With polls showing that he continues to lag behind rival Marco Rubio, the hour that Gov. Charlie Crist spent with David Gregory at Tuesday night’s U.S. Senate debate might be his final time in the national spotlight.
Crist, who had successfully climbed from the ranks of the state senate into the governor’s mansion, is now confronted with the prospect that his political career for now is over. His decision to bolt the Republican Party and run as an independent means that he will have few options after this year.
His political ascent was marked by several twists and turns and it is hard to imagine that the man now preaching about independence and moderation once accused Democrats of dirty tricks in getting then-Gov. Lawton Chiles elected over Jeb Bush back in 1994.
But as Crist exits the stage, he leaves behind an uncertain – and largely incomplete – legacy as Florida’s governor. Crist became the first governor to voluntarily give up the post after one term in the 40-plus years that governors have been allowed to seek re-election.
Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University, said Crist’s legacy actually depends on how the election turns out next week.
“Crist tried to move his party and the state back toward the middle after eight rather polarizing years under Jeb Bush,'' notes deHaven-Smith said in an e-mail. “He did not accomplish much policy-wise compared to many other governors, but he contributed to significant improvements in the state’s civic culture. If he is elected to the Senate, Florida is likely to see a continuation of this moderation in public office for both parties. If he loses, well, his legacy of compromise and pragmatism may be short-lived."
David Colburn, a professor of history at the University of Florida and a long-time scholar of state politics, said that Crist clearly tried to work with both political parties and was not ideological in how he approached problems. An example of this, of course, was Crist's decision to embrace the federal stimulus in order to help ease Florida's budget woes.
“I think it is easy to dismiss Crist as a politician who is only interested in getting and holding office and that there really is not much to him,’’ Colburn said in an e-mail. “Clearly he is not ideological and he made clear to more than one state political leader that "he was not Jeb Bush." By that he meant that he was willing to work with both parties to find solutions to critical issues facing Florida and that he did not dismiss government's role in improving the quality of life for Floridians.”
But Colburn also made it clear that Crist is unlikely to leave the same kind of impact that other governors left.
A full look at Crist's uncertain legacy can be found here at the Florida Tribune.