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Crist adviser sounds a lot like Senate campaign manager

Check out Charlie Crist's resume. The man never stays put for long.

Six years in the state Senate, followed by an unsuccessful race for U.S. Senate and a stint as a state agency official. Two years as education commissioner. Four years as attorney general. Two-and-a-half as governor, and now he's thinking of running for the United States Senate.

That political profile as much as anything suggests that Crist will soon declare that he does indeed want to go to Washington, with a goal of raising his national profile and positioning himself to run for even higher office.

It's worth recalling that when the Crist-for-Senate chatter began intensifying six months ago, it was laughed off as Democratic hooey by George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff and campaign guru, and still perhaps his closest adviser.

"I guess everybody can be wrong," LeMieux said with a laugh. "Things can change in six months."

So now, with an announcement expected very soon and Crist doing his best not to tip his hand, it seemed the logical place to search for clues as to his intentions was to visit LeMieux. His sixth-floor law office in downtown Tallahassee has a panoramic view of the Capitol across the street.

"Charlie Crist has accomplished more, I believe, in 2 1/2 years than most governors accomplish in four or even eight," LeMieux said.

As he ticked off his arguments —- property tax cuts, a 15 percent tuition hike at state universities and proposed purchase of U.S. Sugar property for Everglades restoration — LeMieux's law office began to morph into a Crist for Senate headquarters.

"Certainly, Gov. Crist could do a lot of great things in his second term," LeMieux said. "But on the other hand, the problems visiting Florida right now are not Florida problems, they're national problems. … There's something to be said for going to the United States Senate and being able to make the decisions that are really impacting Florida."

LeMieux called Crist pro-life, pro-gun and pro-adoption — a red meat line aimed squarely at the GOP's base.

He scoffed at the idea that former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami, who already has entered the Senate race, would be a threat by running to the right of Crist in a Republican primary — the way Tom Gallagher did in the 2006 governor's race.

"Marco Rubio supported the largest tax increase in Florida history when he wanted to raise the sales tax by 2 or 3 pennies," LeMieux said of Rubio's 2007 tax swap (the Democratic Party already is using that as an anti-Rubio talking point).

LeMieux said Crist could be a major Republican figure in the U.S. Senate: "He already has a national profile, and we are a party that is in desperate need of leaders," he said.

If Crist decides to run for the Senate, it will be more than a transformative moment in Florida politics. It also will make Crist an instant lame duck with 19 months left in his term. The time between now and January of 2011 will seem an eternity.

The resistance Crist faced from lawmakers this session will seem like a love-in compared to next spring — an election year when there will be fierce competition for Republican campaign money.

A Crist Senate candidacy will create an unprecedented domino effect in statewide politics in which the governorship and all three elected Cabinet seats will be open and up for grabs at once.

So the political world awaits Crist's decision, and while LeMieux never said it, he sure made it sound like Mr. Crist wants to go to Washington.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Crist adviser sounds a lot like Senate campaign manager 05/08/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 7:37pm]
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