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Florida's former Republican Governor Charlie Crist is looking for another chance to hold that office. But this time he wants to do it as a Democrat. Chris made that announcement in St. Petersburg today. He's running against the current Republican governor, Rick Scott, a conservative elected with strong Tea Party support. The next election is a year from today.
And NPR's Greg Allen says it will be among the most expensive and closely watched in the nation.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's only been a little less than three years since he was governor but Charlie Crist is back. Only this time, there's something new.
CHARLIE CRIST: Yeah, I'm running as a Democrat.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
CRIST: And I'm proud to do it.
ALLEN: For Crist, there have been a lot of changes over the last three years. In his first term as governor, he decided to run for Florida's open Senate seat. But then he ran into Marco Rubio and the Tea Party. Crist left the Republican Party, to compete and lose as an Independent. Now he's back looking for his old job as a Democrat. He says he's entered the race because he doesn't like what he sees from his successor, conservative Republican Rick Scott.
CRIST: The more I watched Rick Scott govern - the partisanship, the deals, always putting the special interests ahead of your interests, and the more I heard from you the people - I knew it was time to take Florida in a better direction.
ALLEN: Scott is a former hospital executive who narrowly won as governor in 2010 by spending more than $70 million of his personal fortune. As governor, he's opposed many of President Obama's policies rejecting billions of dollars in stimulus money to build a high-speed rail line and helping lead the fight against the Affordable Care Act.
This week, Scott is on an overseas trade mission. Although he hasn't officially kicked off his re-election campaign yet, it's already active, producing an ad running this week attacking Crist with quotes from his former Democratic adversaries.
(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Democratic Chair Karen Thurman said he has done nothing to create jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: His only core belief is personal ambition.
ALLEN: Although he just made it official, Crist's entrance into the governor's race has been long anticipated. Florida Republicans began sending out releases attacking him over the summer. During today's rally, a plane flew overhead towing a banner with the address of a Republican website attacking him. Democrats say those are signs that Republicans are worried.
Florida Republican chairman Lenny Curry says that's not it at all.
LENNY CURRY: So it's clear to us that the Democrats don't have much of a bench in the State of Florida. And Charlie was jabbing and poking enough that would lead one to believe that he was going to seek some office. So we figured we'd go on offense.
ALLEN: Among party leaders and the Republican base in Florida, Crist is considered a turncoat - someone who betrayed conservative principles and his party for personal ambition. But among moderate Republicans, independents and now Democrats, Crist thinks he'll do well. Democratic leaders embraced him at a recent statewide convention; that, despite the fact that a long-time Democratic stalwart, former state senator Nan Rich, is already in the race.
Long before he switched parties, as governor, Crist embraced policies that endeared him to Democrats and angered some Republicans. He pushed to restore voting rights to felons who served their time and in 2008, during the presidential election, extended early voting hours - a move that helped Obama win Florida.
Steve Schale is a Democratic strategist who managed the Obama campaign here.
STEVE SCHALE: It was fairly shocking when he decided to extend early voting. It was, I think, a very courageous decision all-in-all. In the end, I don't know the decision itself is why we won Florida. But it certainly made it possible for more people in Florida to get out and vote.
ALLEN: On his transition from Republican to Democrat, Crist has echoed Ronald Reagan, turning around his famous quote with I didn't leave the Republican Party, it left me. At his campaign rally, Crist attacked Rick Scott as a tool of the Tea Party and special interests, linking him with the no-compromise stance that he said led to the deadlock in Washington.
As governor, Crist said, Your duty is to represent all the people.
CRIST: It is not a sin to reach across the aisle. It is your obligation to work together.
ALLEN: The Florida Governor's race is expected to draw a lot of attention and money from outside of the state. The Scott campaign has said it may spend $100 million and Democrats will seek to match it.
Greg Allen, NPR News, St. Petersburg, Florida.
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