It may have been cloudy in downtown St. Petersburg, but it was a beautiful day for Florida governor candidate Charlie Crist.
Crist formally launched his campaign for the state’s highest office Monday morning at Albert Whitted Park, joining about 250 friends, family and leading Democratic supporters at the eagerly awaited kickoff event.
Onstage, Crist was joined by mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who opened the event by blasting the Tea Party infused partisanship in Florida and Washington D.C. Castor pointed the finger at current Gov. Rick Scott as the person that embodies all that was wrong with politics today.
Crist spent most of the 20-minute speech criticizing Scott’s record on issues such as cutbacks in education and healthcare, as well as his lack of effort to stop the rise of pollution across the state. Crist also called for more investment in high speed rail and mass transit systems, saying it should be “common sense, not nonsense.”
In addition, Crist promised to appoint a cabinet-level trade representative, as well as remove the monopoly of big energy companies. He wants to encourage smaller enterprises to enter the marketplace to provide alternative, renewable sources of power.
“We are, after all, the Sunshine State, my friends,” Crist said. “There are few places in America harder to invest in solar energy than Florida. That makes no sense whatsoever.”
Even through all the jabs aimed at Scott and his record, bipartisanship turned out to be Crist’s most passionate theme. Taking pains to represent himself as the contrast to Scott and others, Crist decried his opponent for causing the sharp political divides rippling through the state and the country.
Hitting a note clearly designed to fire up his Democratic base (and appeal to a few independent and Republicans), Crist vowed he would be a “governor for all Floridians.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Crist’s speech frequently invoked “for the people,” the populist slogan of his employer, law firm Morgan & Morgan. Since Crist’s face is on the firm’s billboards all across central Florida, it now seems a smart political tie-in, valuable as pre-campaign publicity. It also plays on Crist’s strong suit entering the race, the millions of dollars of name recognition.
Crist certainly did not shy away from his much-publicized party switch, likely to be one of the main talking points in the campaign. The former Republican once again proclaimed his delight at being a Democrat, much as he has done at nearly every public event in the past year, even though his parents — who proudly sat in the front row — were Republicans.
“The principles that unite us as Americans and Floridians,” he told the crowd, “will always be more compelling than the issues that will divide us.”
“Rick Scott doesn’t get it,” he added. “But you do.”
With the claim that Scott will begin his campaign “tonight” by spending millions on negative attack ads on Charlie Crist alone, the former governor once again raised the “$100 million” figure his opponent will be sure to draw upon for his re-election bid. It ensures the 2014 governor’s race will become the most expensive in the state’s history.
“I do not have his special interest checkbook, and I am not a wealthy man. At least not in money,” he said, asking supporters to “start a conversation,” with anyone who will listen.
“If we are tireless in our effort to make Florida a better place,” Crist said to cheers, “than Rick Scott can spend a billion dollars on dishonest ads, and it will not matter.”