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Analysis: Florida Democrats putting their eggs in Charlie Crist’s (flawed) basket

Democrats are gambling that Crist won’t do something foolish or shameless before election day

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

More than 4.6 million registered Democrats call Florida home. Surely, in a pool of people that enormous, the party could have found somebody — anybody — to nominate for governor who is not as inherently flawed as Charlie Crist.CFP Facebook Mugshot

But what’s done is done. Democrats have given one of their prized political possessions to a man who has pulled off the hat trick of being a Republican, an independent and a Democrat in just four short years. Look in the dictionary under “political opportunist,” and you will find his uber-tanned countenance, smiling sweetly back at you.

Now, Democrats must hold their breath until November, hoping that Crist won’t do something foolish or shameless in the next three months that will ensure Governor Rick Scott’s re-election. Good luck with that.

Given Scott’s frequently turbulent tenure in Tallahassee, the governor should be in a lot more trouble than he is. Surely this should have been a race into which politically ambitious Democrats were anxious to plunge. But none of them were, and, as a result, this contest is, essentially, a dead heat, even though the Democrat should be well ahead.

Democrats may still believe that the divisive flavor of Scott’s first term will be enough to push Crist to victory, and the results in November may still prove them right. But an argument can also be made that they would be in better shape right now had they not nominated a man who has enough political baggage to fill all his overhead bins.

That was essentially the argument that Nan Rich made in the Democratic primary. Nobody listened to her. Her decades of service to the Democratic Party went unrewarded. Crist, who in comparison to Rich has been a Democrat for about 15 minutes, took the prize instead.

So what made Crist’s resurrection possible? In a word, money. He has the ability to raise a ton of it. Not as much as Scott, of course, who can also  just get out his hefty personal checkbook if need be. But Crist’s argument that he was person best equipped to defeat Scott apparently resonated with Democrats.

Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

In any case, no other up-and-coming Democrats were willing to endure the prospect of facing big-spending Crist in the primary and, then, if successful, facing the bigger-spending Scott in the general election. The result? Crist is heading into the general election without having fought for the Democratic nomination, a fight that might have demonstrated whether he still has the political chops to go the distance.

If Crist loses in November, Florida Democrats — particularly those who view Scott as nothing short of diabolical — will be kicking themselves for the next four years. And Charlie Crist? Well, there’s a Senate race in 2016, and he hasn’t been a Libertarian yet.

Florida’s last two governors, Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, to battle in November

Crist, who served a single term as governor as a Republican, wins the Democratic nomination to face off with incumbent Republican Scott

florida mugTALLAHASSEE, Florida (CFP) — This November, Florida voters will choose between their current governor and his immediate predecessor in what’s likely to be an expensive and pitched battle for the state’s top job.

Former Governor Charlie Crist won the Democratic nomination for governor in the August 26 primary, besting former State Senator Nan Rich with 74 percent of the vote. Republican Governor Rick Scott, 61, did even better in his primary, taking 88 percent against two little known opponents.

Crist’s win caps a remarkable political makeover for a man who started out in politics as a conservative Republican, serving as attorney general before getting elected governor in 2006.

In 2010, he gave up the governorship to pursue an open U.S. Senate seat. When he fell way behind the eventual winner, GOP U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, in the polls, he bolted the GOP and ran unsuccessfully as an independent. in 2012, after endorsing President Obama for re-election, he became a Democrat and then jumped into the governor’s race.

In her campaign, Rich tried to make the case to Democrats that, unlike Crist, she was a longtime party loyalist. But her campaign never caught traction.

In a victory speech to supporters in Fort Lauderdale, Crist said the general election will be “about making sure that Floridians get their Florida back.”

“Our Florida is one where fairness and opportunity trump money and partisanship,” he said. “Our Florida is one where common sense and compassion come before cynicism and cronyism. And most importantly, our Florida is one where the government works for and answers to the people, not the special interests.”

Scott did not make a public speech on election night, instead releasing a statement saying the November election will be about “talk versus action.”

“That means Florida will have a choice between a governor who sent our state into a tailspin and a governor who gets results,” he said. “Charlie Crist failed as governor, lost 830,000 jobs, and tried to run off to Washington – and now he wants his job back.”

Scott, an multimillionaire former health care executive, pumped $75 million of his own money to win the governorship in 2010 in his first run for political office. He is expected to have a significant financial advantage over Crist in a state with numerous, expensive media markets, although Crist has so far raised more than $20 million.

Polls show the race as a dead heat with a little more than two months left before the general election.

Poll: Republican incumbent Rick Scott trails Charlie Crist in Florida governor’s race

Crist, the Sunshine State’s former governor, also calls for ending U.S. embargo against Cuba

MIAMI (CFP) — Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist holds a small lead over Republican Governor Rick Scott in the Florida governor’s race, according to two recent polls.

Democratic challenger Charlie Crist

Democratic challenger Charlie Crist

And in a turnabout likely to draw the ire of the state’s influential Cuban-American community, Crist now says he thinks the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, ought to be lifted.

“The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba,” Crist said in a statement, adding that “if we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there.”

Just four years ago, when Crist was making a unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, he supported the embargo. Scott immediately pounced on Crist’s change of heart, which he first announced in a response to a question from television satirist Bill Maher.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Florida Governor Rick Scott

“Our nation is great because we were built on a foundation of freedom and democracy,” Scott said. ” That is not true in Cuba, and we should not pretend it is. The importance of maintaining the embargo is that it stands for the Cuban people’s right to be free.”

In his interview with Maher, Crist agreed with Maher that more Florida politicians need to stand up to the Cuban-American community, a remark Scott called “insulting.”

A February 5 poll by the University of Florida found Crist leading Scott 47 percent to 40 percent in a head-to-head matchup. A poll from Quinniapiac University released January 30 gave Crist a slightly larger lead, 46 percent to 38 percent.

Scott, 61, a multimillionaire health care entrepreneuer, narrowly won the governorship four years ago. Crist, 57, served as governor as a Republican from 2007 to 2011. He gave up the office to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, losing to Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Crist later became a Democrat.

Crist faces a primary challenge from Nan Rich, a former Democratic state senator, who, alluding to Crist’s often changing political affiliations, styles herself as the “one true Democrat” in the race.

There has also been speculation that Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson might run against Crist for governor. However, Nelson has distanced himself from that speculation, saying he has no plans to leave the Senate.

The University of Florida poll found that Nelson also leads Scott in a hypothetical matchup, while both the UF poll and Quinniapiac polls found that Scott leads Rich when they are compared head-to-head.

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