It was the biggest piece of thoroughly unsurprising news in months: Charlie Crist is becoming a Democrat. The next expectation is Crist will announce a campaign for Florida governor. He’s tanned, rested and ready after two years at a high-profile law firm and anyone who follows his career has a hard time picturing Crist out of public life forever. But the Florida Republicans’ prince-turned-pariah is no lock to win a Democratic primary against the likes of Alex Sink, let alone a general election against Gov. Rick Scott, who can pour tens of millions of his own money into a reelection campaign. A Crist candidacy has pros and cons. Here are five reasons why the former governor should run again and five reasons why he shouldn’t.
FIVE REASONS HE SHOULD
RUN FOR GOVERNOR
1. Democrats need a winner. Tired of losing, Florida Democrats are so hungry for some real influence in state government that they will cut Crist slack for his blatant opportunism and overlook some of his more strident conservative stands.
Yes, President Barack Obama won Florida twice in a row, but Democrats have lost the past four gubernatorial races and now hold just one of six statewide offices. The ultimate prize for party-building and fundraising is the Governor’s Mansion, and Democrats only have to see how relentlessly the Florida GOP has attacked Crist for months to realize how seriously it views him as a threat.
A sizable chunk of the Democratic primary electorate won’t trust Crist, so the more crowded the primary, the better for him. So far, it looks like a crowd with potential contenders including former Chief Financial Officer Sink, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, former state Sen. Nan Rich of Broward County, state Sen. Jeremy Ring of Broward and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales. But all would have to spend millions to become known statewide.
2. The Democratic coalition. Trial lawyers and teachers are two critical groups to bankroll a statewide campaign, and Crist is uniquely positioned to win over both. He works for one of the state’s most prominent trial lawyers, John “For the People” Morgan, and teachers praised Crist even when he was a Republican governor for vetoing a controversial teacher merit pay bill.
Crist also has wide support in the party’s most loyal constituency, African-Americans. They appreciated his outreach and his expansion of the attorney general’s power to prosecute civil rights cases and a decision, overturned by Scott and others, to make it easier for ex-felons to regain their civil rights so they could vote.
3. Obama. Crist has to be the president’s favorite Florida politician. He was one of the few Republicans to enthusiastically endorse Obama’s $700 billion stimulus package, and Crist was all over Florida this election season stumping for Obama. He raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for the president’s reelection campaign and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. At the moment, “the hug” looks pretty good.
And Sink? Right after her narrow loss to Scott in 2010, she told POLITICO the “tone deaf” Obama administration was to blame for her loss. “They got a huge wake-up call two days ago, but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” Sink said.
Obama and senior political advisor David Axelrod have lavishly praised Crist, and it’s likely they would be eager to help him win America’s biggest battleground state. Another big Crist fan: Bill Clinton, whose wife may be keen on having a Democrat lead Florida heading into 2016.