Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced on Monday that he's running for governor again in 2014, but this time, as a Democrat. In 2010, Crist lost to Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for Senate, and then switched from being a Republican to an Independent, citing a rightward move and unreasonableness in the GOP. The New York Times notes that although he has long been the enemy of Florida Democrats, Crist has been currying their favor in anticipation of his next campaign. To return to the governor's mansion, Crist will have to beat out his Democratic primary challengers and unpopular incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Can a party-switching Crist actually win?
First, Crist will have to beat fellow Democrat Nan Rich (pictured at right), the former minority leader in the Florida state Senate, who the Times explains has little money but solid grassroots support. Rich remains relatively unknown a year away from the election, which explains Crist's massive 59 percent to 16 percent lead in a preliminary matchup, according to a survey from Public Policy Polling. Rich may find an unlikely supporter in Scott, whose advisors are contemplating donating to Rich in order to scuttle Crist's chances, The Miami Herald reports. It helps that he plans to spend $100 million in his efforts. That Scott is contemplating supporting Rich does show that Scott's team sees Crist as his most dangerous rival.
If Crist does win the Democratic primary, he will take on the increasingly unpopular Scott (left), who was elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010. A recent Public Policy Polling survey put Scott's favorability at 33 percent and his unfavorability at 55 percent, a boon to any opponent he should face. Crist, meanwhile, received a roughly even favorable-unfavorable opinion in that same poll. As a response, Scott has already begun negative advertising against Crist, signaling what will likely be a full year of negativity, The Miami Herald explains. A negative campaign will only help Scott because negativity depresses turnout, which has traditionally helped the Republican candidate in Florida, the Herald writes.
Both Scott and Rich have already accused Crist of flip-flopping, citing his switches on Obamacare, immigration reform, and gay marriage, among others. "I don't think it's going to be a slam dunk [for Crist]," University of South Florida Professor of Political Science Dr. Susan MacManus told Florida's WTSP. "[Rich] appeals to women voters and there are still a number of Democrats who are a little bit nervous about someone they see as a carpetbagger." Still, Florida's swing-state status makes predicting Crist's fate difficult. "There's no textbook case study to understand how Florida voters will evaluate Governor Crist's candidacy," Justin Sayfie, a former aide to ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, told Huffington Post.
As we noted back in May, party-switching politicians generally trend move based on that time's presidential approval (or disapproval), hoping to rise with the growing public tide. With Obama's approval down to 39 percent in Gallup poll today, though, that doesn't seem to be the case with Crist. However, there are several similar cases relevant to Crist's plans. With history as a guide, we can see if Crist's party-switching move will pay off. We compiled some key examples that Crist can use as a guide.
Candidate: Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania senator
Party: GOP from 1981-2010, Democrat from 2010-2012.
Why switch? Long a moderate Republican, Specter switched because he felt he could not win a Republican primary, The New York Times wrote, particularly after his vote for the stimulus package.
Did it work? No. Specter lost instead to a Democratic primary challenger.
Relevance to Crist: It's perhaps the most similar to Crist's situation now, as Specter realized he would have to avoid a Republican primary to win. He failed to do so despite his long tenure in the Senate, and that doesn't bode well for Crist.
Candidate: Joe Lieberman, Connecticut senator.
Party: Democrat from 1989-2006, Independent from 2006-2012.
Why switch? Faced with liberal opposition because of his support of the Iraq War and moderate positions, Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in 2006, and so switched to run on an independent platform in that election, according to The Washington Post.
Did it work? Yes. He held the Senate seat for one more term, and then decided to retire.
Relevance to Crist: Lieberman is what Crist had hoped to be when Crist ran for Senate in 2010, but Lieberman ran in the pre-Tea Party days when Bush approval was decidedly negative. Now that Crist hopes to run on the full Democratic ticket, the differences are plenty.
Candidate: Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island senator and governor
Party: GOP from 1999-2007, Independent from 2007-2013, Democrat from 2013-.
Why switch? Chafee lost in the 2006 Senate race, and switched to an Independent position as Bush's presidency lost its popularity. In May of this year, he switched all the way over to a Democrat because, as The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump noted, "President Obama is enjoying decent approval ratings, and Rhode Island is a Democratic state."
Did it work? Yes. He won the governorship in 2010 as an independent. Chafee decided not to run again after switching to the Democratic Party.
Relevance to Crist: High. Both became more liberal over the past few years, but Crist's switch might be a few years too late. And Chafee's run capitalized on high support for President Obama, whereas Crist doesn't have that added benefit.
Party: Democrat until 1948, when they began joining the Republican Party.
Why switch? The Dixiecrats, a portmanteau of Dixie and Democrats, split off from the mainstream Democratic Party and its growing pro-integration policies in hopes of promoting a Southern-focused, segregation-based platform.
Did it work? In some ways, yes. The Dixiecrat-supported presidential candidate Strom Thurmond won just four states in the '48 presidential election, and Thurmond immediately returned to the Democratic party. But Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats would depart to the Republican party during the Civil Rights era, ending the Democratic control of the South. The New Yorker's George Packer explained that the Dixiecrat rebellion signaled a shift from the Democratic party base as Southern whites to the modern configuration of Northerners and minorities.
Relevance to Crist: Very little. Crist's shift is not about a single issue, much less one like Jim Crow.