CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist brought his party-switching credentials to the Democratic National Convention, endorsing President Barack Obama in a speech that could boost Democratic hopes in the all-important swing state.
"I didn't leave the Republican Party, it left me," said Crist, inverting the famous quote from Ronald Reagan. Crist named another Floridian who has also been known to criticize the GOP. "Then again, as my friend Jeb Bush recently noted, Reagan himself would have been too moderate and too reasonable for today's GOP."
Though he was a Republican governor, Crist left the party in 2010, when after losing the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, he ran as an independent. Crist lost the race, but many believe that he will run again for governor as a Democrat next time around.
His aisle-crossing credentials could help Crist win undecided voters, which is of particular importance in a swing state worth a huge 29 electoral votes, making Florida one of the hardest-fought battlegrounds in the 2012 election.
Crist acknowledged that he has policy differences with the president, but made his support unequivocal.
"I'll be honest with you, I don't agree with President Obama about everything. But I've gotten to know him, I've worked with him, and the choice is crystal clear."
Florida was one of the hardest-hit states when the housing bubble burst, and Crist credited the president with helping to turn around a state "on the edge of disaster," with a failing construction industry and a dearth of tourists. Crist also praised the president's reaction to the 2010 BP oil well rupture in the Gulf of Mexico, using the crisis as an opportunity to again promote the president as a leader who transcends party.
"He didn't see a red state. He didn't see a blue state. He simply saw Americans who needed help," said Crist.
Crist contrasted that picture of a president willing to reach across the aisle with one of intransigent Republicans, characterizing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, as "allergic to the very idea of compromise."
The theme of compromise was woven prominently throughout the speech, including a conclusion that brought the crowd to its feet.
"That's the reason I'm here tonight, not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as an optimistic American who understands that we must come together behind the one man who can lead the way forward in these challenging times: my president, our president, Barack Obama," said Crist as the crowd roared.