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Official: Former Republican Gov. Crist to speak at DNC

By Brendan Farrington
Associated Press

President Barack Obama gave Charlie Crist a hug. Mitt Romney gave him $1 million. Apparently the hug meant more to Crist.

The former Republican governor will be speaking at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, N.C., an Obama campaign official said late Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement had not yet been made. It's news that comes as Republicans hold their convention to nominate Romney as their presidential candidate — an event being held across Tampa Bay from Crist's St. Petersburg home.

Crist left the party in 2010 after declaring he would run for the U.S. Senate as an independent. He was chased from the Republican primary after falling behind eventual winner Marco Rubio in the polls. Rubio overcame a disadvantage in money and support with a message that Crist was not a true conservative — a strategy that was punctuated with a photo of Crist embracing Obama at a 2009 rally to push for the $787 billion federal stimulus package.

In 2006, Romney, then the Massachusetts governor, gave Crist a $1 million check from the Republican Governors Association to help Crist's gubernatorial campaign.

Crist on Sunday endorsed Obama.

"The Democratic convention will be about bringing people together to continue the progress we've made in rebuilding our economy from the middle out, not the top down. Gov. Crist can personally speak to this, and contrast the president's vision with Mitt Romney's, which caters to the most extreme elements of the Republican Party and undermines the middle class," the campaign official said.

At a Republican Party of Florida breakfast for convention delegates in Palm Harbor on Monday, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford mocked Crist. He mentioned Tropical Storm Isaac, then said, "Speaking of winds blowing and people shifting positions, the Florida Republican Party had a former member of the Republican Party by the name of Charlie Crist."

The delegates booed.

"I knew that hugs could be powerful, but I really just had no idea until yesterday," Weatherford said.

Also at the breakfast, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam criticized Crist for thinking of his own political career first.

"He'll wear any costume just to get in the parade," Putnam said.

Crist is not registered with either party, but there has been widespread speculation that he will try to make a political comeback as a Democrat and possibly challenge his Republican successor, Rick Scott. That speculation has increased as his wife, Carole, changed her voter registration from Republican to Democrat and after he said he would support Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election campaign over Rep. Connie Mack IV. Now, there's the Obama endorsement and a speaking role at the nominating convention.

Crist has criticized his former party for going too far to the right. As a governor, he was known for being a populist who would welcome Democrats in his office as much as Republicans. He also angered Republicans by vetoing high-priority GOP bills on education and abortion restrictions.

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bsfarrington.

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