The Florida Democratic Party knows it needs Nan Rich.
And, perhaps, so does former Gov. Charlie Crist, who could face her in next year’s Democratic primary for governor if he decides to run against her.
A long-shot for governor, Rich’s background is an inverse of Crist’s: a committed liberal and a longtime Democrat, but a virtual unknown. Rich, a former Democratic leader in the state Senate, represented Weston until 2012.
If Crist runs, which looks likely, the Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat will have to face her in a 2014 primary where only registered Democrats can vote.
Democrats say that dynamic is a good thing because any candidate who matches up against Republican Gov. Rick Scott will have to be battle-tested.
Even if Crist ultimately wins the Democratic primary — which early polls suggest is highly likely — it’ll force him to prove his party bonafides. Rich’s candidacy, at the least, will force a discussion about what it means to be a Democrat in Florida.
And Rich plans to do just that as she appeals to the grassroots of the party.
“They want a true Democrat,” Rich said. “They want someone who has consistent core values and principles. They don’t see that in Charlie Crist.”
Crist demurred when it came time to talk about his future plans or running against Rich.
“I’m not much of a prognosticator,” Crist said. “I don’t know yet if I’ll run. But I’m getting closer everyday to making that decision.”
How will the one-time self-described “Reagan Republican” and “Jeb Bush Republican” convince Democrats that he’s one of them? Only a campaign and time will tell.
“Charlie Crist has got a lot of explaining to do and Nan Rich is the one to make him do it,” said Screven Watson, a longtime Democratic consultant who worked for 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith, the recently retired party chairman.
“A primary is good for us,” Watson said. “Charlie has never been a Democrat. Nan always has. She has a message. And he needs time to deliver that message, to reintroduce himself to voters.”
Rich has the opposite problem: She needs to introduce herself to voters because she’s so unknown, unlike Crist, who has held three statewide offices and run for two others.
Paradoxically, Rich’s party is making it harder on her.
Rich is being denied a speaking slot at the June 15 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, an annual Florida Democratic Party gathering and fundraiser at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.
Party leaders say they want to streamline the event, because in prior years they’ve had too many speakers. Now they’ll have only three: Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and featured speaker Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio.
“I think it’s inappropriate, given the amount of attention the governor’s race will draw,” Rich said. “I’ve been a candidate for a year. I’ve traveled the state and built a significant infrastructure and grassroots support. And I’m just asking for five minutes.”
But the party’s vice-chair and chair of its Miami-Dade chapter, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, said the decision to limit speakers wasn’t aimed at Rich. It’s designed to keep donors from getting bored by too many speeches.