LAKEWOOD RANCH – Charlie Crist was the keynote speaker at the Manatee County Democrats Annual Awards Dinner at Lakewood Ranch’s Polo Grill last Friday. The former governor has become known to Floridians as Everyman from Either party for Every office. Crist seems to feel that getting there is half the fun and as governor, was seen by many as plotting his next move before he had unpacked, after winning the office.
Most politicians would not have had the chutzpah to reinvent themselves and seek public office after leaving the Governor‘s chair to compete for a U.S. Senate seat and suffering a sound defeat. Yet here he is again, this time as a Democrat seeking the same Governor’s chair, in which he sat from 2006-11, when he left in the middle of his second term for an ill-fated run against Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meeks for the U. S. Senate.
Assuming he is able to win the Democratic Primary, Charlie has a good chance to repeat as Governor. He has the name recognition so vital for success in a state stretching from Key West to another time zone in Pensacola. Son of an MD and a teacher, Charlie has been a state senator from Pinellas County, Florida’s Attorney General (2000), and our state’s Education Commissioner (2002). As Attorney General, he was known as “Chain Gang Charlie,” primarily for his tough sentencing guidelines.
He is an enduring presence in the I-4 Corridor, so critical in statewide races. Along the way, Crist has capably questioned Lawton Chiles about unethical campaign practices, supported John McCain in his 2008 presidential campaign, and given candidate Barack Obama a controversial hug.
Despite his extensive political experience, Charlie is only 56 and appears to be in excellent health. He hasn't gained weight in his time away and never breaks a sweat on the trail. Impeccably tailored and sporting his signature full head of gray hair, he speaks in even, well-modulated tones, has no anger management issues, and understands that politics is a sophisticated game for adults and that losing occasionally is part of the risk of playing. Crist occasionally annoys, but never angers. Looking at us unblinkingly, he seems to feel that he is holding the best hand.
Here is what I heard on Friday evening: Crist expressed deep respect for President Obama because of the many things he has done for our state. Grandson of a Greek immigrant, Charlie stressed his immigration chops and diversity appeal. He repeated his love for Florida convincingly.
Democratic House leader, Darryl Rouson, with whom Crist shares a St. Petersburg background, introduced Crist and spoke of his civil rights accomplishments. Charlie’s vow to be good to teachers every year, rather than only in election years, drew a big ovation, as did his strong anti-voter suppression sentiments.
With unfailing graciousness, Charlie showed us on Friday night that he is still able to cast a spell. The crowd of 300+ went away convinced that Crist is the best chance for a Democrat to be the next governor.
Assuming that Crist becomes the Democratic candidate in 2014, his track record suggests that he will conduct a proper campaign. If successful, he will not gloat, and if he fails, he will lose politely. If things do not work out, he will not burn bridges, but just leave. Charles Joseph Crist, Jr. understands the art of politics and how not to let it consume him. It would seem that Teflon Charlie is back in business.