Speculation among state leaders that Charlie Crist could turn Democrat, eye 2014 governor's race

Published Aug. 12, 2012

We never tire of Charlie Crist speculation here at The Buzz.

Most Democratic leaders in the state seem to think the question is not if, but when the Republican-turned-independent becomes a Democrat, with an eye on the 2014 governor's race. By that line of thinking, it seems inevitable he also will endorse President Barack Obama.

The question is: When does it make sense? Just thinking out loud here, but what better time than Aug. 27-30, when thousands of journalists from across the country converge in Tampa Bay hungry for any tidbit of surprising news? Crist is mum on his plans for now, but Obama and senior adviser David Axelrod both have gushed about Crist to Buzz. Surely they'd love to see him take the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, arguing that his lifelong party has become too extreme.

No shoo-in, though

Whether Crist could win anything but a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary remains an open question, however, given his long record as a self-described conservative Republican. A July 26-29 automated poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling suggests Crist wouldn't even be especially strong against unpopular Gov. Rick Scott.

Thanks to Scott's rising approval ratings among independent and Republican voters, Crist only narrowly leads Scott 44 percent to 41 percent. Forty-one percent of Florida voters had a favorable opinion of Crist and 41 percent had an unfavorable opinion — not exactly a groundswell of support.

That poll has some great news for Scott: He's no longer the least popular governor in America. Only 39 percent of Florida voters approve of his performance and 51 percent disapprove, but that's still a marked improvement from prior PPP surveys.

Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is the least popular of the first-term tea party governors, and Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Democrats Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, and Bev Perdue of North Carolina have worse numbers than Scott, according to PPP.

Romney's Fla. bus tour

Mitt Romney will have some unwelcome company Monday as he takes a bus tour from St. Augustine to Orlando to Miami. The Democratic National Committee intends to follow him in its own bus emblazoned with the logo, "Romney Economics: The Middle Class Under the Bus."

Said the DNC: "Throughout Mitt Romney's career, middle-class families have frequently found themselves thrown under the bus as a result of his failed record and top-down economic policies. When Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the number of business startups fell by 10 percent and hit its lowest point during his last year in office."

Fundraising stop

Romney will pop into a $50,000 per person/couple fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale on Monday as he swings through Florida for campaign events.

"This will be an intimate group of Mitt's strongest supporters and we invite you to join us at the Founding Member level, $50,000 per person," reads an email being circulated to donors.

Alan Grayson trickery

Democratic congressional candidate Alan Grayson has clearly decided he does not want to face Republican John Quinones in the general election. Grayson has spent more than $300,000 on TV and radio ads and five mailers trashing Quinones as a tax-raiser to Republican primary voters.

"Alan Grayson is targeting me with lies and false attacks because he fears facing my conservative message in the general election," said Quinones. "I have a proven record as a conservative, with an endorsement from the NRA and a 100 percent pro-life rating, and have fought to lower taxes and eliminate impact fees during my tenure at the county commission."

Quinones, an Osceola County commissioner and former state legislator, is in a primary against Osceola School Board Vice Chair Julius Melendez, attorney Todd Long and businessman Mark Oxner. The 9th Congressional District in the Orlando area leans heavily Democratic, but because roughly one in four voters is Hispanic and because Grayson is Grayson, many Republicans feel a well-known official like Quinones could win.

2014 petition drive

A coalition of the state's top environmental organizations has launched a petition drive to put an amendment on the November 2014 ballot that would guarantee a stable source of money for environmental protection.

The effort, organized by a group calling itself the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign, aims to end the years of eroding funding for environmental preservation and protection programs. Since 2009, state legislators have cut funding for the state's Florida Forever program by 97.5 percent.

Times/Herald staff writers Alex Leary and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this week's Buzz.