Lifelong conservative Charlie Crist was booted out of the Republican Party-- basically for once having been polite to President Obama-- during the 2010 Senate primary. He then ran as an independent and came in second behind former ally Marco Rubio. Two years later, in order to run for Congress, he joined the Democratic Party and immediately on winning the seat became a member of the right-wing, corporate-owned Blue Dogs. The good news: he's leaving Congress. The bad news: he's running for governor again-- pr at least for the Democratic Party nomination.
No one really wants him to run but his case is that his name recognition is sky high and much higher than either Nikki Fried (the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner and the only elected statewide Democratic official) or unaccomplished paper tiger Val Demings. Unfortunately, a lot of that name recognition among Democrats is very negative going back to his time as a Republican state senator, a Republican education commissioner, a Republican Attorney General and as a Republican governor.
In the state Senate he was best known for being a racist. As Education Commissioner he was best known as a supporter of charter schools and an enemy of public schools and teachers unions. As governor and attorney general he was an NRA patsy. Even while he was widely known to be a closet case, he tried to overcompensate by backing a state constitutional amendment banning marriage equality for the LGBTQ community. He also supported a ban on LGBTQ adoptions. When it became politically expedient, as a Democrat, he apologized for his cowardly and ugly homophobia-- but he's still in the closet.
So...name recognition, yes. But, what many Florida Democrats recognize is a villain from the past. And this is a Democratic primary we're talking about. Max Greenwood, writing for The Hill today, reported that so far Democrats in Florida are nonplused by Crist's candidacy and more enthusiastic about Nikki Fried and Val Demings. "Democrats," wrote Greenwood, "have expressed frustration about his campaign, arguing that he's abandoning his House seat as the party scrambles to rebuild following a spate of disappointing losses in Florida in 2020. Some also fear a rehash of Crist’s failed 2014 gubernatorial run, arguing that the party would be better off nominating a fresh face in the gubernatorial race. 'He’s run for statewide office now, what? Half a dozen times?' said one Florida Democratic operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the primary field. 'That’s not how we beat DeSantis-- with the same old, same old.' The stakes are particularly high for Florida Democrats next year. The party has been frozen out of the governor’s mansion for more than two decades and has swung even further away from Democrats over the past four years... 'The Republicans are well-organized; they are well funded,' the operative said. 'DeSantis is raking in millions of dollars every quarter. There’s no room for error here.'"
Fried held a press conference around the same time as Crist’s campaign announcement, during which she made clear that she was considering a bid for governor.
“As the only statewide-elected Democrat, it makes absolute sense for me to be running for governor,” Fried said. “But today is not the day for me to make that announcement.”
Fried also expressed concern about the fate of Crist’s House district, a Pinellas County swing district that the congressman has represented since 2017. Without Crist on the ballot, she said, his seat is at risk of falling into Republican hands.
“I’ve had communications with Congressman Crist, and it’s a time when we need his voice and his vote up in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “His seat is one that probably only Charlie Crist can hold on to, so really would like to have encouraged him to stay in Congress, but certainly today is Charlie’s day and wish him the best.”
Crist’s campaign team also looks a bit different this time around.
Kevin Cate, a Democratic ad maker and former Crist adviser, is no longer working with the Florida congressman and is openly boosting Fried in the race. He previously worked as a media consultant for Fried’s 2018 agriculture commissioner campaign and currently advises her political action committee.
...A March survey from Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy found that 90 percent of Florida voters recognized Crist’s name, while only 63 percent recognized Fried. Respondents weren’t asked about Demings.
But the same poll also found that Crist has a high name ID among voters, only 27 percent recognized him in a favorable light. Forty-one percent reported an unfavorable view of the Florida congressman.
I asked more than a dozen political types in Florida for comments on Crist's suitability as a Democratic nominee. I didn't expect anyone to give me an on-the-record comment. But I couldn't even get an off-the-record comment! Christine Olivo, a progressive running for Congress on the other side of the state from Crist's district did mention, though, that "the Republicans have been eyeing Charlie Crist’s district for a while now. This decision will leave our state vulnerable to gaining another Republican Representative. The Florida Democratic Party needs new strategists. and to invest in new, exciting, progressive candidates that can give the electorate a reason to vote."
This evening, a gay friend in Florida, an activist, called me and noted that "Charlie is probably the last closet case in Florida... unless you want to count Rubio."