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Dust-up in Tampa as ex-GOP governor backs Obama

August 26, 2012|By Michael Finnegan
  • Then-Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist introduces President Obama during a town hall meeting in Florida.
Then-Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist introduces President Obama… (Joe Raedle / EPA )

TAMPA, Fla. – With tens of thousands of Republicans gathering in Florida for the party’s national convention, former Gov. Charlie Crist tossed a political stink bomb into the festivities Sunday by endorsing President Obama for reelection.

Crist, an independent who abandoned the Republican Party during his 2010 run for U.S. Senate, bashed the GOP and praised Obama in an essay published by the Tampa Bay Times. Republican leaders reacted by calling Crist a “crass opportunist” angling to run for governor as a Democrat in 2014.

“Today we have seen a repugnant display from a self-centered, career politician,” Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry said in a written statement. “While the people of Florida, and thousands of visitors who've traveled here, are facing an emergency, Charlie Crist has demonstrated, yet again, that his political ambition will always come first.”

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With Tropical Storm Isaac gathering strength as it churns toward the Gulf Coast, Curry called Crist’s timing “appalling.”

Crist, who was elected governor in 2006 as a Republican, was a loyal party soldier for years. He once called himself “a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax Republican.” In the 2008 presidential race, he backed Obama’s Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

But in 2010, Crist quit the party as he was heading toward defeat in a Republican primary for U.S. Senate. In the general election, Crist ran as an independent and lost to Republican Marco Rubio.

In his Sunday op-ed, Crist hit favorite Democratic Party talking points on Obama and took shots at the Republican ticket, most notably on Medicare, a top issue in a battleground state with a huge elderly population. Obama’s opponents, Crist wrote, “would end the Medicare guarantee by creating a voucher that would raise seniors' costs by thousands of dollars and bankrupt the program.”

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Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, has argued that Obama’s cuts in projected Medicare spending threaten the popular healthcare program for the elderly.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, dismissed the Crist endorsement as insignificant.

“I’d say Gov. Crist’s endorsement adds one more vote in Florida,” he said. “And that’s it.”

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Twitter: @finneganlatimes

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