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Crist launches campaign with national book tour Tuesday

Published:   |   Updated: February 3, 2014 at 07:56 PM

TAMPA ­­— Former Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday kicks off a book tour that essentially opens his public campaign for governor, re-introduces him to Florida voters and seeks to explain his tricky political history as a party-switcher.

The tour, starting with national broadcast interviews and then switching to in-person stops in Florida, is to promote Crist’s book, “The Party’s Over.” It seeks to explain his transition from a life-long Republican to no-party candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010, and then to a Democrat now running for governor again.

Political experts say such an event taps the trend for aspiring politicians to explain themselves in books, and get free news coverage and publicity along the way.

But it also includes potential hazards. Crist is sure to be asked tough questions about his changes in positions on key issues ranging from offshore drilling to same-sex marriage rights, as well as his party change. Such questions have cast him in a negative light in past national broadcast interviews.

Republicans hope to generate embarrassing moments for Crist during the tour.

They wouldn’t talk about their plans on the record, but party sources said they plan to be present at Crist appearances and pose questions about his record for interviewers to ask him.

The book tour is “a platform to get earned media, free media,” said University of Florida political scientist Dan Smith, a specialist in political campaigning.

“It seems like it’s increasingly a requirement among those who are running for office — necessary for those running for president and a growing trend among those running for governor,” said Smith, who’s politically neutral.

University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson said interviewers “are going to be looking for the inconsistencies in the book to ask him about.”

“How he defends himself will be the interesting part,” said Paulson, a Republican, “If he makes the situation more confusing, it will only add to the idea that he’ll say anything to win election.”

Crist will kick off the tour today on Morning Joe, the talk show hosted by Joe Scarborough, a Republican and former Florida Panhandle congressman, plus appearances on the O’Reilly Factor and the Colbert Report, said Crist aide Michelle Todd.

Later this week he’ll appear on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live, Real Time with Bill Maher and other national network interviews.

The tour is expected to conclude with a Feb. 22 stop at the landmark Haslam’s Book Store in St. Petersburg, the only Tampa area stop now planned.

In an interview, Crist said he had “no idea” whether the book tour will help his campaign.

“We’re just going to do the tour and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I hope people buy it because it goes into the kind of depth you don’t get to go into in the course of a campaign.”

He said the $27 book will come out in paperback, but he doesn’t know when.

Asked if he’s worried about tough questions on his changes on issues, he said, ““Of course it could happen again – it probably will happen. But people have a right to free speech.”

In 2010, after he left the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent, Crist got embarrassing questions from national television interviewers over his previous pledges to stay in the party and run only as a Republican.

“His transition was literally in a matter of months – all of a sudden he’s an independent because he’s getting creamed by Marco Rubio,” whose impending victory in the 2010 primary contributed to Crist’s decision to leave tthe party, said Paulson.

This year, he has received the same kind of questions about issues he’s changed his stances on, including gay marriage.

In some cases, including his former opposition to same-sex marriage rights, Crist has had no other answer that that he was wrong and is sorry, or that he took a stance “because I was trying to be a good team player” as a Republican.

Since his announcement of his campaign in November, Crist has kept his campaign comparatively low-key, concentrating on raising money, noted University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett, who’s politically neutral.

“This will be his first actual public campaigning — the Reintroduce Charlie Crist to Florida Voters Tour,” Jewett said.

“He has been out of the public limelight, and some of the press he’s gotten has been negative. When you go from Republican to independent to Democrat in a just a couple of years, you gain some friends, but you also tick some people off.”

How should Crist respond to tough questions about his political changes?

“He’s just going to double down on the theme of his book — the party was hijacked by people on the far right, it left him.

Jewett said that “may resonate with some voters if we’re to believe the public opinion polls” showing concern about the tea party movement.

Questions about flipping on issues, Jewett said, will be tougher to handle.