Crist isn’t done evolving

CRIST ISN’T DONE EVOLVING…. It’s been kind of fun watching Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) try on different personas. When launching his Senate campaign, Crist was a moderate Republican and the favorite to win in November. When GOP voters decided they hate moderates, Crist tried, awkwardly, to move to the right. Now he’s an independent, and Crist is leading once more.

Indeed, there’s some evidence to suggest the governor is practically running as a Democrat.

Mr. Crist this year vetoed an education bill and an abortion bill sent to him by the legislature, which won him praise from many teachers and liberal women’s groups. Now, in calling a special legislative session to discuss a state-constitution ban on oil drilling in state waters, he is gambling that voters will see him as protecting Florida’s tourism industry in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. […]

Despite pledging as a Republican to help repeal President Obama’s health-care overhaul, Mr. Crist now says he does not support such a move. He has long called himself “pro-life,” doing so even in the interview last week. He is now quick to add that while he personally opposes abortion, he would not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and supports abortion rights.

He came out last year in opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but now says that he “probably” took that position because he felt pressure from the GOP primary. Asked if he felt differently now, he said: “Perhaps.”

Jon Chait makes the point that Crist’s shameless approach to transactional politics is “refreshing” — the governor is adapting to changing circumstances, positioning himself to win, and doesn’t bother to maintain the pretense of principled consistency. There’s something to be said for that.

But also note, as Florida’s Democratic Senate candidates so far struggle to break through, Crist is filling the void — not being shy about running as a de facto Dem. That includes increasing praise for the Obama administration and Democratic candidates in Florida, but it also means reaching out to labor and hiring Democratic aides.

When Crist left the GOP, I expected him to falter without the backing of a political party. What I didn’t realize is that he would get institutional support — it’s just Democratic support. For Crist, it means a coalition that can help him cross the finish line. For Florida Dems, it means beating Rubio and, quite possibly, getting another independent senator who’ll caucus with Democrats in 2011.