Sue Carlton: Crist vs. Scott? Expect lots of makeup, no hugs

Former Florida governor and Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist is officially a Democrat now, what a shock, and you can bet your next paycheck he will be a contender against Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

Putting aside baggage on both sides, this is good news for Florida, if we're ready for change and choice.

Crist's official switch, as this newspaper reported, was marked at a White House Christmas party with a fist-bump from the president himself. I guess man-hugs are out this season — though wouldn't it have been delicious, when just that sort of embrace symbolized the beginning of splitsville for Crist and the GOP?

Okay, so there was the part about his sin in daring to cheer for the stimulus plan, too. But furor over that hug spoke volumes about us at the time, all that pledge-signing by politicians who dared not think for themselves and the tea party running things like a pack of mean cheerleaders who rule a high school.

And there was Crist, who with his populist leanings was not really Republican enough for them anyway, in a brief and friendly embrace with President Barack Obama at a Florida event. Well. Apparently, protocol meant giving the leader of the free world no more than an icy stare-down. Such is not sunny Charlie's style.

So after a tumultuous political fall and a determined dusting off of his trousers, he's back. He would face a passel of Democrats before he could meet Scott head on — most notably, for the moment, former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, beaten by a whisker in the last governor's election. Still, Scott has to be sweating this.

The first-term governor with historically bottom-of-the-bucket approval ratings has been working on an image change for a while — painfully awkwardly, but working on it. He even recently softened a tad on Obamacare and is trying to talk a good game on jobs and education.

But a lot of voters won't forget his role in efforts to keep certain people, Democrats in particular, away from the polls under the guise of eliminating a voter fraud problem that does not exist. Even if you're not a person given to throwing around terms like "un-American," this was that.

Crist has a lot going for him, electability-wise: He is the antidote to those weary of the tea party, the familiar, friendly, deeply-tanned guy smiling down from those Morgan & Morgan billboards who had that $11 haircut and who exudes that can't-we-all-just-get-along vibe. Strangers call him Charlie, as opposed to Lord Voldemort or Pink Slip Rick.

But he has his own baggage, and to some it will be enough for a trip on the Titanic.

He was one of them and then he wasn't. Call Me The Breeze Charlie, they will say, a Judas and a traitor who changed ideologies like other guys change socks. Some even think the stink of opportunism could help re-elect the worst governor most Floridians can remember.

A lot can happen between now and then, Florida being the land of the vastly improbable and completely weird. But if it's a Scott-Crist match-up, it comes down to whom voters are more willing to forgive — the party-changing former chain-ganger who wants to make nice in the name of getting something done for this state, or the governor who hopes we'll forget all he has wrought.

And let the battle of the extreme makeovers begin.

Sue Carlton: Crist vs. Scott? Expect lots of makeup, no hugs 12/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 1:30am]

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