Charlie Crist walked into a Jacksonville senior center to encourage folks to vote early when 79-year-old Helen Dowdy walked up to him with a big smile.
“I want a picture with you!” she said, clearly enamored with the former Republican governor who is now seeking his old job as a Democrat.
“I want one with you!” Crist replied and put his arm around her.
There may not be another Florida politician that’s better at working a room than Crist. He makes eye contact, shakes voters’ hands with both of his and makes everyone he meets feel like they are the most important person in the room.
But does Crist have specific, concrete plans for Florida’s future if voters decide to return him to office? Republican Gov. Rick Scott says no. Crist says yes. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
Crist publicly and in his TV ads has been more focused on tearing down Scott as a mega-millionaire who is out of touch with everyday Floridians. But beyond the negative ads and the “I know you are but what am I?” mentality of the race, Crist hasn’t talked much about policies he’d push if voters give him back his old job.
“Everything would be new from what it is now under Scott. People have asked me, ‘What would you change if you win from what Gov. Scott is doing?’ Everything,” Crist said before pausing and repeating the word. “Everything.”
Scott said Crist is all talk and no action and hasn’t laid out a vision for Florida.
“There’s nothing he’s for,” Scott said. “I’ve had people tell me that when they tried to come in and talk to him about policy, he’d say, ‘I don’t do policy.’ He had no ideas.”
Crist said if voters want to know how he would govern in the future, they can look at his first time in office: He vows to fight for education, the environment and restoring rights for nonviolent felons, among other things.
“I’m the same person I’ve always been,” Crist said.
Once the annual legislative session ended in May, Scott hit the road and each week made a policy announcement about what he would do in his second term in office. The ideas ranged from port development to proposed tax cuts.
By comparison, Crist hasn’t had many policy rollouts.
He has said that the first thing he’d do if elected is push to expand Medicaid coverage for Floridians who earn too much to be included in the health care program for the poor, but not enough to pay for coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
He has also said he would use state incentives to help established small businesses in Florida rather than lure out-of-state corporations, which Scott has done.
And during a Jacksonville barber shop visit, Corey Wilborn told Crist that Florida’s “stand your ground” law that allows people to use deadly force if they believe their lives are threatened has allowed an assault on young African-Americans.
“I think we can change it. Not if Rick Scott wins,” Crist said. “He thinks it’s just fine.”
“What kind of changes would we make?” Wilborn, 34, asked as a barber worked on his hair. “Because what we have now is just unacceptable.”
“What would you like to do?” Crist asked, sitting in another barber’s chair.
And that is classic Crist – saying he wants to do what people want him to do. He accepts the populist label, calls himself “the people’s governor” and whether as a Republican or Democrat, he has been seen as a moderate. And as he wrapped up the conversation with Wilborn, Crist gave him a fist bump – something you’d never see Scott do.
“People have a right to defend themselves. I get that. That’s important that we protect that, always,” Crist said before his voice took an incredulous tone. “We have a law on the books that allows someone to start an altercation and end up being able to kill an innocent human being and that’s OK. And that’s not OK.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.