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Suddenly, things aren't so sunny for Crist

What's black and white and bad all over?

Gov. Charlie Crist's media coverage.

When the governor gets good press, it's the kind most politicians can only dream about. But when it's bad, it's ugly. And lately it has been very bad.

For this Senate-seeking, one-term governor who clearly wants to stay on the public's good side, warning signs abound.

There has been a clear shift in the mainstream media's portrayal of Crist in the past few months.

A glance at the record suggests things went south in June when Crist signed a bill weakening growth management controls, which editorial boards agreed was a terrible decision.

Things got worse in August after the governor picked his friend and campaign adviser, George LeMieux, to warm the Senate seat Crist covets.

Crist got this far in politics by being someone whose antennae are keenly aware of public perceptions, and who takes cues from the printed page. One little anecdote illustrates it nicely.

After this newspaper (and some people who voted for him) excoriated Crist in December 2006 for planning a lavish inauguration ball funded with special interest checks of up to $500,000, he quickly pulled the plug on the whole thing. The next time our paths crossed, did he seem angry? On the contrary. "Thanks for keeping me humble," he said.

Consider a few choice words about Crist in recent days:

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote that Crist reminds him of Casper the Friendly Ghost: "always smiling, always friendly — and yet never really completely there."

St. Petersburg Times political editor Adam C. Smith wrote a piece this week suggesting Crist was "dissing" Jeb Bush's legacy, noting how Crist spoke to a GOP group in Michigan last weekend and pointed out that one national study has Florida schools showing big gains after he came along in 2007. Dissing Jeb? Not the kind of message Crist wants Republican primary voters to hear.

• A recent piece by syndicated columnist George Will, a widely read conservative voice, heaped praise on Crist's Senate rival, Marco Rubio, while calling Crist a "climate change worrywart" who approved a public-option property insurance program in Florida. Will wrote that the Florida race is a test of whether a "principled conservative" can win, and he wasn't referring to Charlie Crist.

The Palm Beach Post's Frank Cerabino wrote that it was "embarrassing" to see Crist on TV touting his Cover Florida program and its 4,000 subscribers at a time when nearly 4 million people in Florida have no coverage. "Charlie's Hooey," read the headline.

Now, Cerabino and others rarely wax poetic about Crist. But the criticism appears to be growing in size and scope, and most experts who follow this sort of thing will tell you that critical press coverage can spiral out of control quickly.

Crist used to be able to talk over the heads of the Florida press corps by using softball encounters on cable chat shows to recite his favorite talking points. But this is changing, too.

As he made the rounds on Tuesday, the reception was noticeably frostier (except on the reliably charitable Fox).

CNN's John Roberts juxtaposed Crist's opposition to a government-run national health care program with his support for Florida KidCare, which uses government money to subsidize health care for low-income Floridians.

"Are you trying to have it both ways here?" Roberts asked Crist.

"Well, that's for children. You know, it's a program I inherited," Crist answered.

Over on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Crist told co-host Mika Brzezinski that his Senate campaign is "going great."

"Yeah?" she asked. "Are you sure?"

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

Suddenly, things aren't so sunny for Crist 10/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2009 7:57pm]
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