Fla. GOP tries to beat Crist before he can run

Associated Press Published: November 18, 2012
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Ever see a couple go through a nasty divorce, and then one side gets angry and starts bringing up old history as the other tries to move on in life with someone else?

Well, that's sort of what the Republican Party of Florida is going through with former Gov. Charlie Crist, who ended his relationship with his long-time party while running for Senate in 2010. Now that Crist, an independent, is getting cozy with Democrats, the state GOP is shouting to anyone who will listen that Democrats would make a big mistake to be spouse No. 2.

When Crist says something nice about President Barack Obama, the state GOP immediately shoots out a press release with something not so nice Crist said about Obama when he was a Republican. If Crist endorses a Democratic candidate, the party reminds people Crist used to say he was a Ronald Reagan Republican. There's strong speculation that Crist, 56, will challenge Gov. Rick Scott as a Democrat in 2014. He has dismissed talk of a potential return to politics, saying he won't even think about his future until after Jan. 1.

"I just think Charlie Crist is bad for the state of Florida," said state GOP Chairman Lenny Curry. "He's someone who's trying to recreate himself. These are serious times. At any level, we don't want to see Charlie Crist back in office, particularly in a position of leadership. It wouldn't be good for Florida, regardless of your ideology."

The idea is this: defeat Crist before he can re-emerge as a political candidate with a D next to his name. The unusual part is Crist isn't a candidate and the attacks began before the 2012 election was decided. It breaks traditional election strategy for a party to begin airing campaign ads for the next election cycle while in the middle of another.

"I don't recall it ever being done," said David Johnson, a Tallahassee-based Republican political consultant. "It is unusual and it is unprecedented, but so is Charlie Crist."

After Crist endorsed Obama and was preparing to speak at the Democratic National Convention, the state GOP paid for a statewide television ad to knock him down. The ad showed video of Crist praising prominent Republicans like former Gov. Jeb Bush, former President George W. Bush and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. It also showed Crist saying he is pro-life and pro-gun, and ends with him saying, "I'm as conservative as you can get."

Crist agrees that level of attention he's receiving from his former party is unusual.

"I've never heard about people running television ads against a non-candidate, just to put it in perspective," Crist said.

But despite his denials, Crist is acting like someone getting ready for a run by remaining in the public eye and building political favors.

Not only did Crist speak at the Democrats' convention, but he made campaign appearances with the president and other Democrats, held media calls criticizing Republican nominee Mitt Romney and backed several other Democratic candidates, including Sen. Bill Nelson and Patrick Murphy, who beat incumbent Congressman Allen West in a race West in challenging in court.

"He was a pretty darn active surrogate, and a lot of times it was things we didn't even ask him to do," said Steve Schale, who was an adviser on Obama's Florida campaign. "He was raising his hand looking for more things to do."

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