Charlie Crist Won Democrat Hearts But Other Voters Aren't Swooning
Around the State
After barely a year and a half as a Democrat, Charlie Crist has secured his standing with his new party.
Crist will easily rout Nan Rich in the Democratic primary on Tuesday and his allies have their hands on the controls of the party machinery. That was pretty clear in the primary as Allison Tant, who Crist backed to be party chairwoman, went out of her way to ignore Rich and ensure there was no debate between the two Democrats running for governor.
Tant dropped any pretense of neutrality when the Florida Democratic Party, and not the Crist campaign, went after Tom Lee’s group for using old Crist quotes in robocalls. Crist’s reliance on the party machinery was even more evident when Annette Taddeo, a party boss who has never won electoral office, became his running mate.
Rich never turned into much of a factor in the race. She had problems with fundraising and, despite being in the race for the better part of two and a half years, remained largely unknown to most of the Democrat electorate despite her time in Tallahassee.
One problem Rich ran into was she always took a back seat as Democrats pondered who should run against Rick Scott. Besides Crist, there was buzz for the likes of Alex Sink, Bob Graham, Bill Nelson, Dan Gelber and other potential hopefuls, all of whom, for whatever reason, overshadowed Rich.
Crist’s efforts to win the Democratic base have born fruit. Part of that comes from desperation to beat Rick Scott and win their first gubernatorial election in two decades. Crist, of course, has gone out of his way to reassure Democrats that he has abandoned the positions on abortion, school choice, crime, gun control and other matters which propelled him to three state offices as a Republican and almost took him to the Republican ticket back in 2008 as John McCain’s running mate.
But Crist has also done a thorough job of winning Democrats over to him. He has reached out to the party base and, while some liberals might vote for Rich over him on Tuesday, he should be able to count on the party activists come November. Crist might not have taken the most principled of routes to lead the Florida Democrats but it has been effective in winning over his new party.
As he gets ready to head into the general election, Crist will have to switch his focus away from wooing Democrats to making a play for independents. No doubt about it, Crist has some tough assignments ahead. Crist backers assumed he would take a major slice of the Republican base away from Scott. But that hasn’t happened. Republicans haven’t forgiven Crist for abandoning the GOP and cheerleading for Barack Obama. Crist will be hard-pressed to make off with a significant part of the Republican base.
Scott is also beating Crist with independents in the polls and that’s where the new Democrat will have to focus. But the problem there is Scott has been on the attack early and often, turning voters away from Crist. Even worse, Crist doesn’t have much of a legacy in any of the three statewide offices he’s held to point out, probably because as soon as he won one office he was off and running for yet another.
Crist has done a fine job of winning the Democratic base and he should easily prevail over Rich on Tuesday. But while that was happening, independents moved away from Crist. All of his political transformations come with a price and voters are increasingly seeing Crist as trying to be all things to all men with nothing under it all besides a burning ambition for his own advancement.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.