Crist For Governor?: The Good & Bad For Democrats

By Kartik Krishnaiyer

When Governor Crist finally made his party switch late last year he set off a wild frenzy of speculation as to whether progressives will embrace him or simply brandish him as a turncoat. Crist’s next move, assumed to be a candidacy as a Democrat to reclaim the Governorship is casting a deep shadow over the Democratic Party.  The excellent conservative website BizPac Review reminded us right after Crist’s switch that former Governor in 2006 touted himself as a pro-life conservative in direct mail sent by the Republican Party of Florida. That year despite a fairly moderately conservative to populist record as Attorney General, Crist was trying to sure up his conservative bonafides, first to fight off Tom Gallagher in the primary and then to hold together the GOP base in November. It is worth recalling that Crist had serious issues with GOP activists particularly after the Terry Schiavo case. Crist was at this point trying very hard to appear like a true blue Republican, especially given Gallagher’s endless pandering to the right which culminated a political career that spanned seven statewide races and being on every side of every issue imaginable . But even with this in mind it is impossible to describe Crist’s record before 2006 as anything but generally conservative with hints of moderation and populism.

Crist’s strong record in 2012 of campaigning for President Obama, Senator Nelson and several Democrats running for Congress and the legislature has endeared him to many party regulars. However, still most activists I speak to do not trust the former Governor and fear a Crist nomination could completely strip the party of any principles and turn the Democrats into a mesh-mash of disparate groups who simply do not like Rick Scott or seek power after so long on the wilderness. This is not much different than the pathetic state of the national GOP in the FDR years. At the time the GOP lacked any ideology and simply became a landing place for those who did not like the New Deal or felt Roosevelt had too much power. Republicans in that period were constantly attracted disaffected Democrats whose turn was often not on principle but out of political convenience.

With the Democrats suffering from a lack of a cohesive message over many years, some hope that Crist could help define an ideology for the party. However, Crist for much of his career has himself has lacked a clear vision of how he’d govern other than looking at public opinion polls and trying to remain likeable.  For the better part of 15 years the Democratic Party in Florida has lacked any sort coherent or consistent messaging or a long term policy vision. The default Democratic tactics of the era has been to attack Republican officeholders, blame others for continued electoral failures including national Democrats and run to the “middle” of the political spectrum essentially denying Floridians a clear cut choice between contrasting visions for the future. Party discipline has been non-existent among Democrats for years and Tallahassee insiders continue to try and dictate events despite being almost completely aloof from developments in the major populations centers of the state. The weakness of the FDP and most local DEC’s has for years promoted a free-for-all among elected officials to accrue influence and in many cases to cut deals with local or Tallahassee-based Republicans.

No question exists that Crist is gaining traction in the Democratic Party. But that traction is being gained largely among big donors, and other insiders. To many of the rank in file, Crist appears to be a combination of an opportunist and a sore loser. Whether this is a fair assessment of Crist is up for debate. However, it is obvious that the former Governor must show a significant change even from his 2010 positions as an Independent US Senate candidate to win a contested Democratic Primary. Crist’s highly conservative record as a State Senator from 1992 to 1998 which included multiple votes scuttling female reproductive rights, a partisan witch-hunt over attorney’s fees in the state’s landmark lawsuit vs. the tobacco industry and almost constant politically motivated attacks against Governor Chiles and other Democrats are sure to resurface in a potential Gubernatorial campaign.

Despite the obvious downside of Crist’s potential Gubernatorial campaign a potential upside exists. A Crist nomination would help the Democrats try and buck an embarrassing trend. Since 1999, the GOP has won 13 of 14 statewide offices and approximately 65% of contested Legislative elections, despite the Democrats having held a significant statewide registration advantage during the entire period, and having basically won 3 of 4 Presidential elections, and 3 of 5 US Senate election in the state during the very same period. This record of state office futility is comparable with rock-ribbed GOP states such as Utah and Idaho, and actually worse than the Democratic performance in states like Kansas, Montana and Wyoming. Even among southern states, only Texas has an embarrassingly similar record of losing elections. But unlike any of the states named above, Florida is considered a “purple” if not actually a “blue” state on the national level.

Crist appears to be defined to a large chunk of the electorate which has to be a concern for Florida Democrats. While Rick Scott is generally unpopular, he would have a unique opportunity to remake his already defined image if he were running against Crist. (This issue will be saved for a future post) In  summary, Florida Democrats could do a lot better than Charlie Crist, but they also could do a lot worse. In fact, they have done worse in the past and Crist knows it. The former Governor senses an opening and perhaps his once keen sense of timing (which eluded him in 2010 after almost 15 years of playing his cards correctly) has returned. Only time will tell if this was the right move at the right time for Governor Crist.


  1. We need to all get behind him. He is less conservative than this hackish piece described and he is a great statewide candidate and vote getter. All Democrats should back him and prevent a possibly divisive primary.


    1. This piece favors YOUR candidate, the Conservative Republican CharLIE Crist.

      Rick Scott is looking better and better and I hate the darn guy!


    2. Primaries don’t seem to have hurt the GOP in the last two Gubernatorial elections. Both Crist v Gallagher and Scott v McCollum were nasty and divisive. Your point is lost on me.


  2. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    The Ds are true idiots if they nominate him. And I am no liberal. The guy has ZERO convictions and was a HORRIBLE governor. Kartik, I strongly encourage you to keep writing about Crist’s bad record as a legislator and governor. Democrats are too stupid for their own good sometimes.


  3. Get behind him to push him out of the race you mean…sure I am sure we are there. We know that Harry Sargeant there will be there to catch him.


  4. Crist is awful I remember when he nominated Hammer(NRA) lobbyist for Women Commission, pushed prayer in school, cuts AIDS funding, pushed Sarah Palin, voted and pushed prayer in school, took money from Sargeant…look here is the reality. Scott has not been corrupt for 20 years…Crist has. If this guy is the nominee…most will stay home. Good luck DWS pushing Wexler’s leftovers.


    1. Crist said Palin was more qualified to be President than Obama or Hillary Clinton! Remember that???


  5. Kartik, this piece is pure garbage. Look who is playing moderate now. Stop trying to appease some factions in our party and tell the truth like you normally do. As recently as yesterday you were subtly hinting that Crist would be a disaster yet today you are changing your tune! Ridiculous says me.


    1. It’s a balanced look at the potential candidacy and the political (but not policy) implications.


  6. Our more reactionary elements over react to little things?

    So he wasn’t 100% pro choice? WHO CARES only the most radical people are.

    So he was for guns? WHO CARES most democrats are.

    So he was for vouchers? WHO CARES the teachers union still backed him and he’s admitted he was wrong on the issue.

    You people are unreal.


  7. Tampa Dem · ·

    voting prolife for 15 years with one veto because you were losing your Senate race is not being 96% prochoice, pushing awful gun laws matter, the unions are screwed up in Florida. I will tell you who cares…..women, teachers and veterans who believe that a woman should have control of her body, there should be no prayer in school and you should help yourself to $ from war profiteerer who spread their wealth from the blood of our troops. That is who cares RJ. The Democrats will screw themselves in the long run and they think they will help themselves in the short run.

    People are unreal. Those who think that this guy is worth anything.


  8. Doug Watson · ·

    Who, pray tell is an electable Democrat alternative to Charlie Crist?


  9. […] Politico article is an insightful. It touches on some of the issues we have highlighted previously as well as some other issues we’ve avoided discussing on this site. It is well worth a […]


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