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Crist charms gathering of Democrats in Pasco


Published:   |   Updated: June 24, 2013 at 11:14 AM

NEW PORT RICHEY ญญ- Former Gov. Charlie Crist continued playing coy about his potential candidacy for governor despite a rock-star welcome at a Pasco County Democratic Party lunch Saturday. But he told news reporters he is nearing a decision and feeling encouraged.

"I don't have a specific timeline," Crist said. "As each day passes you get closer to a decision. The more encouragement you get, and the more listening you do, the more encouraged I am."

Crist has been acting as if he were running, attending one Democratic event after another.

On Friday night, he was a guest at an Urban League dinner in St. Petersburg; last weekend it was the state Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner in Hollywood.

"He has something every week," said his wife, Carole Crist, who attends most events with him and works crowds with gusto.

About 200 people at $25 a head, a better-than-usual crowd for a Pasco Democratic event, showed up to see Crist.

"Pasco's kind of a tough place, but it's changing," Crist told the crowd. "There has been a titanic shift in politics in America ... and it's represented right here."

A Republican-leaning county, Pasco went for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 and also for Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2010. Republican former Gov. Jeb Bush has declared the county a political weather vane.

Crist wooed the crowd with stories from his political history intended to suggest that even when he was a Republican, he took actions in accord with Democratic values: hiring Democrat Jack Shreve as a public advocate on utilities rates; vetoing a controversial 2010 teacher merit pay bill popular among Republicans but considered by Democrats to be an attack on public education; and greeting Obama in Fort Myers and praising his economic stimulus program in 2009.

"I don't get mad much, but there are two things that get me darn frustrated - one is unfairness and one is arrogance," he said. "And I see both in Tallahassee. ... Until we get the (Democratic) numbers up in the House and Senate, you need a governor to stop it.

Recounting the meeting with Obama, Crist told the crowd, "He's a great guy - as nice as you think."

In other comments to reporters, Crist said he is open to backing a drive to an expected petition drive to legalize medical use of marijuana in Florida, which will be funded largely by his employer, trial lawyer John Morgan of the Morgan & Morgan law firm.

"If you're talking about a real doctor trying to help somebody (who's) suffering, we ought to be at least open to it," he said.

Not all the news for Crist has been good lately, however.

Last week, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Gov. Rick Scott reaching the highest approval ratings of his term - though still one percentage point less than his disapproval rating - and Crist's lead over Scott declining from 16 points to 10.

"Polling is very encouraging, but I've had nice polls in races before. It's early and these things always tend to tighten," he said. "To be 10 points up and not even a candidate, you ought not be disappointed."

Crist didn't react to recent comments by a potential Democratic primary opponent, Alex Sink of Tampa, who said his candidacy would be "a disaster" for Democrats because he would be vulnerable to charges of flip-flopping from Republicans.

Crist responded only: "Everybody has a right to an opinion."

Crist got open support from Lynn Lindeman, chairman of the Pasco party. "He was always a Democrat; he just didn't realize it," Lindeman said. He said he planned the event to showcase Crist "because I want to encourage him to run."

wmarch@tampatrib.com

813-259-7761


Editor's note: Republican presidential candidates John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 won in Pasco County. An earlier version of this story had incorrect results.
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