ST. PETERSBURG –Â Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, continued his political makeover Sunday by endorsing President Barack Obamaâ€™s re-election and calling him â€œthe right leader for our times.â€
â€œPresident Obama has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida,â€ Crist wrote in an op-ed column in Sundayâ€™s Tampa Bay Times, â€œand he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for the people than for his political fortunes. Thatâ€™s what makes him the right leader for our times, and thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m proud to stand with him today.â€
Crist praised Obama for protecting the middle class, strengthening Medicare, guiding the nation through an economic collapse, supporting public schools and investing in highways, railroads and airports, but without using the word â€œstimulus.â€
Cristâ€™s opinion piece is the latest in a series of political steps in which he appears to be inching closer to becoming a Democrat and potentially challenging Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. That would complete a metamorphosis for a politician who once called himself a â€œReagan Republican and a â€œJeb Bush Republican.â€
Cristâ€™s career crashed to a halt in 2010 when he left the Republican Party, ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent and was soundly defeated by Republican Marco Rubio.
Crist did not mention Mitt Romney by name in his op-ed column, but he said the Republican Party has drifted too far to the right.
â€œAn element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that theyâ€™ve proven incapable of governing for the people,â€ Crist wrote. â€œLook no further than the (U.S. Rep. Todd) Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims. … The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.â€
Republicans immediately criticized Cristâ€™s move, calling it the latest act by a political opportunist and faulting Obama for aligning himself with the one-term Florida governor.
â€œThis is political opportunism, plain and simple,â€ said Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. In a memo, Curry recalled Cristâ€™s past criticism of President Obama and his description of himself as â€œpro-life, pro-gun, pro-family and pro-business.â€
The Republican National Committee recalled Crist lavishing praise on disgraced former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, and noted Cristâ€™s flop as an independent U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.
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