Obama Could Kill Charlie Crist's Chances Still

Beth Reinhard
National Journal

How many campaigns can one hug squeeze to death?

As the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist paid dearly for putting his arms around President Obama at a town hall touting the Democrats' economic-stimulus plan in February 2009. The governor's chief rival for the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio, replayed footage of the embrace over and over, savaging Crist's conservative credentials.

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Now running as a Democrat for his old job, Crist may find that his continued embrace of an increasingly unpopular president--and his controversial health care law--could thwart him once again.

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"The hug that crushed Charlie in 2009 doesn't even compare to the boa constrictor of Obamacare that will crush him in 2014," said Rick Wilson, a Tallahassee-based Republican strategist.

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Crist announced his party switch from a White House Christmas party last year and has stacked his 2014 campaign with former Obama staffers, making it easy for the GOP to yoke him to the president again. Earlier this month, Crist attended a fundraiser in the Miami area headlined by the president.

The relationship could be a liability in Florida, where a new Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama with only 40 percent approval, matching his lowest-ever rating notched in 2011. That's even worse than the 42 percent approval of the current governor, Republican Rick Scott, who is widely seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country.

Most importantly, Crist has endorsed the president's signature health care law at a time when it's struggling to get off the ground. "Hugging Obamacare," read one recent attack from the Republican Party of Florida, which included, of course, a picture of a Crist-Obama hug. A majority of Florida voters oppose the Affordable Care Act, according to Quinnipiac.

And it's not just Obamacare that threatens Crist.

Scott got the good news last week that Florida led the nation in job growth in October. The GOP crowed that since Scott's election in 2010, unemployment has dropped from 11.1 percent to 6.7 percent in October. Under Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2010, unemployment climbed from 3.5 percent to 11.1 percent.

"While Charlie Crist supports policies like Obamacare that harm our economy, Rick Scott has implemented policies that have put Florida ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to job creation," said Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry.

Months of these early attacks on Crist seem to be taking a toll, as his favorability/unfavorability ratings have dropped to 41/39 percent, putting him nearly on par with Scott at 39/42 percent.

But the Quinnipiac poll also showed Scott continuing to trail Crist, although by a slightly smaller margin of 7 points. Scott's 42 percent job-approval rating compares unfavorably to the 53 percent approval of the job Crist did as governor. And a majority of voters, 53 percent, say Scott does not deserve a second term.

"You are dealing with two guys with universal name ID who both have been governor and people have already made judgments on," said Democratic pollster John Anzalone, one of the former Obama advisers now working for Crist. "The national dynamics are not going to affect the governor's race in Florida."

Scott is expected to raise as much as $100 million in attempt to secure his reelection, while Crist's fledgling campaign has been dogged by rumors that the only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson, hasn't ruled out jumping into the gubernatorial race. That's an unlikely scenario, but the prospect could cause some longtime Democratic donors to hesitate to write checks to Crist.

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