Crist decided not to run for reelection as governor in 2010, announcing on May 12, 2009 that he was running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Senator Mel Martinez. After initially leading in the race for the Republican nomination, he was overtaken in the polls by Marco Rubio, and in April 2010 Crist left the Republican Party and ran as an independent. In the general election he lost to Rubio in a three-way race, taking 30% of the vote to Rubio's 49% and Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek's 20%. Crist's term as governor ended in January 2011.
After graduating from Cumberland School of Law in 1981, and passing the bar on his third attempt, Crist was hired as general counsel to Minor League Baseball, which was headquartered in St. Petersburg. Drawn to politics, Crist was a candidate for public office for the first time in 1986, in the Republican primary for a state Senate seat in Pinellas County. After losing in a runoff, Crist joined his brother-in-law in private practice in St. Petersburg, but soon returned to politics as an aide on the successful 1988 United States Senate campaign of Connie Mack III, whom he has since described as his political mentor.
In 1992 Crist was elected to a two-year term to the Florida Senate from the 20th District, which encompassed parts of St. Petersburg and south Tampa. He defeated longtime incumbent Democratic State Senator Helen Gordon Davis of Tampa, 58.3 to 41.7%. Crist was able to unseat Gordon Davis following the 1992 decennial redistricting process, which significantly reconfigured the districts in the Tampa Bay area. His victory was credited with helping to end the Democratic Party's 128-year control of the Florida Senate, as the Republicans netted three seats in 1992, resulting in a 20-20 tie between the parties.
Crist gained recognition in 1998 as the Republican challenger to incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Graham. He lost to Graham by 26 percentage points. In 2000 he was elected Education Commissioner of Florida, a position he held until it became an appointive office in 2003, as the result of a 1998 constitutional amendment. Crist left his position after he was elected attorney general.
Civil rights and consumer groups praised Crist for expanding the attorney general's powers during his time in office. These powers enabled him and future attorneys general to have greater power to prosecute civil rights and fraud cases. Crist also worked to combat spam e-mail, freeze utility rates, end telecom deception, and protect the environment.
Having won the 2006 election, Crist was inaugurated as governor of Florida on January 2, 2007. He was involved in the state's purchase of sugar plantations. He also worked on education, with Florida rising into the top 10 states for K12 education under his control.
In 2008 Crist signed a provision preventing employers from prohibiting employees to bring firearms to the workplace, as long as the weapons are secure and the employees have a concealed carry license.
Crist's stance on abortion has been unclear at times. In 1995, while in the Florida Senate, Crist joined with two Democrats in the Senate Health Care Committee in voting against a proposal for a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion, resulting in a 3-3 tie vote and the bill's defeat. In 1998, while running for the U.S. Senate, Crist wrote in a Tampa Bay Times questionnaire that "I believe that a woman has the right to choose, but would prefer only after careful consideration and consultation with her family, her physician and her clergy; not her government." In a debate that year he said he did not support a constitutional amendment banning abortion. In 2006, while running for governor, Crist said he did not support overturning Roe v. Wade and opposed a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion.
In 2010, while running for the U.S. Senate again, Crist said he would "fight for pro-life legislative efforts" and described himself as "pro-life." By March 2010, however, as rumors swirled that he would leave the Republican Party and become an independent, Crist reiterated that he did not support overturning Roe v. Wade and told a Christian Family Coalition group, "We ought to, instead of change laws, change hearts."
In June 2010, after leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent, Crist removed anti-abortion language from his website. Shortly thereafter he vetoed a bill to require women seeking abortions to pay for and receive an ultrasound, calling the measure "punitive" and "almost mean-spirited." The bill also included language barring abortion coverage "under a contract toward which any tax credit or cost-sharing credit is applied." Legislative Republicans and anti-abortion groups said his language was aimed at preventing "what they considered the possibility of federal funding being used for abortion in Florida," while abortion rights groups said the broadly written provision would have resulted "in hundreds of thousands of women losing health care coverage that they currently have." The bill Crist vetoed also included some provisions "intended to thwart" the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform legislation championed by President Obama.
In 2006, as a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions was headed to the ballot in Florida, Crist said that such an amendment was unnecessary because state law already barred same-sex marriages. But in September 2005 Crist had signed a petition for the amendment during the Republican primary at the Christian Coalition's request. Crist said in campaign materials at the time that he supported "traditional marriage." In 2008 Crist said he voted for the amendment, which passed.
In a debate and a radio talk show appearance in 2006, Crist indicated support for civil unions. In 2010, after becoming an independent during the U.S. Senate race, he declared his support for civil unions encompassing "the full range of legal protections" including "access to a loved one in the hospital, inheritance rights, the fundamental things people need to take care of their families." It is unclear whether the 2008 state constitutional amendment Crist supported would have prohibited such civil unions.
As governor Crist deemphasized the marriage issue, saying in a late 2007 CNN appearance, "It's not an issue that moves me. I'm just a live and let live kind of guy", and telling the Orlando Sentinel in 2008 that the issue was not "top-tier" for him.
Crist initially supported Florida's ban on same-sex adoption, which had been in place since 1977. He publicly expressed support for the ban from the time he was attorney general in 2006 to his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2010, even after some state legislators proposed dropping the ban in 2007 and a Miami-Dade judge struck down the ban as unconstitutional in 2008. Crist expressed support for the ban as late as February 2010, but by June 2010 he expressed openness to changing Florida law to allow same-sex adoption, saying a better approach "would be to let judges make that decision on a case-by-case basis."
In September 2010 Crist said that he had had an "appropriate evolution" on gay rights and was considering dropping the state's appeal of the court ruling striking down Florida's ban on gay adoption. Days later, after an appeals court struck down the ban, Crist hailed the ruling "a very good day for Florida" and "a great day for children" and announced that the state would no longer seek to enforce the ban. In a Senate candidates' debate the next month he attributed his shift in positions to "the convergence of life experience and wisdom," saying that he had become more tolerant and become less judgmental with age.
In January 2014 Crist apologized for his support for the 2008 same-sex marriage ban and for the same-sex adoption ban, telling an Orlando LGBT publication, "I'm sorry I did that. It was a mistake. I was wrong. Please forgive me."
In June 2008 Crist proposed that Florida buy 187,000 acres (760 km2) from the United States Sugar Corporation for $1.2 billion. The purchase would remove about 187,000 acres of sugar farming for restoration efforts. In front of supporters in Palm Beach County, Crist called the deal "as monumental as our nation's first national park." Economic changes forced the purchase to be reduced to 73,000 acres (300 km2) of sugar and citrus plantations for Everglades restoration projects.
Crist announced plans to sign executive orders to impose strict air pollution standards in Florida, with an aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. In his gubernatorial campaign Crist opposed offshore oil drilling. He altered that position in June 2008, when oil reached peak prices, saying, "I mean, let's face it, the price of gas has gone through the roof, and Florida families are suffering, and my heart bleeds for them."
After claims that computerized voting machines undercounted votes in black communities, Crist endorsed legislation requiring paper records of all ballots cast in elections. He supported a tax cut to total $25 billion over a 5-year period aimed at property tax relief.
In April 2010 Crist vetoed an education bill that would have linked teacher pay to test scores, a piece of legislation conservatives strongly supported.
Senator John McCain endorsed Crist's 2006 campaign for governor, traveling the state to campaign with him. The day before the general election, Crist held a campaign event with McCain in Jacksonville. Later, when the Republican Presidential primary debates were held in St. Petersburg, Crist embraced McCain. Former New York City MayorRudy Giuliani, who had also campaigned for Crist during the gubernatorial election, had sought his endorsement.
In May 2007 Crist signed a bill moving the date of Florida's presidential primary to January 29, 2008, contrary to national political party rules. Crist joined Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm in asking that their states' delegates be seated. Both national conventions ended up seating all delegates, but with only a half vote each for the sanctioned states.
On January 26, 2008, Crist endorsed McCain in the Republican primary. McCain won the Florida primary by five percentage points.
On October 28, 2008, Crist extended early voting hours of operation and declared that a "state of emergency exists" due to record voter turnout and resultant hours-long waits at locations throughout the state.
Crist's speech at the RGA conference, "Listen to the Voters and Serve", included his sentiments on how the GOP should evolve:
This party can no longer hope to reach Hispanics, African Americans and other minority groups – we need to just do it. Embracing cultures and lifestyles will make us a better party and better leaders. This desire for inclusiveness is near and dear to my heart ... Last week, the American people made a choice and this week, if we choose to call ourselves leaders, if we truly endeavor to serve with a servant's heart for the people who count on us, then we too must work together, listen to one another and learn from the leaders who made the kind of history the American people deserve.
On May 12, 2009, Crist announced that he would not run for reelection as governor in 2010, making him the first Florida governor not to run for reelection since 1964. Instead he ran for the US Senate. His two main opponents were former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, and Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek.
Crist was initially the front-runner in the Republican primary, but later trailed Rubio in polls.
Crist announced his intent to run as an unaffiliated candidate in the 2010 senate election, while at the same time, according to a press release from his campaign, he remained a registered Republican. Crist officially changed his registration status to "non party affiliated" on May 13, 2010. He did not return campaign contributions made while he was a Republican. Crist lost the general election, receiving 29.7% of the vote to Rubio's 48.9% and Meek's 20.2%.
In April 2011, as part of a settlement of a copyright lawsuit brought by musician David Byrne, Crist apologized for his Senate campaign's use of Byrne's song "Road to Nowhere" without permission.
By the spring of 2015 there was speculation that Crist would seek the Democratic nomination for Florida's 2016 senate race. This would have been his third run for the seat (he lost in 1998 and 2010). In March 2015 Crist said he would not seek the nomination. That same month he endorsed U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy's Senate candidacy.
In January 2011 Crist joined the Tampa office of national personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan after expressing an interest in returning to the legal field during his final week in office as governor of Florida. Crist worked primarily in the firm's class action sector as a complex litigation attorney, serving as a "rainmaker" for the firm. In November 2016, after almost six years with the firm, he was elected to represent Florida's 13th Congressional District. In February 2018 Brad Slager of Sunshine State News cited evidence that Morgan & Morgan was "attempting to purge all evidence" of its relationship with Crist now that he was a "rookie congressman" with "little-to-no power."
In 2013 Crist performed paid consulting work for Coastal Construction, a Miami-based construction firm owned by Crist's longtime friend Tom Murphy, the father of former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy.
On December 7, 2012, Crist announced that he had joined the Democratic Party. In his 2014 book The Party's Over he recounted his journey from one party to the other. He claimed that his career in the Republican Party was destroyed by a hug between him and Obama at a Fort Myers town hall on February 10, 2009. "It was the kind of hug I'd exchanged with thousands and thousands of Floridians over the years," Crist wrote. "I didn't think a thing about it as it was happening." But it "ended my viable life as a Republican politician. I would never have a future in my old party again. My bipartisan hopes and dreams, I would discover soon enough to my shock and disappointment, were vastly overstated and hopelessly out of date."
In May 2014, however, Crist told Fusion's Jorge Ramos that he had left the Republican Party because of its racial attitudes. "I couldn't be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president—I'll just go there," Crist said. "I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing. It was intolerable to me." The Washington Post's Chris Cilizza rejected this claim, citing Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith as saying that Crist "was happy as a Republican when the polls showed him leading Marco Rubio by 20 points." Cilizza wrote that Crist's party switch "epitomized for many within the Republican base that Crist lacked any core principles or beliefs and, instead, simply went with whatever was popular at the moment."
In a New Republic review, Isaac Chotiner called The Party's Over an "account of why Crist switched parties" and wrote that Crist had "revealed himself". Writing in Rolling Stone Magazine in 2014, Jeb Lund described Crist as "a Republican conveniently converted to Democrat", adding, "what made Crist dynamic as a Republican ... was a vaguely populist nose-thumbing at Republican orthodoxy", and that "Charlie Crist is a Democrat only if you are a Republican."
In July 2013 it was announced that Crist was releasing a new book in the process of being written. The release hinted that he would run in the 2014 gubernatorial election. The book, released in February 2014, is titled The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. It details why Crist left the Republican Party and became a Democrat. On November 1, 2013, Crist filed to run for governor as a Democrat. He won the Democratic nomination but was defeated in the general election by Republican incumbent Rick Scott. Crist holds the rare distinction of losing a statewide general election in Florida as a Republican, Democrat and Independent candidate.
But when Senator Marco Rubio decided to run for reelection, Jolly dropped out of the Senate race and sought reelection to the House, even though the 13th district had become significantly more Democratic-leaning when a court tossed out Florida's original congressional map. The new map drew nearly all of St. Petersburg, along with most of the more Democratic southern portion of Pinellas County, into the 13th. Crist defeated Jolly 52-48%, becoming the first Democrat to win the seat since 1955.
In 2018 Crist was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Action Fund, which called him "a leader on protecting Florida from and planning for the impacts of climate change during his time as Governor and in Congress." Crist won the election.
In June 2017 Crist was one of 24 House Democrats to vote for Kate's Law. The next month he was one of five Democrats to vote to fund President Trump's border wall, and the next day issued a statement saying that he opposed the wall.
On May 9, 2013, Crist announced that he supports same-sex marriage: "I most certainly support marriage equality in Florida and look forward to the day it happens here." In both 2006 and 2008, Crist announced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, but by 2010 he had endorsed adoption rights for gay couples.
In a February 12, 2018, op-ed for USA Today, Crist complained that Florida was "one of only three states that permanently bans non-violent, ex-felons from voting" and that this "disenfranchisement of 1.5 million of our fellow citizens is shameful."
↑Gov. Charlie Crist changes course on returning campaign donations Politifact (Tampa Bay Tribune / Miami Herald) May 19, 2010 Crist said he would "probably give it back to them," leading donors to believe that as the dictionary states it was "to be expected" or "without much doubt" that they would see some of their cash back from Crist. We find Crist completely changed his position from entertaining the idea of giving the money back, to definitely not giving the money back. Our verdict: Full Flop.