It’s been said for decades that if Charlie Crist could just shake every voter’s hand in the state, he could win any election.
“He will try to shake every hand,” observed John Morgan, the Orlando rainmaker, currently unaffiliated. “The thing about Charlie, he feeds off people. He truly enjoys the retail politics in politics.”
Crist, the Democratic Congressman and once a Republican Governor, is ready to announce the “Charlie Crist for Governor 3.0” campaign Tuesday in his hometown of St. Petersburg.
There may be no politician in Florida with more history, more career twists and turns, or more wins and losses. There are few whom Florida voters know better. There’s also almost no one with more baggage.
Yet there may be no one in Florida with Crist’s gift for person-to-person charm, with voters, with volunteers, with lawmakers, with journalists, and, perhaps most significantly, with donors.
He is notoriously late for every event because he gets distracted to talk with every person he meets on his way over. Afterward, Crist never gets hustled out a back door.
“Charlie loves people,” said Bob Poe, the former Florida Democratic Party chair who battled against Crist for years and then ran his independent fundraising committee, Charlie Crist for Florida, the last time Crist ran statewide, for Charlie Crist for Governor 2.0, in 2014. “He’s the happy warrior. He’s the happy candidate. He’s ready to go, 24/7.
“He likes to do it. He enjoys this connection with people. And he is truly one of the best individual fundraisers I’ve ever known,” Poe added.
It doesn’t matter what Crist might stand for; he’s Charlie. Charlie.
Still, in 2021 and ‘22, retail politics might be to winning Florida statewide elections what big-box book stores are to selling books: so 2006.
The last time Crist won a statewide election in Florida was in 2006, when fewer than 5 million votes were cast. There were more than 8 million votes in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Most likely, there will be far more than that in 2022. Last year there were 11 million votes counted in the presidential election.
Florida Democrats await moves by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the true progressive who won statewide in 2018 and then was dubbed “A New Hope” for the party; by Rep. Val Demings, the fiery Orlando Congresswoman with a background straight out of Central Casting and a national appeal; and perhaps by others.
Beyond winning the Democratic Primary, a Democrat still faces the matter of finding a way to beat sitting Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who seemingly has made all the right moves, and who appears well positioned in polls to defeat any Democrat.
Both Fried and Demings can appeal to broad communities of the Democratic Party, not just on policy positions but as symbols for political movements. They’re likely to attract support and money from people and organizations who otherwise know nothing about them.
The same is true of DeSantis. In 2018, he showed Republican Movement politics can do retail politics. His Republican primary challenger Adam Putnam was very much like Crist: brilliant at retail politics.
You remember Adam Putnam, right? Red hair? Came to your Kiwanis Club barbecue? Knew your kids’ names? Trampled in DeSantis’ political movement stampede.
Celebrating end-of-Session in style — The first item on Madison Rowe’s to-do list after surviving her first Legislative Session was to get hitched. Sunday evening, Rowe of Red Hills Strategies married Ethan Dorval at Loblolly Rise Plantation in Thomasville, Georgia. The newlyweds are off to honeymoon in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Congratulations to the happy couple!