Continuing his makeover from Republican to independent U.S. Senate candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday affirmed his support for civil unions, adoption by same-sex couples, and doing away with the military's ban on openly gay soldiers.
Equality Florida, the state's leading gay rights group, called Crist's statement on a range of gay issues "the most comprehensive, pro-LGBT equality stand of a sitting governor in Florida's history."
Crist's Democratic opponent for Senate, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, called it "too little too late." He and the Republican nominee, Marco Rubio, noted the governor had backed a 2008 amendment to the state constitution banning same sex marriage, flip-flopped on the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy" earlier this year and opposed gay adoption in his 2006 campaign.
The dust-up reflected a central question facing voters evaluating Florida's open U.S. Senate race: Is Crist a political opportunist, as Meek and Rubio contend, or an independent who puts "people ahead of politics," as he says in his new television ad?
"It's never too late to support gay rights," said Crist's advisor Eric Johnson, a Democrat who took issue with Meek's criticism. "If Kendrick Meek is truly a supporter of gay rights, he should be applauding Crist for these positions."
Crist has been increasingly tilting leftward as he seeks to siphon Democratic votes from Meek and pitch himself as the only true foil to the conservative Rubio.
In the first formal position paper released by the campaign, Crist laid out his position on nine issues relating to gay rights, including his support for a federal ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and for allowing gay citizens to sponsor their partners for legal immigrant status.
But it was the sections on adoption by same-sex couples and the military's policy on gay soldiers that piqued the attention of his rivals.
Both the Meek and Rubio campaigns circulated mailers from Crist's 2006 campaign for governor, which blasted his Democratic competitor, Jim Davis, for supporting gay adoption. It said Davis "is opposed to traditional families" and "turned his back on our values."
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