Now a Democrat, Charlie Crist regrets signing anti-gay marriage petition

Charlie Crist shakes Janet Hamilton’s hand Thursday at the office of the Pinellas County supervisor of elections.
Charlie Crist shakes Janet Hamilton’s hand Thursday at the office of the Pinellas County supervisor of elections.
Published Dec. 14, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Former Gov. Charlie Crist completed his conversion to the Democratic Party on Thursday at a camera-ready media event at which he revised his views on yet another issue: same-sex marriage.

Nearly a week after posing with a party switch form at a White House reception, Crist milked the decision for more publicity by inviting the media to cover him handing in the form at a Pinellas County elections office.

More than a dozen reporters watched as the former Republican governor who ran as an independent Senate candidate in 2010 posed for photos with three county elections clerks, calling them "Charlie's Angels."

The scene was classic Crist, and looked like the first step in a 2014 bid for governor, but he said he has no time line for a decision. He said people in President Barack Obama's administration, though not the president himself, want him to run.

He also spoke of his displeasure with Gov. Rick Scott, his ultimate rival if he were to become the Democratic nominee.

"I am disappointed. It started with rejecting the high-speed rail," Crist said. "We were successful, I think, in proving that Florida needed it, wanted it and was ready for it. So I think that was disappointing."

Crist also criticized Scott for cutting education spending by $1.3 billion in his first year in office, for not being more protective of the environment and for not helping disabled people more.

"That's a big reason I'm a Democrat now — because they care and they're compassionate," said Crist, whose entourage consisted of friend Greg Truax, a former GOP activist from Tampa, and Michelle Todd, a friend and ex-staffer.

A couple of silent protesters showed up holding "Go Away — Fake Dems Need Not Apply" signs, but a couple of passersby shouted their encouragement.

"Welcome to the party," Lawrence Williams said. "The signs back there? Don't worry about them."

Asked whether he regretted decisions or positions he took as a Republican over more than two decades, Crist discussed his 2006 decision to sign a petition to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the state Constitution.

"Would I do it today? No," Crist said. "I think the best way to judge where my heart is, is to look at the deeds that I have done, whether as attorney general, governor — restoration of rights, civil rights cases, things of that nature, that I think show a compassionate heart and hopefully someone who cares and knows who the boss is — and the boss is the people of Florida."

A new private poll of 1,000 Democratic voters gives Crist an overwhelming lead over all other Democrats in a hypothetical primary for governor, including a 21-point advantage in a test matchup with Alex Sink, the party's 2010 nominee.

The poll found that Crist is much better known than Sink and that 75 percent of Democrats believe he has the best chance of beating Scott in 2014.

In a coincidence of timing, about half of the poll was done before Crist's Dec. 7 announcement that he was becoming a Democrat, and half was conducted afterward. The poll showed Crist increasing his lead over Sink from 17 points to 25 after his switch became public, for a final advantage of 21 points (55 percent to 34 percent, 11 percent undecided).

The poll was done for an undisclosed client of ClearView Research from Dec. 4-9 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. ClearView, a market research firm, is run in part by Screven Watson, a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party and a Tallahassee political operative who said he has no connection to Crist.

"This was not done to promote or demote anybody," Watson said. "A client had a curiosity. We do not have a dog in this fight."

According to the poll, 79 percent of Democrats have a somewhat or very favorable view of Crist compared to 58 percent for Sink.

Sink, who lost to Scott by slightly more than 1 percent in 2010, said Crist "has a lot of explaining to do" about his past as a Republican. "I still think that for Democrats, Charlie Crist needs to get out and explain himself," Sink said. "There needs to be a vetting process. He needs to convince Democrats he's one of them."

She said that a poll focusing on Crist two years before the election seemed designed to "create some kind of narrative" that Crist should be the party's nominee.