If at some time in the fall of 2014, Charlie Crist steps forward to a podium in the Grand Ballroom of St. Petersburg's Vinoy Hotel to accept the Democratic nomination for Governor, one of the first people he will have to thank is former Senator Dan Gelber, who, in openly inviting Crist to the Democratic party, will have done as much as any single person, save perhaps John Morgan, to pave a path for Crist's victory.
As one of Crist's most ardent supporters, I cannot express well enough how much Gelber's embrace of Crist means to the former Governor -- on both a personal and political level.
Charlie likes Dan. Charlie sees in Dan some of the qualities he is not, but yearns to possess -- erudition, intellectual passion, patience.
More than almost any other Democrat, Charlie Crist respects Dan Gelber.
Quite honestly, Crist, as popular as he is, hasn't been really embraced/invited in/welcomed by other politicians. For the last three years, Crist has been more often asked to leave a party, rather than join one.
So for Gelber to be the first prominent Democrat with a statewide profile to invite Crist to join the party means a great deal to Crist.
After all, switching to become a Democrat is not going to be easy for Crist, no matter what his critics suggest.
And therein lies the political reason why Gelber's embrace means so much.
Among members of The Society of the Tarpon Belt -- the Crist-in-waiting faction of state politics -- the greatest threat to Crist's chances at the Democratic nomination is believed to be if Gelber entered the primary along wtih Alex Sink and Co. It's not that Gelber would win -- he can't, as his early dropping out of the US Senate race to Kendrick Meek in 2010 proves -- but he would be a wildcard who, with his genuine gravitas, could inflict considerable damage Crist's campaign.
Moreover, it is the operatives in Gelber's faction of the Democratic Party -- the Steve Schales, the Christian Ulverts -- that were once considered the most resistant to Crist joining the party. They still may be, but I think I see traces of Schale's fingerprints on Gelber's maneuver and other recent events.
You have to hand it to Charlie, the best natural politician in the state. Somehow, he has kept himself dealt into the game without appearing as if wants to play. His op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing Rick Scott's voter purge was about as well-written a piece as has ever been authored by Crist. His decision to endorse Nelson, thereby giving red meat to the Democratic base, without offending the independents voter he will need in 2014 was a master stroke.
And now he has been invited into the party by a Democrat from the Democratic wing of the party. No one outside of Charlie Crist knows what the plan is here. He is keeping his cards very, very close to the vest. Nor is there a precedent for a statewide figure making a return to office AND switching parties to do so. But a path victory is emerging.
Charlie Crist needs to thank Dan Gelber for making that path just a little bit easier. In fact, Crist-Gelber in 2014 certainly fits on a bumper sticker.