Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor who is running for his old office against GOP Gov. Rick Scott, says the "big reason" why he left the Republican Party was because many were hostile to President Barack Obama because of his race.
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In an interview with Fusion TV's Jorge Ramos
on Tuesday, Crist, Florida's GOP governor from 2007 to 2011, insisted that despite the timing of his switch to an independent during the 2010 Senate race, it was not because he was losing to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
"I left the Republican Party because the leadership went off the cliff," Crist said, adding that he felt uncomfortable being affiliated with a party that is perceived as "anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, [and] anti-gay."
"I couldn't be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president," he said. "I was a Republican, and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me."
In 2012, Crist went on to campaign for Obama's re-election, and turned up at a White House Christmas party, where he showed off a form that he used to switch his political affiliation to the Democratic Party.
"I am liberated as a Democrat, my true soul is able to be seen, and I couldn't be happier about it," Crist told Ramos.
Izzy Santra, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman, told Fusion, "Being a flip-flopper is bad enough, but playing the race card to win over voters is pitiful."
The party shifts have left Crist vulnerable to attacks from Republicans who say he's motivated solely by political preservation and self-interest, an image he is still struggling to shake off.
Crist has also taken heat for changing his position on a number of key issues, including the Affordable Care Act, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
During the interview, Crist said he still admires some Republicans who understand that the party has changed, mentioning former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who he said would be a good president. But he added he would not be changing his party affiliation again.
"I'm a Democrat for life now," he said.
A Quinnipiac Poll on April 30 showed Crist has a 10-point lead over Scott, but other recent polls
have given Scott single-digit leads despite his low approval ratings.
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