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
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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.”

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