In 2002, he became Florida's attorney general and was soon sucked into the drama of Terri Schiavo, who had been left in a vegetative state after a heart attack. While conservatives bellowed for her right to life, Crist declined to intervene, leaving it to the courts to decide whether her feeding tube should be removed. Crist's inaction was one of the greatest controversies of his tenure.

At the time, he was overly concerned with the next office, remembers Jackie Dowd, a tall, gray-haired lawyer who worked under Crist. "I never saw an attorney," she says. "I saw a guy running for governor." (Crist announced his run May 8, 2005.)

Dowd recalls the exact moment she came to that realization. It was a Monday morning in early 2003 after she'd trudged into a teleconference with Crist. She updated him on a lengthy investigation involving Lou Pearlman, the mastermind behind the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Pearlman, she said, had scammed aspiring models by charging them thousands of dollars to upload their pictures to an unknown website. Dowd had more leads, she told Crist, but he expressed no interest. "I don't know why I knew it, but I just did," she says. "The case was dead."

Later, dozens of Pearlman's victims involved in a separate Ponzi scheme sued Crist and the state for negligence in investigating the con man, whose political and business ties spanned Florida. The lawsuit alleged Pearlman had pumped more than $11,000 into Crist's gubernatorial campaign, and the then-attorney general had flown in Pearlman's private jets and sat in his sporting skyboxes. The U.S. District Court in Tampa dismissed the complaint, citing the state's sovereign immunity.

Not even those allegations could slow Crist's ascent. Then came the rumors he was a closeted homosexual, a potentially serious issue for a Republican in Florida. It threatened to destroy him in the weeks before the 2006 gubernatorial election.

Jason Wetherington, a 21-year-old Republican staffer, had told several friends at separate social functions that August that he'd had sex with Crist. Wetherington had also told friends that another man, Bruce Carlton Jordan, had slept with Crist.

These stories — never corroborated but widely discussed on blogs, as well as in the St. Petersburg Times, in the New York Times, and on NBC — deeply wounded Crist's family. "I always thought it was his womanizing that would get him in trouble," Crist Sr. muses, saying he was impressed how well his son stamped out the ballooning intrigue. Charlie called the stories "ridiculous" and "completely false" and just kept on smiling. It worked. In 2006, voters deposited him in the governor's mansion.

Immediately, his approval ratings soared. Unlike his successor, Rick Scott, Crist caused little controversy. He backed teachers and cops and was the first Republican governor to accept an invitation to the state's NAACP conference.

In 2008, he married divorcée Carole Rome. He was pro-choice, then pro-life, and then pro-choice again. "I'm deeply committed to the Everglades ecosystem," he said. "I am deeply committed to persons with disabilities," he said a few months later. "I am deeply concerned... about our citizens and businesses."

He anointed himself the "happy warrior" and the "people's governor." But even then, there were traces of his political demise.

Extreme conservatives hated Crist for his moderation. First, he appointed centrists Jorge Labarga and James Perry to the state Supreme Court. Next, he accepted $13.3 billion in federal stimulus. And then there was The Hug. More a quickie man-bump than a full embrace, Crist clasped Barack Obama in February 2009 after he accepted the federal bailout, and Republicans, quite simply, lost their minds.

The governor eventually recognized the true might of the Tea Party, but it was much too late. When he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in May 2009, he never saw Marco Rubio coming.


At dusk, a 20-seat commercial plane bound for Tampa rumbles to life on a Tallahassee tarmac. Mike Fasano, a Republican state senator from Tampa, peers out the window, wondering what's taking so long. The flight is an hour late for takeoff. Ordinarily they'd already be circling Tampa.

But this isn't an ordinary flight.

It is 2010, and then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the last passenger, ducks aboard. He takes a seat near Fasano, and over the engine's rattle, the two angular, white-haired men begin to talk. Crist says he's considering vetoing a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure. Fasano supports the measure and cautions Crist. "If you veto this bill," he warns, "you'll have to switch parties."

Days later, Crist issued the veto. But the brief discussion was emblematic of the growing schism between the governor and Republicans. "Charlie's a nice guy," Fasano says. "His decisions were based on what he truly believed in."

At first, following his marriage to Carole Rome and his bipartisan support as governor, Crist's campaign had the look of a juggernaut. His presumptive predecessor, whom Crist had tapped to keep the Senate seat warm, was longtime aide George LeMieux. And he led former state House speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary by 30 points.

Then something unusual happened. Crist lost his touch. This was recessionary America, and he failed to channel its passions and vitriol. He shrank before conservatives. "My advisers said, 'They're angry,' " Crist recalls. " 'You need to be angry too.' But I'm not an angry guy."

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17 comments
run.randrand
run.randrand

OHHHHHHHH-MYYYYYYY-GAWWWWWWWD-IS THERE NO ONE WITH A STETSON UNIVERSITY EDUCATION THAT CAN RUN-OF ANY QUALITY AND EXPERIENCE??!

jkarnas
jkarnas

However, he misread the mood that year when he abandoned the state Senate for a run at U.S. Congress. The immensely popular Bob Graham crushed him by 26 points.

 Terrence another mistake here- Crist was the only republican with the guts to go up against Graham. His campaign was widely admired and it increased his name recognition. This move on his part was widely viewed as politically smart. Setting him up for future runs. I have never read an analysis such as yours that the Senate run was a mistake.  Did anyone edit this article?

jkarnas
jkarnas

Wow. Terrence you completely missed Governor Crist's climate and energy leadership. Two international summits right here in Miami. Made Florida world leader in solar. Passed a comprehensive energy bill with huge investments in research, energy efficiency and renewables. It was a major part of his term. Malpractice on your part to miss that in your 1000 word article. 9 paragraphs in his first state of the state address to climate change. Disappointed in the New Times for this hit job.

daylos
daylos

Crist signed the NRA legalized murder bill - SYG into law.  He needs to correct this law.  REPEAL SYG!

AndyMikel
AndyMikel

If any of you is getting bored go to Google and search "gay3ty" and enjoy.

FallSapphire
FallSapphire

He is beautiful. But the most impressive part about him was his constituent relations. His staff actually answered the phone, resolved problems and returned phone calls.

I preside and awesome. This article gives me a little pause in my enthusiasm and makes me more critical of Rubio and less critical of Meek.

maximumrider
maximumrider

i've been hoping he won run as a democrat against scott every since he announced he switched parties

CravinMoorehead
CravinMoorehead

"He smelled of breath mints and Brut aftershave."  How do you know, hack?  Did you crawl up close to Charlie?  Did he reject you.....again.?

You sound jealous.

sar427
sar427

Charlie Crist has to have a crimminal record in order to run for office in this state it is required

sar427
sar427

they die when they have been pissed on for so long

CravinMoorehead
CravinMoorehead

He was sitting in a booth, stupid.  Can't you read?  If you can't, that would make you a typical republican.

All that is left of the republican party are the very, very rich and those like @Bebep, stupid enough to vote republican and against their own best interests.

Bebep
Bebep

@CravinMooreheadAt least you follow orders well and kept up the crazy hahahah

Keep raging hard, and yeah I'm not calling everything crazy... just you. Still not a republican.

CravinMoorehead
CravinMoorehead

@Bebep  - you lying sack of shit.  YOU ARE A DELUSIONAL republican.

You call EVERYTHING crazy that isn't reich-wing.

BTW - I said that you weren't one of the rich ones and you just proved it to be so.

Now, be nice to the orderly and behave yourself.

Bebep
Bebep

@CravinMoorehead Just cause you sound like a raging lunatic, doesn't make me a republican.

Keep up the crazy!

 
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