I was expecting the RPOF to declare it a speech lifted from the pages of the Communist Manifesto. Charlie Crist’s record of conservatism and moderation went out the window in today’s Gubernatorial bid announcement speech in St Petersburg. Crist’s fiery rhetoric and clear courting of activist liberals was a surprise to some. Many expected Crist to play elder statesman articulating a safe moderate agenda and moving into the preferred (losing) general election mode of Florida’s Democratic Party and the consultants who have continuously lost elections in this state.
Instead, Crist took a strongly populist liberal tone reminiscent of Al Gore in 2000 when he rejected the (bad) advice of Clinton era consultants who had never won a majority of the American vote (Ross Perot ran twice and Clinton never won more than 50% of the popular vote) and struck a cord with the not only the Democratic base but with the electorate as well. Gore got more votes than Clinton ever got and was denied the Presidency due to legal shenanigans.
But we digress; today Charlie Crist gave a resounding speech that with the sole exception of his discussion of property tax cuts was almost entirely populist, progressive and forward thinking in tone. Certainly much of the speech did not reconcile with the Crist record. As Education Commissioner and Governor, Crist’s views on Florida’s Public Schools were closer to that of Jeb Bush than to the late Lawton Chiles or his Democratic Primary Challenger Nan Rich. But Crist we must remember has in the past been shunned by the establishment of his former party and yet consistently struck the right themes to win BOTH primaries and General Elections.
Rick Scott has been a moderate when it comes to transportation policy delicately balancing the needs of big business with the fiscal insanity of some conservative Republicans. But today Governor Crist laid a vision of transport in Florida that’s both progressive and at odds with some of his establishment Democratic supporters especially in Palm Beach County. In that, Crist showed a degree of independence and free thought not expected in this opening speech.
The subtle jab at Governor Scott who is after all a carpetbagger who would have been ineligible to run for Governor in 2010 if we had stricter residency laws for statewide officials (something I have long advocated) was perfectly conceived and delivered.
Governor Crist also outlined his views on the continued culture of cronyism and corruption that have become trademarks of Florida politics. Tallahassee based Republicans and southeast Florida based Democrats have made Florida one of the dirtiest states politically. Crist has his own demons related to this he must deal with as we have outlined on this website. However, the former Governor from what I have seen through the years has never profited financially (though he has politically on more than one occasion) off the corruption of others something that cannot be said for many Republicans and Democrats alike in this state.
The over the top reaction from the RPOF today speaks loudly about a political party whose sense of entitlement knows no bounds. Governor Crist leaving the party may have been a decision based on political calculations but the Republicans who have run this state with the type of iron fist that Stalin himself would be proud of. Progressives should question Charlie Crist’s conversion but to see Florida Republicans trip all over themselves today to attack a man whose crime in their eyes was apostasy to the GOP was more than slightly amusing.
Rallying the base and connecting with the core Democratic vote is something we have discussed here at TFS time and again. Today, Governor Crist demonstrated that he gets the political side of things by outlining a clear difference between him and the governing party of which he was so long a leading official in. This was the type of delineation between the parties that was seldom if ever articulated by the 2010 Democratic nominee Alex Sink in her failed run against Governor Scott.
In that race Alex Sink ran behind the numbers (in terms of percentage) set by President Obama in 2008 and 2012 in every single medium sized county in the state south of Ocala. That meant in counties like Sarasota, Polk, Lee, St Lucie and Marion, Sink ran worse than Obama providing Scott with his padding for victory. Yet it is these counties (where at least theoretically Crist would be strong) that Sink nor the Florida Democratic Party never seem to focus on or mention in political strategy. It is in those counties where today’s Crist speech was likely aimed towards Democrats and progressive minded political independents.
Nan Rich has a progressive record unmatched in the Florida Legislature in recent years. However, today Charlie Crist articulated a progressive vision in a much more aggressive and assertive manner on the stump than Rich has to this point in the campaign. Does that mean Crist is the better progressive choice? Of course not, but does it mean perhaps he is willing to stick his neck out in a way many of us thought he would not? Yes it does.
Progressives have to watch Crist closely and here at TFS we will continue to scrutinize his past record and statements in our ongoing series “The Crist Files.” However, if today is any indication former Governor Crist is well on his way to winning the hearts and minds of many progressives in the state willing to ignore his past transgressions and looking for a viable option to unseat Governor Scott.