Memoir details Charlie Crist’s rise to power

01/08/2014 5:42 PM

01/08/2014 7:28 PM

A soon-to-be released memoir by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist details Crist’s rise to political power, his decision to leave the Republican Party in 2010 and how his marriage proposal to Carole Rome was accidentally interrupted by a neighbor who wanted to watch a Tampa Bay Rays game.

The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat is scheduled to be released Feb. 4. The Tampa Bay Times received an advance copy Wednesday.

In the 341-page book co-authored by Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, Crist says the Republican Party became more and more conservative in 2009 and 2010, and discusses how he became isolated as a moderate.

He writes of being heckled at an Alachua County Republican Party fundraiser over his decision to support the federal stimulus by appearing alongside — and hugging — President Barack Obama.

“We shook hands. The new president leaned forward and gave me a hug,” Crist writes.

“Reach. Pull. Release.

“As hugs go it wasn’t anything special ... but that simple gesture ended my career as a viable Republican politician.”

In another section of the book, Crist describes being accosted by a drunk fan at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in the weeks after he announced he was leaving the Republican Party. Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers had to break up the incident, Crist writes.

Crist, who is running for governor in 2014 as a Democrat, describes at length the ups and downs of his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.

Crist writes that former President Bill Clinton almost persuaded Democrat Kendrick Meek to drop out of the three-way race including Crist, who was running as an independent, and Republican Marco Rubio.

“I kept hearing the deal seemed on. Then maybe it wasn’t. Then maybe it was again,” Crist writes.

Meek stayed in the race, and Rubio won comfortably.

The memoir steers clear of some of Crist’s biggest political adversaries or pitfalls.

Crist largely avoids a discussion of Jim Greer, his pick as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida who is now in prison for stealing party money, and George LeMieux, who served as Crist’s chief of staff but later became a vocal adversary.

He describes Rubio as someone who was more moderate as a member of the Florida House than he is today.

“He was bright and energetic — conservative for sure. But I wouldn’t call him an inflexible ideologue. ... That was the Marco I knew. That was before he was being called 'the crown prince of the Tea Party movement,’ ” Crist writes.

Crist saves his harshest attacks for Gov. Rick Scott, his likely opponent in the fall.

“You know me. I’m always an optimist. I hoped Rick Scott would do a wonderful job as Florida’s new governor,” Crist writes. “But from the day he took the oath of office on the Old Capitol steps, I have been deeply disappointed in the things he’s done to our Florida. There’s no other way to say it: He’s been a terrible governor, and that’s not just because I miss having the job.”

The book starts and ends with Crist as a Democrat, rubbing elbows with Obama and speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

In between, Crist tells personal stories — including how his plan to propose in 2008 was delayed a day because neighbors had invited Crist and then-girlfriend Carole to watch the Rays on TV.

“Carole seemed up for it. I didn’t want to say in the elevator: 'Well, um, sure, except that I was thinking about going home and asking her to marry me.’ ”

Crist also recalls the 2008 presidential campaign, his friendship with Republican John McCain and Crist’s near-selection as McCain’s running mate.

Crist writes that he and aides spent three days filling out a detailed questionnaire before McCain officials arranged an official meeting. The group, led by McCain confidant A.B. Culvahouse, met Crist at his parents’ house on Snell Isle in St. Petersburg.

“We set up in the living room and stayed there all day,” Crist writes, saying questions included how far he would go to get Osama bin Laden and if Crist believed in torture.

“Anything legal,” and “No,” Crist answered.

Weeks went by before Crist was told he wouldn’t be McCain’s running mate, he writes. McCain made the call to Crist personally, about 45 minutes before the world knew Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be the choice.

Crist describes Palin as “different.”

“She was definitely different from anyone I’d ever campaigned with. ... She gave the speeches she was asked to. She spoke with Sean Hannity of Fox News and Elisabeth Hasselbeck from The View. ... But other than that, she talked to almost no one. ...,” Crist writes.

“She was campaigning in a vital swing state, and still never asked me: 'What’s going on in Florida? What are the local issues here? What are people thinking about?’ Even if she didn’t care, why not make idle conversation?”

At another point in the book, Crist writes about his decision to skip a 2006 Florida campaign rally for President George W. Bush. Crist, who was running for governor, and said he got a call from Bush adviser Karl Rove.

“You’ve never been yelled at until you’ve been yelled at by Karl Rove. 'You chickens---!’ he bellowed, almost cutting off my hello. 'I can’t believe you didn’t show up last night to be with the president. What a chickens--- thing to do.’

“He sounded so agitated, he was yelling so loud, I had to pull the phone back from my ear. I knew he was under pressure. I really thought he might have a heart attack. ...

“But to me that day, Karl Rove just seemed like a jerk.”

Contact Aaron Sharockman at asharockman@tampabay.com .

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