Many Republicans believe that Charlie Crist's decision to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, no-party candidate, helps the Democrats chances in November.
But it also means Democrats may have to outmaneuver Crist for some traditional Democratic voters.
Leading Democrat U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek started to lay that groundwork within hours of Crist's announcement on April 29, 2010. In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Meek said Crist's position against offshore oil drilling has vacillated over the years, while Meek's position has never changed.
"I've been consistent as relates to being against offshore drilling in Florida," Meek said. "I can't say that (for) every candidate in the race. It was (a) news flash as of two days ago that the governor switched his position once again on offshore oil drilling."
Oil drilling is certainly a timely topic. On March 30, President Barack Obama proposed to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling. Three weeks later, on April 20, an explosion and fire on a drilling rig resulted in a massive oil spill that threatened several Gulf Coast states. The spill has forced many to rethink the benefits of offshore drilling -- including Crist.
The key to Meek's claim is how often, and how much, Crist has changed his position.
As a candidate for governor in 2006, Crist was unequivocal that he would never support oil drilling off Florida's shores.
Crist even evoked childhood memories of cleaning birds after an oil spill in Tampa Bay, the St. Petersburg Times' Steve Bousquet reported. Crist expressed opposition to drilling throughout his career, from state senator to education commissioner to U.S. Senate candidate to attorney general. A sampling:
- June 20, 1998, in a Florida Times-Union interview during his first U.S. Senate campaign: "Having grown up here, it's hard not to feel strongly about the beauty that is Florida. I would and already have fought offshore drilling in Florida, and would continue that fight in Florida."
- Oct. 10, 2006, interview with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Offshore oil drilling, I'm adamantly opposed to it. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up here. I'm a Gulf Coast guy. ... I remember when I was in elementary school, we had an oil spill in Tampa Bay. You may recall that. I literally remember cleaning birds off when that happened."
- Oct. 20, 2006, at a press conference, on the qualities Floridians want in a president: "Making sure that we don't drill for oil off our beautiful shore, and, of course, the other traditional things that go along with it."
But in 2008, with gasoline prices hovering near $4 a gallon and Crist being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for a ticket that would popularize the phrase "drill, baby, drill!", Crist backed off his previous unflinching opposition. On June 18, 2008, Crist said:
"We have to be sympathetic to the pocketbooks of Floridians and what they're paying at the pump for gas and balance that with any way that our state might be able to contribute in terms of resources to have a greater supply and therefore lower prices," Crist said. "I think an open-minded person understands that we ought to at least study (offshore drilling)."
The next week Crist delivered a keynote address at a global climate change summit in Miami. "We must have an open discussion – without compromising Florida’s sensitive ecosystems and natural beauty," Crist said of offshore drilling. "As I stated last week, only when we are able to do so far enough from Florida’s coast, safe enough for our people and clean enough for our beaches, should we consider increasing our oil supply by drilling off Florida’s shores. Let me repeat that – far enough, safe enough and clean enough."
Crist said options now needed to be studied, but largely stayed away from offering specific proposals.
That so-called study period ended with the April 20, 2010 spill.
After flying over the gulf and seeing the spill firsthand, Crist withdrew his support for any form of drilling off Florida's coasts.
"It could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur," Crist said. "It's the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state.
Crist also repeated the criteria laid out in his 2008 climate change address, saying the gulf spill proved drilling isn't yet far enough away, clean enough, or safe enough.
"Clearly that one isn't far enough and that's about 50 to 60 miles out, it's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today - that's horrific - and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's the opposite of safe," Crist said.
We should note that Meek has largely opposed increased offshore drilling. Meek was one of 100 U.S. House members in 2003 to sign a letter urging Congressional leaders not to open Florida's coastline to offshore drilling. He signed a similar letter in 2005, and in 2006, voted against a proposal to allow oil and gas exploration within 50 to 100 miles of most coastlines, and within 234 miles of Tampa Bay. He did, however, release a tepid endorsement/criticism (it's hard to tell) of Obama's March 2010 drilling proposal. Read it here.
Now back to Meek's claim against Crist. Meek said Crist's positions has changed "once again" on offshore drilling. That means at least twice.
On a very basic level, Crist was opposed to oil drilling until 2008, then open to it, and now opposed again. That's two changes of positions as Meek suggests. But a more nuanced reading of Crist's statements on offshore drilling produces a slightly different interpretation. Crist was first opposed to oil drilling, then open to it if was proven safe. The April 20, 2010 spill convinced him it wasn't, and as a result, Crist again became opposed.
We don't think that's necessarily the same as two flip flops. Crist decided to to explore the possibility of offshore drilling in 2008 after years of rejecting it out of hand (flip 1), but ended that examination after seeing the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico after the April 20 spill. That might be one and a half, but that's not a second flip.
As a result, we rate Meek's statement Half True.