How grand was Charlie Crist's arrival at yesterday's Democratic Party rally in Boynton Beach?
See also: - Is Charlie Crist Florida's Next Governor?
The silver-haired politico entered handshaking, working his way through the crowd as it rose to its feet; then he spotted, across the hall, the Rev. Edrena Houston Brown, an African Methodist Episcopal preacher from Fort Lauderdale. Dropping everything, Crist just about powerslid across the floor, sank to one knee, looked up at Brown, and said, "Pray for me." And there he then knelt, his hand locked in hers as she prayed, long and fervently. Got photo ops?
A master of retail politics, that's how Crist rolls: comfortable on the stump, alert to his surroundings, and open to opportunity. (The prayer moment may have been planned, but if it was, it shows handlers of genius.) To see Crist work a room is to see a man who is in the moment, with a knack for improvisation.
Like this seemingly little thing: During Crist's speech at the Temple Shaarei Shalom gathering yesterday, an audience member sneezes and Crist pauses to say, "Bless you." The sneezer responds, "Thank you," and Crist, ever correct, replies, "You're welcome." One of the other pols on the platform murmurs something inaudible about the interruption, and Crist turns and says, "Hey. It's important." The message being, I care, and you should too.
It's also that the candidate leaves things unsaid but hidden in the text like depth charges.
For example: Reminiscing about an Election Day 2008 phone call from Miami Democrat Dan Gelber, at that time Senate minority leader, about the mammoth lines at South Florida polling places, Crist, then governor, said he consulted with his lawyers, decided the swamped polls qualified as "an emergency," and he therefore had legal authority to extend voting hours.
Now at that time, Crist was a Republican and knew full well the South Florida electorate leaned Democratic. Speaking of it yesterday, he explained his choice as "Not about left and right -- about right and wrong." The thing unsaid, however, was that Charlie Crist set the table for Barack Obama to carry Florida and possibly the Electoral College. Think that kind of thing sways the hearts of local Dems?
Or consider this: Crist's slight passing reference to his wife's Long Island origins and, even more subtle and revelatory, his fumbling to recall "the name of her temple." He married a nice Jewish girl from Long Island?! Cue the kvelling.
Are these things planned? Probably not. Are they the mark of great political instincts? No question.
The contrast with Rick Scott is stunning -- a divide of Mariana Trench proportions. Charlie's all pipe-and-slippers comfy at the podium; Scott is robotic: stilted, programmatic and weirdly elsewhere, the shaven skull and beady bugaboo eyes at some alien distance. Like Richard Nixon, the man seems ill-at-ease in his own body.
Crist, of course, is not yet even the Democratic nominee. And South Florida's own Nan Rich is still in the race, claiming to be "the real Democrat."
But the power slate of local Democratic officials on the stage with Crist yesterday -- host Burt Aaronson, Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Irv Slosberg, Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, among others -- was unanimous that Crist had been a Democrat all along on the issues that mattered. And Crist is gonna need them lined up early, since a big South Florida turnout may be his electoral magic bullet.
Perhaps that's what was on the candidate's mind during his moment of prayer with the Rev. Brown. When we asked Brown -- who described herself as Crist's "informal spiritual adviser" -- what it was she had prayed for, she said, "Unity."
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]