CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Nan Rich touted her liberal credentials and questioned rival Charlie Crist's credibility Friday as she fights for her party's nomination.
Speaking to the annual convention of the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of News Editors, the former state senator described Crist, a onetime Republican governor, as a political opportunist who once opposed gay marriage and the federal health care law and supported public vouchers for private schools. She also noted that he appointed two of the most conservative justices on the state Supreme Court.
"Your record is an indicator," she said of Crist. "I don't believe that people out there think you can change 180 degrees on every single major issue, and have people believe that and trust that."
She added: "We need to make sure that we don't have two Republicans running in the gubernatorial election."
Rich, the former Democratic leader of the state Senate, has billed herself as the more progressive candidate in her long-shot bid for governor. While she has struggled to raise the kind of money typically necessary to run a statewide campaign, she has been traveling across Florida courting Democratic activists and raising doubts about Crist's political authenticity.
On Friday, she reiterated her calls for Crist to debate her ahead of the Aug. 26 Democratic primary — and suggested failing to do so would be a kind of "voter suppression." Voters, she said, are entitled to information from both candidates.
Crist has made clear he has no plans to debate Rich, saying he's focused instead on Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has already spent millions attacking him.
In a separate appearance at the convention Thursday, Crist called his party switch "very authentic," saying he had grown uncomfortable in the GOP because of its positions on gay rights, women's issues and environmental protection.
He detailed a laundry list of actions he took as governor that aligned him with Democrats, including vetoing measures that would have instituted a merit-pay system for teachers and required women to undergo ultrasounds before having abortions. He also touted his efforts to restore voting rights for ex-felons and extend voting hours in the 2008 presidential election.
On Friday, Crist's campaign emphasized its small-dollar campaign donations as proof of grassroots support. The campaign said it has received more than 30,000 contributions of less than $100, accounting for 85 percent of all donations.
Nevertheless, Rich said many of Crist's actions as governor were politically expedient and served to curry favor with Democrats and independents as he left the Republican Party in 2010 and mounted an independent bid for U.S. Senate.
"Voters are actually starved for substance, and they're tired of empty calories," Rich said.
She pledged to bolster investments in education and health care, broaden the corporate tax base and strengthen environmental regulations to manage growth.
Still, asked about her lack of campaign resources and poor showing in public opinion polls, Rich said she would support Crist as the party's nominee if she loses next month's primary.