Crist remains coy on political intentions; announcement expected today
By Bill Cotterell
Florida Capital Bureau Political Editor
While Gov. Charlie Crist remained coy about his U.S. Senate candidacy Monday, several Republican county leaders called him a shoo-in for the Washington job.
Republican operatives said Crist will have plenty of money, access to free media exposure just by showing up and national attention as the Republican Party struggles to keep President Obama from having a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate. And, several noted in separate interviews, polls give Crist unprecedented popularity ratings — particularly among the increasingly important independents and conservative Democrats.
"If he runs," said Martin Simmons of Milton, the Santa Rosa County state GOP committeeman, "he wins."
State Republican Chairman Jim Greer, a close Crist friend, flatly predicted Sunday night that the governor "is going to be the next U.S. Senator from Florida."
After an appearance at a Tallahassee nursing home Monday, Crist dodged a question about whether Greer was tipping his hand.
"I read that. I appreciate his confidence. No announcement has been made yet," Crist said of Greer’s comments. "I think he expressed his feelings. Let’s see what tomorrow’s announcement brings."
Crist said he will make a low-key announcement Tuesday morning. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, drew national attention last week with his own announcement.
University of South Florida political-science professor Susan MacManus said a Rubio-Crist primary will "whip Florida into a political frenzy." Although Crist has huge advantages in name identity and access to money and media, MacManus said the race will depend on the economy.
"This race is still in the Jell-o mold stage," said MacManus. "The ingredients are there but it has not gelled yet."
As for the challenger, she said "Rubio is at the mercy of the economy next year. If it’s bad and Crist goes through another horrible legislative session, Rubio’s fiscal conservatism looks good. If it’s good, Charlie looks good."
Leon County party chairman Dan Abel, who is uncommitted, said Rubio-Crist "is going to be a great race" that will shape the party’s future in Florida and nationally.
"I think Marco is doing everything to get his name ID up there," said Abel. "He’s going to all the Lincoln Day fund raisers, he’s taken advantage of the digital age and taken his campaign to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, those sorts of things."