A Tale of Two Conventions for Charlie Crist

The former Florida governor took on a much more public role at the DNC in 2012.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Kimberly Railey
Add to Briefcase
Kimberly Railey
July 28, 2016, 4:35 p.m.

PHIL­ADELPHIA—Four years after Charlie Crist de­livered a prime-time ad­dress at the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion, the former Flor­ida gov­ernor had a much more muted pres­ence this week.

As he seeks an­oth­er polit­ic­al comeback, the Re­pub­lic­an-turned-in­de­pend­ent-turned-Demo­crat has mostly kept out of the pub­lic eye since ar­riv­ing in town Monday.

By Thursday morn­ing, his only pub­lic ap­pear­ances had been a day earli­er at a Flor­ida del­eg­a­tion break­fast and at the Wells Fargo Cen­ter, and his name has rarely popped up in news stor­ies from the con­ven­tion.

“It cer­tainly is lower-pro­file,” Crist said in a phone in­ter­view. “At the last one, I spoke to the en­tire con­ven­tion. It’s dif­fer­ent.”

A dec­ade re­moved from his last elect­or­al vic­tory, Crist is now the slight fa­vor­ite in Flor­ida’s 13th Dis­trict, which be­came more Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing this cycle un­der the state’s re­vised con­gres­sion­al map.

It had been an open seat, but Crist’s path grew more com­plic­ated last month when Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Dav­id Jolly dropped his Sen­ate bid to in­stead seek reelec­tion. Most still give Crist the edge in a dis­trict Pres­id­ent Obama would have car­ried with nearly 55 per­cent of the vote in 2012.

Speak­ing as an in­de­pend­ent at the last con­ven­tion, Crist praised Obama and re­coun­ted why he aban­doned the GOP. “I didn’t leave the Re­pub­lic­an Party,” Crist told the crowd then. “It left me.”

The high-pro­file speech was widely covered by na­tion­al and loc­al news out­lets, as the former Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor backed the Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ent for reelec­tion. But it’s not ex­pos­ure Crist is look­ing for this time.

In 2012, “he was there to be a val­id­at­or for mod­er­ates,” Flor­ida-based Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant Steve Schale said. “This time, he’s a Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate for Con­gress, and really the most im­port­ant thing he can do [at the DNC] is meet donors.”

In­deed, re­port­ing a story Tues­day on Hil­lary Clin­ton donors ming­ling at the Ritz-Carlton in Phil­adelphia, The New York Times spot­ted Crist walk­ing through the bar.

“This is a good place to be—for a lot of reas­ons,” Crist told the Times. “We must have set up five fund-raisers today. This is the bank.”

His vis­it to the del­eg­a­tion break­fast Wed­nes­day was not part of his ini­tial sched­ule. In the in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, Crist said he had planned to at­tend an over­lap­ping event with Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ben Ray Lu­jan but skipped it be­cause of traffic.

A hand­ful of break­fast at­tendees said Crist “worked the room,” me­an­der­ing through the ex­pans­ive space for nearly an hour.

“Many got a hand­shake, many got a hug,” Flor­ida del­eg­ate Dav­id Sing­er said. “His con­ver­sion to the Demo­crat­ic Party is com­plete.”

Crist’s path there was unique. As a Re­pub­lic­an, he suc­ceeded Jeb Bush as gov­ernor in 2007, then op­ted to run in the open-seat Sen­ate race in 2010. That’s where his con­ver­sion began, as Marco Ru­bio over­came a sig­ni­fic­ant early-polling and fin­an­cial dis­ad­vant­age in the primary, lead­ing Crist to drop out of the nom­in­a­tion battle. He in­stead ran as an in­de­pend­ent, fin­ish­ing second but well be­hind Ru­bio in the three-way race.

After en­dors­ing Obama for reelec­tion, he signed his Demo­crat­ic party-re­gis­tra­tion form at the White House Christ­mas Party in 2012 ahead of launch­ing his comeback cam­paign for the gov­ernor’s man­sion in the 2014 cycle. He chal­lenged Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Rick Scott, who de­feated him by 1 point.

Des­pite his re­cent los­ing streak and GOP past, Crist is per­son­ally pop­u­lar among Demo­crats. Be­fore a Flor­ida del­eg­a­tion break­fast earli­er this week, former Sen. Bob Gra­ham praised Crist as an ex­per­i­enced and well-known can­did­ate. The two ran against each oth­er for Sen­ate in 1998, when Crist lost as a Re­pub­lic­an.

In the cam­paign, “there were a few sharp el­bows,” Gra­ham said, while rid­ing an es­cal­at­or up to a ball­room. “But mainly we talked about the things that the people were in­ter­ested in.”

In his cur­rent race, Crist had $671,000 in his cam­paign ac­count to Jolly’s $409,000 at the end of June. For now, Jolly does not have guar­an­teed sup­port from the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee, which has ac­cused Jolly of ly­ing about the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s fun­drais­ing prac­tices on a CBS 60 Minutes broad­cast.

On Fri­day, NR­CC Chair­man Greg Walden left room for re­con­cili­ation, say­ing on C-SPAN News­makers he would speak with Jolly to see “what kind of race he wants to run.”

Jolly’s cam­paign had no com­ment on the de­vel­op­ment but eagerly de­nounced Crist’s con­ven­tion trip.

“The na­tion­al Demo­crats are al­ways try­ing to de­cide loc­al elec­tions, so while Charlie’s hob­nob­bing up north, Jolly is on the ground like he was last week serving his com­munity and do­ing his job,” Jolly spokes­man Max Good­man said. “It’s the reas­on he will win in Novem­ber.”

The day Jolly an­nounced he would mount a comeback bid to the House, the DCCC quickly pub­li­cized Jolly’s own state­ment on the newly drawn dis­trict last year, when he said that “vir­tu­ally every per­son in the polit­ic­al sphere will tell you no Re­pub­lic­an can win” there. Jolly ac­know­ledged the dif­fi­culty when he reentered the race, say­ing, “I am not naïve with the chal­lenge we are un­der­tak­ing.”

Demo­crats are not tak­ing any chances. The party’s main al­lied su­per PAC, House Ma­jor­ity PAC, has booked $1.5 mil­lion in TV time in the dis­trict, where the pres­id­en­tial race is ex­pec­ted to dom­in­ate the air­waves.

If Crist wins, he would join a group of only four oth­er former gov­ernors who have gone on to hold House seats dur­ing the 20th and 21st cen­tur­ies, ac­cord­ing to the Uni­versity of Min­nesota’s Smart Polit­ics blog. The list in­cludes cur­rent Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Mark San­ford of South Car­o­lina.

Asked if the trans­ition would be a strange move, Gra­ham, also an ex-gov­ernor, said, “It is some­what un­usu­al, but John Quincy Adams went from the White House to the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives.”

What We're Following See More »
Congress Heads Back to Work to End Shutdown
21 hours ago

"The Senate was expected to be back in session at noon, while House lawmakers were told to return to work for a 9 a.m. session. Mr. Trump on Friday had canceled plans to travel to his private resort on Palm Beach, Fla., where a celebration had been planned for Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office."

Government Shutdown Begins, as Senate Balks at Stopgap
23 hours ago

"A stopgap spending bill stalled in the Senate Friday night, leading to a government shutdown for the first time since 2013. The continuing resolution funding agencies expired at midnight, and lawmakers were unable to spell out any path forward to keep government open. The Senate on Friday night failed to reach cloture on a four-week spending bill the House had already approved."

Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
2 days ago
FBI Investigating Potential Russian Donations to NRA
2 days ago

"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.

Mueller Investigation Leads to Hundreds of New FARA Filings
2 days ago

"Hundreds of new and supplemental FARA filings by U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms" have been submitted "since Special Counsel Mueller charged two Trump aides with failing to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreign countries. The number of first-time filings ... rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump's associates and their business partners."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.