Will Charlie Crist find his voice and help Florida Democrats find one as well?

Former Governor Charlie Crist’s ride as the presumptive Democratic nominee began smoothly with a seeming coronation and a few months of “Charlie-mania”  among Democrats but has now descended into a less than secure place. Certainly Crist will be the Democratic nominee for Governor barring a “summer surprise” of catastrophic proportions, but it has become obvious for some of us that have observed the former Governor for years that he has lost his footing recently. Whether this is entirely his fault is open for discussion.

Confidence was one word I would use to describe Governor Crist in his days as a Republican. Having watched him up close during his statewide runs in 2000 and 2002 he was never lacking in politically savvy answers, self-confidence or an upbeat looking body language. His messaging was always positive, a sunny side up look at Florida and the state’s challenges.  A self-proclaimed Reagan Republican, Crist was generally cheerful in his rhetoric while being tough and firm on more troubling issues. Despite many in his party deriding him as a “lightweight” he always connected with voters, both in tough primaries and less competitive races against generally woeful Democratic candidates. In 2006, I did not interact with Crist as much on the trail but his messaging was clear and positive to see from a distance. Crist’s performances on the stump, in debates and one-on-one were “Morning  in America” like. While most Democrats didn’t support him, many myself included begrudgingly admired his skills.

In stark contrast, Florida’s Democrats have long been the whiny party of “no.” Anti-Republican, anti- Jeb Bush and anti-Rick Scott. Florida’s Democrats have been almost unwilling to engage with positive policy solutions for our state’s problems, instead opting to constantly play defense and criticize Republican officeholders.  The Democrats in Florida lack a coherent ideology and instead simply can be described as “anti-Republican.”

While it is important Democrats adhere to progressive principles, almost no effort has been made except by individual legislators to stake out ground where the party can be successful politically and constructive from a policy perspective.  My hope was that with Crist now a Democrat and essentially the titular head of the party for better or for worse, that the Democrats tact would change and become more solution oriented- however it has as of yet not happened.

Instead what has been obvious to some of us who have watched Crist through the years is that he is not as confident in what he is saying, not as positive in his rhetoric and his body language lacks the self-assurance it did in his previous statewide races, even his 2010 loss to Marco Rubio for US Senate. Crist continues to lead Governor Rick Scott in the polls, but I and several people I have spoken to feel his confidence is shaken and the old Charlie Crist has gone missing.

Governor Crist is essentially a positive person.  Those of us who have interacted with him through the years know this. I first met Crist in Tallahassee during the 1995 Legislative session and instantly took a personal liking to him, even though politically I had issues with his views. I continued to like Crist personally, while disliking many of the Republicans in this state both personally and politically. I will admit that I have cast a ballot for Crist in the past, making him the only Republican at the state level I have ever voted for in twenty plus years.

Now however, Crist seems defensive all too often when speaking  to the media or at public events. His words seem less thought out or poll tested than previously and sometimes he just says silly things, the sorts of things he rarely if ever said in his runs for office as a Republican. The well-programmed superstar candidate of the past has given way to a jumbled and conflicted candidacy.  In fairness though, I am not sure this is entirely the fault of Governor Crist.

One cannot help but think that this crisis in confidence is less due to Crist himself and more due the Democratic Party. Crist as a seasoned candidate and office-holder probably does not know where the Democrats stand on issues other than defense of Obamacare (because the Democrats themselves don’t have a positive message to articulate for Florida) and has yet to find his feet in ways that please the Democratic base, while expanding the potential general election vote for himself and the rest of the party’s statewide candidates.

Some of the people I have talked to about my observations agree but feel Crist is more to blame than the party. Democrats after all nationally stand for a broad set of progressive principles that Crist should be articulating they argue. But I would counter that the last three Democratic Gubernatorial nominees ran on a hodgepodge of different issues some of which lacked consistency and others of which were clearly tied to the interest groups that support the party financially. This reiterates the fact the Florida’s voters know what the GOP in this state stands for and will do in office, but the potential election of Democrat is shrouded in mystery from a policy perspective.

This election cycle provides Democrats with an opportunity to reach out to disaffected Republicans, particularly young professional GOP women and those concerned about economic security. Charlie Crist based on his record and his ability to connect with ordinary Floridians would have a good opportunity to reshape the narrative and bring new voters to the Democratic side.

Florida Democrats need to recover from the worst 15 years in the party’s post Reconstruction era history.  Since 2000, Florida Democrats have the worst record in state elections of any major political party east of the Mississippi River. Charlie Crist is supposed to be part of the solution to this problem. Or perhaps his candidacy if it fails will further marginalize the Democrats statewide, allowing the GOP to cement their already dominant position. Come November we will know one way or another.

 

 

 

26 comments

  1. I’ve noticed Crist looking shifter and less polished. Also he previously looked energetic and now everything seems forced.

    Still better than Nan Rich who looks way too old to be taken seriously.

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    1. Demodaysi · · Reply

      Please tell me how old is too old? Are there no politicians over forty or fifty in office anymore.

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    2. I think Crist is looking worse and worse on the stump. Angry, bitter, confused, tired.

      Agreed Nan Rich looks old and defeated. Bill Nelson PLEEEZE!

      Why don’t we have any young exciting talent? Same names, retreads and party switchers!

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      1. The reason we don’t have younger candidates is because the Florida Democrats are so worried about winning statewide elections that they lack focus on candidate recruitment in legislative races. They seem to forget how Marco Rubio rose to the top.

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  2. Cheryl · · Reply

    Simple answer – no.

    Crist is now a democrat and that means all he’s doing is attacking Scott.

    Besides you know he’s never been a policy wonk!!!

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  3. Dems in 14 · · Reply

    It’s Crist’s fault and not the parties.

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  4. There is the Florida Primary Election first and there is a qualified choice seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor., former Senator Nan Rich. Thanks for bringing up her age, because for all of her years she has supported Florida and it’s people. If one thinks she is too old or tired to represent us, then they evidently have not taken the time to engage her on the campaign trail over the past 18 months. There is Nan Mania too! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stand-with-Nan-Putnam-County-Florida-Nan-Rich-for-Governor-supporters/183335255195300 Whether it be Broward County or Putnam County or anywhere in between, there are people quite familiar with Nan Rich.

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  5. Terri · · Reply

    Maybe Crist can actually be the person to define where the Demos stand?

    I get what your saying about the party but the candidate has a responsibility also to define who he is and where he stands.

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  6. Realist · · Reply

    Crist is a chameleon.

    When he loses this race after all the deals so-called liberals have made to support him, the entire dam breaks.

    That’s when the Democratic Party changes. No more band aids no more desperate behavior. The party changes then.

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    1. Dems in Action · · Reply

      Oh how I wish you were right! But DWS and company will again interfere with the people’s choice and put in a loser for party chair and it will be business as usual.

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  7. This is a really really good article.

    For those of us who have been around for a while it is obvious Crist is way off his game. While he continues to lead in the polls he doesn’t have that it’s factor that confidence that he used to have.

    You point out very well his strengths in the past and how those now have been negated in this campaign.

    And like you I agree the Democratic Party is a big part of the problem without a clear ideology a clear focus and a clear message.

    Crist has to find his feet if he is to survive a brutal campaign.

    The problem is the FDP is a mess and is staffed by junior people who are not only inexperienced but largely naive.

    So Charlie is on his own. He needs to find his voice as you say and will probably be forced to do it alone.

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    1. Crist is not the nominee yet. The FDP is not a part of his campaign….yet. (or so that’s how it is suppose to be) What you are looking at is Charlie’s internal campaign that he is responsible for, at this time. And who tweets for Charlie?

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  8. This is a masterful narrative.

    One of your best.

    I think CCs best bet is to avoid the party completely and create his own third way or maybe because of the Ds void it’s a second way.

    A full alternative of ideas.

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  9. Susan Smith · · Reply

    I agree with your critique of the Florida Democratic Party in this post. The lack of a positive, clear and concise message, along with the absence of strong policy solutions is discouraging to activists like me. Whining and hating Rick Scott only get you so far. But I think it’s difficult to articulate a message and policy solutions when the man you look to as your savior isn’t a credible messenger.

    As far as Crist is concerned, I guess he just doesn’t have it in him to fake being a Democrat, which is the point many of us have been trying to get across for the past year as he has avoided a primary debate.

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    1. Terri · · Reply

      Right on Susan.

      Our party stands for nothing and thus now we are willing to accept a party switcher with open arms who has done nothing in his past to indicate he shares our principles.

      From bad to worse.

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  10. POed with the Democrats · · Reply

    Let us be honest. This development with the Democrats is a recent one. We DID stand for something in the pre- Rick Scott, pre-Obama days.

    Jim Davis clearly articulated where he was and gave the Democrats a playbook to reach new voters. But Crist as you state in the article was REALLY good in 2006, unshakable, unbeatable.

    Then Obama got elected and we brought lots of angry people into the process. Then came the Rick Scott election and more FDP dysfunction. Out of state money poured in to create a “Tea Party of the left” which seized on the anger of the new activists.

    So we got Florida Watch Action with Susannah Randolph and Amy Ritter stalking Governor Scott and other Republicans, using tactics that were quite frankly unbecoming of our party and reminiscent of the worst of the Republicans.

    The “Pink Slip Rick” effort was at first cute but then became silly and eventually destructive. It meant Democrats did not need to be positive just simply against Rick Scott because he was Rick Scott. So from that we got a party-switcher whose reasons for becoming a Democrat contrary to the spin in some of KKs other article start and end with the fact that he could not beat Marco Rubio in a GOP Primary. That is the ONLY reason Crist is a Democrat. The ONLY reason.

    So now we have a Republican lite running against a Republican for Governor, angry taunting childish types who followed the “Pink Slip Rick” campaign whose only perspective is “we need someone else, anyone else” and we stand for nothing.

    I want to remind everyone here that “Pink Slip Rick” was funded by OUT OF STATE interests. I have seen comments about the pro Nan Rich group being funded by out of state money, well so was “Pink Slip Rick.”

    The same can be said for a whole network of organizations and the push for Allison Tant. Dave Trotter has written extensively about this at The Political Hurricane and it is important people read his work. Out of state money meant to influence how the party in Florida operates.

    This is a very good piece Kartik, but please think about the role your old friends in the Pink Slip Rick Campaign. They played a big role in getting us here.

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  11. Susan Smith · · Reply

    At risk of having the moderators delete this post, I want to call bullshit on POed’s comments on Florida Watch Action and the Pink Slip Rick campaign. FWA was an outside group with a mission to take down Rick Scott, and they were very successful. When you tear something down, you need to give voters a positive alternative. That was the responsibility of the Democratic Party and they have failed.

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    1. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

      FWA rocked!!!!!

      Getting rid of it was a horrible mistake.

      As for this article I totally concur on The premise regarding both FDP and Crist.

      Like

    2. POed with the Democrats · · Reply

      Susan,

      I have much respect for you and the progressive caucus. You discuss issues and have been a supporter of Nan Rich.

      What FWA did was embarrass the party and the progressive movement. Rather than elevate the debate they did silly things and eventually became very marginal. In some cases they even elicited sympathy for Governor Scott due to the antics they undertook. It is also worth noting that the employees of the organization made a lot of money off their efforts. So much for a real grassroots organization. People were paid well to work, paid well to track the Governor and legislators and paid well even to attend rallies. The Crist people and FDP insiders have attacked Progressive Choice for being some sort of nefarious group probably because they back Nan Rich. Perhaps they are more secret than they should be but FWA was similarly secretive in many ways, engaged in really shady tactics and those who were involved are all part of the Crist team.

      This is not to even mention the lies they perpetrated that were caught by PolitiFact

      http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2011/aug/22/florida-voter/caller-accuses-gov-rick-scott-using-tax-dollars-hi/

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  12. Kartik, unlike you I never voted for Crist. I must admit he is slick. The smile, the tan, the hair, the handshake, and especially the hug. If I were going to cast a movie called The Politician, Charlie would be my first call. I’ve given T.F.S. credit in the past for your investigative journalism and speaking truth to power but you are starting to sound like the corporate media. You too sound like a sell out. You know as well as I do who could bring the Democrats out of the Valley of Death. Nan Rich embodies the heart and soul of Democratic values. She is the fighter we need to unite the party and wipe the Loser tag off our chests. It’s time to take a stand and support Nan. I wish you could have seen Nan at her office opening and the Plantation Club last night. No smoke and mirrors no paid sign wavers, just true blue dedicated activists who eat, drink, and sleep democratic ideals and truths. I’ll put up a Nan Fan against a Charlie pusher anytime. Remember this.. Charlie can run from Nan but he can not hide. If he can’t compete with Nan, face to face, this party will dump Crist and Scott will eat Charlie’s lunch. Be the leader you want to be. Don’t sell out to the money and the hypocrisy.

    Like

    1. Broward Bob · · Reply

      oh, look, it’s joe. my neighbor went, there were maybe a few dozen ‘true blue dedicated activists’. she’s not legitimate, neither are you. quit while you’re behind. maybe farid will let you follow him around for a while. *snicker*.

      Like

      1. Broward Bob · ·

        oh, a post that’s short AND wrong, like the poster himself.

        Like

  13. Broward Bob · · Reply

    short, dishonest, and deluded post. like its author, Josie kreps.

    Like

  14. […] to easily triumph over Nan Rich in the primary, it does seem like he is having some trouble fitting into this new role as a Democratic candidate for governor. And instead of blaming his problems with the base, perhaps his problem is simply with the […]

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  15. […] was over. But then Crist began to make mistakes. A campaigner, who for years as a Republican seemed confident and self-assured, was now suddenly flat-footed and making repeated odd statements in public.  At times Crist looked plain silly and trivial such […]

    Like

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