Florida’s former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist came out fighting in his first stump speech in his campaign to get his old job back, this time as a Democrat.
After a failed bid for U.S. Senate as an Independent—Tea Party darling Marco Rubio beat the former governor 49% to 30%—Crist is hoping to capitalize on Americans’ poor opinion of their elected officials to get his old job back.
“The more I watched Rick Scott govern – the partisanship, the deals, always putting the special interests above your interest – and the more I heard from you people, I knew it was time to take Florida in a better direction,” he said from an event in St. Petersburg. “So today, I announce that I am running for governor of Florida.”
Crist declared his ambitions in St. Petersburg, coming on stage after handful of introductions and some pointedly chosen stump tunes (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” performed by Diana Ross and the Supremes, to name one.)
In his first campaign event, Crist touted his record as the state’s 44th governor, touted his plans to improve education, infrastructure, and tourism, while implementing tax-cuts for middle class families, creating clean energy options, and avoiding special interests’ influences.
Crist looked to tie Scott to the Tea Party, which enjoys poor approval ratings nationwide following the 16-day government shutdown.
“A governor who cares so little about education he didn’t even come to his education summit,” he said, eyebrows raised. “But he did manage to go to the Tea Party [event] the same week.”
In polls over the last year, Crist’s gubernatorial candidacy has looked promising—a Quinnipiac Polling Institute poll sees 50% of voters going for Crist and 34% going for current Republican Gov. Rick Scott, with the remainder undecided. Another poll found Crist leading with 46% of the electorate to Scott’s 41%.
“I’m an optimist but let’s face it, the last few years have been tough: government on the fringes, donors in politics above you the people,” said Crist in a video embedded on charliecrist.com, a site “paid for personally” by Crist himself. “You’ve seen the attacks against full-time working people and their health care; against women and their doctors; against teachers, public schools and college affordability; And even against the simple act of casting your vote. It’s not working.”
Crist’s party switch was a long-time coming: after jumping ship to become an Independent in 2010, he spoke at the 2012 Democratic convention and endorsed President Obama’s re-election. As a Democrat, Crist will face former state Sen. Nan Rich in a primary challenge, but Rich isn’t expected to pose much of a threat to the former governor.
“We simply deserve a governor who stands up for the people,” Crist said as he concluded his speech. “I always have and I always will.”
The Republican Governors Association isn’t mincing words about what they think of their former ally.
“Charlie Crist was a failure as Governor and is a pure political opportunist who is out for himself,” the group’s Chairman Bobby Jindal said in a statement on Monday. “Under Crist, Florida lost over 800,000 jobs, saw their unemployment rate surge from 3.5 percent to 11.1 percent, and experienced a budgetary crisis that left the state sinking faster and faster.