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Updated: GOP Attacks Against Crist Continue After Latest Endorsement

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Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist may be out of office, but he hasn’t been out of the spotlight. Crist has managed to keep grabbing headlines since leaving the Republican Party to run a failed bid for the U.S. Senate as an Independent two years ago. Now Crist is campaigning for President Barack Obama and has endorsed other democratic candidates this election cycle. But not everyone is convinced of Crist’s political makeover.

At the University of Florida’s Phillips Center, Charlie Crist shakes hands and takes pictures with eager young law students and others who have come to hear him and other past state governors speak.

Crist has served as a state senator, education commissioner, attorney general and most recently, Governor. Back when he was still a Republican, Crist earned the nickname “Chain-gang Charlie” for his “support of roadside prison work crews when he was a state senator and later, attorney General. Later, as “Governor” Charlie Crist, he pushed for an automatic restoration process for felon voting rights.

Senator and Attorney General Crist opposed abortions and same-sex marriage.  But “Governor” Charlie Crist vetoed several abortion bills. His veto of a bill tying student performance to teacher salaries and evaluations signaled the end of Crist as a Republican. The move angered many members of his party, and shortly after, Crist declared his independence and jumped ship.

“Charlie Crist is a political opportunist who is trying to set himself up as something he’s never been. So I don’t know who can possibly take him seriously at this point,”  said Brian Burgess, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida who previously worked for Governor Rick Scott.

The party has run attack ads against Crist, accusing the former Governor of being a political opportunist. Shortly after the Democratic National Convention, when Crist strode on stage and declared that he didn’t leave the Republican Party, the part left him, this ad appeared on TV’s across the state:

http://youtu.be/9Q9Nbw6WCF0

When asked about the ad, Crist said, “ I’ve never heard about people running television ads against a non-candidate before.”  

The former Republican Governor says he tries not to pay the attacks too much attention.

“Well, you don’t let it affect you personally. I know it’s political, and , if people want to criticize someone whose working for the betterment of all, it’s sad for them.” 

Despite changing his political affiliation, Crist still enjoys widespread support—especially among potential voters who want him to get back into public office, and Crist says he hears that alot.

His name has been dropped as a potential challenger to Governor Rick Scott in 2014. And some say the Republican party’s attacks against him amount to a preemptive strike. But Republican Party officials say they're just trying to warn the other party of what they might be getting in Charlie Crist.

 “He’s always portrayed himself as a Regan Republican. As a person who believes in the core values of the Republican Party. He’s pro-life, pro-gun. He was anti-ObamaCare. And so I think it’s important for people to know exactly what this man has said in the past, and it’s important or people to know what they can expect from him. Can we trust Charlie Crist?  is the real question, said RPOF spokesman Brian Burgess."

And while Crist attempts to build a relationship with Democrats, many in the party remain wary of him.

“I think that certainly we’d welcome someone new  who proved himself to the party and proved himself in the field and with his record. But again, There would be some ‘splainin’ to do. And there would be some people who would swallow hard," said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.

The attacks against Crist have intensified as he stumps for President Barack Obama and endorses democratic candidates like Keith Fitzgerald, over incumbent Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan.  In previous election cycles, Crist had backed Buchanan.

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Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist was one of five former state Governor’s at a forum at the University of Florida. He’s been the target of Republican attacks ever since leaving the party in 2010 to go independent. Crist has also endorsed President Barack Obama. The former governor says he’s aware of the attacks, but tries not to pay them too much attention.

“I had a conversation with Governor Askew about it and he said, you’re being punished because even when you were still a Republican you worked across the aisle to work with others for the betterment of the people. You ran as a people’s Governor, and that’s how you acted when you were governor. And the notion that you would be punished for that is just wrong.”

After the forum one audience member encouraged Crist to run against Republican Governor Rick Scott in 2014, but Crist says he’s not thinking about that right now. The ex-Republican hasn’t endorsed anyone in his former political party this election cycle.

An example of that is Crist’s most recent endorsement. He’s backing Democrat Keith Fitzgerald over incumbent Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan. Crist has previously supported Buchanan, and his decision to back the challenger has once again led to accusations of flip-flopping.

“Another day, another friend betrayed by Charlie Crist and his blind ambition.  It would be funny if it weren't so sad to watch Crist, a self- described pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, anti-ObamaCare conservative, abandoning his friends who he endorsed and raised money for to embrace people and values he has opposed his entire political career.  This is just another sad but clear example of the two faces of Charlie Crist,” said RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter @HatterLynn

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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