SARASOTA -- Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced Tuesday his endorsement for Keith Fitzgerald, Democrat candidate for the 16th Congressional District.
Crist, a former Republican who is now registered as an independent voter, has supported Fitzgerald's opponent and Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan in previous campaigns.
"I'm not here to run anybody down," Crist said. "I'm here to support my friend. A lot of things have changed over the years, particularly with my former partner ... so I'm much more comfortable being where I am right now."
During Fitzgerald's time in the Florida Legislature, he and Crist worked together on several initiatives.
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"It was Keith Fitzgerald who mentioned to me about trying to stop oil drilling off our coast," Crist said. "It is a passion we both share."
Crist said Fitzgerald's dedication to education, the environment and serving the people regardless of party affiliation are reasons behind his endorsement.
"He is a rare public servant who understands that you have to work together in
order to improve things with the people you're supposed to serve," Crist said.
Fitzgerald echoed that sentiment.
"One of the things about serving with Gov. Crist that was such a refreshing thing, given the way politics work today, is that each and every day you knew, regardless of what party you were in or what party he was in, that he was going to be working with you for what he thought was good for the people of Florida," Fitzgerald said. "If he could reach out to people in the other party to make something good happen, he would do that. If he had to be at loggerheads with people in his own party, he would do that. He was always searching for partners to do what was right and that's the kind of style I would like to bring back to Washington."
Four Republican protesters standing across the street from the Sarasota home where the endorsement was made held signs shaped like flip-flops, calling Crist a "flipper" who can't be trusted.
"He was once a Republican who switched to Independent. Tomorrow he may be a Democrat," said Elizabeth Parker from Sarasota. "He's a political opportunist. He has no compass."
Max Goodman, Buchanan's campaign spokesman, gave a simple response to the endorsement.
"Keith can have Charlie Crist. We will take Linda Fitzgerald-Huber," Goodman said in an email, referencing Fitzgerald's sister who previously showed support for her brother's opponent.
The Republican Party of Florida said the endorsement shows "the two faces" of Crist.
"Another day, another friend betrayed by Charlie Crist and his blind ambition," Chairman Lenny Curry said in a statement. "It would be funny if it weren't so sad to watch Crist, a self-described pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, anti-Obamacare conservative, abandoning his friend who he endorsed and raised money for to embrace people and values he has opposed his entire political career."
When asked about the changing support, Crist said, "I'm the same guy I've always been. The party left me."
In addition, Fitzgerald commented on the controversy of his former press secretary, Ana Maria Rosato, who was released from the campaign after her strongly-worded views surfaced on a blog she authored before she joined the campaign.
Fitzgerald said her opinions are "not reflective of my values." She was "out the door" within three hours of Fitzgerald becoming aware of the situation, he said.
"That's how you need to handle a situation like that," Fitzgerald said, adding that Buchanan has "made excuses time after time" about being unaware of problems with his own campaign workers.
Fitzgerald also fielded questions regarding a recent shift taking away funds expected from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Fitzgerald said national money is a "machine with a lot of moving parts," but with strong fund raising, his campaign will release other advertisements as the Nov. 6 election nears.
"We're moving forward with energy and vigor. I feel excitement on the part of the people," Fitzgerald said.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.