Crist vs. Cruz: Gridiron Smackdown

Photograph by Edward Linsmier/Getty Images

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist waves to the crowd before announcing that he will run for Governor as a Democrat on Nov. 4, 2013 at Albert Whitted Park in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In the days when Charlie Crist was a rising Republican in Florida, he once faced the Capital Press Corps on stage at its annual dinner of satire and song asking him a question to the tune of a popular musical: “Charlie Crist, Superstar, who in the Hell do you think you are?”

Crist left the party in a bid for the U.S. Senate, running as an independent and losing to now-Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010. Now Crist is a Democrat. He stood on the stage of the Democratic National Convention that  nominated President Barack Obama for a second term in 2012. And this year the former Republican governor, secretary of state and education commissioner of the Sunshine State is running for governor again.

Crist will take another national stage this year in another satirical forum, the white-tie annual dinner of the Gridiron Club in Washington on March 8. The club announced today that Crist “will square off against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz representing the Republicans.” President Barack Obama, it has been noted, has attended the dinner only twice during his five years in office and has yet to confirm attendance this year.

The writers may start thinking about some pot jokes.

Crist could be the beneficiary of a potential bid to legalize medical marijuana in his campaign against Florida Gov. Rick Scott, as Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa writes today.

The campaign to put the measure as a citizens’ initiative on the November ballot is largely bankrolled by John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer and major Democratic fundraiser who coincidentally has employed Crist at his law firm since the politician from St. Petersburg returned to private life — he forfeited a second term as governor in that failed Senate bid.

“It’s an issue that the Democrats can use to pump up the youth vote,” said Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant and pollster based in Gainesville, Florida. “The politics of it are dangerous for the GOP.”

Morgan likened his financial backing of the ballot initiative — with $3 million of his own money so far — to “philanthropic causes he’s supported in the past,” we reported. “Both his father, who died from cancer, and brother, a quadriplegic, used marijuana for pain.”

“I’ve seen it work, I know it works,” said Morgan.

Kevin Cate, a Crist spokesman, downplayed the impact the marijuana initiative may have on the turnout of the youth vote in a state that Obama won by just 1 percent in 2012.  The issue will benefit Crist, he suggested, “by highlighting his compassion for people suffering from disease.”

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz declined to say if Scott supports the pot proposal, only saying that the governor “does not support illegal drug use.”

It’s the Gridiron’s turn.

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