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By Patricia Mazzei, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida said Wednesday he is confident he can excite Democratic voters — though some are upset that he won’t debate his primary opponent.

“I think they understand, frankly, what I’m up against and what the real challenge is here, and that the battle in November is monumental,” Crist told The Miami Herald‘s editorial board in a wide-ranging interview.

When he faces Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the general election, Crist said, he won’t be worried that Democrats — particularly women — would spurn him for ignoring former state Sen. Nan Rich, who is also on the Aug. 26 primary ballot.

The Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat said he is the opposite of Scott when it comes to issues relating to women and working people in general.

Crist, saying he is pro-life in attitude but pro-choice when it comes to abortion policy, supports allowing gay marriage, legalizing medical marijuana, promoting the federal health care law, increasing the minimum wage and establishing closer ties to Cuba.

Asked whether he would veto any legislation restricting abortion rights, Crist responded quickly.

“Yes,” he said, noting that, in his last year as governor in 2010, he vetoed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to first undergo an ultrasound. Crist at the time was running, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate.

“People have asked me, ‘Charlie, if you win, what would you do differently from Rick Scott?'” Crist said. “Everything. Everything. I can’t imagine anything that I’d do the same.”

On at least one issue, however, Crist didn’t sound all that different from Scott: gambling. Scott, who signed a law last year banning Internet cafes that allowed video-game betting, has suggested he would be open to more big-time gambling if it were backed by local voters.

Crist said Wednesday he was “not sure” how he would handle potential negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has a compact with the state giving it exclusive rights to operate casino-style table games. Crist oversaw that deal as governor.

A portion of that compact expires next year; the state could use that as a way to keep serious gambling limited to tribal grounds — or as a way to prevent gambling from spreading.

“I don’t have any direct opposition to gaming,” Crist said. “It’s already here. I’m over that … Could it help our economy, potentially? Yeah.”

Referring to Las Vegas, Crist said gamblers might prefer to play in a place where they can “look at water” rather than a desert.

Crist also seeks to contrast himself with Scott over the issue of man-made climate change, about which Scott has expressed doubts. Crist said the state might be able to assist Miami Beach financially when it comes to dealing with rising sea levels.

Staff writers Marc Caputo, Mary Ellen Klas, and Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

Photo: Mike Cohen via Flickr

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