“Nice guy” Charlie Crist tells journos he is the “happy warrior”

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Charlie Crist is a nice guy.

He repeatedly told about 70 journalists that he’s a nice guy Thursday at an appearance before Florida Society of Newspaper Editors Convention in Coral Gables.

Crist, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, answered questions from a panel of editors and he clearly was prepared. He never stumbled when asked about switching parties, the collapse of the Florida economy during his term as a Republican governor or even his refusal to debate Nan Rich, the former state senator who also wants to be the Democratic nominee to governor.

Crist looked a like a nice guy too. He’s got that tan, which gleamed in contrast to his white shirt. He had a great blue power tie. He has that thick silver hair. He’s a smooth politician and he put his skills on display Thursday at the Biltmore Hotel.

Here are the highlights from the Q&A:

— He immediately pointed out that Republican Gov. Rick Scott refused to appear before the gathering of editors. “That speaks volumes” about Scott, he said.

— He doesn’t have time to debate Nan Rich. “I’m running against $100 million,” he said, referring to Scott’s campaign treasury. “I need to keep a laser focus” on Scott so he doesn’t have time to prepare for a debate with Rich.

— He grew up a Republican. His mom and dad were Republicans and he loved being a member of the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. “I didn’t leave the party; the party left me,” Crist said, spouting a line from his book “The Party is Over.” He told everyone they can learn more if they buy the book. “It doesn’t cost that much.” He said he could no longer remain in a party that’s anti-women, anti-minority, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-immigrant.

— Scott can’t take any credit for the improving Florida economy. The hard-working, optimistic people of Florida are responsible. In fact, Crist said he should get a lot of the credit because he was smart enough to accept $11 billion in federal stimulus money from a Democratic president. That money, Crist said, is running out and contributing to what Crist calls the “Scott stall” in the economy.

— Speaking of the economy, Crist is disgusted that Scott refused to expand Medicaid (roughly $50 billion of federal money over 10 years) and millions of dollars in high-speed rail federal dough. And stressing again what a nice guy he is, Crist noted that not only would Medicaid expansion create jobs, it would provide health care to people who desperately need it.

— Of course, Crist is now a convert to gay-marriage rights. “I have evolved … Even the Pope of the Catholic Church has said ‘Who am I to judge?’”

— Crist said he supports medical marijuana. Again, Charlie has empathy (unlike the current governor). Allowing patients in pain to use marijuana prescribed by a doctor is “a lot more compassionate” than making sick people take drugs that often make them feel worse.

Finally, Crist said he’s the perfect guy to work with a potentially surly GOP Legislature. He’s got the charm and heart to get folks like that to do the right thing for Florida.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’m the happy warrior.”