Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday that the Republican Party must reach out to minority voters, and tackle emerging issues like the environment and global warming, but remain true to its Reagan roots of lower taxes and lean government regulation.
And that's exactly the model he uses to govern in Florida, said Crist, who is considered on most short lists of rising stars in the Republican Party. Hosting a two-day conference of Republican governors in Miami, Crist told Newsmax Wednesday morning that party leaders should preach moderation as the first step in rebuilding the Republican brand. He frequently referred to Ronald Reagan's two landslide presidential victories that won over traditional, conservative-leaning Democrats in the 1980s.
"I think the first thing we have to do is rally behind the president-elect — that’s my view of it,'' Crist said. "As a Republican, I think governors can do the right thing by working together and being bipartisan. That's what we do here in Florida, and that's the formula for success.
"At the end of the day people want you to solve problems, to govern."
The event in Miami this week is likely to provide a glimpse of the intra-party debate that some observers say will last for at least several years. The struggle probably will pit moderates like Crist against more conservative candidates who want to emphasize traditional social issues like opposition to abortion rights, stem cell research and gay rights.
“We can’t be obsessed with issues that are not the issues that are important to American voters,” Jim Greer, the Florida Republican chairman and a likely candidate for national party leader, told The New York Times this week.
Asked whether that means reaching out to less-conservative voters, Crist replied: "I think we need to reach out to more people period. We need to reach Hispanics, other minorities on issues important to them. I think it is important that we maintain the principles that the party stands for: a strong national defense, lower taxes, but also broadening those by talking about protecting our environment, and by reaching across the aisle and being bipartisan whenever we can."
The party must take a "broad" view even on abortion, a non-negotiable issue for the party's social conservatives, Crist said.
"There's different ways to approach it (abortion), different ways to communicate, different ways to utilize — I think Ronald Reagan had the right formula for doing that."
Crist, who was criticized in some quarters for not campaigning hard enough for John McCain in Florida, blamed the national economy, not the candidate, for McCain's loss of the state’s crucial 27 electoral votes to Barack Obama.
Crist strongly suggested he will run for reelection in 2010. The well-known Florida Republican guru J.M. ''Mac'' Stipanovich told The Miami Herald that Crist will beat any Democrat ``like a rented mule.''
"I think he ran a great campaign, but i think you have to recognize it was a tough time,'' Crist said of McCain.
"Campaigning in this economy, following this administration, it was just a very tough sell." He dodged the question of his own aspirations for 2012, which nearly every reporter asked him about.
“It's a new day, there's no doubt about it. We need to refocus and reenergize and get ready for the future."
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