By August 2009, long before that meeting on the plane in Tallahassee, Fasano and other Republican kingmakers were convinced Crist would lose. It wasn't the poll numbers; there, Crist remained strong. Rather, Republicans had greeted the governor with ambivalence at the state GOP's annual dinner in Orlando. "When Charlie used to be in a roomful of Republicans, he was the rock star," Fasano says. "But that night, the applause he got was, well, polite, not rock star. I knew then there was a problem."

And then images of The Hug splashed across TV sets statewide. Rubio's onslaught was relentless. "You just don't get it," Rubio told Crist in a heated March debate. "This campaign is... about trust. And who do you trust to go to Washington and stand up to Barack Obama?"

The primary battle soon assumed national significance. Rubio, a conservative Cuban-American from Miami, came to represent the Tea Party's rise. Crist led the feckless establishment. Out-of-state contributions gushed into Rubio's coffers, nullifying the governor's fundraising advantage. Rubio netted $250,000 from Karl Rove's super PAC alone.

Crist needed a game change. He began thinking of leaving the Republican Party, advisers said, while assuring everyone in his party and the media that he wouldn't.

In late April that year, the state capitol halls pulsed with gossip. Alex Villalobos, a lobbyist, friend of Crist's, and former legislator who had his own issues with the Republican Party, had just walked across the Senate floor. "Turncoat," one voice sounded. "Traitor," said another.

Villalobos grabbed a legislator. "What happened?" he asked.

"Haven't you heard?" came the answer. "Charlie's now an independent."

Villalobos climbed the steps to Crist's office. The rumors, the governor said, were true. He'd abandoned the party. But in that moment, Crist was strangely energized. His campaign for Senate was collapsing, but he didn't show it. The two men embraced, and Villalobos walked out knowing Crist was likely finished.

For all of his appeal and fame, on November 2 that year, Crist received only 30 percent of the vote. Rubio took half of the voters. And Democrat Kendrick Meek limped in with 20 percent. "Charlie learned then you can't win a statewide election as an independent," his father says.

But even in that failed bid lay seeds of something remarkable. Crist had discovered a new coalition of voters. Roughly 90 percent of conservatives rejected him, but he'd found support among half of the state's liberals. And he attracted more moderates than anyone else in the race. He'd accomplished this feat without party money or support.

The loss, though crushing, had positioned him for a comeback. But first he'd have to survive several years out of public office — years that would mark some of the strangest of his life.


"You're a piece of garbage!" a broad, wavy-haired New Yorker recalls bellowing at Crist and his wife. They were in Manhattan, weeks after the governor had left Tallahassee in 2011. Todd Rome, Carole Crist's ex-husband and a millionaire travel baron, remembers departing an Upper East Side bakery, clutching a box of cupcakes for his daughter's birthday, when he spotted them.

Rome, CEO of Blue Star Jets in New York, lost it. Carole, he explains, had moved to Florida, married Crist, and abandoned their teenage daughters, Jessica and Skylar. She hadn't returned any of their letters, texts, phone calls — nothing, he says. She simply dissolved into the Florida ether with Crist.

For a moment, in front of that cupcake shop on 57th Street, they all looked at each other, unsure. Then, Rome says, the couple immediately fled in separate directions. So Rome threw down his cupcakes and bolted after the former governor, yelling, "You have no balls! You're a lowlife! Why won't you stop and confront me?"

Crist, Rome says, evaded the confrontation by disappearing into a subway tunnel. "He's a piece of shit," says Rome, who has since remarried. "My kids were in the way of their lifestyle, and Charlie has never had a child, so he doesn't want them. He married a woman with two children and then walked away. A people person? He's a piece of shit."

(Carole Crist declined to be interviewed for this story, and no impartial source has criticized her parenting. Charlie Crist said, "I'm not going to comment about my wife's ex-husband.")

But outside of this unscripted encounter, Crist's life was coalescing around a grand return to the spotlight. It began immediately after his concession to Rubio. Crist emerged from the tony Vinoy Renaissance Resort in St. Petersburg seemingly unfazed. Reporters hounded him. Everyone wanted to know what he would do, but Crist was coy as usual. Mike Fasano said he thought Crist was finished. Several other attendants at that party said he'd form a political action committee to help moderate candidates. The Tampa Bay Times suggested he'd run for U.S. Congress. All, in fact, were wrong.

Three days after he left office, Crist enlisted with the mega-personal-injury law firm, Morgan & Morgan. Managing partner John Morgan was optimistic. "He is going to try cases," Morgan said in 2011. "I think he'd do pretty good in front of a jury in Florida."

These days, however, Morgan doesn't emphasize the ex-governor's courtroom acumen. "Charlie Crist is not a minder or a grinder," says Morgan, a prolific Democratic Party fundraiser. "He's a finder. He makes friends. If you go to a ballgame with him, he'll distribute 200 business cards. What he likes, he does. He meets clients."

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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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