A hotel lobby in Miami was crawling with Republican governors last week, but Charlie Crist was huddling with a leading Democrat, state Sen.-elect Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.
Having persuaded the Florida governor to extend early voting before the Nov. 4 election, Gelber had a new mission: With the budget bleeding red ink, he wants Crist to review state sales tax exemptions, an idea that horrifies most Republicans.
Crist made no promises but political survival tells him to stay as close to the center as he can.
For two days, talk at the Hotel Intercontinental was partisan. But Crist kept talking about “working with Democrats” and told CNN that he governs by having “almost a nonpartisan way of getting things done.”
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Two years ago, Crist won a three-way race for governor with 52 percent of the vote, and for two years has glided toward the middle on some issues. At the same time, he tries to say and do just enough to avoid alienating the GOP base.
But Crist says he respects Barack Obama's Florida victory and Democratic gains in voter registration that nearly produced wins in Jacksonville and Sarasota. That's the electorate Crist would face in two years.
To succeed, Crist says, Republicans must show “results.”
At the governors' big dinner Thursday night, he was introduced as having been honored by the NAACP and the National Rifle Association, and he gave a speech that would have sounded right at home at a meeting of the Democratic Governors' Association.
The man who used to call himself a “Jeb Bush Republican” said this: “We ended the tragic cycle of politicizing issues that affect real people in a real way.” Of President-elect Obama, he said, there's “more that unites us than divides us,” and “embracing cultures and lifestyles will make us a better party and better leaders.”