Obama Could Kill Charlie Crist’s Chances Still

Despite his party switch, Florida voters might see their former governor as being too close to the president.

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 08: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) embraces former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist as he takes the stage during a campaign on the campus of St. Petersburg College September 8, 2012 in St Petersburg, Florida. Working with the momentum from this week's Democratic National Convention, Obama is doing a two-day campaign swing from one side of Florida to the other on the politically important I-4 corridor. 
National Journal
Beth Reinhard
Nov. 25, 2013, midnight

How many cam­paigns can one hug squeeze to death?

As the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor of Flor­ida, Charlie Crist paid dearly for put­ting his arms around Pres­id­ent Obama at a town hall tout­ing the Demo­crats’ eco­nom­ic-stim­u­lus plan in Feb­ru­ary 2009. The gov­ernor’s chief rival for the U.S. Sen­ate, Marco Ru­bio, re­played foot­age of the em­brace over and over, savaging Crist’s con­ser­vat­ive cre­den­tials.

Now run­ning as a Demo­crat for his old job, Crist may find that his con­tin­ued em­brace of an in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar pres­id­ent—and his con­tro­ver­sial health care law—could thwart him once again.

“The hug that crushed Charlie in 2009 doesn’t even com­pare to the boa con­strict­or of Obama­care that will crush him in 2014,” said Rick Wilson, a Tal­l­a­hassee-based Re­pub­lic­an strategist.

Crist an­nounced his party switch from a White House Christ­mas party last year and has stacked his 2014 cam­paign with former Obama staffers, mak­ing it easy for the GOP to yoke him to the pres­id­ent again. Earli­er this month, Crist at­ten­ded a fun­draiser in the Miami area head­lined by the pres­id­ent.

The re­la­tion­ship could be a li­ab­il­ity in Flor­ida, where a new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll shows Obama with only 40 per­cent ap­prov­al, match­ing his low­est-ever rat­ing notched in 2011. That’s even worse than the 42 per­cent ap­prov­al of the cur­rent gov­ernor, Re­pub­lic­an Rick Scott, who is widely seen as one of the most vul­ner­able in­cum­bents in the coun­try.

Most im­port­antly, Crist has en­dorsed the pres­id­ent’s sig­na­ture health care law at a time when it’s strug­gling to get off the ground. “Hug­ging Obama­care,” read one re­cent at­tack from the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Flor­ida, which in­cluded, of course, a pic­ture of a Crist-Obama hug. A ma­jor­ity of Flor­ida voters op­pose the Af­ford­able Care Act, ac­cord­ing to Quin­nipi­ac.

And it’s not just Obama­care that threatens Crist.

Scott got the good news last week that Flor­ida led the na­tion in job growth in Oc­to­ber. The GOP crowed that since Scott’s elec­tion in 2010, un­em­ploy­ment has dropped from 11.1 per­cent to 6.7 per­cent in Oc­to­ber. Un­der Crist, who served as gov­ernor from 2007 to 2010, un­em­ploy­ment climbed from 3.5 per­cent to 11.1 per­cent.

“While Charlie Crist sup­ports policies like Obama­care that harm our eco­nomy, Rick Scott has im­ple­men­ted policies that have put Flor­ida ahead of the rest of the na­tion when it comes to job cre­ation,” said Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an Party Chair­man Lenny Curry.

Months of these early at­tacks on Crist seem to be tak­ing a toll, as his fa­vor­ab­il­ity/un­fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings have dropped to 41/39 per­cent, put­ting him nearly on par with Scott at 39/42 per­cent.

But the Quin­nipi­ac poll also showed Scott con­tinu­ing to trail Crist, al­though by a slightly smal­ler mar­gin of 7 points. Scott’s 42 per­cent job-ap­prov­al rat­ing com­pares un­fa­vor­ably to the 53 per­cent ap­prov­al of the job Crist did as gov­ernor. And a ma­jor­ity of voters, 53 per­cent, say Scott does not de­serve a second term.

“You are deal­ing with two guys with uni­ver­sal name ID who both have been gov­ernor and people have already made judg­ments on,” said Demo­crat­ic poll­ster John An­za­lone, one of the former Obama ad­visers now work­ing for Crist. “The na­tion­al dy­nam­ics are not go­ing to af­fect the gov­ernor’s race in Flor­ida.”

Scott is ex­pec­ted to raise as much as $100 mil­lion in at­tempt to se­cure his reelec­tion, while Crist’s fledgling cam­paign has been dogged by ru­mors that the only Demo­crat elec­ted statewide in Flor­ida, Sen. Bill Nel­son, hasn’t ruled out jump­ing in­to the gubernat­ori­al race. That’s an un­likely scen­ario, but the pro­spect could cause some long­time Demo­crat­ic donors to hes­it­ate to write checks to Crist.

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