Party-switching former Florida governor Charlie Crist hopes that being a political chameleon will be an asset, not an albatross, in an electoral climate shaped by voter anger at partisan business-as-usual.
“I don’t think people prize party participation much at all in our society today, I think they are fed up with it to be honest with you,” he said in a recent interview at the Florida Press Association.
Crist announced his decision to run for governor earlier this month – his first campaign since becoming a Democrat in 2012, after switching to an independent in 2010.
Former state senator Nan Rich is also seeking the Democratic nomination, but is polling far behind Crist.
Crist contends he never left the Republican Party: “I didn’t leave them, they left me,” he insists
“When I saw the leadership of the Republican Party going in the opposite direction of that to be true to my core beliefs and to be trustworthy to myself and to be able to look in the mirror, I had to get out of there,” he said. “Changing parties is why you should trust me more than anything.”
However, Crist’s shift away from the Republican Party was a move of necessity.
Facing likely defeat by then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Republican Senate primary, Crist became an independent.
“I’m just more comfortable being a Democrat,” Crist said. “They seem to be much more compassionate, much more tolerant, much more welcoming.”
Asked why not stay a Republican and just take a more progressive position, Crist said, "I don’t think there are many of those left."
"The leadership of the Republican Party, I think, went in such a rigid direction of intolerance, I couldn’t stay there anymore," he said.
So far, voters seem to be unsure about whether Crist deserves the benefit of the doubt – and Republicans have already begun running ads casting Crist as a political opportunist and an unreliable governor.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Nov. 21 shows Crist with a seven-point lead over Republican Gov. Rick Scott – down from a ten-point lead in June.
But Scott’s approval rating also dropped from 43 percent to 42 percent in the months since Quinnipiac’s June survey.
Neither Scott nor Crist seemed to have the market cornered on trustworthiness. When asked whether Crist is “honest and trustworthy,” 40 percent of respondents said yes, 42 percent said no. Scott’s numbers were worse, with 38 percent of respondents saying the current governor was “honest and trustworthy” and 49 percent saying he was not.
The poll was conducted from November 12-17, and polled 1,646 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percent.
Facing a barrage of negative ads, fueled by Scott’s multimillion-dollar war chest, Crist says he’s not afraid to go through the “meat grinder face first.”
“I’m just going to be Charlie Crist. I am who I am,” he said. “And Floridians fortunately know what I’m about and what I believe in and what I think is important and what I think is important is them.”