Former Florida governor cites Republican party's lurch to the right as reason for joining Democrats and Obama
Former Florida governor Charlie Crist has completed his political conversion, announcing on Twitter that he has joined the Democrats as a result of the Republican party's swing to the right.
The one-time GOP politician, who ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate as an independent, had earlier signalled his support for President Barack Obama and campaigned on his behalf ahead of the November election.
News that Crist has formalised the move to the Democratic party will prompt speculation that he may lobby for a run at his old seat in the 2014 gubernatorial race in Florida.
The 56-year-old politician tweeted out a picture of him and his wife Carole holding aloft a Florida voter registration application.
The accompanying message read: "Proud and honored to join the Democratic Party in the home of President @BarackObama."
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Crist signed the papers changing his affiliation from independent to Democrat at a Christmas reception at the White House. President Obama is said to have greeted the news with a fist bump.
"I've had friends for years tell me, 'You know Charlie, you're a Democrat and you don't know it,'" Crist told the newspaper Friday night.
In making the move from Republican to Democrat, the former state governor cited his former party's lurch to the right on issues such as immigration, education and the environment.
Crist was elected Florida governor in 2006 while in the GOP. But in 2010, under a primary challenge from the right, he opted to run as an independent, losing a three-way Senate contest to rising Republican star Marco Rubio.
In Florida, talk is likely to turn to a possible run in 2014 against governor Rick Scott.
The two men have already clashed, recently over demands – rebuffed by Scott – to extend early voting in the state ahead of the 6 November general election.
Crist would face a stiff challenge from established Democrats in the state if he were to run. Outgoing Florida Democratic party chairman Rod Smith joked in regards to the former Republican that just because someone joins the congregation, "you don't make them the preacher".
Nonetheless, Republicans have sharpened their attacks on Crist, drawing attention to past statements in which the convert was openly critical of Obama.
"Charlie Crist's first official act as a Democrat was to tell a lie about why he is now pretending to be one," the Florida GOP said in a statement early Saturday. "The truth is that this self-professed, Ronald Reagan Republican only abandoned his pro-life, pro-gun, conservative principles in 2010 after he realized that Republicans didn't want to send him to Washington DC as a senator, especially after he proved he couldn't do the job as governor."