Call it the “Battle of the Defecting Politicians.” Former Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama, a black Democrat/turned Republican, is scheduled to speak at the GOP convention Tuesday night in Tampa. Not to be outdone, Democrats announced Monday that former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist will speak at their convention in Charlotte next week.
“I’m very pleased, at least in a small way, to try to help the president,” Crist told NPR.
Crist didn’t wait until next week to tell folks how he really feels about the Republican Party and President Barack Obama. He endorsed the president for a second term and blasted his former party in an op/ed in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times.
“As Republicans gather in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney, Americans can expect to hear tales of how President Obama has failed to work with the party to turn the economy around,” Crist wrote. “But an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.”
Crist pointed to comments by Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican senatorial candidate from Missouri, that women have the physical ability to avoid pregnancy via “legitimate rape” as a symbol of a political party gone wrong.
“Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims,” he wrote. “The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.”
Crist wrote that Obama “has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida, and he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for people than for his political fortunes.”
“That’s what makes him the right leader for our times, and that’s why I’m proud to stand with him today,” he added.
Crist was once a rising GOP star and was even on the short list to be Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008 before losing out to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But Crist fell out of favor among conservative Republicans in 2009 when he embraced Obama’s stimulus program.
Before that, he was considered the leading Republican candidate for one of Florida’s two U.S. Senate seats. But he quickly fell behind Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio. Crist dropped out of the Republican primary and ran for the Senate seat as an independent. He lost the general election to Rubio.
Republican leaders reacted angrily to Crist’s endorsement of Obama and his decision to address the Democratic convention.
“Today we have seen a repugnant display from a self-centered, career politician,” Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry said in a written statement. “While the people of Florida, and thousands of visitors who've traveled here, are facing an emergency, Charlie Crist has demonstrated, yet again, that his political ambition will always come first.”
Curry added: "Beyond the appalling timing of this move, Crist now professes his support for Barack Obama despite spending his entire political career bashing the political agenda that Obama advances. Crist in 2010 said 'I don't agree with the guy on hardly anything he does.'…For Crist to pull this Obama stunt while Florida faces a hurricane only proves Charlie Crist cares about just one thing: Charlie Crist.”
Republican leaders, however, are delighted that recovering Democrat Davis is speaking at their convention. Davis was a four-term member of the House of Representatives from Alabama and the Congressional Black Caucus. He spoke at the 2008 Democratic convention and seconded Obama’s nomination.
But his political fortunes fell when he alienated his constituents – many of whom were residents of Alabama’s impoverished “Black Belt” – by voting against Obama’s health care law.
Several of Alabama’s black voters and black political leaders speculated that Davis voted "no" to endear himself to conservative white voters in his 2010 bid to become Alabama’s first black governor.
In that race, the Davis intentionally declined to seek the endorsement of the state’s black political establishment and some black voters complained that he didn’t aggressively court their vote. Davis was crushed by 26 points in the Democratic primary to a white challenger.
Since then, Davis has switched parties; spoken to Tea Party groups; become an outspoken advocate of photo ID laws for voting; alleged that voter fraud is rampant in Alabama without offering evidence; and moved to Northern Virginia where he is contemplating running for the House again.
Davis is scheduled to address the GOP convention Tuesday night. He told The Huffington Post that his speech will not be about race.
“The word ‘race’ does not appear in this speech. The word ‘African-American’ does not appear in this speech,” he told The Huffington Post.
But Davis’s very public defection has left a bitter taste in the mouths of several black voters and leaders. Former Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) didn’t hold back of what he thought of Davis in a Huffington Post op/ed piece Sunday.
“Very few principles are involved in this opportunistic Judas conversion,” Owens wrote.
He added: “Tune in to the Artur Davis show at the Republican convention and you will see that when the right picks up a smooth, double-talking Harvard Law School graduate it can be satisfied that it has made a profitable trip to the new 21st Century auction block.”