THE BLOG
11/07/2013 09:22 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Forget Virginia: Upcoming Florida Gov. Race Has True National Implications for 2016

As expected, former GOP Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced on Monday that he is running for the statehouse in Tallahassee again, this time as a Democrat.

Crist is a survivor, a career politician who served as a Republican state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and then governor.

His big mistake: Crist then ran and lost as an independent candidate against GOP Senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meeks for the U.S. Senate in 2010. Soon thereafter, he left an increasingly hostile right-wing GOP party and joined the Democratic Party.

The reincarnation of Charlie Crist could have significant implications on the national political scene, particularly as candidates begin to line up for the 2016 race for the White House

If elected governor, Crist can prove that a candidate perceived (somewhat) as a middle-of-the-road moderate willing to compromise can begin to rebuild the political center in America.

If he does become the Democratic designee, Crist is going to face a now politically seasoned sitting (and extremely wealthy) Tea Party governor who can once again lavishly bankroll his campaign.

And despite his acceptance of Obamacare funding and pathetic record in the statehouse, Rick Scott has the rabid support of a GOP obsessed with destroying the turncoat Crist.

Crist is either going to prove to be another Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who also has staked his career on compromise and realism, or suffer the fate of former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Spector, who lost as a Democrat in a primary after he switched parties because his state's GOP basically threw him out for his "RINO" ways.

Crist has always been a political enigma. He is called a populist and crusader by his friends, an opportunist, flip-flopper and traitor by foes.

Crist never was a true southern conservative GOP politician in a state that is changing from red to blue because of its new residents. His friends have always included both very conservative GOP stalwarts and very liberal Democrats too.

Early in his career, Crist was a "law and order" politician who supported capital punishment and gun rights, but later he embraced enlightened stands. For example, he took on the entrenched powers in the Capitol like the insurance and utility industries.

Probably his finest moment in office was increasing the hours of early voting during the 2008 election despite intense opposition from the GOP.

And now Crist, taking advantage of a vacuum of leadership in the state Democratic Party, is running against a callous governor who bought a state GOP party that also lacks a bullpen of good candidates and ideas.

Unlike his opponent, Crist has a great ability to connect with the common man. An attractive, always perfectly tanned candidate, Crist is a great politician on a personal level. If you ever watched Crist work a room, whether you like him or not, you walk away saying "wow."

Despite his leftist tendencies and friends, Crist somehow managed to gain the loyalty of a majority of Republicans and independents and maintain their trust even after he left the party. That's because he espouses populist beliefs of middle-of-the-road voters
With a RPOF viciously criticizing his every move, Crist can still win if he connects with the average Floridian.

He can win if he exploits the failed Tea Party policies of Scott and castigates the mean-spirited policies of the Florida GOP, such as treating the unemployed and welfare recipients as criminals.

The campaign for Florida governor will be one of empathy vs. doctrine. And the outcome will indicate which side of that argument Americans will favor in the 2016 race for the White House.

This article was first printed in Context Florida.