Who will replace Martinez? Gov. Crist’s potential picks
BY STEVE BOUSQUET
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE — The search for a successor to U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez quickly centered on Jim Smith, a wealthy Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyist who served as a Democratic attorney general and Republican secretary of state in Florida. Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to name a replacement before Congress returns to Washington in September.
“Charlie’s going to look for someone who’s totally nonthreatening, both a supporter and a friend, who won’t embarrass him,” said Republican consultant Rick Wilson of Tallahassee.
“He’s got to pick someone who is an elder statesman, who will be good for Florida and doesn’t have a lot of further political ambition.”
Here’s a look at the potential candidates whose names surfaced Friday after Martinez announced he is stepping down:
• Jim Smith
Smith, 69, was a Democratic candidate for governor in 1986, but the experience was so difficult that he became a Republican. He’s a shareholder in Smith & Ballard, one of the most lucrative lobbying firms in the state, where his partner and son-in-law, Brian Ballard, is a close advisor and leading fund-raiser for Crist.
Smith, vacationing in Colorado, said he would love to go to Washington, even as a caretaker. “I’d go tomorrow,” Smith said.
• Charlie Crist
Crist, the front-runner in the 2010 election for the seat, said he would not appoint himself senator under any circumstances.
“I will not appoint myself, and I have gotten a lot of recommendations about very qualified people,” Crist said in Tampa. “No decision’s been made. There is not a short list. There is not a long list.”
• Bob Martinez
The former governor, a lobbyist in Tampa, said he was surprised to hear his name circulating among political figures. “I’ve had no contact with anyone about this at all,” said Martinez, who lost a reelection bid in 1990.
• Clay Shaw
The former congressman from Fort Lauderdale, whose 26-year career in Congress ended with a loss to Democrat Ron Klein in 2006, said he is interested but had not been approached. Shaw’s last chief of staff in Congress, Eric Eikenberg, is Crist’s chief of staff.
• Dan Webster
The conservative icon from Winter Garden and first Republican speaker of the Florida House since Reconstruction also expressed interest but had not been contacted.
Webster, who briefly ran in 2004 for the seat Martinez is vacating, said Crist is all but guaranteed to be the next U.S. senator, so he may as well get in office early to accrue seniority in the tradition-bound upper chamber of Congress.
• Connie Mack
The former U.S. senator confirmed that when Martinez’s plans to leave became clear, he rejected Crist’s recent request that he fill out the remainder of Martinez’s term. “It certainly has been more than a few days” ago, Mack said.
St. Petersburg Times staff writers Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith and Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com