Schultz commentary: Charlie Crist as a Democrat for governor? Great Scott!

In addition to all the big election winners in Florida who are Democrats, there might be another who doesn’t belong to any party — but might soon: Charlie Crist.

Two days before the election, an Obama rally at a high school football stadium in Broward County drew a reported 23,000 people. One of the warm-up acts was Mr. Crist, last seen in 2010 running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent, his move from the Governor’s Mansion to Washington blocked by tea party Republicans.

Apparently bored with shilling for a personal injury law firm after losing to Marco Rubio, Mr. Crist recast himself as a disillusioned Republican and joined the Obama team. At that Broward rally, Mr. Crist was the last speaker before the main attraction, warming up the crowd by declaring, “I love Barack Obama!” Shades of the February 2009 hug in Fort Myers that then-Gov. Crist gave the newly elected president.

Almost nothing in politics happens by accident. Mr. Crist was all over the state this year at Obama rallies. Predictions can have the shelf life of fortune-cookie aphorisms, but mine is that Mr. Crist will run as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. Yes, Mr. Crist’s wife famously dislikes Florida, and he might have been trolling for a job in Washington. But how appropriate, given his waddaya-want-me-to-be-today? attitude that Charlie Crist might pull off the biggest political flip-flop in Florida history.

After all, who else might the Democrats run against the governor they so want to beat? Alex Sink? The former chief financial officer lost by just 61,550 votes to Gov. Scott in 2010, after the governor had spent $70 million of his own money. Why not a second try?

Here’s one reason: Ms. Sink is half the answer to this trivia question: Which husband and wife both have lost running for governor of Florida? Bill McBride lost to Jeb Bush in 2002. In Mr. McBride’s campaign and her own, Ms. Sink came up way short in empathy with the voters. If the Democratic nomination is a personality contest between Ms. Sink and Charlie Crist, advantage Mr. Crist.

There’s U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, from the politically strategic city of Tampa, but she could be reluctant to give up a safe seat. State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, has announced that she intends to run. For all her capability as a state legislator, she will start with much less name recognition than Mr. Crist.

You can see the temptation to challenge the governor. Just after taking office, Gov. Scott laid down draconian restrictions on felons regaining their civil rights. That angered African-Americans. This year, his clumsy attempt to purge “non-citizens” from the voting rolls angered Latinos. In his 2010 primary, Gov. Scott’s ads scorched then-Attorney General Bill McCollum for not advocating an Arizona-style immigration law for Florida.

The governor refused all federal money associated with the federal health law except $2.5 million for an abstinence-only sex education program. That annoys many female voters. He’s bumbled around unhelpfully in higher education, which younger Floridians don’t like.

So when it comes to the Obama coalition that just won Florida, Gov. Scott is 0-for-4. Still, Mr. Crist would have to ask Democrats to forget a lot.

Democrats would have to forget, for example, that then-state Sen. Crist staged hearings in 1995 to accuse Gov./Democratic icon Lawton Chiles of using illegal “push polls” against Jeb Bush in 1994. Democrats would have to forget that in 1998 Mr. Crist railed against the tobacco lawsuit that was one of Mr. Chiles’ triumphs. Mr. Crist forgot that earlier opposition himself. As governor he raided the tobacco settlement trust fund to balance the budget.

Democrats would have to forget that before he joined the Obama reelection road show, Mr. Crist was “as conservative as you can get.” He adopted the slogan of his supposed mentor, former Republican Sen. Connie Mack, who called for “less taxes, less spending, less government, more freedom.” Democrats would have to forget that Mr. Crist called Jeb Bush “Florida’s greatest governor.”

Of course, Mr. Crist could remind Democrats that in 2006 he blew off President George W. Bush, who was campaigning for Republicans in Pensacola. He could remind Democrats that his first act as governor was a property insurance bill designed to cut rates, whereas Gov. Scott wanted rates to be unregulated. He could remind Democrats that he vetoed the first teacher merit-pay bill, legislation teachers detested. Who cares if that was the Charlie Crist who was seeking support for that independent Senate run?

Indeed, maybe a Crist-Scott matchup makes sense. The current governor is trying to remake himself into a fan of education despite cutting $1.3 billion from public school his first year, signing only a slightly less-bad teacher merit-pay bill, and cutting $300 million from universities this year. The big winner could be the candidate whose voters have the shortest memories.

Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

X