Original post | 11 a.m.
Updated with Republican and Democratic responses | 11:38 a.m. and 3:25 p.m.
The infamous 2009 hug between President Barack Obama and then-Gov. Charlie Crist prompted widespread revulsion among Republicans, and began the downward spiral that ended up with Crist leaving the party that no longer had any use for him.
Now, as he’s seeking to regain his old office as a Democrat, Crist said one reason so many people reacted so viscerally to the hug is Obama’s race.
During an appearance on “The Colbert Report” that aired late Tuesday night, host Stephen Colbert asked Crist about the May 2009 hug in Fort Meyers.
“Why do you think it ended it for you?” Colbert asked.
Crist’s response: “Several reasons, I think. No. 1, he was there to talk about the Recovery Act, the stimulus, as people call it. And a lot of Republicans took issue with that. So I think that was part of it. Sadly, I think another part of it was that he was a Democrat, but not just a Democrat, an African-American, and um”
Colbert: “Oh, you’re not going to play the race card.”
Crist: “I’m not going to play it, no.”
Colbert: “You just did. You just did.
Colbert: “Would you like to pick it up again and put it in your pocket? Because you just played the race card.”
Crist: “Yeah, well, I’m just trying to tell the truth. I’ve seen a level of vitriol directed at this president that I have never seen directed at you know President Kennedy or maybe President Johnson or even President Carter.”
Buddy Helland, a Republican committeeman from Oakland Park, strongly disputed Crist’s assertion.
“Poor old Charlie Crist,” Helland said. “It seems as if he’s using every deceptive, deceitful kind of thing.”
Helland has one black daughter and one white daughter. “I think that’s high school stuff when people do the color thing,” he said. “It’s not just silly, but I think it’s disgusting for him to make a comment like that.”
“It seems like he’s saying whatever he can to try to gain favor with Democrats. I think they’re not dumb enough to fall for it.”
Barbara Sharief, a county commissioner who’s currently serving as Broward’s first black, female mayor, said she thinks too many people made too much out of the hug. “That hug was nothing to me of significance. I hug people all the time from the opposite party. I didn’t really think that that was a big deal.”
Sharief was a registered Republican from 1996 until 2005, when she became a Democrat.
She said she agrees with Crist that race was a factor in the intensity of some Republicans’ response to the hug. “Somewhat, yes. I think a lot of things that the Republicans have been doing have been motivated by race. I’ve never seen this much disrespect for the office of the presidency in the entire time that I have been involved in politics and in my time growing up here in South Florida.”