Crist registers as Democrat, fuels speculation about his future

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Charlie Crist officially registered as a Democrat Thursday, fueling speculation that the former Republican Florida governor is taking another step towards running for his old job with a new party.

“I can't tell you how comfortable I am as a Democrat," Crist said after turning his registration form in to an elections office in St. Petersburg.

The move surprised no one in politics. Crist spoke at the Democratic National Convention this summer and endorsed not only President Obama but local Democrats, including Keith Fitzgerald, who challenged Vern Buchanan for the Congressional seat that covers most of the Suncoast.

People in Sarasota ABC7 spoke to seemed not to fault Crist for his political change of heart.

“I'm glad he changed because I don't think he was a Republican to start with,” said Kenny Barr during lunchtime at the Sports Page Bar and Grill downtown, echoing a thought by Suzette Jones of Sarasota, who does not believe Crist will have trouble convincing people that he's genuinely a Democrat. “No,” she said. “Because most people thought he was in the first place.”

But a few protesters met Crist in St. Petersburg holding signs. “Go away,” read one. “Fake Dems need not apply.” Another: “Crist is a fraud.” Indeed, only a few years ago Crist proclaimed that he was a pro-gun, pro-life Ronald Reagan conservative. Now, he may soon ask voters to choose him as an alternative to a conservative Republican, Rick Scott, as governor.

Even people who forgive Crist's switch see him seizing a political opportunity. “I think it's an excellent strategy for him to run against the incumbent,” said Thomas Mannausa, a developer who favors Republicans, but who sees Crist's crossover appeal.

Running without a party failed Crist in 2010. Trailing Marco Rubio and sensing he could not turn back the Tea Party tide, Crist quit the GOP and ran as an independent. But Rubio rolled to victory with 50% of the vote in the general election. If he harbors political ambitions, he needs a party to harbor him. “Exactly,” said Jones. So I do think that he was wise because I don't think that the Republicans would ever vote for him again.”