The Teflon is starting to peel off Charlie Crist like a cheap frying pan. All of a sudden he isn't oozing charm on the big stage, getting away with empty good-guyisms, hail-fellow jokes and pie-in-the-sky promises. He's sweating.
This is something we're not used to. A not-ready-for-prime-time Charlie Crist.
Was this career politician with the insatiable need to be loved just late out of the gate this election year? Is he schmooze-rusty? Feeling left behind in Florida when he really wants Washington? Uncomfortable in his new Party suit?
Or, does he maybe deep, deep, deep down miss his old friends?
Whatever the case, Charlie is turning into something akin to a bum draft pick -- the guy who had four good years in college, then comes up lame in his first scrimmage in the pros. The Democrats weren't going for an ideological match, they were looking for a game-ready fan favorite and winner.
Why doesn't Charlie Crist look like that man anymore? What's happened that so changed his game?
If you listen to the Democratic leaders who whisper in the media's ears and hide behind phony names on story comments, it's because of Charlie's primary opponent Nan Rich, or Nan's ardent supporters, or Republicans pretending to be Democrats, or pretending to be Nan's friends. Listen to them and Charlie is simply the victim of a vicious plot within the Democratic Party to deny the FDP its first Democratic governor in 16 years.
They will tell you the plotters have made Charlie nervous.
Read progressive Kartik Krishnaiyer -- a voice of reason, actually -- who writes insightfully about the Democrats' sputtering Chosen One. Read his website The Florida Squeeze. Recently, TFS published some of the savviest thought I've read in a long time on the state of the Democratic Party in Florida and the Democratic candidates for governor. What you'll find in the website's Wednesday thread is an impressive array of Democrats' growing concern over their party's rudderless ship, its "selection" and handling of Charlie Crist, its failure to insist on a Rich-Crist debate, its dismal chances for the future and a party "press shop reduced to a lair inhabited by twitter trolls."
Definitely lively stuff.
Meanwhile, participating in the debate -- without using real names, of course -- is Party Leadership. They speak for the defense, which you can spot a mile away. These are the folks who portray Nan Rich and her supporters as party traitors. The road to victory, they say, is paved with party obedience. Here's what a commenter (read, party payrollee), identifying him/herself as "Not Trying to Be a Jerk," has to say:
"This blog and most of the readers are always complaining about the Florida Democratic Party but yet are not willing to follow the lead of the Florida Democratic Party. You complain that we keep losing elections yet we have gone out and gotten the best possible candidate in the state who will be elected governor. This election is basically over; Rick Scott cannot get 50 percent. ... Yet we have all these people complaining that they want a washed up old former state legislator to be our nominee. She is backed by the malcontents of our party. People who want power in the party but are rejected because they are not quality enough. ... These are the people backing Nan Richs quixotic candidacy.
"If we did not have a primary, Charlie would be 15-20 points ahead right now. All this nonsense the primary helps candidates ... The party is there to lead. If you want to be a Democrat, fall in line with the party and guess what, we might win a race or two and set you guys up."
Another party payrollee, under the name Dems in 14, echoes Not Trying etc.:
"Id love to see the authors at this blog talk about how the Nan Rich candidacy is costing Charlie Crist this race. Costing the Democrats, costing us a chance to lead.The open defiance of many Democrats around the state toward their very own state party is galling and shows precisely why we dont win elections.Kartik comes up with all these theories as to why we drop elections when the most obvious one is people dont fall in line behind a party and thus we dont win because the party is meant to lead and if people dont follow the leader we lose."
I can hardly believe what I'm reading.
It's not easy for me to understand how any political party, where the tenets of democracy are always held sacred, can get away with arm-twisting, insulting, even demonizing their members and candidates who don't fall in lockstep during the selection process.
If the Florida Democratic Party isn't finding Charlie Crist the winner he was in 2006, it's absurd to blame Charlie's opposition. This is a primary fight. Charlie had vibrant primaries as a Republican in 2002 and 2006 and beat the pants off his competition.
This time around, after four years on a billboard -- coupled with his makeover as a liberal Democrat and need to eat his Republican words -- clearly his heart isn't in this one. Oh, he wants to win badly enough -- actually, he's frantic to walk that path to the White House and he knows this is it, this is the path. But he thought it would be easier.
Charlie never had answers when he was a Republican. He didn't need them. Others on his staff had the answers. Or he picked up the phone and then ... done. He had friends he trusted. OK, he could have made better friends -- some are still in the slammer. But he knew them, leaned on them, they gave him his swagger.
Charlie had charm, and seldom, if ever, did even the media challenge him. Now every word he utters gets run through a sieve. He has become a cartoon character in many quarters of the state building he once owned.
Charlie is a flip-flopper, a liar, an empty suit -- something he always knew, but what the heck. Until this campaign, most voters didn't. Or didn't care. Not really. Now he knows they know, and it's clearly rocked him back on his heels.
The last people responsible for all this are the loyal opposition in his own party. Don't blame them. Time and circumstance and entirely unfamiliar gravitashave shattered Charlie Crist's confidence.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.