Nan Rich says it's style vs. substance with Charlie Crist now in the race

  • Nan Rich addresses the faithful at J.J.'s in Ybor City Wednesday night

If the progressive wing of the Florida Democratic Party had a dream candidate for governor, he or she would sound pretty similar to Nan Rich, who spoke to the Hillsborough County GLBTA Democratic Caucus at J.J.'s in Ybor City Wednesday night.

But unfortunately for the former Senate Minority Leader, Rich’s nearly 18-month-old candidacy hasn't made much of an impact, if you judge by her fundraising numbers and overall buzz-less campaign presence to date. That may be changing now, however, after last week's announcement by Charlie Crist that he was entering the contest to win his old job back — only this time as a Democrat.

Though Crist has been saying all the right things to Democrats of late, he also has a considerable record as a lifelong Republican that up to now only the Republican Party of Florida has highlighted. Now Rich has her own chance to remind lifelong Democrats about that record, and she did that often in her nearly hour-long appearance in Tampa.

"I'm a lifelong Democrat and he's not," Rich answered succinctly when asked how she would beat the better-financed (and, to be honest, more charismatic) challenger.

Rich last week challenged Crist to a series of debates in 10 major media markets, a request that has so far gone unanswered by the former governor. But Rich says she'll get her chance against him sometime next year. "There's just a big difference between us. He has a record and I have a record. He has credentials and I have credentials. I have progressive credentials and he has.... promises."

Although championing gun control legislation has been a political zero in Tallahassee for a long time, Rich proudly speaks about the "F" grade awarded to her by the NRA, contrasting that with Crist's "A" grade from America's most notorious Second Amendment organization. "Now he's changing that position."

Crist has also evolved on gay rights. Rich told the audience about her years-long advocacy to reverse Florida's ban on gay adoption, a law that was finally overturned in 2010 by a Florida judge. She knew such a repeal never had a chance of passing in Florida's socially conservative Legislature, but she still proposed it every year in Tallahassee because it was morally the right thing to do. Bringing the subject back to her opponent, she pointed out Crist's support of the adoption ban back in 2009. "I'm sure he's changed his opinion now, but you have to stand on some foundation. You can't just change 180 degrees."

Rich emphasized that she had no problem with people evolving and changing their minds — but said there has to be a limit. "Not on every single issue," she lamented.

She then segued into reciting another line that Crist would undoubtedly prefer never to have revisited: his statement that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was "most qualified" of anyone from the major parties' presidential tickets in 2008 to be president.

"We're going to bring all of this out because it's legitimate. It's not personal. It is about issues and I have a record, and he has a record. And I'm going to beat him in a Democratic Primary, " she said, leading to a large cheer from the 40 or so people jammed into the 7th Avenue establishment.

Rich did give Crist some love when referring to his decision, shortly after he took office in 2007, to make it easier for former felons to get their voting rights restored (reforms later reversed by Rick Scott). "I give him credit when he was governor. He supported restoration of civil rights. But he was part of the group of people who incarcerated lots of people in the first place," referring to his tenure both as attorney general and when he represented St. Petersburg in the Legislature and was known as "Chain Gang Charlie" for his tough-on-crime policies.

Repeating a part of her speech at the Democratic state convention in Orlando last month, Rich said that "Charlie has a lot of style." But she said that with all of the problems Florida faces, this election has to be "substance over style."

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