TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist criticized his opponent for traveling to Cuba on a fact-finding trip. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Crist now wants to visit the communist-run island to find facts of his own.
Crist said during his 2006 campaign that Democratic opponent Jim Davis shouldn't have visited Cuba on a congressional trip, saying "I know when it's time to visit Havana, and it's when it's free."
But times, along with Crist's party, have changed. In his second run for governor, Crist believes the United States should scrap the 52-year-old embargo, and he wants to visit the island to see what conditions are like there.
Crist's shift on Cuba has evolved along with his political registration.
As a Republican governor he had a tough approach to the communist-run island and supported tighter restrictions on travel and money sent to Cuba. As an independent candidate for Senate in 2010, he supported President Barack Obama's decision to allow Cuban-Americans' unrestricted travel to visit relatives in Cuba and to send them more money.
This year as a Democratic candidate for governor, he said he would support lifting the embargo, which he says hasn't worked and has hurt Cubans.
Crist didn't immediately return a voicemail left on his cellphone and campaign spokesman Kevin Cate said he wouldn't be available to talk Thursday. The campaign sent an email to the news media earlier in the week highlighting a Miami Herald story about Crist planning the trip.
It's not sitting well with some.
"Messing with people's turbulent political history should not be taken lightly," said Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami, whose parents are Cuban immigrants.
He said it is one thing for a congressman, senator or even a sitting governor to visit the communist-run island for fact-finding; but to do so as a political candidate crosses a line, Diaz said.
"There absolutely is a political calculation involved and that has upset a lot of people in Miami," Diaz said, adding that Crist won't be able to see real conditions in Cuba or talk to dissidents. "He's going to be in a state-led trip by the Castro regime," he said, referring to Cuban President Raul Castro.
Simply being in favor of lifting the embargo wouldn't likely hurt Crist politically since there is growing support for the idea in the Cuban-American community, said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based pollster whose company specializes in Hispanic public opinion and works more often with Democrats than Republicans.
But the idea of actually visiting the country is upsetting some Crist supporters, Amandi said.
"I think he'd be wise to consult with leaders of the Cuban exile community before coming to a definitive decision on whether this is the right move or not," Amandi said. "This may yet prove to be a bridge too far."
Republican Gov. Rick Scott also criticized Crist's plans.
"Any trip Charlie Crist takes to Cuba will only serve to promote the Cuban dictatorship and their oppressive regime," Scott said in a statement released by his campaign spokesman, Greg Blair. "If he's interested in helping a dictatorship, that's his choice. I'm focused on helping Florida families and standing with our Cuban community, not against it."