TALLAHASSEE — By bolting from the Republican Party, Gov. Charlie Crist has one place left to raise big money in his race for the U.S. Senate: Democrats.
A governor who once courted conservatives by calling himself a "Jeb Bush Republican" is getting help from liberal trial lawyers, union activists and even elected Democrats, who are shunning their party's Senate hopefuls, wealthy Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami.
Crist is now an independent, with no party to pay campaign overhead or raise money.
Many Republicans had already given Crist the maximum $4,800 to help amass his $10-million campaign fund before he abandoned the GOP ship in April after polls showed him getting swamped by Marco Rubio in a Republican primary.
In Tallahassee two weeks ago, civil trial lawyer Lance Block hosted a Crist fund-raiser at his home that prominent Republicans also attended.
"We need more people like Charlie Crist in Washington to set aside the partisan bickering,'' said Block, a delegate to three Democratic presidential conventions who played a key role in helping Al Gore during the 2000 Florida vote recount.
Block's host committee included such Democratic stalwarts as former Florida State University president and ex-House Speaker T.K. Wetherell, teacher union lobbyist and lawyer Ron Meyer and Dexter Douglass, a top adviser to former Gov. Lawton Chiles.
"He has always been attuned to what he feels the people need," said Douglass, who donated the $4,800 maximum to Crist's campaign.
Adam Corey, a Republican oil and real estate executive from Fort Lauderdale, described Crist as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, and said he was pleased to see the governor's cross-party appeal.
In Orlando Tuesday, high-profile trial lawyer John Morgan, known for his "for the people" billboards, hosted a Crist fund-raiser along with Jim Pugh, a Winter Park businessman who has been a long-time Democratic fund-raiser.
In Siesta Key Monday, Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg was among the Democrats at a Crist fundraiser at the home of chiropractor Gary Kompothecras, a long-time Crist supporter. Rouson says he has known Crist and his family much longer than he has known either Democratic Senate candidate.
"We're trying," Crist says, poor-mouthing his fund-raising, and calling it challenging and difficult, perhaps in hopes that the number he reports in mid-July will exceed expectations.
The $1.2-million Crist raised in the first quarter was a third of what Rubio raised in the same period.
Democrat Mark K. Logan, a Tallahassee lawyer and former lobbyist, said Crist will be able to compete financially with Rubio and Meek or Greene by reaching out to supporters across the aisle.
"He has to, to win," said Logan, who was once Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham's son-in-law.
About why he supports Crist, he said: "He is a lifelong friend. I have known Charlie for 30 years. I think our best leaders from Florida have led from the middle, and Charlie has shown he can do that."
Crist has become persona non grata with many rank-and-file Republicans since he fled the GOP. In an interview, he sought to reassure independent and moderate Republican voters who might be troubled by a candidate getting significant Democratic support.
"There's no need to be concerned," Crist said. "In fundraising, people support you because they want to. It means more about them supporting my philosophy rather than me theirs. In this candidacy, they see somebody who's willing to listen."
Crist also has shifted to the left on some issues in ways that appeal to Democrats, but his financial support from Democrats also suggests a lack of enthusiasm for Greene and Meek.
"There is certainly a 'Can Kendrick win?' or 'Can Jeff win?' factor," said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, "but I think most of it is personal loyalty (to Crist)."
Recent polls show Greene and Meek trailing Crist and Rubio, but a Meek spokesman, Adam Sharon, downplayed Democratic support for Crist.
"A name here and a name here may carry some cachet, but almost 250 elected Democrats statewide are with Kendrick," Sharon said. "The governor will always be a lifelong conservative and Kendrick is a lifelong Democrat. The governor's history doesn't get erased."
In Fort Lauderdale next week, two well-known elected Broward Democrats, Property Appraiser Lori Parrish and Rep. Ari Porth of Coral Springs, will co-host a Crist fundraiser.
Porth called Crist "extremely gracious" and said he admires the governor for vetoing a controversial merit pay bill opposed by teachers and an ultrasound bill opposed by abortion rights supporters.
"I'm very comfortable with his leadership style," Porth said. "It's okay to listen to what the electorate is telling you. In fact, I think it's preferred."
Times/Herald staff writers Lee Logan and Cristina Silva, and reseacher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.