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Enter Stage Left, Ever so Gently -- Charlie Crist

May 9, 2013 - 6:00pm

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, now the front-runner to be the Democratic challenger to Gov. Rick Scott next year, is on the move, increasing his visibility as he works to endear himself to his new party.

Crist also is increasingly showing signs of moving left on social issues.

Crist had been a Republican, winning statewide elections for governor, attorney general and education commissioner under the GOP banner. Setting his eyes on the U.S. Senate in 2010, the then-governor ran for the Republican nomination. But, after being caught by an unforgiving conservative party base supporting President Barack Obamas stimulus, Crist began to fall in the polls. By March 2010 Marco Rubio had overtaken him in every Senate poll in Florida.

Crist abandoned the GOP to run for the U.S. Senate without a party. He came in a distant second to Rubio. After endorsing Obamas bid for a second term, Crist joined the Democrats in December 2012. He is expected to run again for governor in 2014, this time as a Democrat.

In the meantime, Crist is doing his best to make himself more palatable to his new party. Late Wednesday he weighed in on marriage, posting on his Facebook page his support for Delaware approving same-sex marriage.

Some great news, Crist wrote. On Tuesday, Delaware became the 11th state to allow marriage equality. And just a few days ago, Rhode Island adopted a similar measure, which followed victories last fall in Maine, Maryland and Washington. I most certainly support marriage equality in Florida and look forward to the day it happens here.

While he had often signaled support for civil unions, during his lengthy political career up until now, Crist was a supporter of only recognizing traditional marriage.

He is also ramping up his efforts to support Democrats. On Saturday, he will address Democrats meeting in Hillsborough County.

The former governor is also taking sides in what is expected to be one of the most competitive congressional races in Florida, come 2014. This week, he announced that he would attend a fundraiser on May 22 for Gwen Graham, daughter of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who defeated Crist in the 1998 U.S. Senate election. Gwen Graham is looking to unseat Republican Congressman Steve Southerland.

The former governor will be at the event with another Democratic rival from the old days -- former Congressman Jim Davis, whom Crist beat out for governor in 2006. Other Democrats sponsoring the event include former Education Commissioner Betty Castor, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In backing Gwen Graham, Crist could be involved in what is potentially an interesting Democratic primary rival. Al Lawson, who was the leader of Democrats in the Florida Senate when Crist was governor, is expected to run once again for that congressional seat. Lawson offered a surprisingly strong challenge to incumbent Allen Boyd in 2010 before taking on Southerland in the 2012 general elections.

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

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