Even though former Gov. Charlie Crist has yet to enter the 2014 gubernatorial race, on Friday both allies and enemies of the former Republican-turned-Democrat looked to define him to Florida voters. But heres the rub: Florida voters already know who Charlie Crist is, even after he spent three years away from Tallahassee.
With news on Friday that the state unemployment rate dropped to 7.1 percent for May, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) launched the latest round in a series of attacks against Crist who had been a member of the GOP until 2010.
The RPOF unveiled an infographic on Friday contrasting Crists record on the economy to that of Gov. Rick Scott. During the Crist Crash, as the RPOF portrayed it, Florida lost 832,000 jobs while unemployment jumped up from 3.5 percent to 11.1 percent -- far greater than the national average during that period which rose from 4.4. percent to 9.3 percent.
The Scott Surge, as the RPOF labeled it, saw different results with 330,000 new jobs and unemployment dropping from 11.1 percent to 7.1 percent -- far better than the national average which went from 9.3 percent to 7.6 percent during Scotts time as governor.
In the meantime, a new group launched a Facebook site this week called Floridians for Charlie Crist and encouraging Democrats to support the former governor. The groups Facebook page features Crist with former President Bill Clinton and sporting a Barack Obama button. After leaving the GOP in 2010 to run for the Senate with no party affiliation, Crist endorsed Obama in 2012 and joined the Democrats in December.
As governor, Charlie Crist consistently put Floridians above politics,and our goal at Floridians for Charlie Crist is to show our support, encourage him to run for governor, and help him take back the governor's mansion, Floridians for Charlie Crist posted on the site on Friday. During his tenure as governor he had a reputation for reaching across the aisle and following his conscience, not a platform. He spearheaded the effort to restore the rights of ex-felons to vote. He fought for longer early voting hours in 2008. He stood with President Obama on the stimulus and worked tirelessly on his re-election. He did all of these things not because they were easy, not because they were what were best for his party, but because they were right.
Now, Charlie Crist is thinking about running for governor again, this time on our side of the fence," the group wrote. All the polls show him beating Rick Scott, he announced publicly his support for marriage equality, extending early voting, an education system that supports our teachers, and an economy built on the foundation of a strong middle class.
But a poll released this week shows Florida voters have pretty much made up their minds about Crist. Quinnipiac released a poll on Tuesday with Crist leading Scott 47 percent to 37 percent. The poll found both Scott and Crist are well-known to Florida voters.
Scott is seen as favorable by 40 percent and unfavorable by 42 percent. Only 16 percent of voters dont know enough about Scott to have an opinion of him.
Crist is almost as well-known, with 48 percent seeing him as favorable and 31 percent as unfavorable. With 18 percent saying they dont know enough about Crist to have an opinion, the former governor is in the same ballpark as Scott, despite spending three years off the political stage. Thats a testament to Crists time in the wilderness since being blown out in the Senate race by Marco Rubio in 2010. During that period, Crist has attempted to remain in the political limelight as much as possible, from campaigning for Obama to having his smiling face plastered on billboards for Morgan & Morgan.
Its also helped Crist score points with his new party. Only 11 percent of Democrats polled view Crist as unfavorable while 67 percent have a favorable view of the man who nominated Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican presidential convention. While Floridians for Charlie Crist wants to ensure no other Democrat comes in to swoop up the nomination, the fact remains the former governor does better with his new party than old stalwarts like U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
More than a few political observers have wondered why the RPOF has attacked Crist on a daily basis. Besides hoping to sway the 15-to-20 percent of voters who have no opinion on Crist, Republicans want to undermine the public perception of the former governor. They have to turn around Floridas warm feelings for Crist to get Scott back in the race -- and clearly they think Crists economic record will be his glass jaw.
Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.