ST. PETERSBURG -- Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, continued his political makeover Sunday by endorsing President Barack Obama’s re-election and calling him “the right leader for our times.”
“President Obama has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida,” Crist wrote in an op-ed column in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times, “and he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for the people than for his political fortunes. That’s what makes him the right leader for our times, and that’s why I’m proud to stand with him today.”
Crist praised Obama for protecting the middle class, strengthening Medicare, guiding the nation through an economic collapse, supporting public schools and investing in highways, railroads and airports, but without using the word “stimulus.”
Crist’s opinion piece is the latest in a series of political steps in which he appears to be inching closer to becoming a Democrat and potentially challenging Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. That would complete a metamorphosis for a politician who once called himself a “Reagan Republican and a “Jeb Bush Republican.”
Crist’s career crashed to a halt in 2010 when he left the Republican Party, ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent and was soundly defeated by Republican Marco Rubio.
Crist did not mention Mitt Romney by name in his op-ed column, but he said the Republican Party has drifted too far to the right.
“An element of their party 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,” Crist wrote. “Look no further than the (U.S. Rep. Todd) Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims. ... The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.”
Republicans immediately criticized Crist’s move, calling it the latest act by a political opportunist and faulting Obama for aligning himself with the one-term Florida governor.
“This is political opportunism, plain and simple,” said Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. In a memo, Curry recalled Crist’s past criticism of President Obama and his description of himself as “pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family and pro-business.”
The Republican National Committee recalled Crist lavishing praise on disgraced former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, and noted Crist’s flop as an independent U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.
“So now Obama ties his wagon to a guy who has already been resoundingly rejected by Florida,” the RNC said. The Republican statement noted that Crist, in a speech in Michigan in 2009, predicted Obama’s presidency would be a failure and he would not be re-elected.
Crist’s carefully-timed endorsement appeared on what was to have been the eve of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. But convention organizers have postponed the start of the event until Tuesday because of the threat of heavy rain and wind from Tropical Storm Isaac.
The move was not a surprise to many Republicans, and it surely will kindle new talk that he’s plotting a campaign to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014.
He previously penned an op-ed piece in the Washington Post criticizing Gov. Scott’s changes to early voting in Florida, and his face now appears on billboards on Florida’s Turnpike sponsored by the personal-injury law firm where he works, Morgan & Morgan.