Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s May 12 announcement that he will run for Senate instead of reelection in 2010 was rare good news for the flailing GOP. The first-term governor, who is seeking the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, has consistently boasted approval ratings in the high 60s since taking office despite economic dark days in the Sunshine State. An adroit campaigner who addresses every citizen he meets as “my boss,” Crist is widely expected to crush the general election field — if he can make it through the primary. Dubbed a RINO — Republican in Name Only — by GOP stalwarts for supporting green policies and President Obama’s stimulus package, among other left-wing pet causes, Crist should have enough centrist street cred to woo moderate voters in the general election. But his campaign could be doomed in the primary by conservatives, who fear that, despite his pro-life, anti-gun control record, once in the Senate Crist could pull a Specter and pivot across the aisle. His case with far-right Floridians is not helped by the presence of conservative hotshot Marco Rubio, a former Florida House Speaker and protégé of popular former governor Jeb Bush, who is also limbering up for the gubernatorial primary race.
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• Born the second of four children in 1956 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Charles Joseph “Charlie” Crist grew up in St. Petersburg, FL, the grandson of immigrants. His last name — often mispronounced “Christ” — is the Anglicized version of the Greek name “Christodoulou.”
• Attended Wake Forest University for two years before transferring to Florida State University. Elected both student body vice president and homecoming king, he graduated in 1978 with a degree in government.
• According to the St. Petersburg Times, Crist is an early riser and gym buff who eats just one meal a day.
• In 1979, while a student at the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala., Crist married Amanda Morrow. They divorced after less than a year. He graduated in 1981, then flunked the Florida bar exam twice before passing.
• In 1982 Crist was named general counsel for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. “A combination of two things I love: sports and law,” he recalled in 2006.
• Crist was elected Florida State Senator in 1992 and reelected in 1994 with 63% of the vote. A law-and-order hard-liner, he sponsored a law requiring inmates to wear shackles that earned him the nickname “Chain Gang Charlie,” which he later used in campaign commercials.
• In 1998, Crist tried to climb into the U.S. Senate but lost to Democratic incumbent Bob Graham. After the election, Governor Jeb Bush appointed Crist as deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Crist went on to win two more statewide offices: education commissioner in 2000, and attorney general in 2002.
• As Florida attorney general, he was criticized by some advocates of government intervention in the Terri Schiavo case when he abandoned official attempts to keep Schiavo on life support.
• In 2006, when term limits prevented Bush from seeking reelection, Crist ran for governor and won. In office, he signed a controversial bill loosening gun restrictions, championed tax cuts and appointed two conservative, pro-life judges — including Charles Canady, who is credited with inventing the term “partial-birth abortion” — to the Florida Supreme Court. Crist also imposed strict air pollution standards, signed a law allowing for low cost health insurance policies, and appeared at a February 10 rally with Obama to support the stimulus.
• Crist was rumored to be on John McCain’s 2008 short list for Vice President. Persistent rumors that he is gay — reiterated in the recent documentary “Outrage,” which purports to decloset several prominent Republicans — may have sunk his chances. Crist insists he is straight, but his December 12, 2008 marriage to Carole Rome was widely viewed as politically expedient. He is often mentioned as a possible Presidential contender in 2012.
“Right now, people want common sense answers to problems that are not always ideologically based… When it comes to pocketbook issues, I think they want the Florida way, a more bipartisan approach that aims for the sweet spot between hard right and hard left.” — On party politics and the financial crisis (TIME.com, Nov. 12, 2008)
“I’m not a gloom-and-doom guy — I’m an optimist. I think we do have time to turn this around, and I think that the kinds of things we’re doing will certainly help.” — On his thoughts on the environment (Grist.org, January 14, 2008)
“I think it is fair to describe me as a common-sense Republican.” — On his political affiliation (New York Times, June 22, 2008)
“I got married and divorced because it didn’t work out. I haven’t found the right one since. It’s really that simple.” — On his personal life (New York Times, June 22, 2008)
“‘Gov. Crist is exactly what we need because if we don’t increase the size of our tent, we’re going to be in big trouble in our future.” — Joe Gruters, chairman of the Sarasota, Fla. Republican Party (The Miami Herald, May 13, 2009)
“If Crist were to become vice president, he’d leave Tallahassee with virtually no footprints. He would be remembered more for his tan than for his leadership.”
— Novelist Carl Hiassen, in a Miami Herald column on Crist’s potential VP candidacy (The Miami Herald, June 1, 2008)
“He’s probably the most brilliant campaigner I’ve ever been around. He remembers names like nobody else.” — Tom Feeney, Florida Republican (The National Review, April 7, 2008)
“Just what we need, a ‘soft, friendly’ moderate GOP member….BARF” — Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, tweeting on Crist’s announcement for governor (Twitter.com, May 12, 2009)