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Charlie Crist joins the Democrats: What drives a political chameleon?

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to become a Democrat suggests to his critics that he's prepping for a 2014 run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

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Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist gestures to supporters before a campaign speech by President Obama Oct. 25 in Tampa, Fla. Crist has announced that he's switching to the Democratic Party.

Chris O'Meara/AP

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Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to formally join the Democratic Party – making the announcement via Twitter after a fist bump from President Obama – suggests to his critics a savvy political chameleon prepping for a 2014 gubernatorial run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

But Mr. Crist's steady move to the left – he ran for the Senate as an independent in 2010 – is also clearly a natural curve, boosted by hardball GOP politics, including allegations Crist himself has leveled that GOP hardliners willfully suppressed the vote last month, albeit to no avail.

To be sure, Crist, who served as an Obama surrogate and spoke at the Democratic National Convention, has set himself up as an ideal foil for Republicans both in Florida and nationally, none of whom were surprised at his decision.

Yet Crist's formal declaration as a Democrat, after telling the DNC that "I didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me" (echoing Ronald Reagan when the former president left the Democratic Party), still highlights a central GOP post-election conundrum: How to become more, not less, appealing to middle America.

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