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Democrats Start Clearing the Decks for Charlie Crist

March 15, 2013 - 7:00pm

Possible Democratic gubernatorial candidates this week closed the door on challenging Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, leaving more room for former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Having taken conservative positions in his previous campaigns as a Republican for governor, the U.S. Senate, state Cabinet office and the Florida Senate, Crist remains vulnerable in a Democratic gubernatorial primary to attacks from the left. Crist is certainly looking to correct that and, earlier this month, voiced his strong support for the expansion of Medicaid. But, as this week shows, the field of Crists possible Democratic rivals is starting to narrow.

On Wednesday, the team behind U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who won a third term in 2012, shot down rumors that their boss would take on Scott in 2014. Media reports appeared this week that former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who once seemed likely to challenge Scott in 2014, is slowing down his operations, leading many of his closest allies to conclude that he will not enter the race. At the end of February, during his State of the City address, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who generated some buzz as a possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate, announced that he was not running for governor in 2014.

With his potential opponents parting the sea for him, Crist is becoming more active as he readies to make a second gubernatorial run, this time as a Democrat. The former governor and failed U.S. Senate candidate spoke to a Democratic club in Fort Myers last weekend.On Saturday, he heads to Sarasota to raise money for the Manatee County Democratic Party.

This week Crist scored national media attention, covering a range from liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddowto the conservative Washington Times, as he increasingly says he is open to running for governor again in 2014. Crists face remains plastered on billboards across the state for trial attorney firm Morgan & Morgan, where the former governor went to work after his loss to Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate race.

Crist still faces some foes for the Democratic nomination. Former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is actively running but her bid has gained little traction to date. Former state CFO Alex Sink, who was the Democratic candidate who lost to Scott in 2010, is also in the mix but she remains on the political sidelines after the sudden death at the end of last year of her husband Bill McBride, a prominent attorney and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2002.

Crist is leading the early primary polls. With Rich going nowhere for the moment, Dyer and Nelson slamming the door on running, Diaz apparently close to bowing out, and Sink on the sidelines, Crist is increasingly looking at a cakewalk in the Democratic primary.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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