Five Florida Democrats explain their support for ex-Republican Senate candidate Charlie Crist

Mike Riggs Contributor
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At least a handful of of Florida’s 5 million registered Democrats plan to vote for Independent Senate candidate Charlie Crist. The Daily Caller spoke to five who belong to a Facebook group called “Democrats for Charlie Crist for Senate 2010,” which has a total of 91 members, about their reasons for supporting the former Republican. All say they can’t abide Marco Rubio winning, and not one has a lick of faith in Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek.

With one exception, none are involved in electoral politics: One is a retiree and one is a former public school teacher; another holds an MBA and reads the New York Times; yet another has a second home in the Berkshires. Two of the five work at nonprofit organizations that focus on community outreach and public service. Two are African-American, one is Jewish, four are women, one is not. Most have kids, one has grandchildren. In fact, one told The Daily Caller, “I am old enough to be your grandmother.”

In addition to self-identifying as lifelong Democrats who plan to vote for Crist in November, they have a few other things in common.

“I think Meek can’t win and Rubio is far too conservative,” said Judy Slotnick (grandmother and retiree). Slotnick believes that Marco Rubio is a “very very dangerous man” and refers to Tea Partiers as “teabags.” Terrified of the latter two, Slotnick temporarily registered as a Republican just so she could cast a primary ballot for Crist. Now that Crist is running as an Independent, Slotnick is going to stick with the free-floating governor because she finds Meek, well, meek.

“I think Crist is an excellent politician. I think he knows the art of politics is compromise,” Slotnick said. “There are demagogues on both sides, but Charlie Crist can work with both sides. He knows how to win, he has tremendous name recognition, and he’s been an excellent governor.”

An excellent governor? The same Crist who endorsed a referendum that banned gay marriage just two years ago is also an excellent governor?

Slotnick paused when asked about Amendment 2, the 2008 anti-gay marriage law. “He had to get elected in Florida,” she said. “Who knows how he’ll evolve? He’ll have to evolve as a politician.”

Floridians are like elephants; they have long political memories. References to the hanging chad debacle of 2000 sting. So when asked what they don’t like about Crist, all were able to cite bills vetoed and signed for better and worse until blue in the face.

Steve Stacy (MBA, dad) first listed the things he liked about Crist. “He’s been acting responsibly, grown-up as governor,” Stacy said, adding that he likes the way Crist has handled the casino industry (Stacy summarizes Crist’s position as, “If you don’t like casinos, don’t patronize them”), and the governor’s “gesture towards [capping public school] class sizes.”

Stacy is confident that most people know more about Crist than they do about Meek, and he’d rather not place his bet on a gimp horse. That could change, Stacy added, if he had reason to believe “that Meek had a fighting chance over Marco Rubio.” But as of now, “If I went down the street and asked 10 households who Kendrick Meek is, I doubt three people would know who he is.” Stacy hasn’t seen a single TV spot or heard a radio ad for Meek, and said that most of what he knows about Florida’s Democratic Senate candidate he gleaned from DNC fundraising letters.

Meek told Tampa’s Creative Loafing that he will start running ads when his “campaign manager and strategists” decide they want to start running ads.

Two of the five Democrats know a lot about Meek, or rather, they know a lot about his mother, former Congresswoman Carrie Meek. Freda Stevens (somewhat political exception) is the president of Florida Democrats for Life and founded a company that accredits private schools and preschools. “Carrie Meek used to be a big opponent of public school vouchers, and then she became a supporter,” said Stevens. “Meek is still an opponent. His mother saw that they work, and not just for minorities. It does not make you less of a Democrat to have that opinion.”

“I like Kendrick Meek, don’t get me wrong,” Stevens said. “But the pro-life issue is a big issue to me, as it is to a lot of pro-life Democrats, and a lot of low-income minority kids benefit from private schooling.” On both those issues, Stevens said, Crist gets it. (She hopes that he shows just how much he gets it by not vetoing a bill passed by the Florida legislature that would require women going for an abortion to view an ultrasound of the fetus; Republicans aren’t all that hopeful.)

“He may not always be right, but he does what he thinks he is right,” Stevens said of Crist. She wonders whether Meek is even trying: “I have not seen any outreach. I have not at all. And I’m very surprised.”

Stevens said that her mother, a retired public school teacher, is going to vote for Crist. “I know that for a fact. It has nothing to do with age, demographic, race, even political party. We’re at a time when none of that stuff even matters.” Stevens and her mother are both African-American, as is Meek.

Jacklyn Burnett (nonprofit work, two masters degrees) of Tallahassee is “a registered Democrat and the most liberal Democrat.” Like Stevens, she knows more about Meek’s mother than Meek. She didn’t vote for Crist in 2006, but said she would have voted for him were he running for governor in 2010, and will most likely vote for him against Meek in the Senate race. Crist won her vote simply by vetoing Senate Bill 6, which would have instituted merit-based pay for public school teachers. Crist, she says, is “looking to the voters for bipartisan support.” What would take for her to vote Meek in 2010? “I’d have to get to know him a little bit better. I feel like I could do a little more research. But I really like Charlie.”

Not all five Democrats are happy voting for Crist. Retired businesswoman Rita Houldsworth, for instance, almost seems to regret joining the Crist Facebook group. “Crist is a lightweight conservative but personable and a people pleaser,” she wrote in an e-mail. “He will do less harm in D.C. than extreme right-wing Rubio.” Meek is OK, she says, but he “does not have a chance of winning this year — and he’s too young for the Senate, too.”

As someone whose “politics are far left of center and unfashionable in many quarters because I follow the Golden Rule and believe in sharing,” Houldsworth wishes she could vote for a real Democrat, but she simply cannot vote for Meek. “It is sad to have to vote for Crist only to keep the other guy” — Rubio — “out.”

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