1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Charlie Crist attempts comeback in U.S. House race

Published Mar. 24, 2016

Here's the thing when you have a lunch appointment with Charlie Crist. You need to factor in extra time for the former governor of Florida to schmooze his way to the table. So many hands to shake. So many names to collect. So many backs yet to be slapped.

So it was on a recent afternoon as Crist navigated his way to a booth at Beach Drive's Parkshore Grill, taking time to introduce himself to the waiter and just about anyone else within an arm's reach of the table.

At one point an elderly man, who proudly claimed to be a life-long Republican, stopped to tell Crist he intended to vote for him in the District 13 congressional race. "Friendship is thicker than political parties," he told a beaming Crist, the former Republican turned Democrat.

Somebody should have told that to George LeMieux. Crist gave LeMieux a U.S. Senate seat after Mel Martinez quit, then LeMieux opposed Crist when Crist campaigned for the seat. Crist found that amusing.

Indeed, Crist was asked if he ever ponders how his political life and the political life of the state would have turned out so vastly different had Martinez remained in the Senate. Crist would have run for two terms as governor. Alex Sink would have stayed on as chief financial officer, and Bill McCollum would have remained attorney general. Marco Rubio might have won a seat in the U.S. House, Rick Scott would still be sitting in the men's grille at the Naples Country Club.

"I don't think about that much," Crist shrugged as he dipped into a bowl of chicken soup. "You just have to take things as they come."

And what came for Crist was a loss to Rubio for a seat in the Senate and a narrow loss as a converted Democrat to Scott in 2014. Now Crist is attempting one more comeback to win the congressional seat once held by the late C.W. Bill Young and more recently by David Jolly, who has mounted his own campaign for the Senate.

At first blush it would seem the redrawn District 13 seat is Crist's for the taking. Some recent polls put him far ahead of his Democratic Party primary opponent, Eric Lynn. Crist has raised about $800,000 so far. And you have to suspect Crist has virtually universal name recognition.

Still there are naysayers. Lynn has drawn the support of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, HSN CEO Mindy Grossman and developer Craig Sher. And there is still the possibility former Republican St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker might enter the race.

When asked about the opposition to his candidacy, Crist seemed to enter a nonplussed moment of Zen. "Everybody has a right to do what they want to do." And one thing Crist did that has turned out to be fortuitous was become a Democrat, especially now that the Republican Party appears to be on the verge of being hijacked by the political equivalent of "Blazing Saddles'" Mongo.

"I'm extremely comfortable as a Florida Democrat," Crist said with a broad grin, suggesting not only was it a political move that suited his ambitions but that it spared him the indignity of trying to campaign in November 2016 as a down-ballot Republican with Donald Trump possibly leading the GOP ticket.

"I could not agree with you more," Crist said cringing at the prospect of a Trump presidential nomination. "If he becomes the nominee what can you (as a Republican candidate) do without offending his voters?"

Winning a congressional seat would revitalize a political career once filled with so much promise. But that was a Senate and a gubernatorial election eons ago. It is always difficult to measure ambition, especially for a man who thrives on the political dynamics of the public arena.