FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist used a decisive primary victory to cast aside doubts about whether Democrats will accept his political conversion. Now his challenge will be motivating them as he takes on a tougher task -- beating Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Crist has already been the target of millions of dollars in attacks by Scott and they'll likely be ramped up over the next 10 weeks in what has become one of the state's nastiest races -- Crist says he doesn't know of any Florida candidate that's faced as many negative attacks.
"It's unbelievable! What is it, $30 million in trash talk? Oh my gosh!" Crist said after he was declared the primary winner over former state Sen. Nan Rich. "Floridians are smart and fortunately we know each other. I've been their governor before, I've been their attorney general, their commissioner of education, a state senator from Tampa Bay. We have a relationship, and this new guy who came in from Texas a few years ago is trying to say things about me that aren't true."
Getting Democrats to nominate him after he's run four statewide races as a Republican and one as an independent was one challenge. Now he needs to make sure Democrats show up in November and that party activists who've fought against him before now volunteer to help him in the general election.
That was a major part of the post-election theme Tuesday after Crist earned 74 percent of the vote.
"Charlie's victory tonight I think erased any doubt in pundits' minds, in political watchers' minds that Democrats would enthusiastically embrace him and be ready to fully support him," said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
She also stressed the need to motivate the grassroots activists - a point she made during Tuesday's victory speeches.
"Over the next 10 weeks I know that you'll be wrapping on those doors until your knuckles bleed!" Wasserman Schultz told Crist supporters. "Make those phone calls. Make sure we don't wake up 71 days from today saying shoulda, woulda, coulda."
Working for Crist will be a change for Democratic activists, some of whom have voted against him six times - in 1998 when he challenged Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, in 2000 when he was elected education commissioner, in 2002 when he was elected attorney general, in 2006 when he was elected governor, in 2010 when he lost a Senate race as an independent and again in Tuesday's primary.
But Democrats will also point out the alternative to Crist is Scott, an unpopular governor who campaigned as a tea party conservative four years ago.
"For three-and-a-half years now, sadly, we have been led by a man in Rick Scott who doesn't really care," Crist said Tuesday night. "Part of what we're seeing tonight may show that Floridians have had enough and they're ready for a change and we need to be unified in order to achieve that change."
Crist, Rich, Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other party leaders will campaign together in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale Thursday in a show of unity.
Crist's running mate, Annette Taddeo knows the party's grassroots activists well. She was serving as the Miami-Dade County party chairwoman and vice chair of the state party when Scott picked her for the ticket.
"We are all going to be united," she said. "I've been meeting with the activists and they have told me that he was the best Republican governor Democrats ever had. He was a great governor. They loved him when he was a Republican and now they love him as a Democrat."
Crist used his victory speech to remind people of the things he did as a Republican that upset his old party and pleased Democrats. That list includes pushing for and accepting federal stimulus money that Republicans fought, vetoing a bill that would require ultrasounds before abortions, vetoing an education bill teachers opposed and extending early voting hours in the 2008 presidential election even though it helped Barack Obama carry Florida
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