CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Former Florida Gov. Charlie Christ played the role of a former opposition party politician who has seen the light on Thursday night, and embraced his infamous hug of President Barack Obama in 2009, which was in many ways the end of his time as a Republican.
But Crist, the 56-year-old independent who left the GOP in 2010, said that he had been driven from the party because it is made up of "bullies" and "indebted to billionaires who bankroll their ads" and that Republicans are "allergic to the very idea of compromise."
"I didn't leave the Republican Party. It left me," said the perpetually tanned, white-haired lawyer.
Crist referred back to Obama's visit to Fort Myers when the president's 2009 stimulus bill was being debated in Congress. At a rally, Crist –- then running for U.S. Senate as a Republican -– gave Obama a brief hug.
That hug became a rallying cry for Marco Rubio, the state legislator who was an underdog in the Senate race, but who went on to use that moment to cast Crist as out of touch with conservatives. Rubio went on to win the primary.
"I was proud to embrace him," Crist said Thursday night. "Well, that hug caused me more grief from my former party than you can ever imagine."
Crist, of course, was not always so proud of the hug. In September 2009, Crist predicted Obama would lose his reelection bid and said he was like former Democratic President Jimmy Carter. And when Obama visited Florida in late October 2009, as Rubio was making a run at Crist in the primary, Crist avoided the president.
And on Thursday night, he did not use a line that was in his prepared remarks, in which he had planned to say, " "If you see the president before I do, give him a hug for Charlie."
Crist's conversion to supporting Obama is seen by many as a way for him to position himself to run as a Democrat against Florida's current governor, Republican Rick Scott. Similarly, the high-profile former Democrat who spoke at the Republican convention last week, former Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, is thought to be considering a run for Congress in Virginia as a Republican.
Republicans have reacted with predictable scorn to Crist's latest evolution.
"He's running out of parties to run under," Rubio said last week.
The Florida Republican Party sent a flotilla of tweets Crist's way under the hashtag, #2faceCharlie.
One of their tweets pointed out that Crist has had a habit of having aides place a small fan at his feet during interviews and speeches. A convention staffer on Thursday night put a fan on the stage at the foot of the rostrum before Crist came out, and removed it after he was finished.
And even that did not stop Crist, apparently, from sweating. Adam Smith, the Tampa Bay Times political editor, tweeted that the fan was "not stopping flop sweat."
In addition, as Crist spoke, the Romney campaign sent out a list of five former Obama supporters who are now supporting the Republican nominee, including Davis and former NBA star Greg Anthony.
But Crist did the job that Democrats wanted him to do, telling the national TV cable audience, and voters in his senior-heavy home state of Florida, that Republican nominee Mitt Romney "would break the fundmental promise of Medicare and Social Security."
And Obama's $833 billion stimulus bill, Crist said, "saved Florida."
"I don't agree with Presient Obama about everything. But I've gotten to know him, and I've worked with him, and the choice is crystal clear," Crist said. "I look at President Obama, I see a leader with a cool head, a caring heart and an open mind."
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