Charlie Crist: pro-choice, pro-life or pro-family?
Or all three?
In his quest to appeal to the broadest possible constituency, the Republican candidate for governor has walked a fine line on the issue of abortion; so fine, in fact, it can be hard to tell where he stands.
Crist's opponent, Tom Gallagher, is running a TV ad that labels Crist "pro-choice" as part of a broader strategy to raise doubts among Republicans about whether Crist is the conservative he claims to be.
The Crist campaign calls the "pro-choice" label a lie.
But Crist described himself that way eight years ago, when he ran for the U.S. Senate.
In a 1998 questionnaire for the St. Petersburg Times, Crist wrote: "I am pro-choice, but not pro-abortion. I believe that a woman has the right to choose, but would prefer only after careful consideration and consultation with her family, her physician and her clergy; not her government."
Debating his Democratic opponent, then-Sen. Bob Graham, on statewide TV that fall, Crist was asked if he would support a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
"No, I would not," Crist said. "I think this is a very personal decision."
Today, as a candidate for governor in 2006, in a race against Gallagher, whose abortion views are more conservative than his own, Crist calls himself "pro-life."
"I'm pro-life. I don't know how else to say it. I'm pro-life, pro-family, pro-business, pro-Republican," Crist told reporters on the campaign trail last week at The Villages near Ocala.
Crist does not support repeal of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America, and he remains opposed to a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before a woman can undergo an abortion.
"I don't think that politicians ought to put themselves in the place of physicians, and I think it's very important to respect the medical profession," said Crist, whose father is a doctor. "Putting those kinds of legislative time limits on things, I just don't think is appropriate. Doctors ought to be doctors."
Though Gallagher himself has evolved on the issue and once was identified as being sympathetic to abortion rights, he now takes the opposite position. He would like to see Roe vs. Wade repealed and he wants Florida to enact a 24-hour waiting period.
Gallagher is endorsed by Florida Right to Life, a group that has long been involved in trying to ban or restrict abortions in Florida.
The waiting period has been on the agenda of Florida abortion opponents for years. But for a long time, one of their obstacles was Charlie Crist.
On April 18, 1995, the proposal failed on a tie vote in the Senate Health Care Committee when then-state Sen. Crist sided with two Democrats, which defeated the bill on a 3-3 vote. In the Legislature, a tie vote defeats a bill.
Gallagher has repeatedly referred to that pivotal committee vote to bolster his claim that Crist is pro-choice.
Explaining his vote at the time, Crist said: "I generally don't like government telling people what to do. I believe in individual rights and freedom. That's why I'm a Republican."
As a candidate for governor, Crist has established nine policy councils, including one on "strengthening Florida's families." The council's goals include stepped-up efforts to promote adoption and to catch sexual predators. Reducing abortions was not mentioned.
"I agree with the president of the United States when he talks about trying to encourage a culture of life and change hearts," Crist said in an interview on a campaign bus tour in June.
Crist, who has led Gallagher in polls by 24 points or more, also made it clear that he believes he is more in line with most Republicans in Florida than Gallagher.
"I have to run on what I believe," Crist said. "I happen to find myself, I think, in a comfortable spot with people."
In the current campaign, some Crist supporters have been given written instructions to describe Crist, who is divorced and childless, as "pro-family."
At a Crist campaign phone bank in Broward County, where Republicans have a long track record of favoring social moderates, volunteers were given a two-page guideline in June of Crist's positions.
The flier included this sentence: "Charlie Crist is a pro-family conservative who will promote policies that create a culture of life."
The flier did not mention the term "pro-life" or the word abortion. Crist later dismissed the choice of words as "just semantics."
Crist the candidate never talks about abortion unless he is asked about it, and even then he keeps his comments to a minimum.
On the campaign trail last week, Crist was asked what he would do as governor if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
"I don't want to answer a hypothetical question," Crist said.
Contact Steve Bousquet at (850) 224-7263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.