TAMPA — As Democrats prepare to meet in Orlando to kick off the 2014 campaign season this weekend, former governor and newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist is also planning a kick-off: He’s expected to announce his campaign for governor a week or so after this weekend’s event.
But Republicans, on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott, who’s delaying launching his own campaign, are hurling pre-emptive attacks at Crist and at the Democrats even before their weekend meeting.
This week, Crist put up a website, www.charlie crist.com, that looks a lot like a campaign site. It features a video that looks and sounds a lot like a campaign ad but stops just short of asking for votes or declaring a candidacy.
As governor from 2007-2010, Crist says in the video, “I worked to be the people’s governor every day.”
Now, he says, the state is seeing “government on the fringes,” partisanship over public good, attacks against health care availability, public education “and even against the simple act of casting your vote.”
“It’s not working,” Crist says in a parody of Scott’s “It’s working” slogan. “Tell me how I can help.”
Crist’s announcement, his advisers say, likely will come about a week after the Florida Democratic Party State Conference this weekend at a Disney resort, probably during an event in Crist’s hometown, St. Petersburg.
Scott, meantime, is in no hurry, according to his advisers, and he may delay his announcement until the turn of the year.
Alex Sink of Tampa announced last month she won’t run for governor again; Sen. Bill Nelson, a subject of speculation among Democrats, hasn’t ruled out running.
There’s also been little reason for any candidate to announce a formal campaign until campaign contribution limits rise from $500 to $3,000 on Nov. 1. Starting fundraising before the increase would mean going back to potential donors to ask for bigger contributions.
Scott has been raising money for his independent political committee, Let’s Get to Work, which will run campaign advertising for him and faces no contribution limit. It has been taking in huge contributions — $500,000 from the Seminole Tribe, $400,000 from U.S. Sugar, $250,000 from Naples investor Shahid Khan, $150,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, for a total of about $18 million this year and last.
While he waits to start his formal campaign, Scott is relying on the state Republican Party to attack Crist.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, party leaders labeled the state Democratic Party as dysfunctional and bashed Crist with their latest campaign slogan against him: “unfit to govern.”
“Charlie Crist just can’t be trusted,” said Sharon Day, one of the Florida party’s delegates to the Republican National Committee. Day cited Crist’s promise to run as a Republican in his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, his switch to no-party, and his refusal afterward to refund donations from Republicans.
Crist later became a Democrat, and Republicans statewide echo Day’s feeling of “disgust” for him.
Asked whether the state GOP plans anti-Crist TV ads once he announces, state Chairman Lenny Curry said the party “will use every vehicle available to us to make sure people understand Charlie Crist is unfit to govern.”
Crist has declared he left the Republican Party because it moved too far to the right; “The party left me,” he said.
On the conference call, Day denied this, saying reports of fractures in the GOP between conservatives and moderates are exaggerated in biased news reporting.
“We are united as a party, unlike sometimes what the media would like to have you believe,” Day said.
As they’ve been doing for months, the Republicans sought to call more favorable attention to former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, the only prominent declared Democrat in the governor’s race so far. Rich is an outspoken liberal who many political experts think would have trouble winning a statewide election.
Cindy Graves, president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women, said Rich is being ignored by state Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and national Democratic Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative from Weston.
Republicans denied their solicitude toward Rich is because they’d rather have Scott face her than Crist.
Rich wasn’t invited to speak at the Democrats’ last statewide gathering, a June fundraising dinner, but as a declared candidate will speak at the conference this weekend, while Crist isn’t scheduled to, said party spokesman Josh Karp.
Nonetheless, Crist will be present and probably will get the same kind of rock-star adulation he got at the June dinner.