Charlie Crist committed what to some in politics is the ultimate sin: He switched parties.
The former Florida governor ran first as a Republican, then an independent, and in recent years, a Democrat.
While his critics consider his change in party a sign of flexible values, Crist has managed to maintain some supporters throughout his career.
In his current bid for governor, Crist has raised about $146,000 from more than 50 donors who also contributed to his 2006 gubernatorial campaign as a Republican, according to the Miami Herald’s analysis of campaign finance data maintained by the Florida Division of Elections.
Though these contributions only account for a sliver of the roughly $24 million raised by his campaign and related political action committee, Friends of Charlie Crist, some repeat donors cut him sizable checks, including $43,000 from the Yerrid Law Firm in Tampa, $20,000 from Coral Gables attorney Andres Rivero, and $14,000 from Charles Merinoff, a beverage wholesale executive in New York City.
Some of the donors who spoke to the Herald mentioned personal relationships with Crist, though they said it wasn’t the only reason, with a dislike of Crist’s opponent, current Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a strong motivator for their support of Crist.
“If (DeSantis) was running against a dog catcher, I would have supported the dog catcher,” said James Krause, a 76-year-old resident of Pinellas Park who worked as a physician with Crist’s father for 40 years. “I’m friends with the family, but I would have supported him anyway.”
Krause, who donated $500 to Crist in 2006 and $2,000 to his current campaign, said he continues to support Crist because “he’s an honest guy, and his heart is in the right place.”
Republican to independent to Democrat
After serving one term as governor, Crist lost his race for U.S. Senate as an independent. He unsuccessfully sought a second term as governor of Florida in 2014 as a Democrat, but his transition to the party eventually paid off in 2016, when he secured a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Some of Crist’s longtime donors also contributed to his 2014 campaign, including over $174,000 from the Yerrid Law Firm. Rivero and Merinoff also donated to his various congressional campaigns.
While Crist has had a long career in Florida politics, fundraising for his current campaign is still significantly eclipsed by DeSantis, who has raised about $183 million for his campaign and PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis.
Tallahassee-based attorney Daryl Parks, 54, said he considers himself a “staunch supporter” of Crist both in 2006 and in the upcoming election. He donated $1,000 to Crist in 2006 and $6,000 in 2022. He also contributed $15,000 to Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign and $250 to his congressional campaign in 2017.
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Though Parks typically sides with Democrats, he said Crist won him over before his first bid for governor when the two shared a meal to discuss his impending campaign.
“We had a difference in party, but we had an understanding about issues and still do. That is the common thread for us,” Parks said. “In the current race that he is in, I think his genuine interest in the African American community far exceeds that of the current governor.”
While party switches by politicians remain somewhat rare, Crist is hardly the first to change his affiliation.
After his election in 2016, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice changed his party from Democrat to Republican, and two former U.S. senators, Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania and Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado, also switched their affiliations. Campbell left the Democratic Party for the Republicans in 1995, and Specter switched from a Republican to a Democrat in 2009.
Donors often don’t stick around
Their donors don’t always follow.
“Politicians overestimate how many donors and organizations will stick with them after a party switch, believing people are for them rather than the ideas and positions they espouse. Politics is a team sport,” Stuart Roy, Campbell’s campaign manager in 1998, wrote in an email.
But Crist’s party switch has cost him financial support from prior members of his political circle, most notably one of his closest political confidants. George LeMieux served as Crist’s chief of staff during his first term as governor, and Crist appointed LeMieux to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2009, following Mel Martinez’s retirement.
Despite their past relationship, LeMieux cut two $5,000 checks to support DeSantis’ reelection efforts.
LeMieux did not respond to a request for comment, but when Crist first left the Republican Party in 2010, he spoke about his disappointment.
“Our friendship runs deep, but my commitment to the principles of the Republican Party runs deeper,” LeMieux told Politico.
Some sins, it turns out, are unforgivable.