Run, Charlie, run.
Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor, is slated to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. When he does, it will cap a journey that has taken him from the height of statewide power as a Republican, through his apostasy as a less-than-right-wing governor, to either a de facto or actual Democrat.
Crist was a governor whose main claim to fame was his absolute love for the state. Governor Sunshine was Florida’s ultimate booster, and a sunny, if sometimes less substantive, change from the often dour Jeb Bush.
Unlike Bush, who in 2000 pioneered the voter purge strategy adopted with ruthless abandon by the current governor, Rick Scott, Charlie embraced the idea of broadened voter participation. He eased the path for the formerly incarcerated to regain their right to vote and to vie for gainful employment as contractors and other state licensees. He held open the polls for the long lines of voters on Election Day 2008 — something Democrats and angry Republicans alike believe helped Barack Obama win the state and the presidency.
Rather than posture for the Ayn Rand crowd while still taking the money, Crist joined a handful of Republican governors in 2009, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, in openly supporting the stimulus that prevented state budgets from going over a cliff following the Great Bush Recession.
And Crist quieted his doubters, myself included, by standing up for teachers and vetoing a controversial bill that would have broken the back of their labor union. That veto signaled the end of Crist as a Republican. He soon exited the party to become an independent. Then he lost a three-way race for U.S. Senate.
Now, it seems Charlie Crist may want to be governor again. His speech at the DNC clearly signals a return to the spotlight following his U.S. Senate loss to Marco Rubio in 2010. The smart money says he will try for his old seat, and a place in history as the first man to hold the governor’s office as both a Republican and a Democrat.
Crist should go for it. In fact, polls show he would show Rick Scott the meaning of “whupping.”
Even in his Senate loss, Crist showed some surprising strengths: he won blue Broward County, beating Democrat Kendrick Meek there. And though Meek is African American, Crist held his own with black voters, in part due to the continuing loyalty of 2008 Obama voters who remember those open polls.
Moreover, in a state were one-fifth of voters are registered independent or “no party affiliation,” Crist is the kind of candidate who can resonate with the moderate indie majority, win the vast majority of Democrats, and even some Republicans.
Crist would need to mend some fences to be welcomed into the Democratic fold. As governor, he embraced policies on traditional marriage that were viewed as ant-LGBT, including signing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and adoption. He has yet to walk back his uncompromising positions on those issues, at least publicly, and he missed an opportunity to reach out to gay and lesbian activists in the first days of the Democratic convention, when some of those activists tried to broker a meeting that never happened.
But if anyone can find a way to smooth over the various feathers ruffled by his years as a strained conservative, it is Governor Sunshine. Having already walked away from his former party because of its extremism, he has left himself plenty of room to distance himself from its individual policies.
At the least, he can make the case that a traditionally conservative Democrat or independent in the governor’s mansion is a vast improvement over a tea party radical who turns down 20,000 light rail jobs, drug tests the poor, seeks to suppress minority voters and has yet to show Florida the love it got accustomed to in the Sunshine era.
With all of that considered: Run, Charlie, run.