Charlie Crist plays the boogeyman in Florida GOP primaries
Charlie Crist famously left the Republican Party six years ago, but the GOP isn't quite ready to let him go.
In Republican primary races statewide, the ex-governor's signature white hair and deep tan are as much a staple of GOP contests as yard signs, Obamacare opposition and National Rifle Association endorsements.
In Panama City, supporters of Republican Congressional candidate Mary Thomas slammed Neal Dunn, her GOP rival for Congress, in a television ad calling him a liberal and declaring that he backed Crist because he donated to him in 2009. Never mind that Crist was still a Republican then. Dunn's supporters returned fire with ads blasting Thomas for working at the Department of Community Affairs when Crist was governor and "collecting her paycheck" after Crist left the Republican Party.
Three hundred miles east near Jacksonville in another Republican congressional primary, John Rutherford and Hans Tanzler have both pointed to donations the other made to Crist more than seven years ago as proof they lack conservative credentials. And while Rutherford's campaign has hit Tanzler for being appointed by Crist in 2008 to the St. Johns River Water Management Board, Tanzler's team points out Rutherford had a longer relationship with Crist that went back to a 2001 campaign donation Rutherford gave Crist during his run for Attorney General.
And in the U.S. Senate race, Republican Carlos Beruff has been running ads aimed at Fox News audiences comparing Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential ambitions to Crist's political aspirations. The charge comes from Beruff who himself has been criticized for attending a Crist fundraiser in Sarasota in 2010 after Crist left the Republican Party.
In short, Crist has become a potent weapon in Republican primary races. More than just being a Democrat, Crist touches a nerve with activist Republicans years later because of his 2010 party exit.
"Obviously he is a pariah to Republicans," said Brett Doster, campaign manager for Tanzler in the 4th Congressional District race near Jacksonville.