TAMPA — In his first Hillsborough County campaign event since launching his campaign to return to the governor’s office, former Gov. Charlie Crist urged a crowd of Democrats to stay behind President Barack Obama, dismissing the problems with the startup of the Affordable Care Act.
“The president’s is going through a tough time right now. Everybody’s on his back about a website,” Crist told a crowd of about 90 people gathered for a fundraiser at the Palma Ceia home of Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank.
“Well whatever,” he said. “Stuff happens. But he’s got a good plan. And now’s the time you need to show him what a friend you are. It’s easy to be with him when he’s rolling along but when it’s tough the tough get going.”
Crist also appeared unconcerned about a poll last week that suggested Gov. Rick Scott was cutting into his lead, and about the possibility that Sen. Bill Nelson would enter the race for governor.
The Quinnipiac University poll showed Crist seven points ahead of Gov. Rick Scott, down from a 16-point lead in March, and Crist’s personal popularity declining to nearly even approval-disapproval rates.
Asked in an interview what he thought caused that, Crist said, “probably about half a million dollars in ads in two weeks and maybe a little bit of Obamacare thrown in. But it really doesn’t matter. Polls go up, they go down.”
Scott began running an ad critical of Crist as soon as Crist entered the race.
Nelson recently hinted to reporters that he’ll get in the race if Crist “gets in trouble,” apparently meaning if Crist appears to be losing.
Asked about that, Crist said, “I’m running against Rick Scott and I’m excited about it. I’m very pleased about how the race is going.” Asked whether he would stay in a Democratic primary against Nelson, he said, “No hypotheticals.”
Crist, who’s become a strong political ally of Obama since leaving the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat, has remained a staunch defender of the Affordable Care Act even while some other Democrats who face tough races in 2014 appear to hedge their bets, criticizing Obama and calling for fixes to the program.
“We need health care,” Crist told the crowd. “We’re the richest country in the history of the world. And this man stretched and he got through health care for our people. And it was not easy. But he deserves our support, especially now.”
Crist also launched a blistering attack on Scott for refusing to accept federal funding to expand Florida’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and blaming Scott for pollution in the Indian River Lagoon and other South Florida water bodies.
Crist said as governor, he halted discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, which are blamed for the pollution.