It’s hardly the most consequential political announcement of the season. But on Tuesday, St. Petersburg’s Democrat Congressman Charlie Crist threw his worn-out political hat into the ring for the 2022 race for Florida governor. His prospects aren’t good for taking the Democratic nomination or, if he should, for winning the general election against effective and popular Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Crist’s dim prospects stem both from the strong competition he faces and from his long and meritless political history. Two politically attractive officeholders — attractive as Democrats measure these things — will almost certainly enter the race for the nomination. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Florida now, has been running without actually announcing for months, pot-shotting DeSantis at every opportunity. She’s 43. Orlando Congresswoman Val Demings, 64, is also expected to join the race. Before running for Congress, Demings, who is black, spent 27 years with the Orlando Police Department, becoming that force’s first female police chief.
Compared to these two women, Crist, who will be 66 by Election Day, is the tired old white guy in the race — hardly the flavor of the month in the woke and with-it contemporary Democrat Party. (Unless, of course, one is running against Donald Trump, in which case a tired old white guy will do.) In addition to not being able to play either the race or gender card, Crist is by now a bit of a back number, not having won a statewide race since 2006, when, to the surprise of many, he won the race for governor as a Republican against a weak Democrat opponent. Since then he’s lost a race for U.S. Senate in 2010 as an Independent and a race for governor in 2014 as a Democrat. In 1998, Crist also lost a race for U.S. Senate as a Republican, losing to popular Democrat Bob Graham.
Since Crist’s last statewide win in 2006, more than three and a half million new residents have moved to Florida and know nothing of Crist. (There seem to be only three kinds of people in the lower 48: those living in Florida, those planning to move to Florida, and those on the way.) Those who remember Crist can hardly be impressed by the fact that he’s the only candidate in Florida history to have lost statewide elections as a Democrat, as a Republican, and as an Independent. An unenviable hat trick.
Surely Crist knows his chance of winning the office he once held is about the chance a snowball has on a Tampa sidewalk in August.
Crist’s lack of late-career success at the statewide level might have something to do with the fact that, even though he’s a great retail campaigner and has held countless state offices, no one can point to a success in any one of them. In fact, his history is that he has barely won an office before he’s planning to run for the next office on his way up the Florida political food chain. Between 1999 and 2006, he went from Florida state senator to education commissioner to attorney general to governor. With the life of his or her firstborn on the line, no one could think of an accomplishment in any to these offices or even could produce any evidence Crist put in any work at any of them. He rose without a trace.
The other disability Crist labors under is his — how to put this? — ideological flexibility. As his electoral prospects foundered, Crist went in about three years from a self-described Reagan Republican through a moderate Independent to an Obama Democrat. Enough to give those attempting to keep up with the rapid changes the bends.
After his last statewide loss, to then-governor, now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Crist spent several years at Morgan & Morgan, the giant personal injury law firm run by Crist’s friend John Morgan, who never did quite explain what Crist did for his considerable salary. Asked about this, Morgan mumbled something about client development. But exactly how Crist was supposed to locate whiplash clients … well, let it pass.
In 2016, Crist ran for and won a congressional seat in his hometown of St. Petersburg, where, despite being a political empty suit, he remains popular. So inquiring minds might ask why Crist would give up a safe seat in Congress for a quixotic run at the governor’s office, one he will almost surely lose. Congressional pay is reasonable, and one can work as much or as little as one chooses. It’s not like a real job, for which Crist has neither the talent nor the stomach.
The answer is the seat is no longer safe. In 2020, Crist won the Democrat-leaning district by just 53-47 over a political newbie, then-31-year-old Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who’s ready to run again. Even more important is that after new congressional lines are drawn, Crist’s district will likely include a chunk of Republican-rich southern Pasco County. Advantage Luna.
This will be Crist’s third run for the governor’s office, which he did absolutely nothing with when he held it for four years, during which time there were more sightings of Elvis in Tallahassee than there were of Crist working in the governor’s office. The third time isn’t always the charm. Surely Crist knows his chance of winning the office he once held is about the chance a snowball has on a Tampa sidewalk in August. He may be shameless, but he isn’t stupid. I guess ending a long political career losing a race for governor is less embarrassing than being turned out of a lesser office you’ve held for six years.
On hearing of Crist’s entry into the race, DeSantis didn’t appear concerned and alluded to Crist’s losses under three separate labels. He suggested perhaps Crist, who calls global warming an existential crisis, should run under the Green Party label. Go for four? Are there any Whigs left he could caucus with?
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