Gov. Charlie Crist, who shed the "R" next to his name and replaced it with an "I" — asked for the labor union AFL-CIO's endorsement for Senate on Friday.
Crist, an independent candidate, made an unusual appearance before the union's leaders. The union traditionally supports Democratic candidates and Crist, a lifelong Republican until this month, had never sought its help.
"I'm here for several reasons. I am here to learn, I am here to listen and I am here to show respect. There's not enough of that happening right now in government and politics," Crist said in a soft, humble tone. "I want your help, I want your vote, I want your support, I want your endorsement and I am asking for it."
There were moments when it seemed the audience didn't know what to think of the appearance. The union's Florida president, Mike Williams, admitted when he introduced Crist that he thought someone was playing a joke on him when the governor asked to appear before the group as it decided on endorsements. Williams said the agenda had already been set.
"I was somewhat hesitant about changing the agenda, but when the governor calls, what do you do?" Williams said as the union members laughed. "You open your arms and welcome him."
Crist gave a brief biography, saying he hadn't met many of the people in the room.
"You may or may not know this, but I am not a Republican or Democrat," Crist said, to a smattering of laughter. "And that means that come September and October, it's going to be very lonely for me in terms of support from a political party. Very lonely. But that's OK, because for me it's about people, it's not about party,"
Unlike campaign events over the past year, when Crist was a Republican, he received applause when he talked about how proud he was to stand with President Barack Obama at a February 2009 rally in support of the $787 billion federal stimulus package.
That appearance is part of the reason former House Speaker Marco Rubio was able to rise from obscurity and take a commanding lead in the Republican primary. Crist decided last month to abandon the GOP contest and later changed his party registration.
"When I was a Republican governor, when the Democratic president of the United States of America came to Fort Myers, Florida, I went down to be with him," Crist said before he was interrupted by applause. "And I took a lot of grief from the Republicans just for me being decent to the president of the United States of America, who was bringing us a lot of money!"
One union member shouted, "Yeah!"
The Florida AFL-CIO is a federation of around 500 local labor unions and represents 500,000 members.
Crist faces a three-way race in November. Rubio is the likely Republican nominee and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek is the Democratic front-runner.
Since getting out of the GOP primary, Crist has seemed more relaxed than he has been in months. Though no one asked, he turned to reporters just as he got in his SUV and said, "It's a lot more fun now."
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