Charlie Crist would not have voted for the Democratic health care reform law had he been in the Senate this year. But, please, don’t ask him to say that out loud.
The campaign of GOP Senate nominee Marco Rubio is having a field day with an interview Crist gave to a Florida cable news station this afternoon in which Crist pretty clearly says “I would have voted for it,” when asked about the health care law President Obama signed in March. The answer was a flip-flop from Crist’s past public opposition to the law first voiced back when he was still a Republican running against Rubio in the primary. (On Crist’s campaign website he remains publicly opposed to the law, stating “Had I been in the United States Senate at the time, I would have voted against the bill because of unacceptable provisions like the cuts to the Medicare Advantage program.”)
Here’s video (clipped by the Rubio camp):
After the interview ran at noon today — and the Rubio campaign started pushing it out to reporters with glee — Crist clarified his position yet again. No, he said in a statement, I would not have voted for the health care law despite what I just said on TV.
“Apparently, based on an interview this afternoon, there may be some confusion regarding my position on health care,” Crist says in the statement. ” If I misspoke, I want to be abundantly clear: the health care bill was too big, too expensive, and expanded the role of government far too much. Had I been in the United States Senate at the time, I would have voted against the bill.”
But Rubio’s camp says that today’s misspeaking isn’t the only time Crist has appeared to literally want it both ways on health care. For a month or so now, the Rubio camp has been hitting Crist hard on the issue, claiming that Crist’s claim that the law should not be repealed (ripping out the massive health care package the Democrats put into place is a key Rubio plank) amounts to a backpedal toward the left by Crist.
His Democratic opponent, Rep. Kendrick Meek, agrees that Crist is trying to have it both ways on health care. “The diagnosis is in: Governor Crist has a pre-existing condition — political amnesia,” spokesperson Adam Sharon told the press today. “From day to day, hour to hour, his grasp on the truth has escaped him.”
It’s no secret that the independent Crist is actively courting Democratic votes and softening his opposition to health care reform efforts which he firmed up during the primary would be no shock.
But Crist has to walk a fine line. He needs independents and hopes to get some moderate Republican votes in the end as well as Democrats. The health care law, as we know, is still not popular nationally and polls taken shortly after the law was signed show Florida is no exception. A March poll by Mason-Dixon showed 62% of independents were against the reform law while 54% of the total population opposed it.
Gaffes like today’s show the razor’s edge Crist is balanced on as the general election campaign gets officially underway. Wary of losing his moderate GOP base, Crist is still officially opposed to the law as it was written. But eager to convince Democrats he’s one of them, too, Crist will likely spend a lot more time talking about ways to improve the law that exists than he will about his regrets that it passed in the first place. That is, if no one asks him a direct question about it on TV anytime soon.