Former Gov. Charlie Crist and his Democratic primary rival former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston put on a united front at a rallies Thursday in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
To show that longtime state Democratic politicians have fully embraced Crist as their own, several took the stage to praise the former Republican governore. Among them: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar and state Sen. Chris Smith. Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor, Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade, also spoke.
Crist, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, defeated Rich, by nearly 49 percentage points in Tuesday’s primary. Now he faces a a more expensive campaign and tougher foe in Gov. Rick Scott. The Democrats held the event next at the Urban League of Broward, next to Broward’s African-American library — a nod to the importance of the black and Democratic vote in Broward.
Rich introduced Crist and praised him for calling for increased education funding and Medicaid expansion.
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“Charlie Crist will need all of our support to win,” she said. “He has mine."
Crist thanked “Nan Rich for being such a class act,” even though he all but ignored her during the primary and refused to debate her. He repeated campaign promises for equal pay for women, raising minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.
He sounded like the rest of the Democrats in the room when he trashedScott and saying of Scott's side “all they care about is their fat cat buddies.”
Also in attendance were George Sheldon, who easily beat state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General.
Sheldon worked as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth between 1999 and 2002. He followed Butterworth to the Department of Children and Families. In 2008, Crist, who was governor at the time, named Sheldon to lead the agency.
Thurston was one of the only speakers to acknowledge the low Democratic turnout in Tuesday’s primary: only 11 percent of Broward voted, the second lowest in the state. Part of the reason for low turnout in Broward was the ballot lacked any exciting countywide races and included mostly district contests for school board and county commission.
“We didn’t show up like we should have shown up, but we have a second opportunity,” he said.
The key challenge for Crist is to boost turnout in South Florida in November. When Democrat Alex Sink lost her race against Scott in 2010, turnout in Broward was only 41 percent.
Sheldon drew big cheers when he voiced his support for medical marijuana, which is on the ballot in November. He also called for automatic restoration of the right to vote for ex-offenders.
A similar rally was held earlier on Thursday in Orlando.
About 250 Democrats showed up at the Fort Lauderdale event and waved signs representing different liberal constituencies including blacks, the LGBT community and women. A few people also waved signs for NextGen Climate, the PAC of billionaire Tom Steyer who is attacking Scott on environmental issues.
Shortly before the Democratic event started in Fort Lauderdale, Republican Party of Florida chair Leslie Dougher spoke outside the event bashing the Democrats for low turnout. She hit on familiar themes including the fact that more than 800,000 jobs were lost when Crist was governor, omitting much of the United States was in a recession.
“Florida Democrats are uniting behind Charlie Crist’s record of failure, but Floridians are going to unite against Charlie Crist on November 4th,” she said in a statement released earlier in the day.