WASHINGTON — Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor and a possible contender for office again in 2014, lambasted his successor and potential opponent, Republican Gov. Rick Scott in testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, but remained noncommittal about whether or not he would run to challenge him.
Crist, who served as a Republican governor, left the GOP to become an independent in 2010 during a run for Senate, when it became clear that he would lose the primary to now-Sen. Marco Rubio.
In September, he spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and last Thursday, he officially registered as a Democrat. He is seen as a potential front-runner to challenge Scott in 2014.
On Wednesday, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on voting rights.
If Crist were to challenge Scott, he would start the race as the Democratic front-runner. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found Crist to have the highest favorability rating of a number of likely Democratic challengers, with 47 percent holding a favorable opinion and 33 percent having an unfavorable opinion.
Members of his former party dislike him, with just 28 percent saying they hold a favorable view, and 56 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. Scott’s approval rating is poor in his state, with 31 percent holding a favorable opinion and 43 percent holding an unfavorable opinion.
But speaking to reporters after the testimony, he remained vague about his intentions.
He said he was “not thinking about that” at the moment.
“I’m just looking forward to enjoying the holidays,” he said.
“I think we all should,” he added. “We’ve all been involved in a lot of politics for the past couple years now, and I think we deserve the chance to take a break and take a deep breath.”
As for when he might announce a decision, he said: “I don’t really have a time frame. … You know, I’m just doing what I think and feel is right.”
He listed several factors that would influence his decision on whether to run — all of which sounded like reasons why he would run.
“My love of the people of Florida number one. I love my state and my heart bleeds for the people of Florida right now,” he said. “I think we can do better with education in our state, with the environment in our state, and we just have to let some time pass and let it settle.”
He said he had not talked to other potential Democratic contenders about a gubernatorial run, and he did not plan to broach the topic in informal meetings with fellow Floridians later on Wednesday.
He will, however, meet with the Democratic Governors’ Association early next month, he said. The group invited him to watch the BCS National Championship Game in Miami this year, and Crist said: “I’d like to go.”
The Republican-turned-Democrat did not pull his punches against Scott during his testimony.
“Unfortunately, the last few years in Florida haven’t been so forward thinking,” Crist said, comparing Scott’s tenure to the voting laws he himself passed as governor which he said made voting much easier.
“In 2011, the state legislature voted for and Governor Scott signed a massive elections law designed, I believe, to make it harder for some Floridians to legally vote — and designed to encourage a certain partisan outcome,” he said, calling Scott’s changes: “suppression.”
The result of Scott’s changes, he said, was “unnecessary confusion and suppression on election day.”
He pointed out that this year, many Florida voters were still in waiting in line to vote for hours after the polls closed, and many were still in line when the election was called for President Barack Obama.
“Florida, which four years earlier was a model for efficiency, became once again a late night TV joke,” Crist said, in a statement clearly meant to say that things were much better when he was in office.
Scott said Wednesday morning saying that he wanted to expand the number of early voting days, and Crist did not begrudge him the change of heart, calling it “a good move.”
Of his own changes of heart and party — disavowing his opposition to gay marriage, and telling reporters Wednesday morning that he would support an assault rifle ban in the aftermath of the shooting, a reversal of his previous positions — Crist said it was simply a matter of having an “open mind.”
“It says that I’m a guy who’s willing to listen and willing to learn,” he said. “I hope that we all are. I think life is a learning experience, and I think that, you know, the older you get, the more wisdom you can accumulate. If you continue to use your mind, to keep it open, the opposite I don’t think is a reasonable alternative — i.e. a closed mind. I have an open mind.”
The man who once accused Marco Rubio of being soft on guns said Wednesday that the shooting had changed things.
“It’s nice to have a mind, it’s better to use it,” he said. “I’m using it.”