Democratic Party Door Opens for Charlie Crist in 2014
Former governor could reclaim his old job and bring FDP out of the political wilderness
Around the State
Florida Democrats need new blood. Charlie Crist is ready with a transfusion.
The once-popular governor who bolted the Republican Party in an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2010 may be setting his sights on his old job in Tallahassee.
"Crist becomes a full-on Democrat and runs for governor," veteran political operative Roger Stone predicted Thursday.
The scenario is entirely plausible on many levels.
Crist currently works at the law firm of Morgan & Morgan, perennially one of the largest contributors to the Democratic Party.
If he decides to re-enter politics, Crist has no home in the Republican Party.
"He burned a lot of bridges," said Joe Rudderow, a GOP state committeeman from Lake County. "There were questions in the minds of many if he was truly a Republican to begin with."
Finally, the Florida Democratic Party needs him -- badly.
Though the FDP holds an edge in voter registration statewide, its bench is short. Holding no Cabinet-level positions, the party has no obvious state leader.
Party chairman Rod Smith, 61, most recently lost electoral bids for governor (2006) and lieutenant governor (2010).
Extremely popular among African-American voters -- the most loyal Democratic constituency -- Crist would be a natural fit and would bring instant name recognition to a party with few big names.
And with wealthy law baron John Morgan as his money man, Crist could help fill the FDP's coffers.
Crist, who did not respond to Sunshine State News' requests for comment, recently appeared in a commercial for Morgan & Morgan.
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"I'm Charlie Crist," he narrates. "If you need help sorting out your legal issues as a result of an accident or insurance dispute, visit me at Charlie@forthepeople.com. Morgan & Morgan. For the People."
Though retainers and contingency fees, no doubt, will pad Crist's wallet, the 54-year-old former governor is a lifelong public official who was clearly most comfortable in the political arena.
Equally obvious, the FDP needs an impact player with statewide appeal -- or risk going the way of California Democrats, whose leadership has aged into a gerontocracy.
Popular with unions and teachers (grateful for his veto of the teacher-tenure bill), Crist comes with a ready-made base of support that dovetails with the Democratic agenda.
"Never count him out," University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith said of Crist. "He and Alex Sink have larger name recongition than any non-office holders except for Jeb Bush."
Smith doubts that Democrat Sink, 62, could win her party's gubernatorial nomination in 2014, assuming she even wanted it.
"Alex would have trouble getting out of any Democratic primary," he predicted.
Likewise, Republicans scoff at Crist's chance of winning a GOP contest. Even with Gov. Rick Scott's high negative poll numbers, Crist's abandonment of the party remains the unforgivable sin.
"[Crist and Sink] both play well to the center, but they would have to win a primary to get there," Smith notes.
With Crist's ill-fated 2010 run for Senate slamming the door on any future independent bid, the Democratic option could swing wide open for him.
FDP spokesman Eric Jotkoff maintains a policy of not speaking on the record to Sunshine State News, but others in the liberal camp caution that a Crist conversion would be no cakewalk.
Calling Crist "an incredibly adept political chameleon," Damien Filer, of Progress Florida, said he isn't sure what the former governor actually stands for.
"I would look awfully skeptical at the reinvention of Charlie Crist. I don't know what he honestly believes anymore," said Filer, who worked as an aide to Florida's last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles.
But a political science professor from Crist's hometown says it's all about winning.
"Sure, Democrats would embrace him. Even when Crist was a Republican, he got very high ratings from Democrats, and he has a track record of winning more than he loses," said Seth McKee, professor of political science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"Clearly, he wants a political future and there's no future for him in the GOP."
Reach Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (772) 801-5341 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.