ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — What a difference six years makes.

In 2006, Charlie Crist accepted a $1 million check from the Republican Governor’s Association — which was headed by then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney —to help with Crist’s gubernatorial campaign.

On Thursday, Crist addressed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and enthusiastically endorsed President Obama’s re-election bid before a national television audience. In his highly Florida-centric speech — which suggested to some that Crist would like to run for office again — Crist had nothing but praise for the president.

“When I look at President Obama, I see a leader with a cool head, a caring heart, and an open mind,” Crist said. “That’s the leader Florida needs, that’s the leader America needs.”

Reaction to Crist’s speech around Florida, and in Crist’s hometown, was mixed, with many saying that Crist did a decent job.

“It hit all the notes that Charlie needed to hit if he’s going to one day run as a Democrat for another office,” said political consultant Peter Schorsch, who is also the editor of “Although the speech was partisan, it was as centrist as anything we’ve heard out of either convention.”

Schorsch said Crist addressed all of his potential liabilities in his speech: namely, why he left the Republican party and is now endorsing Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

As Crist opened his speech he played on words once spoken by Republican President Ronald Reagan, an ex-Democrat.

“He famously said that he did not the leave the Democratic party but the party left him,” Crist said. “Listen, I can relate. I didn’t leave the Republican party, it left me.”

Crist praised Obama for helping Florida with the housing crisis and the BP oil spill. He admitted that “I don’t agree with President Obama on everything.”

“One of his first trips in office brought him to Fort Myers, Florida,” Crist said. “I was proud to embrace him and his plan to keep our teachers firefighters and police on the job. That hug caused me more grief from my party than you could ever imagine.”

The Florida GOP wasted no time in criticizing Crist. On Twitter, the Republican Party of Florida started posting barbs about Crist hours before his speech. It also linked to some of Crist’s own tweets that he posted when governor, criticizing Obama in 2009 and 2010.

“It was really sad to watch Charlie Crist’s speech tonight,” wrote Lenny Curry, the state party’s chairman in a news release, sent to reporters minutes after Crist left the stage. “As a self-proclaimed pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, anti-tax Reagan Republican — who called himself as conservative as you could get — Crist has a long history of disagreeing with Obama and the Democrats on virtually everything they believe in. This speech was a sad, shameful display of political opportunism where Crist tried once again to shed his own political skin. Charlie Crist proved tonight, as always, that he is only concerned about furthering his own political ambitions.”

RNC Co-Chair Sharon Day called Crist the “consummate political opportunist” and an “embarrassment.”

Crist left the party in 2010. He had run for U.S. Senate as a Republican but fell behind Marco Rubio in the polls. He then ran for the senate seat as an independent.

Rubio overcame a disadvantage in money and support with a message that Crist was not a true conservative — a strategy punctuated with a photo of Crist embracing Obama at a 2009 rally to push for the $787 billion federal stimulus package.

After Crist lost the Senate race he stayed on the political sidelines and went to work for a large, central Florida personal injury law firm. On Aug. 26, he announced in a newspaper editorial that he was endorsing Obama. The timing was telling; it was the day before the Republican National Convention started in Tampa, the city across the bay from his hometown of St. Petersburg.

Since then, many have speculated that Crist will return to politics as a Democrat and possibly challenge his Republican successor, Rick Scott.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Darden Rice, the president of the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters. “He’s been a political leader for a long time. There’s a long future ahead for him.”

Bay News 9, a Tampa-based television station, said that during an interview Thursday night, Crist announced that he would campaign with Obama in Florida. Obama is scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg Friday night and campaign in Florida over the weekend.

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