Bigotry by GOP fueled desire to switch, Crist says

Charlie Crist embraces President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting in 2009. Crist says many Republicans dislike the president because he is African-American.
Charlie Crist embraces President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting in 2009. Crist says many Republicans dislike the president because he is African-American.
Published May 6, 2014

Democrat Charlie Crist is offering up a new and inflammatory reason he left the GOP: Too many Republicans oppose President Barack Obama because he's black.

Crist made the remarks Tuesday in an interview with Fusion's Jorge Ramos that instantly drew rebukes from Republicans who said the party-switching former governor was playing the race card.

Crist said the bigotry against Obama was a "big reason" for his decision to leave the party.

"I couldn't be consistent with myself and my core beliefs and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I'll just go there," Crist said. "I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me."

Ramos said Crist left the GOP to run as an independent because he was losing the 2010 Senate Republican primary to Marco Rubio. But Crist denied it.

Crist has made race an on-again and off-again theme as he campaigns for his old job back as a Democrat. When he left the GOP four years ago, he didn't mention race.

"Being a flip-flopper is bad enough, but playing the race card to win over voters is pitiful," said Izzy Santa, Republican National Committee spokeswoman.

Crist, saying he was "liberated as a Democrat," also bashed the GOP for being too inflexible and for appearing to be "anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, (and) anti-gay."

Black voters are particularly important to Crist. They comprise 28 percent of the 4.1 million active registered Democrats in Florida, and he still has to beat former state Sen. Nan Rich in a party primary before facing Gov. Rick Scott.

Crist has generally good relationships with black voters and leaders. He probably had the highest proportion of African-American support of any Republican when he won the governor's office in 2006.

Crist's comments to Fusion weren't the first time he used racial imagery.

In February, while plugging his new book The Party's Over on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, Crist said some Republicans opposed Obama's stimulus act in 2009 because he was "not just a Democrat, an African-American."

"Oh, you're not going to play the race card," Stephen Colbert replied.

"I'm not going to play it, no," Crist responded.

"You just did," Colbert said. "Would you like to pick it up again and put it in your pocket? Because you just played the race card."

Medical pot support grows

Nearly 9 out of 10 Floridians support the medical use of marijuana according to a new poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University. The poll found 88 percent of Florida voters support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical purposes if a doctor prescribes it. Support is over 80 percent for all age groups. The poll also found 53 percent of voters support allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of pot for personal use.

Florida voters in November will vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the use of medical marijuana. Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said the findings show the amendment is likely to pass.

Democrats' group backs Jany

Ed Jany, the military veteran who emerged last week to challenge U.S. Rep. David Jolly, has been named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "emerging races" program, an effort to boost his profile.

It's not surprising given how aggressively the DCCC promoted Jany last week. Despite the hype, Jany has considerable challenges: He doesn't have a home in the district. He won't appear on the ballot as a Democrat; rather he'll be a "no-party affiliation" candidate having missed filing requirements. And he's a political rookie against now-tested Jolly, who won a nationally watched special election over Alex Sink.

Times Washington bureau chief Alex Leary contributed to this report.