Crist: ‘It’s Hard To Be More Conservative Than I Am’

ZUMA Press/Newscom

Gov. Charlie Crist is attacking Marco Rubio’s supporters as too extreme to win the Florida Senate race, pointing to their support of the birther movement as evidence that Rubio isn’t a real Florida Republican.

Crist sat down with the St. Petersburg Times for what the paper calls a “wide-ranging interview” today on the heated primary fight. Crist, on the difference between his base and Rubio’s:

“There are a lot of Republicans that don’t have the inclination to go to executive committee meetings,” he said. “There is wide swath of republican voters out there that don’t necessarily listen to cable tv all the time.”

The paper reported that Crist was “engaged and no longer a bit dismissive of the Rubio threat,” and suggested that the claims from conservative groups that he’s a moderate don’t reflect Crist’s true political leanings.

From the paper:

[Crist:] “It’s hard to be more conservative than I am on issues — though there are different ways stylistically to communicate that — I’m pro-life, I’m pro-gun, I’m pro-family, and I”m anti tax.”

“I don’t know what else you’re supposed to be, except maybe angry too.”

As the Times notes, the partisan language is something of a political shift for Crist:

Critics will note he voted against abortion restrictions as a legislator and used to call himself “pro-choice” [and] that he supported higher cigarette taxes.

In the interview, Crist said he was committed to running for the Senate, despite Rubio’s rising poll numbers and growing national celebrity. Crist said that Rubio’s vocal base doesn’t reflect the true Florida GOP. As evidence, he mentioned the recent Daily Kos poll “that found Rubio leading among Florida Republicans who doubt President Obama was born in America.”

Crist’s direct assault on Rubio’s base is a surprise. Under fire from the national right, Crist has promised for weeks to “expose” Rubio’s “true record,” which the Crist camp says would surprise conservatives looking to turn Rubio into the next Doug Hoffman. In the Times interview, Crist repeated that promise:

“What is said sometimes on the campaign trail isn’t necessarily consistent with the record…I mean, he’s voted for tax increases several times as speaker and as representative,” Crist said of Rubio. … “I believe in Reagan’s 11th Commandment — thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican — but I also think you need to be honest and truthful and make sure that before people go to the ballot box they have a good opportunity to be well-informed.”

But beyond suggesting that Rubio’s supporters have been duped, Crist went so far as to say he didn’t need them, attacking their birther views and even the cable news shows that are so fundamental to the current conservative push. Rather than trying to win back the portion of the GOP base Rubio has stolen from him, Crist is essentially saying “bring it on” to the national conservative groups that now have him in their sights.