It may have taken a while, but it finally feels like there’s a Democratic primary for governor.
Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now seeking his old job as a Democrat, spent the weekend campaigning in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, meeting with volunteers, attending black churches and visiting early voting sites seeking to drive up voter turnout.
Former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich took a final swing through the I-4 corridor on Saturday in her underdog campaign against the better-known and better-funded Crist . Rich then campaigned in Miami-Dade County on Sunday.
The winner in Tuesday’s primary will face Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has only minor primary opposition. Scott has focused most of his attention on Crist and polls show a tight race should Crist win the primary.
Rich and Crist both attended the service at New Birth Baptist Church, Rich sitting two rows in front of Crist. The candidates shook hands, then both swayed to the gospel music, Rich clapping her hands to the beat. They both later visited the same early voting site at a Miami Gardens library, where Rich quietly walked through the crowd talking to voters about issues such as education and health care.
“He’s approachable and I believe in some of the things he’s already done as governor,” said Ulysses Harvard, 57, of Miami Gardens, a Democrat who also supported Crist when he ran for governor as a Republican in 2006. “I believe in his policies.”
The fact that they candidates were campaigning head-to-head was a change from the way the primary has played out over the last several months. Crist has acted as if he wasn’t in a primary. He refused to debate Rich and rarely acknowledged her as a candidate, frustrating Rich and her supporters who wanted an opportunity to point out differences in the candidates. Rich, a lifelong Democrat who has been consistent in positions on issues like issues like keeping abortion legal, supporting gay rights and tightening gun laws.
And unlike Crist, who once called President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul “cockamamie” and “nuts,” Rich has always supported it. Crist now says the plan is great.
“The most important thing about your record is it’s a predictor of what you’ll do in the future,” Rich said Saturday outside an early voting site in Delray Beach. “I think that’s what people like best about me, they may not like every position that I have, but they’d like to feel that you stand for something.”
At the event, a small group of supporters met with Rich.
“She’s the best!” said Arlene Ustin, 71, of Delray Beach as she watched Rich greet supporters. “She’s been solid. It’s not just rhetoric. She does what she says.”
Crist knows he needs a strong showing Tuesday to put aside any doubts that Democrats haven’t accepted his party conversion.
That’s why he’s spent much of the final days before the primary in South Florida, which holds the most Democratic votes.
“It’s always important no matter what the election, whether it’s a primary election or a general election, to get the vote out,” Crist said. “Particularly for the primary, South Florida is a significant focus for us.”
And at an earlier church stop in Miami Gardens, Crist let the congregation know he has been converted.
“I’ve seen the light and I am a Democrat,” Crist said. “A Florida Democrat! Praise God!”