How Left Can He Go? Ex-GOPer Crist Recalibrating In Indy Bid For Senate

Gov. Charlie Crist (I-FL) was, until a month ago, a moderate Republican struggling to appeal to an ultra-conservative base. But now that Crist has unburdened himself from his former party affiliation and become an independent in his run for Senate, he’s been moving decisively leftward. The question is, how left will he go?

There have been multiple issues — Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for example — where Crist has ceased to hold to a Republican-friendly position. And, in the opinion polls, Crist has for now effectively overtaken the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Kendrick Meek, as the de facto alternative to presumptive Republican nominee Marco Rubio, and he has reached out to labor and liberals. So it’s worth looking at where the substantive changes have taken place.On Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, for example, four days ago Crist was against changing the Clinton-era policy that doesn’t allow gays to openly serve in the military. But now, Crist is supporting Congress’s recent action to repeal the policy. Meek’s campaign released a Web video showcasing the abrupt change between Crist’s statement four days ago and yesterday, when he said: “Ultimately, as in all military matters, I defer to the Pentagon and to the generals, and what the Senate is doing today is giving them the ultimate authority to do what is best for our military. So, I would be inclined to support the Senate’s action on this.”

Meek communications director Adam Sharon attacked Crist in a press release: “On drilling off Florida beaches, Senate Bill 6, and now ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the governor has proven he is willing to change on any position to advance his political career. Floridians shouldn’t have to second-guess where elected officials stand on an issue. That’s not leadership-just Charlie Crist politics.”

The campaign of presumptive Republican nominee Marco Rubio also pounced in a statement: “Crist has made it clear that he will say-do-be anything to try to win an election. Marco Rubio is the only candidate in this race who voters can trust to say what he believes and go to Washington to offer a clear, conservative alternative.”

There are other examples of apparent migration on the issues, and his own personal branding. In a humorous instance we noted two and a half weeks ago, Crist’s campaign deleted the word “conservative” from a logo on their website — a logo that spoke of his “consistent leadership.”

Two weeks ago, Crist supported Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, after having previously opposed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. “I think she’d do a great job,” Crist said. He then added: “Isn’t that fun.” Then a week ago, in an interview with the Miami Herald editorial board, Crist couldn’t remember why he’d opposed Sotomayor.

Crist also has been hinting that he could end up vetoing an anti-abortion bill passed by the state legislature, which would require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound and hear a doctor describe the fetus. “Even though I’m pro-life I don’t want to impose my will on others,” said Crist, three weeks ago. Two weeks ago, he went further by calling the bill “mean-spirited.”

It should of course be noted that Crist’s journey here began with a leftward move while he was still a Republican. In mid-April, he vetoed a major education bill supported by the state’s Republicans, which would have abolished tenure for new teachers and instituted strict merit-pay guidelines. He officially announced his independent bid for Senate two weeks later.

The Crist campaign has not yet returned our request for comment.

Late Update: Crist spokesperson Michelle Todd sent us this comment: “Governor Crist’s moderate positions are not new. As a Republican, Governor Crist supported creating a paper trail for ballots, extending voting hours, vetoed Senate Bill 6 which would have overhauled the education system in Florida without the input of our teachers, and utilized stimulus dollars to save over 20,000 teachers’ jobs. Many in the Governor’s former party opposed these positions. Governor Crist has always been most concerned with doing what is best for the people of Florida and not what is in the best interest of a particular political party. That continues to be the Governor’s guiding principle and is the basis of his bid for the U.S. Senate.”