In a highly anticipated speech to the Democratic National Convention, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist said his old party had walked away from its roots and is now too extreme to be trusted to lead the country.
But Crist, who is the subject of persistent rumors that he will run for his old job as a Democrat in two years, did not officially announce a party change. He is registered as a voter not affiliated with either party after bolting the Republican Party to avoid defeat in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary.
Indeed, Crist said he was at the convention "not as a Republican [and] not as a Democrat."
Crist was forced to leave the GOP at least in part because of his support for President Barack Obama's stimulus package and an infamous embrace of Obama during a visit to Fort Myers to promote the proposal.
In his speech, Crist laid into Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for lacking the ability to lead the nation in a bipartisan fashion.
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"But as a former lifelong Republican, it pains me to tell you that today's Republicans -- and their standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan -- just aren't up to the task," Crist said. "They're beholden to the 'my way or the highway' bullies, indebted to billionaires who bankroll ads and allergic to the very idea of compromise. Ronald Reagan would not have stood for that."
Crist praised Obama not only for the stimulus package, which the governor and the Legislature used to patch holes in the state budget, but for Obama's response to the BP oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.
The former governor also took a shot at Romney and Ryan's proposals to essentially turn Medicare into a voucher program for Americans under 55 years of age. The Obama campaign hopes to use that plan to make inroads with seniors, a key voting bloc in Florida, the largest swing state in 2012.
"When I look at the Republican ticket today, I see two candidates who would break the fundamental promise of Medicare and Social Security, and cut investments on our middle class that are so important to our economic recovery," Crist said. "And when I look at President Obama, I see a leader with a cool head, a caring heart and an open mind, a president who has demonstrated through his demeanor, his grace and his deeds that he is uniquely qualified to heal our divisions, rebuild our nation and lead us to a brighter future."
Crist decided not to say the joke that had ended his planned remarks: "And if you see the president before I do, give him a hug for Charlie!" a reference to his infamous embrace that was in his prepared speech, but one which he left out..
The Republican Party of Florida was still not amused.
The state GOP has spent days thrashing Crist for his change and reviving statements' knocking Obama that Crist made when he was a Republican, as well as the former governor's comment calling himself "a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax Republican." That latter comment was part of a GOP ad that has run in Florida this week.
"This speech was a sad, shameful display of political opportunism where Crist tried once again to shed his own political skin," RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry said in a statement issued following the speech. "Charlie Crist proved tonight, as always, that he is only concerned about furthering his own political ambitions."