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Crist Talks Immigration, Voting Problems Before Florida Dem Group Dinner

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Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Dec. 19, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Dec. 19, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (AP) — Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was once a Republican, gave one of his first speeches as a Democrat Friday night.

Crist was the keynote speaker at the Manatee County Democrats’ annual dinner. More than 300 people were in attendance, and many posed for photos with Crist.

During his half-hour speech, Crist mentioned several Democrats — Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and the late Robert F. Kennedy — but did not mention one man: current Fla. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, got one of the biggest cheers of the night when he introduced Crist.

“Please put your hands together and welcome our next Gov-” Rouson said, stopping short of finishing the sentence.

There’s been widespread speculation that Crist, who switched parties in Dec. 2012, will challenge Scott in 2014.

Crist certainly sounded like a candidate Friday evening; he spoke about immigration and the state’s voting problems in 2012. He also talked about teachers and made a thinly veiled reference to Scott’s proposal to give all teachers a $2,500 pay raise.

“It’s nice to give people bonuses, it’s even nicer to be good to them every year,” he said, to applause.

Most of Crist’s speech was similar to what he’s said for months; he talked about his well-publicized hug with Obama in 2009 when Crist was governor, and how many in his former party criticized him. He told a story of his grandfather, who immigrated from Greece to the U.S.

After his speech, Crist told The Associated Press that he has not yet decided whether he is going to run for governor. He did, however, point out that he’s speaking to Democratic clubs — last Saturday, he spoke to a group in Fort Myers.

Crist was elected governor as a Republican in 2006 and, facing a strong challenge from the right for the U.S. Senate nomination in 2010, ran unsuccessfully for that seat as an independent. He lost a three-way contest to Republican Marco Rubio.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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