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Shrugging at Senate race polls, Charlie Crist remains upbeat

U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Charlie Crist waves after landing at Albert Whitted Airport for a final campaign stop in St. Petersburg.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Charlie Crist waves after landing at Albert Whitted Airport for a final campaign stop in St. Petersburg.

If you look at the polls, Charlie Crist's U.S. Senate campaign is poised for a beating today.

If you look at Crist campaigning across Florida in recent days, he's as upbeat as any frontrunner.

"Democracy is a wonderful thing," said Crist, rooting for a high turnout aboard the five-seat King Air plane that flew him across the state Monday.

Republican Marco Rubio, 39, leads Crist, 54, by double digits in most recent polls. Still, the ever-sunny Crist, kicking off his shoes on the plane and sucking cough drops to sooth his hoarse voice, is nothing if not an optimist.

"Ours is not the campaign that is based, on anger, and pessimism and despair, that's Marco's world. That's not our sunny Florida," Crist told a hometown crowd at St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport on Monday night.

There's an army of silent support, he contends — teachers, pragmatic Floridians, secretly fed up Republicans. He says he hears from them all the time: a Republican legislator's family member Monday said their entire family would be supporting Crist, and African American Democrats quietly make the same promise despite Democrat Kendrick Meek's bid to be the first black U.S. senator in Florida history.

Plus, Florida has never seen a three-way contest like this one, so the polls are suspect, Tuesday's result unpredictable.

"Sixty percent, if you can believe any of these polls, just say no to Marco,'' Crist said. "If you want to do what's right for the future of Florida and our country, make sure that all common sense Republicans, independents and Democrats — really important, Democrats — that all Floridians unite … behind the candidate that can win."

Without a political party to help script uber rallies, and without a slate of candidates to campaign with, the first-time independent candidate criss-crossed the state this weekend essentially hunting for voters at small rallies or events with ready-made crowds — football games, restaurants, a community yard sale, and even a laundromat.

Crist was at peace on the airplane, swapping stories about his first unsuccessful campaign for state Senate back in 1986 and the late Gov. Lawton Chiles.

He recalled the Italian restaurant in New York where he met his wife, Carole, who was unable to go on the fly-around because the plane had only five seats. She joined him later at his St. Petersburg rally.

As the jet swept the one-term governor toward the next campaign stop, he guzzled a sugar-free Red Bull and picked at a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, eating it open-faced to save on calories. He will remain a registered independent, he said, regardless of which party he caucuses with if elected to the Senate.

He also talked about what have become new political dynamics for the former Republican. To win, he says, he'll have to carry Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, joining Crist in West Palm Beach Monday, said Crist needs to do "very well" in those three Democratic strongholds. "And he will," he added.

"It's sanity time. It's not who you dream about dating. This is about getting married," Wexler said. "I think there's a silent plurality for Charlie."

In a symbol of the unprecedented coalition of voters Crist is trying to stitch together, Crist has both the liberal Wexler making recorded phone calls on his behalf and former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole.

At a University of Central Florida game this weekend, Crist ran into Derryl Benton, who hosted a fundraiser for Crist during his 2006 run for governor. The pair exchanged pleasantries and Crist put a sticker on Benton's shirt.

"He's a good choice," Benton said. "He's a great guy, and I wish him luck." When asked who Benton was voting for, he said: "I'd rather not say."

Crist logged 1,338 air miles Monday before returning to St. Petersburg, and along the way mused that the race has been anything but dull.

"There's no need to be nervous. It doesn't accomplish anything," Crist said. "I'm anxious. I'm excited. It's good to have a little anxiety. It gives you strength to run across the finish line."

Crossing the Everglades, Crist and aide Danny Kanner spotted a rainbow stretching from the clouds. Crist tried to take a picture with his new iPhone.

"I think it's obvious what that means," Kanner said of the rainbow. Crist got one last look before the rainbow disappeared. "It's crystal clear."

Shrugging at Senate race polls, Charlie Crist remains upbeat 11/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 11:51am]
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