TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist said Friday he would have voted for President Barack Obama's health care bill — only to retract his statement two hours later.
His two opponents in the U.S. Senate race — Democrat Kendrick Meek and Republican Marco Rubio — immediately seized on the gaffe. Meek's camp diagnosed Crist with "political amnesia," a reference to his repeated reversals on major policies in his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat.
In a noon interview at an Orlando television station, the anchor asked: "Health care bill, how would you have voted on that?"
The now-independent Crist responded: "I would have voted for it, but I think it can be done better. I really do."
At 2 p.m., campaign spokesman Danny Kanner attempted to clarify Crist's remarks.
"Apparently … there may be some confusion regarding my position on health care," Crist said in the statement. "If I misspoke, I want to be abundantly clear: The health care bill was too big, too expensive and expanded the role of government far too much.
"Had I been in the United States Senate at the time," Crist continued, "I would have voted against the bill because of unacceptable provisions like the cuts to the Medicare Advantage program."
The warp speed flip-flop is the latest example of how Crist is shifting his stances as he gets pressure from Rubio on the right and Meek on the left in the unusual three-way race.
And it's not the first time Crist has backpedaled on the federal health care law.
On March 21, entrenched in a Republican primary battle with Rubio, Crist said he hoped to repeal it. "The bill is comprised of secret backroom, sweetheart deals … and the passage of such a bill is a direct affront to the American people," he said in a campaign statement the day the legislation passed the U.S. House.
But in July, months after leaving the Republican Party, Crist told the Wall Street Journal he didn't support a repeal.
In his statement Friday, he continued in this direction, noting "some positive aspects" about the bill and saying "repeal must be accompanied by a responsible substitute."
Crist said he wants to preserve provisions that protect those with pre-existing conditions; close the gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors; and allow children to remain on their parents' insurance until age 26.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.