FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Florida Democrats appeared poised Tuesday to select former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist as their nominee to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a nationally watched race that's part of an unlikely political comeback for Crist.
Turnout was expected to be light as the campaign between Crist and former state Sen. Nan Rich had not garnered much attention as Rich didn't have the financial resources to purchase extensive TV commercials. Polls were open to 7 a.m. EDT in most of the state. They were to open at 7 a.m. CDT in the Panhandle.
Crist has won three statewide races as a Republican and it wasn't that long ago that he called himself a Ronald Reagan/Jeb Bush Republican. He was once considered a potential running mate for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and he had the backing of GOP leaders in a 2010 bid for Senate - until Marco Rubio used an image of Crist hugging President Barack Obama to chase Crist from the primary. Crist lost an independent bid for the seat Rubio now holds.
But after campaigning for Obama in 2012 and completing his political transition later that year, Crist is now the favorite to win the nomination to face Scott. He must first beat Rich, a former Senate minority leader, who has been running for governor longer than Crist has been a Democrat. But Rich lacks the name recognition and money Crist has, and most observers say Crist, 58, should win the nomination easily.
Scott, who has minor primary opposition, has already anticipated that Crist will be his opponent. The state Republican Party began attacking Crist months before he officially became a Democrat and Scott has already spent millions of dollars on ads criticizing him.
The primary will be a test to see if Democrats accept Crist's political conversion. Democrats have opposed him in five statewide races. As a Republican, Crist was elected education commissioner in 2000, attorney general in 2002 and governor in 2006. He lost a U.S. Senate race as a Republican in 1998 and as an independent in 2010.
But despite initially campaigning as a strong conservative in the 2010 Senate race, Crist was widely considered a moderate Republican governor supported by some Democrats.
He vetoed an abortion bill and a teacher merit pay bill that were priorities for Republicans in 2010 and he was a leader on climate change issues as governor.
But Rich, 72, notes that Crist has changed positions on many issues important to Democrats, including Obama's health care overhaul, gay rights and gun laws.
Both candidates focused their final days of campaigning on South Florida, the state's Democratic base. Crist even rented a condo there and planned to celebrate the election in Fort Lauderdale instead of St. Petersburg, where he was raised and still lives.
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