(CNN) – Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s looking to get his old job back - this time as a Democrat - argued Sunday that Democrats need to “strengthen up” and own Obamacare in this year’s midterms.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Crist panned his former party, the GOP, but admitted that the Sunshine State’s economy has improved under Republican Gov. Rick Scott—though he argued it could be “a lot better.”
The Republican-turned-Democrat gave a full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act, a law Democrats are largely keeping quiet about after the federal website’s rollout turned into a fiasco last fall.
But Crist said those Democrats “ought to strengthen up.”
“This is going to be a very popular program,” he told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.
Crist argued Democrats are “overthinking,” and they should simply support President Obama, despite his recent spate of low approval numbers.
“He deserves (their support), and that will bring them home and unify them and that will make November very good for Democrats,” Crist said.
The former governor also weighed in on his former political party. He said the results of the closely watched presidential straw poll from this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference indicate a “fractured” and “split up” GOP.
“I don't think they know exactly what they want to do,” he said.
The conference, better known as CPAC, highlighted an array of ideologies that fall along the right side of the political spectrum, from libertarianism to more moderate approaches on issues such as immigration and foreign policy.
Crist argued that rhetoric from some within the party is hurting the GOP at large.
“This is a party now that is perceived as being anti-women, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-education, anti-environment,” he said. “I mean pretty soon, there’s nobody left.”
Crist was famously criticized by Republicans when, as Florida’s governor at the time, he hugged Obama in 2009. The Republican governor later accepted the President’s stimulus package, unlike some conservative state leaders.
The embrace was a moment that put Crist on a trajectory that ultimately sent him into the Democratic Party. In 2010, he ran as an independent for the Senate after failing to mount a serious challenge against Marco Rubio in the Republican primary.
Crist lost in the general election and largely stayed off the political grid until he announced in 2012 he was switching to the other side completely, becoming a registered Democratic voter. He’s in Washington now promoting his book, “The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.”
“The leadership of the party has really gone astray. It really is the reason that I became a Democrat,” he said Sunday. “I feel much more comfortable. I feel at home.”
Crist also spoke about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - a Republican who’s also been scrutinized by his own party for embracing the President after Superstorm Sandy and just days before the 2012 presidential election. Asked if Christie will eventually become the GOP nominee, Crist said, “I don’t think it’s that likely.”
The former governor is challenging his successor, Scott, in what’s expected to be a contested governor’s race in Florida this year. The unemployment rate has dropped significantly under Scott’s tenure, and Republicans are eager to boast of the state’s improved economy.
Crist admitted Sunday the economy has indeed gotten better, but argued “that turnaround started at the end of my term” and pointed to his acceptance of the stimulus package from Washington.
But he argued the economy “could be doing a lot better,” saying Scott should have taken Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which would have increased the number of people eligible for the health care program for low-income individuals. He added that a high-speed rail system and a minimum wage increase also would have boosted the economy.
Critics and opponents frequently point to Crist’s changed positions on a number of issues, now that he’s on the other side. And the former governor is keenly aware of his unusual history.
Speaking at a dinner Saturday night known as the Gridiron, a lighthearted event held each year by journalists and politicos, Crist quipped about his transition.
“The Gridiron always pokes fun at candidates from both parties. You could have saved time and just invited me,” he said, according to his prepared remarks that were published by the Tampa Bay Times.
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