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Sunday, Jun 17, 2018
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Sen. Tom Lee behind robocalls using Crist’s voice

State Sen. Tom Lee is running a committee behind a series of robocalls aimed at using changes of opinion by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist against him — and using Crist’s own voice.

The Brandon Republican says he finds it “despicable” that the former Republican governor flipped on a host of policy positions as he runs for his old job as a Democrat.

“It is a personal offense to me that this is someone so narcissistic and arrogant that he can undergo an entire transformation on every policy position he has championed for years,” Lee said.

The robocalls are coming from a political committee called “The Conservatives,” aimed at registered Democrats leading up to the Aug. 26 Democratic primary.

The first round is a replay of a recording Crist used in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary against Tom Gallagher, when he and Gallagher both tried to convince Republicans they were conservatives, and each labeled the other a liberal.

“Hi, this is Charlie Crist calling to set the record straight,” Crist says in the call. “I’m pro-life, I oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, I support traditional marriage and I have never supported a new tax or big spending program. ... Floridians need a consistent conservative governor that they can trust.”

One local Democrat and Crist backer, Doris Weatherford of Plant City, said she received another call Tuesday evening from the same source in which Crist called himself “a Ronald Reagan conservative.”

“I found it very confusing and misleading,” she said. “I think it’s designed to stir up the debate about his past.”

Lee would not say how much the robocalls cost, or how much the group plans on spending this election cycle.

The force behind the The Conservatives, a political committee, had been the subject of some intrigue. Its listed chairman is Stafford Jones, an Alachua County Republican who is listed as chairman for more than 20 political committees.

“I am raising money for The Conservatives and I requested that they finance the series of robo­calls,” Lee told the Tribune/Scripps Capitol Bureau.

Lee, former president of the Senate, said the group will continue to run ads but does not have a “long-term strategy.”

He said he hopes in the near future to highlight an interview Crist did in 2010 with Fox News’ Chris Wallace. At the time, Crist was facing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Crist told Wallace he would support whoever the GOP nominated but later left the party to make a failed bid for the Senate seat as an independent.

Lee says he thinks Crist’s opponent in the Democratic primary — former Minority Leader Nan Rich of Sunrise — “has a chance.” But he said the robocalls are aimed at highlighting how Crist’s positions have changed for the voters he now is courting.

“If a guy like this can make a mockery of our political process and get elected to be the governor of the third biggest state in the country, what does that say?” Lee said. “It’s pathetic.”

The winner of the primary faces Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Nov. 4 general election.

Some of The Conservatives’ biggest donors are the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Medical Association and Disney. It has raised $212,500 this year and has just under $40,000 in the bank.

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Tribune staff writer William March contributed to this report.

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