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This fall, Florida will decide once again whether its purple politics clash with Charlie Crist’s tan–and his shifting positions. In a state that President Obama won by less than one percent in 2012, a state of “stand your ground” laws and a soaring immigrant population, Democrat Crist has a 10-point lead over incumbent Republican Rick Scott in a recent Quinnipiac gubernatorial race poll.
This might confuse a Floridian just waking up from a five-year margarita coma. They would remember a Republican Crist winning the governor’s race in 2006 with a platform supporting gun rights, capital punishment, and a same-sex marriage ban.
What happened? In two words and one dashing smile, Marco Rubio happened. After Crist’s surprise decision to forgo a reelection bid in 2010 and run for Senate instead, Rubio sashayed in from Crist’s right as a Tea Party darling. Faced with losing his party’s primary, Crist ran and lost to Rubio as an independent. He also watched hardline Republican Rick Scott take the governor’s mansion and found himself lost in the Everglades of the political center.
The shift continues today. Crist has apologized for his previous views and embraced the pro-same-sex marriage movement. He’s also supporting a bill giving in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” after advocating the opposite in 2006, according to Politifact. He supports a medical marijuana initiative in Florida and identifies more closely with pro-choice positions.
Clearly, Crist can pivot with the best of them. In six months, we’ll see whether Florida’s voters can keep up.