Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Charlie Crist campaign team looks a lot like President Obama's campaign team

Former Gov. Charlie Crist's career as a Republican was ruined four years ago after he hugged President Barack Obama onstage; now he says it could be his salvation as a Democrat.

Running again for his old post with a new party affiliation, Crist is being embraced by another aspect of the president: former Florida campaign workers for Obama, who has twice carried the Sunshine State.

At least seven former Obama Florida campaign workers — from his pollster to a top political consultant to media experts to his fundraiser — form the nucleus of Crist's new campaign team.

And top Obama donors, pleased with Crist's help on the campaign in 2012, are expected to follow.

"I've always liked Charlie Crist, even when he was a Republican," said Ralph Patino, a Coral Gables lawyer who helped the Obama campaign's Futuro Fund raise $30 million last year for Hispanic outreach.

Patino, who hosted a Friday Democratic National Committee fundraiser headlined by Obama, invited Crist the day before when the governor stopped by and asked for his support.

"The Obama World has an interest in Crist — they had him speak at the Democratic National Convention," Patino said. "That showed me, even back then, that they had an interest in Charlie Crist."

Crist's main rival for the Democratic nomination, former Weston state Sen. Nan Rich, points out that not everyone who supported Obama backs Crist.

"Barack Obama is not running for governor," Rich said. "Nan Rich and Charlie Crist are."

Rich joked that she hoped she's "not being punished for supporting Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. But I supported Obama then and in 2012. Charlie Crist didn't support Barack Obama in 2008; he was still a Republican."

And, at the time, Crist was jockeying to become then Republican candidate John McCain's running mate.

The following year, in February 2009, Crist put himself in the president's good graces by becoming the only Republican governor to stand with the president and advocate for his stimulus plan, officially called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It cost Crist dearly — especially the brief onstage embrace with the president in Fort Myers. Republican Marco Rubio used the stagecraft and the policy embrace of Crist to successfully portray him as unfit for the party when the two squared off in the 2010 race for U.S. Senate.

Crist, seeing his poll numbers tank, bolted from the GOP and became an independent. He only changed his registration to Democrat in December 2012, after announcing the decision at a White House Christmas reception.

"The hug killed me," Crist said. "Now it could save me."

But Obama's support could be trickier for Crist if he wins the primary against Rich and heads into the general election backed by an unpopular White House.

Obama's poll numbers have been tanking amid the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act's website (

But millions of Americans — about 5 percent of those insured — are losing their current health plans as insurance companies put them in new Obamacare-compliant plans that, for some, could cost more out of pocket. Others could pay less.

For the first time ever, a majority of those surveyed — 52 percent — believe Obama is not honest and trustworthy, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that found the president's job-approval index at an all-time low of -15.

"Part of why Crist is so dominant in the Democratic Party is because Obama has so clearly embraced him," said Tom Jensen, executive director of Public Policy Polling, which frequently surveys for Democrats and liberal groups.

The sentiment among Democrats, Jensen said is: "If Obama's okay with him, we're okay, too, even if we're suspicious."

But in a general election, Jensen said, Obama's support "right now would hurt. But it's hard to say what the political climate will be like in Florida next year."

Crist said he'll welcome Obama's public and private support at anytime, though he acknowledged the president misspoke and said the "rollout could have been handled better."

But before 2012, Crist left a long trail of anti-Obamacare quotes. Republicans say it's evidence of Crist's reversals that characterize him as a self-serving and untrustworthy "opportunist" — a label from Florida Democrats that Gov. Rick Scott's campaign is advertising already.

Polls right now indicate Crist would easily beat Rich and would then beat Scott by as many as 10 percentage points. But experts say the race will likely tighten, and Democrats caution that Scott will be tough to beat.

With Scott planning to spend as much as $100 million, Crist's campaign team has acknowledged it won't be able to match Scott dollar for dollar but it plans to use the same voter-turnout techniques that twice helped Obama carry Florida.

The former Florida Obama campaign team includes:

• Steve Schale, Obama's 2008 Florida campaign manager and 2012 senior adviser.

• Jim Margolis, a top Obama media consultant for both campaigns.

• Dylan Sumner, a Florida mail consultant who worked on both campaigns.

• John Anzalone, pollster for Obama on both campaigns.

• Kevin Cate, an Obama's regional spokesman in 2008.

• Franco Ripple, a 2008 Obama campaign field organizer and former White House advance man.

• Jessica Clark, Obama's 2012 Florida finance director.

Ashley Walker, who was deputy Florida campaign manager in 2008 and then led Obama's Florida campaign in 2012, isn't working for Crist at the moment and said she would make that decision at a later date.

Walker said that Crist time and again earned the campaign's trust in 2012 by being ever-ready and very helpful.

One example: the campaign called Crist the night before a morning Tampa event that almost fell apart, and he rearranged his schedule to help out, said Eric Jotkoff, a 2012 Florida spokesman for Obama's campaign.

"Crist was extremely accessible and accommodating," Jotkoff said. "The president and Crist had a great working relationship. And it started early on when Gov. Crist supported the Recovery Act when no other Republican would. The president appreciated that."

Charlie Crist campaign team looks a lot like President Obama's campaign team 11/12/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 8:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84


    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General


    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.