In this corner, Charlie Crist, carrying 27 electoral votes and sky-high approval ratings among moderate, independent voters. In that corner, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar and darling of conservatives, who see him as one of the brightest young lights in the GOP.
The two friends are scheduled to face off at 10 a.m. today on NBC's Meet the Press over their differing views of the federal stimulus package. The appearance has plenty of implications for the future of the national party and for the presidential race in 2012.
Crist, who enthusiastically embraced the stimulus package, represents a GOP wing that stresses bipartisanship and expanding the tent. The other wing emphasizes bedrock conservative values. Unlike Crist, several Republican governors often mentioned as presidential contenders — Jindal, Rick Perry of Texas, Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mark Sanford of South Carolina — suggest they might reject some of the federal stimulus money because of strings attached.
"I don't think that a lot of people down here would call him a fiscal conservative," Sanford said of Crist in what may be the first shot in the 2012 race. Speaking to The State newspaper in South Carolina, Sanford added: "He may be a good guy, and I've pleasantly enjoyed knowing him through the governorship. But that he's some stalwart fiscal conservative is, I think, at odds with the record."
But forget 2012. The biggest political question hanging over the 2010 election cycle is whether Crist will run for re-election or for Mel Martinez's Senate seat. We probably won't know the answer until at least May, but in the meantime it's a lot easier to find people predicting Crist will run for the Senate than to find someone expecting him to seek re-election.
"I'd like to see him run for a second term, but if he decides to run for Senate, I think he'd do a good job there as well," said U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, one of several Republican Senate prospects in a holding pattern until Crist decides.
Last week, Crist horrified some guests for botching protocol at a dinner with the king and queen of Spain and 400 others in Coral Gables. Crist left the dinner at 11.30 p.m. — 10 minutes before King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, leaving the queen with an empty seat beside her. Big no-no.
Halfway through the dinner, Crist asked Spain's minister of foreign affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, to move so Crist's wife, Carole, could sit next to him instead of across from him.
Republican John Thrasher, who capped two years as state House speaker with a prosperous career as a lobbyist, plans to run for the Jacksonville state Senate seat Jim King vacates in 2010.
"If I had to say if I was going to do it today, I'd probably do it," Thrasher told the Buzz, though a final decision won't come until after the session.
Putnam to be 'Political Connections' guest
Check out U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, on Political Connections on Bay News 9 today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
David Adams and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz.