Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Steve Bousquet: Crist at risk of putting hug with Obama in racial terms

A white Florida politician shows support for a black leader and click! Cameras capture the moment with grave consequences for the white politician.

Partisan politics? Racism? Both?

The white politician is Charlie Crist, whose 2009 hug of President Barack Obama in Fort Myers cost him dearly with Republicans. "It killed me," he says.

But the hug that was so troublesome for Crist a few years ago as a Republican is now a badge of honor, a calling card to prove to fellow Democrats his unwavering support for a president with his own popularity issues.

Speaking to 40 Democratic legislators in Tallahassee a few nights ago — about half of them black — Crist gave a blow-by-blow account of that fateful day in Fort Myers.

"He hugs me. And I hug him back. And there's a photograph," Crist said. "That photograph killed me as a Republican."

Crist then accused Republican Marco Rubio of race-baiting in their 2010 U.S. Senate race by showing a photo of the hug on the outer envelope of a direct mail piece, where even the most disinterested voter couldn't miss it.

"Charlie with the black man," Crist said. "I'm just going to call a thing a thing, because I know what it is."

Then Crist went a step further and told his audience how something similar happened once before. He drew a direct link between the Obama hug and what happened to Florida's greatest governor, LeRoy Collins. Like Crist, Collins chased a U.S. Senate seat and lost.

It was 1968, a year of race riots and assassinations. Three years earlier, President Lyndon Johnson had sent Collins, his civil rights mediator, to Selma, Ala., to avert bloody violence between Alabama authorities and civil rights marchers led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., determined to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and march to Montgomery.

A grainy black-and-white wire service photo shows a gesturing Collins talking to King and the caption suggested that Collins was marching with King. He wasn't.

But the damage was done: In the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 1968, Collins' opponent, Earl Faircloth, exploited the photo's political power with conservative white voters.

"Why is Collins afraid of a photograph?" Faircloth's campaign asked in a leaflet. "If he is proud of his work, why would a picture of him at work be a distortion?" Faircloth also circulated fliers showing a city in flames and the words: "Stop riots … elect Faircloth."

Collins beat Faircloth to win the Democratic Senate nomination, but he was gravely wounded and lost the November election to Republican Ed Gurney on the same ballot in which Richard Nixon was elected president on a theme of law and order.

The situations Crist and Collins faced were different, and they happened in very different times.

Crist faces political risks in trying to describe the hug in largely racial terms, because of the effect it could have on some white voters.

As LeRoy Collins discovered the hard way in 1968, things are seldom as black and white as they look.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Steve Bousquet: Crist at risk of putting hug with Obama in racial terms 04/14/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 7:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Hulk Hogan talks Tampa Bay, depression and politics on Fox News' 'Objectified'

    Blogs

    For better or worse, Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea is our guy.

    Hulk Hogan shows Harvey Levin his wrestling boots on Fox News' "Objectified."
  2. Pumpkin pileup: Fiery crash causes mess, closes portion of I-75 in Pasco

    Accidents

    Drivers on Interstate 75 in Pasco County should expect continued delays on Friday as road crews work to clean up a mess of debris — and pumpkins — left behind after a fiery semitrailer truck crash in the early morning hours.

    Road crews clean up a mess of crash debris - and pumpkins - left behind after a fiery semitrailer truck crash on Interstate 75 in Pasco County on Sept. 22, 2017. [Florida Highway Patrol]
  3. Cannon Fodder podcast: Key matchups in Bucs-Vikings game

    Blogs

    In our latest Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast, Greg Auman breaks down five key matchups that will help decide Sunday's Bucs game against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Defensive lineman Chris Baker is a question mark heading into Sunday's game against the Vikings.
  4. Rick and Tom podcast: Will Bucs go 2-0? Are Gators on upset alert?

    Blogs

    It's football friday as Rick Stroud and Tom Jones break down the Bucs' game in Minnesota, including the improved offensive line.

    Ali Marpet moved from guard to center on an improved Bucs offensive line.
  5. In this Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, photo distributed on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a statement in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's speech to the United Nations, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim, in an extraordinary and direct rebuke, called Trump "deranged" and said he will "pay dearly" for his threats, a possible indication of more powerful weapons tests on the horizon. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. [Associated Press]