It seemed a fairly basic question for a fellow considering running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Back in 2010, when Charlie Crist was running for the U.S. Senate without party affiliation, did he vote for Democratic nominee Alex Sink for governor or for Rick Scott, of the GOP's tea party wing?
Crist won't say.
"It's a secret ballot, and I think that's an important thing in our country," Crist, now a registered Democrat, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.
He did volunteer that he voted for Barack Obama in 2012, though not in 2008. And he said that even if he had remained a Republican and won a seat in the U.S. Senate, he probably would have endorsed Obama last year.
"(My) last two years as governor were President Obama's first two years as president and I really got to know the man during that period of time, both with the stimulus money that he was kind enough to present in Fort Myers and also with the BP spill, the oil spill — I mean a lot of time with this, in my opinion, great president," Crist said in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "It's because of the way he comports himself, and the policies and the openness that he has about him, I came to admire it more and more."
Crist has no timetable for making a decision or announcement about running for governor, and it's fair to assume he is in no rush to put a big target on himself. The Florida GOP already is hammering him as a phony, and Gov. Scott has pointedly noted that Florida has gained jobs under his leadership and lost jobs under Crist's.
"Well, I think we had a global economic meltdown right after I got elected," Crist said. "I don't think anybody really thinks a governor of one of the 50 states caused the global economic meltdown. Let's be serious."
Democrats in Florida have performed fairly well in presidential elections, but Republicans have usually crushed them in non-presidential election years. What does the party need in Florida?
"Just energy, excitement, enthusiasm — a little juice is what it takes," said Crist.
Scott looks vulnerable
A poll released last week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling highlighted just how vulnerable Gov. Scott looks at this point: Only 33 percent of Florida voters approve of his performance and 57 percent disapprove. Even Republicans are unenthusiastic, with just 49 percent approving of his performance.
Meanwhile, Crist's high-profile support of Obama appears to have paid off. Fifty-two percent of Democratic primary voters say they would like for Crist to be their candidate for governor next year, compared to 18 percent for Sink, 13 percent for former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, 4 percent for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and 1 percent for former state Sen. Nan Rich, the only announced candidate.
In hypothetical matchups against Scott, Crist leads 53 percent to 49 percent; Sink leads 47 percent to 40 percent; Iorio 43 percent to 39 percent.
Rubio open to changes
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings, Sen. Marco Rubio added his voice to lawmakers who said they would be willing to have a debate about the nation's gun laws.
"The challenge with gun laws is that by definition criminals do not follow the law," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Dec. 17. "For example, Connecticut's gun laws, some of the strictest in the nation, were not able to prevent this atrocity. Nevertheless, he supports a serious and comprehensive study of our laws to find new and better ways to prevent any more mass shootings."
His measured response added hope to those who thought the tragedy would spur action, or at least a serious discussion. In a Political Connections interview he even said he could support closing the gun show loophole with universal background checks.
Compare that with the fierce reaction the Florida Republican offered when President Obama offered up his gun control proposals. "President Obama is targeting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence. … President Obama's frustration with our republic and the way it works doesn't give him license to ignore the Constitution. … As a strong defender of the 2nd Amendment, I will oppose the President's attempts to undermine Americans' constitutional right to bear arms."
On Fox News, Rubio accused Obama of lacking "guts" to admit he "is not a believer in the 2nd Amendment." Rubio hasn't shied from criticizing the president but those words seemed especially aggressive.
Why the sudden, hard change in tone?
Well you might look to Internet forums for some clues. The Dec. 17 statement drew fierce opposition among gun-rights enthusiasts who questioned Rubio's fidelity to their cause. Groups have also been calling and emailing lawmakers to demand they oppose any new gun control. Whatever the case, Rubio is not open to changing laws. Conant said despite what seemed like Rubio's openness to universal background checks, he does not support them.
"What he was referring to in the (Political Connections) interview is encouraging people to get concealed weapon permits like we do in Florida. It requires you to learn gun safety and undergo a background check."
Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]