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. Young male hospitalized after shooting in St. Petersburg

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — A juvenile male was injured Monday morning in a shooting at 2336 17th Ave S, police said.

  2. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  3. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts

    Business

    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]
  4. Putin visits France, hopes to mend strained ties with West

    World

    VERSAILLES, France — On a visit likely to shape Russia-France ties for years, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles on Monday for what the newly-elected French leader said would be "demanding" talks on Syria, the Ukrainian crisis and other …

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, France, Monday. Monday's meeting comes in the wake of the Group of Seven's summit over the weekend where relations with Russia were part of the agenda, making Macron the first Western leader to speak to Putin after the talks. [AP photo]
  5. Five cool things to do when it's hot outside

    Outdoors

    Summer is not officially here, but it may as well be. School is out, vacations are coming, and it's time to enjoy the outdoors. Don't buy the argument that summer in Florida is too hot to get outside. There is plenty to do, and we'll prove it. Here are five cool things to do outdoors during another hot summer.

    Rainbow Springs State Park is a registered natural landmark. Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon is one several state parks with natural swimming holes in Florida. (Octavio Jones | Times)