Charlie Crist Sets up as the Dems' 2014 Paper Tiger
Around the State
When Charlie Crist was invited to take one of the coveted speaker spots at the Democratic National Convention, it was clear that at some point Democratic leaders lifted the flaps on their tent so Florida's 44th governor could squeeze under.
Even though Crist remains in his own Republican-turned-independent land of limbo.
The move led by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, has come at the consternation of a number of party members and drawn rebukes from others who have already declared or are considering runs for the governor’s mansion in 2014. That is the path most political insiders in Tallahassee anticipate Crist will take once he firmly attaches the large "D" to his name.
This is something the Republican Party of Florida is fixated upon. It consumed a great deal of time for Republicans as they gathered daily for breakfast during their own national convention at the end of August in Tampa.
But, while polls indicate Crist would provide a more-than-serious challenge to Gov. Rick Scott in two years, there are "down poll" indicators that reflect Crist may be a paper tiger who won’t be fully welcome; something that should have been evident to those who watched his tepid reception and speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C.
"It's way too early for any coronation of Charlie Crist as the Democratic Party's nominee to challenge Rick Scott in 2014," said University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith.
"Hard-core Democrats have not fallen in love with Crist, notwithstanding President Obama's willingness to once again embrace the former Republican."
The left-leaning Public Policy Polling put Crist slightly ahead of Scott on the eve of his convention speech, with 45 percent to 42 percent among polled likely voters. Down page in the poll, the same likely voters also would have given any unnamed Democratic candidate the exact same margin of victory over Scott.
More importantly, Crist’s popularity sits at 36 percent, 5 percentage points lower than the favorable job performance mark that Gov. Rick Scott received in the same poll.
“Charlie Crist isn’t a particularly popular figure in Florida anymore,” Public Policy Polling stated. “After his endorsement of President Obama, only 36 percent of the voters in the state now have a positive opinion of him to 44 percent with a negative one.”
A big part of Crist’s high numbers in head-to-head match-ups may simply be name recognition, especially when put up against mostly candidates who are unknown outside their region.
“It probably is a bit early to put too much faith in any numbers about the gubernatorial race when so few are paying attention to it. Especially when some of the potential candidates have so little name recognition across the state,” said Kevin Wagner, associate professor of political science and the director of the Jack Miller Forum at Florida Atlantic University.
“The Democratic bench in Florida is not deep, but they are buoyed by Scott's consistently low approval ratings. Crist is a possibility, but he certainly is not the only one and it is still unclear if he could win a statewide Democratic primary when people are attuned to the race rather than just reacting to names that they know.”
Two weeks ago, St. Pete Poll gave Crist 60.9 percent of a hypothetical primary match-up against Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, state Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, and Rod Smith the Alachua attorney who was Sink‘s running mate.
But none of this has stopped the Democrats from using Crist to campaign for President Obama across Florida.
Or Republicans from volleying verbal shot after shot at their former party standard bearer who claims the party left him, rather than voters abandoning him for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, in the 2010 Senate contest.
During the GOP convention in late August, there was:
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s critique of Crist: “He’s so desperate to be in somebody’s parade, he’ll wear any costume to get there.”
Former RPOF Chair Carole Jean Jordan: “He wasn’t a Jeb Bush Republican. He was way to the left in his governing. He wasn’t way to the left in his message when he ran. He wanted to be a Jeb Bush Republican. But he wasn’t.”
Or former Gov. Jeb Bush: “You can’t make up Charlie Crist.”
On Tuesday, the RPOF kept up its barrage aimed at Crist as they slammed an ad running in Orlando for President Obama that touts the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
"The president's new campaign ad in Florida is just more bad news for Charlie Crist. Crist has been busy over the past few weeks trying to make Floridians forget about his long history as a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax Reagan Republican, but this ad serves as another reminder that he and Obama don't share a single core belief," RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry stated in a release.
"Hugs and empty rhetoric can't change that simple fact. With each passing day it seems to become even more clear that Crist's support of Obama is nothing more than a political stunt to help further his own ambitions."
RPOF Press Secretary Kristen McDonald said the intent of the state party is to continually remind people of who Crist was while a Republican -- pro-gun, anti-tax, pro-life -- as he campaigns for Obama and plans for his next political steps.
“It’s not about a particular election or campaign at this point; he’s trying to remake himself and we just want Floridians to know who he really is,” McDonald said. “This is just a political stunt so he can further his own political ambition and we don’t want people to be fooled by that.”
Why, then, do so many high-profile national Democrats like Charlie Crist at their candidate photo shoots?
"I think they remember him as a very popular governor during three of his four years," said Pamela Cary Easton, a Washington Democratic strategist. "Plus, every time he stands on a stage and praises Barack Obama, he is driving the Republicans crazy. That is a very attractive feature for any Democratic candidate to take on tour."
For his part, Crist has repeatedly said he doesn't think he'll challenge Scott because he's "enjoying the private sector very much."
Said McDonald, “At this point there is just no telling with Charlie Crist.”
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.