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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Straw poll ahead, Crist surprises hometown GOP



CLEARWATER -- Gov. Charlie Crist and state party chairman Jim Greer swept in the Pinellas County Republican Party meeting Monday night, surprising 150 people in the crowd.

"I just wanted to say hello," a blue jeans and short-sleeve shirt clad Crist told the crowd, "and say how much I love you."

It was lost on no one why Crist and Greer showed up for a few minutes. The county party will have a straw poll in January for the U.S. Senate race involving Crist and Marco Rubio. It will test Crist in his backyard after Rubio has swept straw polls in other counties.

Greer invoked the party's $4 million fund-raising haul in the recent quarter, and pointed to Crist as the man responsible. Most of the crowd gave Crist a standing ovation, and he glad-handed audience members as he left.

Afterward, Crist downplayed the looming backyard test, but wouldn't offer any predictions how the January vote will turnout.

"I think he's very concerned about the straw poll," said Rubio supporter Tony DiMatteo, adding the "educated people in this room" wouldn't be swayed by Crist's warm.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:22pm]


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