Tag Archives: charlie crist

Florida Gov. Rick Scott delays debate over Charlie Crist’s fan

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is no fan of Charlie Crist’s fan.

A Florida gubernatorial debate between incumbent Republican Scott and Democratic challenger Crist on Oct. 15 was delayed by about 10 minutes because Scott was refusing to take the stage. The reason? According to the moderator, Crist had an electric fan under his lectern.

The moderator told the audience, “We have been told that Gov. Scott will not be participating in this debate. Now, let me explain what this is all about. Gov. Crist has asked to have a small fan placed underneath his podium. The rules of the debate that I was shown by the Scott campaign say that there should be no fan. Somehow there is a fan there, and for that reason ladies and gentlemen, I am being told that Governor Scott will not join us for this debate.”

“That’s the ultimate pleading of the Fifth I’ve ever heard in my whole life,” Crist said.

After the debate, the Crist campaign released a copy of rules that said candidates “debate hosts will address any temperature issues with a fan if necessary.”

And Scott’s campaign sent an email to supporters saying the telling them Scott “never refused to take the stage.”

The campaign claims that the governor didn’t know Crist had taken the stage and thought the Democrat was still talking with debate organizers about the electric fan.

Scott’s late entry to the debate generated national social media attention and ridicule.

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Bold push: Democrats in Florida call for shift in Cuba-US policy

When Charlie Crist went to Miami’s Little Havana recently, the Democratic candidate for governor stood before a crowd and said what few politicians have in decades of scrounging for votes in the Cuban-American neighborhood: End the trade embargo against Cuba.

“If you really care about people on the island, we need to get rid of the embargo and let freedom reign,” he said, shouting above a small band of protesters who responded with chants of “Shame on you!”

Crist’s supporters cheered louder.

It was a scene inconceivable just a few years ago, when politicians were careful about what they said on the issue, for fear of alienating Cuban-American voters, many of whom fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1960s.

But Democrats now sense an opening with newer Cuban arrivals and second-generation Cuban-Americans who favor resuming diplomatic relations with the communist island.

In a sign of just how much the climate has shifted, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who backed trade limits when she ran for president in 2008, is now calling for the embargo to be lifted. She described it as “Castro’s best friend” and said it hampers “our broader agenda across Latin America.”

Her words mark the first time a leading presidential contender from either political party has suggested reversing the 52-year-old policy.

The efforts represent the largest challenge to Cuban-American orthodoxy in decades and could help reshape American foreign policy.

It also could alter the political landscape in the largest swing-voting state, where Republicans long have dominated the Cuban vote by taking a hard line on the embargo.

Crist’s campaign will be the first statewide test of whether the trade restrictions are still a live wire for politicians in Florida, home to 70 percent of the nation’s Cubans.

Crist is a former Republican governor who once said he would only visit Cuba “when it’s free.” Now that he’s a Democrat and trying to regain his old job, he has floated the idea of going to Havana “to learn from the people of Cuba and help find opportunities for Florida businesses.”

He argues that the embargo has failed because it has not toppled the Castro government but has hurt the Cuban people. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” he told reporters at the opening of a campaign office in Little Havana.

Florida Republicans are outraged, casting Crist’s position as a betrayal of the Cuban-American community.

“I’m going to stand with Cuban-Americans that believe in freedom, believe in democracy, believe in freedom of speech and oppose the oppression of Cuba,” said GOP Gov. Rick Scott. Crist, he added, will “be standing with Castro.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate whose parents left Cuba in the 1950s, said the embargo is “the last tool we have remaining to ensure that democracy returns to Cuba one day.”

Lifting the embargo, he said, would “further entrench the regime in power by giving them more money to carry out their violent repression of people’s fundamental rights and dignity.”

Nationwide, the share of Cuban registered voters who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party has doubled in the past decade, from 22 percent to 44 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Less than half of Cuban voters now affiliate with the Republican Party, down from 64 percent over the same time period.

President Barack Obama won Florida twice, campaigning on easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit their families on the island and allowing them to send more money to their relatives. In 2012, he captured nearly half the Cuban-American vote, a record for a Democrat.

The shift is driven in part by changing demographics.

Cuban-Americans, once the dominant bloc of Florida’s Hispanic vote, have seen their political clout diminished by a huge influx of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and people from Central and South America, who lean Democratic. In the 2012 election, 42 percent of Hispanic voters in the state were Cuban, an 11 percentage point drop from 2000, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

The exiles who arrived in the decade and a half following Cuba’s 1959 revolution have been dying off while their children and fresh waves of immigrants hold a different view of Cuba. More than one-third of the Cubans residing in Miami-Dade County arrived after 1995, with many supporting travel and trade policies that strengthen ties between the U.S. and Cuba, said Guillermo Grenier, a lead researcher for the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Even some of South Florida’s most prominent Cuban-American business leaders, long among the most strident defenders of the embargo, are publicly talking about investing in Cuba.

“The politics are way behind public opinion on this one,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant and Crist adviser who managed Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008.

Overall, polls of the community have confirmed a tilt toward engagement, with the most recent survey by Florida International University finding Cuban-Americans in Miami split over the embargo, which was a near record, and 71 percent saying it had not worked either very well or at all.

“The embargo! It’s so screwed up!” said Caridad Novo, as she sipped espresso at a cafe in Doral, a Miami suburb.

The 52-year-old Cuban, who came to Florida during the 1980 Mariel boat crisis, said U.S. trade restrictions drive up the cost of sending goods to her family in Cuba. Shipping a 4-pound can of milk to her 3-year-old grandson in Havana costs $55, she said.

But some scholars and political operatives say Crist risks energizing Republicans in the conservative exile community while attracting little support from younger Cuban-Americans and newer arrivals, who tend to be less politically active.

The recent Florida International University poll found that less than one-third of those who have arrived since 1995 are U.S. citizens. Voter registration rates among newer arrivals lag their older counterparts by double digits.

“What is changing is opinions” on the embargo, Grenier said. “But for the opinions to become relevant to policymakers, they have to translate into more than just opinions. They have to be votes.”

Charlie Crist files legal brief supporting marriage equality in Florida

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is again running for the office in November, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of marriage equality in the state.

Crist filed the brief in Pareto v. Ruvin, which is set for a hearing on July 2 before Judge Sarah Zabel in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Miami. 

Zabel will hear from attorneys who filed a lawsuit in January on behalf of six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute. The lawsuit argues that Florida’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violate the U.S. Constitution by denying them the legal protections and equal dignity that having the freedom to marry provides.

Crist filed an amicus brief, which is a brief filed by someone who is not a party to the litigation, but who believes that the court’s decision may affect its interest.

“As former governor, and as someone who previously supported this measure, Charlie Crist’s words matter a great deal,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida. “He has taken the same journey the majority of Floridians have taken in realizing that this ban serves no purpose but to disparage and discriminate against gay couples and our children.”

In the brief, Crist stated that as a former governor and attorney general who previously supported the ban, he is in a unique position to provide the court a perspective on why it is wrong, harmful to Florida and harmful to gay couples and children who are denied the protections only marriage provides. 

Crist said in a news release, “In just the last six years, our society has evolved and moved past the prejudices rooted in our past. Further, science has uniformly reached the conclusion that heterosexual marriages are just as valued and revered as they have ever been; and children raised by gay and lesbian parents fare just as well as kids raised in straight families.

“Thus, with the arc of history now, in fact, bending toward justice, this issue of marriage equality will almost certainly not even be an issue for the children and grandchildren of this State. But it is still the duty of those in the present to recognize that the legitimacy of government depends upon its willingness to fairly, transparently, and equitably administer the law. That goal is frustrated by denying an entire class of citizens equality in the institution of marriage simply because of who they are and whom they love.”

Crist is among the fast growing majority of Floridians, 57 percent currently, who have come to support full marriage equality.

In filing, he joins the mayors of Orlando and Miami Beach, who filed amicus briefs earlier this week on behalf of their cities including arguments on how lifting the ban alleviates hardships for same-sex couples and provides numerous benefits for citizens and employees to live in a non-discriminatory environment.

Crist was a Republican when he served as governor. He ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate. He has since become a Democrat.

Plenty in play: Races to watch in 2014

The irritation voters feel today might be the six-year itch that has plagued many second-term presidents and their political parties. Or maybe it’s an itch to scratch the majority out of the U.S. House.

Early primaries in 2014 may reveal how the high-stakes midterm elections will look. Voters in November will decide majorities in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and 36 governorships, including Wisconsin’s.

A look at key races beyond the Badger State:

For governor

• Arkansas has an open race, with Democrat Mike Beebe leaving office. Democratic Rep. Mike Ross is running and, on the GOP side, the candidates are Rep. Asa Hutchinson, state Rep. Debra Hobbs and businessman Curtis Coleman.

• Florida is preparing for a battle between incumbent Republican Rick Scott, who is widely unpopular but has vast wealth, and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is widely popular but has some baggage. He served as governor when he was a Republican and endorsed right-wing initiatives, including an anti-gay marriage amendment. Crist has since apologized for that.

• Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is expected to face two challengers on Election Day — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who came out as gay in 2013, and independent Eliot Cutler. In 2010, LePage won another three-way race because of a split Democratic vote.

• Pennsylvania has at least eight Democrats —  including state Treasurer Rob McCord, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, businessman Tom Wolf and former state environmental protection official Katie McGinty — lining up to take on Republican Tom Corbett. 

• Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not seeking re-election, which means the state is wide open. And there’s a historic battle shaping up. On the GOP side, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has raised more than $20 million. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national fame with a 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions, has the backing of EMILY’s List. And, for the first time in Texas, two women are at the top of a party ticket. Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is running for lieutenant governor.

For the Senate

Voters will elect 33 U.S. senators on Nov. 4. Democrats currently hold a 55–45 majority, but will be defending 21 seats in the fall. Still, the big story right now is the number of Republican incumbents facing primary challenges from the party’s right wing.

Georgia Republicans are scrambling to run for the Senate seat held by two-termer Saxby Chambliss. At least eight have announced for the primary, including former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who influenced Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Others in the GOP primary include U.S. Reps. Paul Brown, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue. The Democratic candidate will be nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn.

Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, now serving a third term, faces a primary challenge from Milton Wolf, who is attacking Roberts for initially supporting the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary. Roberts has more recently called for Sebelius to resign, but the primary may still be a battle over Obamacare involving two of the program’s opponents.

Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, running for a sixth term, has low approval ratings and faces a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. The winner faces a costly general election race against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term, but before a general election he must face tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.

North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan won her first term when the state went for Barack Obama in 2008. The state went for Mitt Romney in 2012, and now Hagan is seen as vulnerable. On the GOP side, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and the Rev. Mark Harris are running in the primary.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who worked with Democrats to draft comprehensive immigration reform, faces a primary fight in his quest for a third term. He faces state Sen. Lee Bright, businessman Richard Cash and Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college.

Until recently, Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, who is in his third term, faced a primary challenge for his seat from political commentator Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president. Cheney had been showing off her right-wing credentials in a high-profile feud with her out sister Mary over same-sex marriage. In early January, Cheney announced she was giving up the fight, citing family health reasons.

Alaska Republicans are lining up to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Begich, including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, former state natural resources director Dan Sullivan and tea partier Joe Miller.

Democrats in the Hawaii primary include U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, appointed by the governor to succeed the late Daniel Inouye, and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who Inouye had wanted for his successor. The seat is considered safe for Democrats, but Republican Linda Lingle, a former governor, may run.

For the House

Since 1921, the midterm elections in a president’s second term have brought big losses — an average of 29 House seats — for the White House’s party. Voters’ irritation has been dubbed the “six-year itch” and the exception was in Bill Clinton’s second term.

But Democratic optimists stress that the six-year itch may not apply to the current administration, because the White House already had a miserable midterm in the president’s second year in office and polls show voters far more dissatisfied with Congress than Barack Obama.

There are other factors to consider, including the fact that redistricting has created more safe seats for parties and incumbents. In a recent study, “Monopoly Politics 2014,” the non-partisan Fair Vote said it could project the outcome of 373 congressional races because of the crafting of safe districts and a winner-take-all system.

“The outcomes of those 373 races are effectively predetermined, regardless of national partisan tilt in 2014 or the quality of challenger candidates,” said Fair Vote, which has an near perfect accuracy rate for prior elections. “Only in the case of an incumbent retirement, scandal or extreme party wave are any of these projections likely to be incorrect.”

The group projected the election of 210 Republicans and 163 Democrats in 2014. It has not made projections for 62 seats.

Charlie Crist: Ready to run for old job with new party in Florida?

Charlie Crist hopes that the hug that hurt him becomes the hug that now heals him.

Democratic President Barack Obama embraced Crist, then Florida’s Republican governor, at a 2009 rally. Republican Marco Rubio used the image to successfully chase Crist from the GOP and defeat Crist, running as an independent, in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. Now Gov. Rick Scott also is using the hug to attack Crist.

The difference is Crist is now a Democrat and embracing the hug.

“That hug cost me more than you’ll know with my former party,” Crist said at a Marion County Democratic fundraising dinner this month. “But that hug today has a whole different feel to it.”

Once one of the state’s most successful Republican politicians, Crist is nine months into his new life as a Democrat and is preparing to run for his old job with his new party. And considering Obama carried Florida twice, the hug may not a bad thing as Crist tries to convince Democrats he’s one of them and not just a politician trying to redefine himself and jump-start a dead political career.

“I’m proud to be a Democrat!” Crist said to enormous applause as he began speaking at the sold-out dinner. “We’re proud to have you,” a guest shouted back.

By the end of the 28-minute speech, there was another shout: “Run, Charlie!”

It seems clear Crist intends to run, and it’s highly expected he’ll do so. He’s been building up to an announcement for more than a year. Last summer he spoke at the Democratic National Convention and campaigned with and for Obama in Florida. In December, he made the full conversion to Democrat, tweeting a photo of himself holding his voter registration card while standing in the White House.

And with a new fundraising quarter starting Oct. 1 and a major Florida Democratic Party conference at the end of October, it makes sense to announce soon. Crist says he’ll make a decision in the fall. He’d immediately become the front-runner in a race that now has only one credible candidate – former state Sen. Nan Rich, who has struggled to raise the money needed for a statewide campaign.

There are reasons Democrats could be skeptical of Crist – as the Republican Party of Florida has pointed out almost daily for more than a year. In the past, he’s said he is a Jeb Bush and Ronald Reagan Republican. He’s praised Sarah Palin. He repeatedly said it would be hard to find anyone more conservative than he is.

But even when he was a Republican, there were those in the GOP who thought Crist was too close to the middle, and there were Democrats who praised him. Republican Tom Gallagher repeatedly called Crist a liberal when the two challenged each other for the 2006 GOP nomination. And shortly after Crist took office, then-Rep. Terry Fields endearingly called Crist, who is white, Florida’s first black governor.

So some Democrats see the transition as natural.

“I had a pretty good seat to how he governed as a Republican, and I found very little to disagree with,” said Dan Gelber, a former Senate Democratic leader.

That included expanding early voting in 2008, being a leader on climate change, vetoing a bill that would have required ultrasounds before abortions, vetoing a teacher merit pay bill and restoring voting rights for non-violent ex-felons. Scott has since signed ultrasound and teacher merit pay bills and reversed Crist’s effort to allow ex-felons the right to vote.

As a governor, Crist endorsed a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage and also did not oppose the state law against gays and lesbians adopting children. He appears to have changed his views on both issues.

Republicans have been anticipating a Crist run. They paint him as an untrustworthy political opportunist. Just about daily, the party sends out emails as part of the “This Day in Crist-ory” campaign to point out conflicting statements by Crist. The party also blames Crist for Florida’s bad economy and points to improving economic indicators under Scott.

“I couldn’t ask for a better opponent in terms of the ability to contrast failure under Charlie Crist and success under Rick Scott. People’s lives have changed since Rick Scott was elected, and it’s incredibly easy to demonstrate,” state Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry said.

One thing that hasn’t changed about Crist is his charisma. After he arrived 45 minutes late at the Ocala dinner, organizers tried to rush Crist to the head table. He refused to follow, choosing instead to stop at every table to greet people and pose for pictures. He shook people’s hands with both of his. Every time he was called governor, he replied, “Just Charlie.”

He kissed a toddler, gave out hugs and tried to make personal connections. He took salad plates out of waitresses’ hands and served them to guests himself, saying, “I actually did that in law school. I was a waiter.”

Crist also has showed he’s ready to attack back at Republicans.

He said Scott cut school spending by $1.3 billion in his first year in office and then proposed raises for all teachers when it came time to run for re-election.

“This year, to try to start to make good with people in education, he tried to give them a $2,500 bonus. Like that’s going to do it,” Crist said. “Teachers are not dumb, and they cannot be bought.”

Likewise, he criticized Scott on voting rights and environmental issues and for turning down $2.4 billion in federal money for a high speed rail project. And he came close to saying he will challenge Scott, who has set a goal of raising $100 million for his re-election.

“The middle-class people of this state, they deserve a voice. They deserve to be heard,” Crist said. “We got a guy up there in Tallahassee saying he’s going to spend $100 million to stop that from happening. You’ve seen that and you’ve seen how many people have stepped up to take him on. Talk about a bullying tactic. Well, some of us are not afraid.”

Ex-Fla. Gov. Crist is writing book critical of GOP

Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor who switched from the Republican Party to Democrat, is working on a book that strongly criticizes the GOP’s conservative policies.

Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, announced this week that it had acquired Crist’s “The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I became a Democrat.”

The book is scheduled to be published in early 2014.

According to Dutton, Crist will offer “very frank” opinions on Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and other big-name Republicans.

Crist was a Republican when elected governor. He served from 2007 to 2011. But he became increasingly estranged from his party. In 2010, he ran as an independent in a three-way U.S. Senate race won by Republican Marco Rubio. Crist became a Democrat in 2012.

Ex-Republican Charlie Crist backs gay marriage

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has declared his support for gay marriage.

Crist made the announcement earlier this week through a post on Facebook.

He said he wanted to share the great news about Delaware becoming the 11th state to allow gay marriage. Crist then said he supported marriage equality and looked forward to the day it exists in Florida.

The statement marks a shift in Crist’s views on gay marriage. He once supported Florida’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, but also later said he wouldn’t support a similar federal ban. 

Crist became governor in 2006 as a Republican and ran unsuccessfully as an independent in the 2010 U.S. Senate race.

He became a Democrat in December 2012 and there is widespread speculation he will challenge current Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely unpopular, in 2014.

Florida’s Crist may run again; GOP says ‘bring it on’

Now that former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is a Democrat, pretty much everyone in Florida’s political world expects him to seek his old job.

“I will consider it, and I will think about it,” Crist told The Associated Press by phone while boating off of Miami and before a planned dinner with former Democratic governor and Sen. Bob Graham.

The former Republican governor revealed his long-anticipated conversion on Dec. 7, after more than two years as an independent. He made the announcement on Twitter and included a photo of his new voter registration form, which he filled out at the White House.

Earlier Dec. 8, Florida Republicans gathered for a meeting and said they will be extra motivated to re-elect Gov. Rick Scott if his opponent is Crist, who left the GOP during his 2010 run for Senate.

“Bring it on,” Peter Feaman, the party’s national committeeman, told a room of Republican activists. “That man sat at my house, in my kitchen, at my breakfast table and told me he was a Ronald Reagan Republican. OK, I’m putting my boots on, because guess what? You lied to me.”

Should the 56-year-old Crist run, he could become the first person to run for Florida governor as a Republican and as a Democrat. Crist only served one term before choosing to run for U.S. Senate instead of re-election.

Republicans, anticipating the switch, have been attacking him for months. As Crist campaigned with President Barack Obama and other Democrats during the fall, Republicans ran a television ad and issued scores of press releases pointing out his previous conservative positions, including opposition to gay marriage and adoptions by gay parents.

“I really feel at home. A lot of it was inspired by what Democrats have stood for, and honestly, friends have told me most of my political life, ‘Charlie, you’re really a Democrat and you just don’t know it,” Crist said.

Aside from his positions on gay issues, Crist was considered a moderate governor and met often with Democratic leaders. At dinners in the governor’s mansion, he includes both Republicans and Democrats at his head table. He endeared himself to the teachers union by vetoing a Republican priority bill that would have stripped teachers of tenure and based merit raises on test scores. He also won over many black leaders by championing certain civil rights issues, prompting one black lawmaker to describe him as the first black governor.

Since leaving the GOP, Crist, who called himself “the people’s governor” while in office, has criticized the party for going too far to the right. Crist has already criticized Scott for refusing to extend early voting despite pleas from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats.

“The leadership of the party lately has gone off the cliff, I wasn’t comfortable enough,” Crist said. “What I love most about our state is our people … I just have a feeling in my heart right now that leadership doesn’t appreciate that fact.”

Crist was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican, succeeding two-term Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. A popular governor and considered one of the best campaigners in the state, Crist used his charisma and feel-good messages to win over voters.

But many conservatives became disenchanted with Crist after he hugged President Barack Obama at a rally to push for the $787 billion stimulus package, which passed in 2009 with virtually no Republican support.

Although Crist was the early favorite for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, conservatives began to rally around the bid of Marco Rubio in the 2010 GOP primary, prompting Crist’s independent bid.

If he runs for his old job, Crist will have better name recognition than any other Democrat seeking the governor’s seat, including former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who lost a hard-fought campaign to Scott.

Scott’s approval ratings haven’t come close to what Crist had in office. Scott, a former hospital chain CEO and tea party favorite who never ran for office before spending nearly $80 million of his and his family’s money to win election, isn’t considered a natural politician. He can be an awkward speaker, and it has taken a while for him to grow comfortable in the spotlight.

But that doesn’t mean Crist would have an easy time winning. During primary elections, only about 20 percent of voters turn out, and they are the most faithful in the party. Activists on both sides will remember the many elections in which they fought Crist, who often called himself a Ronald Reagan and Jeb Bush Republican.

“We’re going to be ready to play ball,” said Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry, noting that Crist previously praised former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, criticized Obama and held conservative views on abortion.

And it’s not easy switching parties after reaching political success. After nearly three decades as a Republican U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic party rather than face a potentially uphill primary battle against a conservative challenger in 2010. Obama and Senate Democrats welcomed him, but Specter lost in that year’s Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak, who went on to lose in the fall to Republican Pat Toomey. Then there’s former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who won office as a Democrat and then lost his 1992 re-election bid as a Republican.

“The strong Democrats are the ones that vote in the non-presidential year, and they’re the ones that are most likely to have a problem with Crist,” said Democratic pollster David Beattie.

Beattie, however, said Crist has been smart about the transition because he got people used to the idea of him being a Democrat. After losing his independent bid for Senate, he began doing public events with Democrats. His wife, Carole, switched from Republican to Democrat. Then he began backing Democratic candidates in Florida, then Obama. And he spoke at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.

“There are a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I thought he did that a long time ago,”” Beattie said. “I don’t think he’s stopped campaigning over the last two years.”

Ex-official claims prostitutes were at Florida GOP fundraiser

A key figure in the prosecution of former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer said he witnessed prostitutes at a 2009 fundraiser in the Bahamas that included Greer, leading Republican contributors and then-Gov. Charlie Crist, according to a video-recording of a deposition made public by the state attorney general’s office.

Former state GOP executive director Delmar Johnson III also said he refused a request by Greer to approach an airline “stewardess.”

Johnson’s testimony indicated that he approached authorities about providing testimony against Greer in exchange for immunity.

Greer has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, theft and money laundering. His trial is scheduled to start in February.

Johnson said during the lengthy video-taped June 15 deposition – portions of which were reviewed by The Associated Press – that he personally observed prostitutes at the Bahamas fundraising event. Johnson did not say that the party arranged for the prostitutes to attend.

“I was there, Greer was there, Charlie Crist was there, a couple of other fundraisers were there,” Johnson said.

Crist dismissed Johnson’s claims. “We had a fundraiser in the Bahamas and nothing nefarious was involved. It’s just not true,” he said.

Damon Chase, Greer’s attorney, had no immediate comment.

Asked about another party fundraiser, Johnson said later in the deposition, “We did whatever we could to raise money.”

“There was a golf tournament that was put together very quickly,” he said.

Some of the most prominent Florida Republicans are named as witnesses for Greer’s trial on charges that he funneled party money to a now-defunct private company, Victory Strategies, that he formed with Johnson.

Many of the details included in Johnson’s videotaped deposition have been previously reported.

Johnson said then-Senate President Ken Pruitt and then-House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is now a U.S. senator, told Greer in a private meeting that they would make the major decisions regarding the party and its spending.

“They wanted to take over control of the party,” Johnson said, referring to Pruitt and Rubio. “They didn’t like Greer or Crist.”

Greer was forced to resign following revelations he and his second-in-command charged $1.5 million on party credit cards, much of it on luxurious hotels, fancy restaurants, chauffeured sedans and lavish entertaining.

Rubio spent more than $100,000 on a party credit card between 2006 and 2008, paying off about $16,000 in personal expenses and claiming the rest as official party business. When asked about using the party card for personal expenses, Rubio has said he sometimes just pulled the wrong card out of his wallet and he has called it a “lesson learned.”

Johnson said no one questioned Greer about his decisions, including some of the alleged illegal activities.

He said Greer didn’t want anything in writing but approved everything. Johnson did not offer specifics.

“He was just very dictatorial,” said Johnson, who had not repaid the party $65,000, a part of his deal with prosecutors, at the time the deposition was taken.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist endorses Obama, to address Dems

Charlie Crist endorsed Barack Obama in one of Florida’s best-read newspapers on Sunday. The former governor and former Republican will address the Democratic National Convention next week, according to CNN.

Crist, after serving as attorney general and governor of the Sunshine State, left the GOP and ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost to rising Tea Party star Marco Rubio.

In an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times on Aug. 26, Crist explained why he supports Barack Obama’s re-election over Mitt Romney’s run for the White House.

The decision, in part, has to do with an extreme pitch to the right by an element of the Grand Old Party.

Crist wrote that that element “has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.”

Crist also wrote, “As America prepares to pick our president for the next four years — and as Florida prepares once again to play a decisive role — I’m confident that President Barack Obama is the right leader for our state and the nation.”

The op-ed, which ran alongside a column by Mitt Romney, appeared as thousands of delegates and dignities arrived to the area for the Republican National Convention.

The convention will be gaveled open today (Aug. 27) and then recessed until 2 p.m. on Aug. 28 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa.

The delay was a result of threatening high winds and heavy rains from Tropical Storm Isaac. The severe weather failed to materialize as of early Aug. 27, but the storm remains a threat to Gulf Coast states.

The RNC continues through Aug. 30, when Romney delivers his acceptance speech.

The Democratic National Convention takes place in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4-6, with Obama delivering his acceptance speech on Sept. 6.

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