- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | A Republican no longer, Gov. Charlie Crist just can’t seem to get enough of President Obama or Democratic priorities.

The independent is behaving more like the independent he is in Florida’s wildly unpredictable Senate race, standing with the president, courting organized labor and vetoing legislation to ban embryonic-stem-cell research at the state’s universities.

Conservatives he once wooed say it’s the mark of a political chameleon - or worse. The state GOP’s news release says, “You can’t spell Charlie without ‘lie.’ ” But Mr. Crist’s path to statewide election goes in a different direction now, far, far away from the “tea party” activists who drove him from the GOP.

Looking to cobble together a broad coalition of voters, including Democrats and independents, Mr. Crist has:

  • Vetoed a bill that would have required women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion, a move that upset many Republicans. He also didn’t make any GOP friends when he vetoed $371 million in spending provisions in the budget, along with language that would have prohibited universities from conducting embryonic-stem-cell research.
  • Cozied up to labor unions, teachers unions and trial lawyers. Mr. Crist asked the AFL-CIO for its endorsement, appearing before the group and telling them he will listen to their arguments in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize. Republicans oppose it because of a “card check” provision that allows workers to form a union by signing cards instead of holding a secret-ballot vote.
  • Told the St. Petersburg Times that he is willing to consider overturning a Florida law that bans gays from adopting. He had supported the gay adoption ban. He also told the Miami Herald that he supports the Obama administration’s decision to allow Cuban-Americans unrestricted travel to visit relatives still in Cuba and to send them money. Mr. Crist had favored tighter restrictions on travel and money sent to Cuba.

There may have been some foreshadowing to his moves: Weeks before he left the GOP in April, Mr. Crist vetoed a bill that would have tied teacher merit raises to test scores, a priority for the Republican-dominated legislature and former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Florida Education Association split its endorsement between Mr. Crist and Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, a top candidate in the Democratic Senate primary who led a petition drive to place class-size limits in the state constitution. Mr. Crist earned his half with the veto of the merit pay bill.

“I don’t even know who Charlie Crist is anymore,” said Sharon Day, the state’s representative on the Republican National Committee. “He ran as a Jeb Bush conservative to win the governor’s primary, he bragged about being a Ronald Reagan Republican and he’s shown that he’s anything but that.”

But polls suggest he’s making the right move in the race to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican. Mr. Crist is leading or tied with likely Republican nominee Marco Rubio in recent surveys, with Democrats Mr. Meek and billionaire Jeff Greene trailing far behind.

Underscoring the shift have been Mr. Crist’s appearances with Mr. Obama.

During the heat of the Republican primary campaign, conservatives vilified Mr. Crist for “the hug” - his embrace of Mr. Obama as the president pushed for the $787 billion stimulus package.

In recent days, as Mr. Obama visited the Gulf states to survey the effects of the oil spill, Mr. Crist walked the beach with Mr. Obama and sat next to him at a table with other officials. Mr. Crist has defended the president’s response to the spill while many Republicans have criticized the president.

Mr. Crist hasn’t apologized for any of his decisions, including his appearances - past and present - with Mr. Obama.

“When some in my former party criticized that, I thought, ‘Something’s wrong. That’s just not right. It’s not right,’ ” Mr. Crist said.

Democrats understand what’s going on.

“He’s looking to take votes from any side, but based on his vetoes, he’s obviously zeroing in more on Democratic voters,” said Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party.

Mr. Ceasar has also noticed that Mr. Crist doesn’t seem to mind being close to Mr. Obama these days.

“Nothing provides a photo op like time with the president of the United States, depending on your party,” Mr. Ceasar said.

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