So it has begun.
Democrats are starting to clear the decks for Charlie Crist, the longtime Republican who became an Independent who became a Democrat. Crist, who skipped out on a second term as governor in order to mount an ill-fated run for the U.S. Senate, appears poised to try and get his old job back in 2014.
In his favor: a current occupant of the governor’s mansion who is singularly unpopular, and not just with Democrats. Rick Scott has angered his former allies in the tea party by bowing to his real friends in the hospital lobby and saying he’d be fine with taking that dirty Obamacare money to expand Medicaid.
Scott’s Medicaid gambit, which has already been rebuffed by the Republican-dominated Legislature, led the tea party’s most colorful has-been, former U.S. Rep./musketeer Allen West, to question his “backbone” and to declare the governor “vulnerable” for reelection; not that West is necessarily looking to “primary” him.
Even before he broke faith with the “throw poor people and granny from the train” crowd, Scott was already disliked by, well, just about everyone. No amount of $2,500 bonus bribes could make teachers forget his slash and burn education budgets. And it’s unlikely that the public will soon erase from their minds Scott’s push to drug test poor people and state workers, particularly since he happened to own a few clinics that provided the service.
Even some Republicans privately grumbled when Scott canceled high-speed rail, which had been in the works, under GOP eyeshades, and with all those potential jobs, for a decade.
And he surely can’t escape the fallout from his choice of lieutenant governor. Jennifer Carroll quit last week after the lead client of her consulting firm — an apparent scam called Allied Veterans of the World — went up in federal racketeering flames. Carroll, it turns out, was a bum pick. Sure, she ticked the requisite boxes for a tea party die-hard (she’s black! . . . and also a woman!) who backed draconian immigration restrictions a-la-Arizona (she’s an immigrant!) and whose former hospital company was a poster child for Medicare fraud (her brother-in-law apparently ran a pill mill!) And she’s a veteran, to boot.
Unfortunately, after the election, Carroll and Scott apparently didn’t talk much. Maybe a few conversations about what she used to do for a living might have been helpful. Carroll delivered exactly 3 percent of the black vote for Scott in 2010, and has since added scandalous sexual allegations, offensive statements about how pretty one has to be to not be a lesbian, and so-called “Internet cafes.”
Needless to say there’s an opening for a friendly, sun-shiny fellow who bonded with teachers by vetoing an attempt to tie their pay to standardized test results, who has reversed his former hard line positions on social issues like gay marriage, and who is so likeable, he’s almost muppet-like. Even Republicans seem eager to swap Gov. Voldemort for Gov. Sunshine. [A Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday shows Crist would beat Scott by a margin of 50 percent to 34 percent.]
And yet, some Democrats are quietly grumbling that Crist is a political interloper, who shouldn’t be able to get in line in front of diehard Dems like former state Senate leader Nan Rich, or ex-Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. Rich is running, it seems, no matter what. But Diaz, along with heavyweights like Sen. Bill Nelson and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, are standing down. This while 2010’s disaster candidate Alex Sink appears to be sidelined by the tragic loss of her husband, Bill McBride.
Some gay rights activists still resent Charlie for his former anti-gay marriage and adoption stands.
Crist will surely pay for his once tough talk (he was “chain gang Charlie,” after all) and his sometimes awkward attempts to fit in with an increasingly right-wing GOP.
And Crist has some “bad pick” baggage of his own, by the name of convicted felon and former GOP chief Jim Greer.
But what Democrats will likely come to realize is that a convert who can win might be more important than a sure loser who is pure of heart. Democrats need a foothold in Florida’s governor’s mansion, given the stranglehold Republicans have on the state House and Senate, and polls show Crist has the best chance of beating Scott, who has laid a $100 million fundraising bid to buy back the governor’s mansion, on the table.
For Democrats, it may be Crist, or bust.