Party failed to go all in for Ned Lamont. By withholding Party support, Lieberman was also able to win a split decision. With every vote in the Senate being so critical in 2010, the result was the Republicans were able to filibuster everything because they could count on Rubio and could use Lieberman to water down Democratic proposals.
+1 # ABen 2012-09-09 10:46
As a committed Liberal/Progres sive, hearing Charlie Crist's indictment of the current Teabagger version of the GOP was refreshing. Like so many other moderate Repubs who have been purged or marginalized by the GOP (Snow, Collins, Lugar, and Chafee to name a few), Crist is unwilling to go along with a party agenda that is extreme, anti-personal freedom, and regressive. Our legislative process and our nation will benefit from once again having a GOP of rational conservatives.

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