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New GOP message vs. Crist? He 'bailed' on Florida

Republicans' most effective message may not be that Crist is a party traitor--but instead that he was an absentee governor when the state needed him the most.
Charlie Crist announces that he will run for Governor in St. Petersburg, Fla. Nov. 4, 2013.
Charlie Crist announces that he will run for Governor in St. Petersburg, Fla. Nov. 4, 2013.

Republicans want revenge in the Florida governor's race as former Republican-turned-Independent-turned Democrat is now challenging incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Scott for his old job. 

But their most effective message may not be that he's a party traitor -- but instead that he was an absentee governor when the Sunshine State needed him the most as he bolted for a failed Senate bid in 2010 instead of running for re-election. 

In a state that's increasingly trended against Republicans in recent elections, and with Scott saddled with sagging approval ratings, the message that Crist abandoned the state could be their best bet. 

It's a message Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry seemed to test drive during his appearance on Friday's The Daily Rundown with host Chuck Todd. 

Curry argued that Crist decided to run for Senate in 2010 -- first as a Republican, and then as an independent when it became clear he couldn't beat now-Sen. Marco Rubio in a primary -- at a time when his focus should have been on restoring lost jobs to the state after the financial crash. 

"You talk about lacking compassion? Charlie Crist bailed on the state of Florida as governor when they most needed him--when we were bleeding jobs," said Curry. "That's when you most needed leadership. Charlie Crist said at that time, 'Our problems are too big to solve in Florida. I need to go to Washigton, D.C., to solve our problems. At that moment in time, we needed leadership." 

Curry said Crist "did nothing to mitigate" the 832,000 lost jobs the state had suffered in a right-to-work state while Scott has grown the state's economy and lowered its unemployment rate. 

"He walked away from Floridians," said Curry. 

Crist has made clear he's not running away from his tenure as governor though, and said on The Daily Rundown last week that he left the party he once called home because it was too exclusionary. 

"When your party's perceived as being anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, pretty soon the room's empty," said Crist. 

At his announcement formally kicking off his race to regain his seat, Crist charged that Scott had been too ideologically divisive. "We deserve a governor who will embrace the best of all of us. We deserve a governor who will stand up for the people. I always have, and I always will," said Crist.

The race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country, and Scott could spend as much as $25 million attacking Crist and is already up with negative ads nearly a year before Election Day 2014.