“A lot of people don’t trust him,” said Barbara Effman, the longtime president of the West Broward Democratic Club, one of the largest in the state. “He didn’t want to be a Republican, and then he didn’t want to be an independent, and now that he’s been a Democrat for a few days, he thinks he can be governor?”
An automated survey conducted in September by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling suggests that Crist would be competitive in both a Democratic primary and a general election. He was viewed favorably by 55 percent of the Democrats, and he also outpaced Scott, 48 percent to 43 percent, in a potential matchup.
Ceasar said that Crist has called him several time in the last couple of months. “It tells me he’s not only considering it but probably already crossed the line and made the decision to run,” he said. “I think him changing parties was the opening volley of the 2014 race.”
Indeed, top Democratic strategists are already lining up to work for Crist. Appearing on MSNBC on Monday, Crist name-dropped that he had recently dined with Bob Graham, the former governor and senator and the elder statesman of the state’s Democratic Party. “If you decide to run for governor, we’ll have a nice platform for you right here,” gushed host Chris Matthews. A CNN interview later Tuesday gave Crist a chance to sing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s praises on national television.
But to the GOP establishment, Crist is public enemy No. 1. The Florida Republican Party has been hammering Crist for months over his flip-flops on issues and allegations that his former handpicked state chairman, Jim Greer, stole party money. On Monday, the Republican Governors Association joined the attack. “While the Democrats consider how to reinvent Charlie Crist and their relationship with him, we look forward to being able to support Governor Scott’s reelection on the merits of his record,” the RGA blasted in an e-mail.
The backlash makes Crist an appealing poster boy for Democrats eager to portray the GOP as extreme and out-of-touch. He’s a proven fundraiser and happy warrior on the campaign trail. At the same time, party leaders recognize the repercussions that can come from playing favorites.
“He would be an attractive candidate,” said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and a congresswoman from South Florida. “But as the DNC chair, I’m not going to put my thumb on the scale and suggest there’s a preferred candidate, because there isn’t.”
Graham, the governor and senator who Crist tried to unseat in 1998, said that dinner with his old rival was planned before he switched parties. “Florida has a long history of Democrats becoming Republicans, so it’s kind of refreshing,” Graham said. Asked if he thought Crist would be a good candidate, Graham was more circumspect: “He has the right to ask Democrats to be their governor.”