Charlie Crist committed the ultimate political sin, according to some: he switched parties.
The former Florida governor ran as a Republican, then as an independent, and finally as a Democrat in recent years.
While his critics see his party switch as evidence of a lack of values, Crist has managed to keep some supporters throughout his career.
According to the Herald’s analysis of campaign finance data maintained by the Florida Division of Elections, Crist has raised approximately $146,000 in his current bid for governor from more than 50 donors who also contributed to his Republican gubernatorial campaign in 2006.
Despite the fact that these contributions account for only a small portion of the roughly $24 million raised by his campaign and related political action committee, Friends of Charlie Crist, some repeat donors cut him large checks, including $43,000 from the Yerrid Law Firm in Tampa, $20,000 from Coral Gables attorney Andres Rivero, and $14,000 from Charles Merinoff, a beverage wholesale executive in New York City.
Some of the donors who spoke to the Herald mentioned personal relationships with Crist, but they said it wasn’t the only reason they supported Crist, citing a dislike of Crist’s opponent, current Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, as a strong motivator.
Krause, who gave $500 to Crist in 2006 and $2,000 to his current campaign, said he still supports Crist because “he’s an honest guy with the right heart.”
Crist ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent after serving one term as governor. He ran unsuccessfully for a second term as governor of Florida as a Democrat in 2014, but his switch to the party paid off in 2016, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Some of Crist’s longtime supporters also contributed to his 2014 campaign, including the Yerrid Law Firm, which contributed over $174,000 to his campaign. Rivero and Merinoff both contributed to his congressional campaigns.
While Crist has a long political career in Florida, fundraising for his current campaign is still far outpaced by DeSantis, who has raised approximately $183 million for his campaign and PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis.
Daryl Parks, a Tallahassee-based attorney, described himself as a “staunch supporter” of Crist both in 2006 and in the upcoming election. He gave Crist $1,000 in 2006 and $6,000 in 2022. He also gave $15,000 to Crist’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014 and $250 to his congressional campaign in 2017.
Though Parks generally supports Democrats, he claims Crist won him over before his first run for governor when the two met for dinner to discuss his upcoming campaign.
“We disagreed on party lines, but we agreed on issues and continue to do so.” “That is our common thread,” Parks said. “In this race, I believe his genuine interest in the African-American community far outweighs that of the current governor.”
While political party switchers are still uncommon, Crist is far from the first to do so.
Following his election in 2016, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched parties from Democrat to Republican, as did two former U.S. senators, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. Campbell switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in 1995, and Specter switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in 2009.
Their supporters do not always follow.
“Politicians overestimate the number of donors and organizations that will remain loyal to them after a party switch, believing that people support them rather than the ideas and positions they advocate.” In an email, Stuart Roy, Campbell’s campaign manager in 1998, said, “Politics is a team sport.”
However, Crist’s party switch has cost him financial support from former members of his political circle, including one of his closest political confidants. During Crist’s first term as governor, George LeMieux served as his chief of staff, and Crist appointed LeMieux to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate after Mel Martinez’s retirement in 2009.
Despite their previous relationship, LeMieux donated $5,000 to DeSantis’ reelection campaign.
“Our friendship runs deep, but my commitment to the principles of the Republican Party runs deeper,” LeMieux told Politico.
Some sins, it turns out, are unforgivable.