In a prelude to a long and bitter campaign, former Gov. Charlie Crist pointedly criticized Gov. Rick Scott during a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday over an elections law that led to voting troubles and helped turn Florida into a “late-night TV joke.”
Crist’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony came just hours after a new poll showed he’s more popular than the current governor, who is preparing to face his predecessor on the 2014 ballot.
Before and since Election Day, Scott has been under fire for an elections law he signed that cut back the days of in-person early voting and increased the size of voters’ ballots, which led to embarrassingly long lines.
Hours before Crist’s testimony, Scott appeared on CNN and blunted some of the criticisms by saying the law needs to be fixed.
“We’ve got to go back and look at the number of days of early voting we have,” said Scott, who had previously described the law as the “right thing” to stop voter fraud.
“People are frustrated in our state,” Scott said. “We’ve got to restore confidence in our election” system.
Crist suggested that Scott was the one to blame because he signed the election law in 2011 and, this year, the governor refused to extend in-person early voting hours despite lines that stretched for hours and discouraged many South Floridians from voting.
Crist contrasted that record with his own as governor in 2008, when he extended early voting hours.
“As Gov. Scott refused to take action to ease the lines, in some cases, those lines extended to six and seven hours,” Crist testified.
“The outcome of these decisions was quite obvious,” Crist said. “Florida, which four years earlier was a model for efficiency, became once again a late-night TV joke.”
Crist called for a national law to expand in-person early voting rights. He said the law Scott signed was designed to give Republicans a “partisan” edge. Democrats vote early in person more than Republicans. The Republican-led Legislature and Scott cut back those days from 14 to eight.
Crist was a surrogate this year for President Obama, who won Florida in 2012 and 2008, thanks in great part to early voting.
Crist became a Democrat only this month. He was Republican for most of his political career, and then became an independent in a futile bid to win a U.S. Senate seat against a more-popular Republican, Marco Rubio, in 2010.
At the same time, Scott won the governor’s mansion. The political neophyte entered office with weak poll numbers, which declined further after education money was cut in his first year in office.
The just-ended elections woes didn’t help Scott’s approval ratings.
Now, 55 percent of voters — including 50 percent of GOP voters — said they’d like a Republican candidate to challenge Scott in a primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Only 30 percent of Republicans say Scott shouldn’t face a primary opponent.
The poll also found that just 31 percent of voters had a favorable view of Scott while 43 percent held an unfavorable view. Crist’s numbers: 47 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable.
Crist is viewed poorly by Republicans who have watched him evolve from Republican Obama critic to independent to Obama backer to Democrat.