Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist is offering a new and inflammatory reason he left the GOP: Too many Republicans oppose President Obama because he's black.
Crist made the remarks Tuesday in an interview with Fusion's Jorge Ramos that instantly drew rebukes from Republicans who said the party-switching former Florida governor was playing the race card.
But Crist said the bigotry against Obama was a "big reason" for his decision to leave the party.
"I couldn't be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president - I'll just go there," Crist said. "I was a Republican and I saw the activists and what they were doing, it was intolerable to me."
Ramos suggested Crist left the GOP to run as an independent because he was losing the 2010 Senate Republican primary to Marco Rubio. But Crist denied it.
Crist has made race an on-again and off-again theme as he campaigns for his old job back as a Democrat, his third party affiliation. When he left the GOP four years ago, he didn't mention race.
"Being a flip-flopper is bad enough, but playing the race card to win over voters is pitiful," said Izzy Santa, Republican National Committee spokeswoman.
Crist, saying he felt "liberated as a Democrat," also bashed the GOP for being too inflexible and appearing to be "anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, [and] anti-gay."
Black voters are particularly important to Crist. They comprise 28 percent of the 4.1 million active registered Democrats in Florida, and he still has to beat former state Sen. Nan Rich in a party primary before facing Gov. Rick Scott.
As governor, Crist championed civil rights causes, opposed racial language in the official state song and was called Florida's "first black governor" by some African-American lawmakers.
In standing with Obama to support the stimulus package in 2009, Crist won a measure of support from black voters but also earned the enmity of the GOP. In 2012, Crist campaigned for Obama.