Crist opponents question his political conversion in Florida governor's race

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 10:09 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — It sounds like something Republican Gov. Rick Scott would ask of Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist: “How can the people of Florida trust your recent conversion?”

But the words were Crist's, and the question was asked to Tom Gallagher during the 2006 Republican primary for governor. Crist easily won that race in large part because he accused Gallagher of shifting his politics to win the election.

“Talking about being a conservative after a political lifetime of liberalism just isn't believable,” Crist said of Gallagher.

Crist is the leading Democratic candidate for governor and is fielding the same accusations — in reverse — from Florida Republicans and his Democratic primary opponent, Nan Rich. They say Crist can't be trusted because of his political conversion from Republican to independent to Democrat.

“Charlie Crist is like Florida's weather. If you don't like his positions now, wait a little while and he'll change them,” former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush wrote in an email. “The man is organized purely around his own personal ambition. Nothing he says can be believed.”

Crist's reputation for being a say-anything-for-a-vote politician is not new. Gallagher accused him of it, as did Marco Rubio when he chased Crist from the 2010 Republican Senate primary.

Scott has joined in.

“It's hard to believe that someone can go from a Ronald Reagan Republican to a Barack Obama liberal in a short period of time. It's pretty dramatic,” Scott said.

Crist insists he has not changed, saying he was a moderate as a Republican and still is.

“What changed in the interim is my party's leadership,” Crist said, adding he “can't stomach” the intolerant views of his former party. “I always kind of felt, particularly on social issues, I was a round peg in a square hole.”

Some of Crist's changing positions include:

• Cuba: Crist criticized 2006 Democratic gubernatorial opponent Jim Davis for visiting Cuba on a congressional fact-finding trip, saying, “I know when it's time to visit Havana, and it's when it's free.” As an independent Senate candidate in 2010, Crist supported allowing Cuban-Americans' unrestricted travel to visit relatives in Cuba. This year, Crist said the United States should scrap its 52-year-old trade and travel embargo and announced plans for his own fact-finding trip.

• President Obama's health care overhaul: As a Republican Senate candidate in 2009, Crist said Obama's plan was “cockamamie” and “nuts” and demanded its repeal. As a 2010 independent Senate candidate, Crist said there were positive things about the law and it should be fixed, not repealed. As a 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, he says it's “great.”

• Obama's $787 billion federal stimulus package: In 2009, Crist asked Florida's congressional delegation to support the stimulus and appeared with Obama at a rally pushing for its passage. Later that year, he ran a radio ad criticizing Obama for the plan and told CNN, “I didn't endorse it.” He is defending his support of the plan, saying it saved jobs.

Crist opposed oil drilling off Florida's coasts when he ran for governor in 2006. In 2008, he said he was open to the idea when Republican presidential nominee John McCain called for more offshore drilling — Crist hoped to be his vice presidential pick. He changed his mind again after the 2010 BP oil spill.

Of course, Scott has flip-flops. After campaigning as a hard-liner on illegal immigration, Scott signed bills this year allowing the state Supreme Court to grant law licenses and in-state tuition to some Florida residents living in the United States illegally.

And last year, Scott stunned many when he supported expanding Medicaid under Obama's health care program. Before he got into politics, the former hospital chain founder spent millions of his money to fight the overhaul. The Republican-dominated Legislature rejected the Medicaid expansion.

A recent poll showed that most Floridians don't trust Crist or Scott.

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