MIAMI (AP) — Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist chose Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo as his running mate Thursday, a pick that could help him ease any doubts among the important South Florida party base that his political conversion is for real.
Taddeo, 47, also serves as a Florida Democratic Party vice chair and sits on the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee. She was her party’s nominee for Congress in an unsuccessful campaign against Republican incumbent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008.
Taddeo was born in Colombia to an American father and Colombian mother and spent the first 17 years of her life in the South American country. She also formed and runs her own business, LanguageSpeak, which offers translation services and tutoring in more than 100 languages.
“She truly is the American Dream come true,” Crist said. “The most important thing to me is compassion and kindness. That’s what we don’t have now and that’s what we desperately need.”
Crist was a lifelong Republican until running for Senate as an independent in 2010. He first registered as a Democrat less than two years ago. By choosing a running mate who is a leader in the party, he should provide some comfort to Democratic activists who have fought Crist in five previous statewide elections.
Taddeo said she and Crist will provide a stark contrast to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whom she painted as an elitist dedicated to corporate interests.
“I know what it’s like to live on the minimum wage,” she said. “I know what it’s like as a small business owner to worry” about making payroll in a sluggish economy.
“We have a governor right now who looks out for those at the top,” she added. “We need someone who will fight for all Floridians. We need a governor who will fight for small business and help to grow the middle class.”
Taddeo has gone by her married name, Taddeo-Goldstein, on her personal website and party press releases, but will be campaigning only under her maiden name.
Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores said the pick won’t help because the election will be about Crist, who she noted chose to run for Senate instead of re-election when the state’s economy tanked. She pointed out that the state’s unemployment skyrocketed when Crist was governor.
“The fact remains that it doesn’t matter who Charlie Crist picks, you can’t run away from your record,” Flores said. “You can’t run away from 11 percent unemployment. When things got tough in the state of Florida, he just left us.”
Another Republican, former state Rep. Juan Zapata, praised the pick.
“Putting aside politics, she’s obviously got a great background. She’s a successful businesswoman. She’s a good organizer,” said Zapata, who also came to the U.S. from Colombia as a youth.
Besides helping Crist with women and Hispanics, Zapata said Taddeo will also be a boost because of her longstanding involvement with national women’s business organizations.
“She’s well respected at the national level, and she has the reputation as a business leader. She hasn’t been in politics all her life,” he said.
It’s unusual for non-incumbent candidates of either party to pick a running mate before actually securing the nomination.
Crist is facing former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich in the Aug. 26 primary — though he is campaigning as if he doesn’t have a primary opponent and refusing to debate Rich. Instead, he’s focusing his attention on Scott.
Rich called the decision to pick a running mate now an effort to distract voters.
“There are lots of questions that people have for him because he’s new to the Democratic Party,” she said. “You know that he wants to divert attention from the real issues that voters care about.”