Former President Bill Clinton took a break from his explainer-in-chief role for President Obama on Wednesday to spend about an hour in West Palm Beach raising money for Democratic congressional candidates Lois Frankel and Patrick Murphy.
The approximately 250 attendees at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport included former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent who’s widely rumored to be considering a 2014 run for governor as a Democrat.
Clinton, who stumped for Obama on Tuesday night in Miami and was slated to campaign for the president again Wednesday night in Orlando, arrived at the Hilton in a four-vehicle motorcade around 11:30 a.m. His remarks were closed to the media.
Clinton left around 12:30. Crist stuck around for about 20 minutes to shake hands and pose for pictures with the Democratic crowd.
Crist contributed to Murphy’s campaign in early 2011 and said he’s known Murphy’s family for years. Crist noted that he was a state Senator while Frankel was in the state House in the 1990s and said “I needed to give her a check.”
Crist deflected questions about whether he’ll switch parties or run for governor.
“I have no idea,” Crist said. “I just want to do everything I can to help President Obama get re-elected. I think it’s just critical for the future of Florida and the future of America.”
Many Democrats were eager to greet Crist.
“He was a great governor. He would be a great governor,” said Democratic activist Mohammed Osman Chowdhury.
But Florida Association of Retired Americans President Tony Fransetta was skeptical.
“He is still a political opportunist,” said Fransetta, whose labor-backed group is a sought-after endorsement in Democratic primaries.
Crist disputed the opportunist charge.
“Who would take the opportunity to get their head bashed in like I have the past two weeks if he weren’t doing it out of genuine sincerity for the concern about the future of Florida and America?” Crist said. “I mean, this hasn’t been a joy ride. But it is important to our country and it’s important to Florida.”
Crist was a popular Republican governor who was mentioned as a potential running mate for John McCain in 2008 and was considered a lock to win the GOP’s 2010 nomination for U.S. Senate. But his Republican political career began to unravel after he hugged Obama in Fort Myers at a 2009 rally to promote the $787 billion stimulus bill. Facing likely defeat in the GOP Senate primary, Crist switched to no party affiliation in 2010 and lost in the general election as an independent.
Crist on Wednesday met another Obama-hugging Republican: Scott Van Duzer, the Fort Pierce pizza parlor owner who embraced Obama and lifted the president off his feet on Sunday. Crist stopped by Van Duzer’s Big Apple Pizza on Wednesday afternoon and, according to Van Duzer, said “You know what I’m here for.”
Van Duzer obliged by hugging and lifting Crist.
“Nothing surprises me any more after the president walked through,” Van Duzer said.
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