To President Barack Obamas reelection team, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crists high-profile speaking role at the Democratic National Convention is a coup. But to many longtime Florida Democrats, its revolting.
"If he gets up to speak at the convention, itll be a good time to go to the bathroom," said Palm Beach Countys tax collector, Anne Gannon, a Florida Democratic delegate.
Hes a born-again Democrat, Gannon said. Hes a nice man, but he doesnt have a clue about his value system.
Crist is widely expected to run for governor again in two years as a Democrat. He left the Republican Party in 2010, saying it had become too extreme.
His conversion to an independent came only after he was all but assured a GOP-primary loss to fellow Republican Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate race. Crist went on to lose the general election to Rubio in a three-way Senate race involving former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, of Miami, who wouldnt comment directly about Crists role at the DNC.
"Im not in charge," he said when he ran into a reporter at the convention. "Im going to go get my credentials (for the convention)."
But Meek, an African-American who is popular with the teachers unions as well, left open the possibility of a rematch with Crist. When asked if hed run for governor against Crist, he smiled and repeated: "Im going to get my credentials."
Crist, who could not be reached for comment, has slowly tilted toward the Democratic Party ever since, endorsing Sen. Bill Nelson and then Obama just before the Republican National Convention kicked off the Sunday before last. He was awarded a DNC speaking slot, perhaps on Thursday night when Obama is nominated.
The speaking role of a not-quite-Democrat at the Democrats convention speaks volumes about the state of the party.
Except for national party chairwoman and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, no other Florida official will play a high-profile convention role. Nelson isnt scheduled to speak. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 5 percentage points in Florida yet only hold one state-wide elected office, Nelsons, and comprise less than a third of the Legislature.
As a must-win state for Republicans that Obama won in 2008, Florida is nonetheless playing a much-downsized role at the Democrats convention relative to its outsized importance.
Republicans have reveled in Crists flip-flops, disseminating Tweets from the time Crist was still a Republican who bashed Obamas healthcare plan.
Democrats arent so happy to point out the inconsistencies, but theyre noting them nonetheless in a bipartisan act of marveling at Crists appetite for political reinvention. They expect Crist, a trial lawyer at the Morgan & Morgan firm, to become a Democrat at an opportune moment and then run for governor.
Less than two years ago, he was against the Affordable Care Act and he thought Sarah Palin was an excellent choice for vice president. How does he explain that? said state Sen. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat whos running for governor in 2014.
For Rich, the Democratic Party leader in the Florida Senate, the elevation of Crist by national Democrats is a particularly unappealing proposition. It gives him national and statewide exposure while paying short shrift to Democrats who fought for the partys ideals when it wasnt convenient.